10/31/2012 04:56 pm ET Updated Oct 31, 2012

North Dakota Campaign Ban Blocked In Free Speech Case

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2012, file photo, Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, left, listens to Republican opponent Ri
FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2012, file photo, Democratic Senate candidate Heidi Heitkamp, left, listens to Republican opponent Rick Berg, right, speak at a North Dakota Chamber of Commerce forum on health care and energy at a hotel in Bismarck, N.D. North Dakota’s competitive Senate race is coming down to ticket splitters. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is expected to easily win the state, which is now enjoying a boom in energy development. But in the race for retiring Democrat Kent Conrad’s seat in the U.S. Senate, GOP Congressman Berg is locked in a bitter battle with the state’s former Democratic attorney general, Heitkamp. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel, File)

A federal judge blocked North Dakota on Wednesday from enforcing its century-old ban on all Election Day campaigning, a law that critics have called unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said the law violates the free speech rights of state residents and blocked officials from enforcing it, the Associated Press reports. Gary Emineth, former chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party, and the Center for Competitive Politics, a conservative group based in the Washington suburbs, had brought the lawsuit to overturn the ban.

The state law, which carries a fine, prohibited candidates and residents from engaging in any forms of campaigning on Election Day, including airing commercials, promoting a candidate to voters and displaying lawn signs. North Dakotans have long abided by the ban, although North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) told The Huffington Post earlier this month that he did not know of any instance in which prosecutors had actually enforced it.

"You can have hundreds and hundreds of yard signs up during the campaign -- and on Election Day, there are no more signs," said Jaeger.

In the lawsuit, Emineth said that he feared being targeted for prosecution if he campaigned on behalf of GOP candidates on Nov. 6. State Democrats accused him of bringing the case in order to help Rep. Rick Berg (R-N.D.), who is running against former state Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp for the seat of retiring Sen. Kent Conrad. Emineth's lawyer told HuffPost earlier this month that there was no coordination with Berg's campaign.

Rania Batrice, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Democratic Party, reacted to Wednesday's decision with further criticism of Berg.

"We are deeply disappointed that Rep. Berg declined to have his allies rescind this legal challenge to a century old law. While we find it unfortunate that Rep. Berg's friends have deemed it necessary to disrespect this law, a law that North Dakotans have expressed wanting to have in place, we are ready and able to continue our unprecedented ground game through November 6th," Batrice said.

A spokeswoman for the state Republican Party were not available for immediate comment.

This story has been updated with comment from the North Dakota Democratic Party.



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