WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether states like Alaska can let voters cast their ballots for any candidate in primary elections, regardless of party affiliation.
The court said it will hear arguments by four California political parties that the state's voter-approved ``blanket primary'' law violates their constitutional right of association.
The justices will hear arguments in the case in April. A decision is expected by July.
Before 1996, California allowed only voters who were members of a political party to vote in that party's primary to nominate candidates for the general election.
In March 1996, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative that let voters cast their ballots in primary elections for any candidate of any party. For example, someone could vote to nominate a Republican candidate for governor, a Democrat for senator and a Libertarian for attorney general.
Backers of the open primary said it would encourage the nomination of more moderate candidates.
Three other states - Alaska, Louisiana and Washington - have similar primary laws. A number of other states have more limited open-primary laws, in which voters can request the ballot of any political party in a primary election.
The state Democratic and Republican parties challenged the California law along with the state Libertarian Party and the Peace and Freedom Party. They argued that letting nonparty members help choose their party's nominees violated their rights to political association.
A federal judge ruled against them, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in a Minnesota case that the state could bar candidates from running in general elections under more than one party's banner.