Michael Lee-Murphy file photo
(Updated 5:55 p.m.) The jury is still out on whether having the top line of the ballot even makes a difference, but the Supreme Court’s verdict is in, and it gives Republicans the top line on the ballot.

This summer, the Republican Party challenged Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s decision to give Democrats the top ballot line after the 2010 gubernatorial election. The mistake wasn’t discovered in 2011, so Democratic candidates appeared at the top of the ballot last year.

Republicans argued that Tom Foley received more votes on the Republican line than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy received on the Democratic line, so Republican candidates should have top billing.

Although Malloy won the election by a slim margin of 6,404 votes, his name was split between the party lines for both the Democrats and the Working Families Party. Foley’s name only appeared on the Republican ballot line in 2010 and he received 560,874 votes compared to Malloy’s 540,970 on the Democratic ballot line. Malloy also received 26,308 votes on the Working Families Party line.

Associate Attorney General Greg D’Auria argued that the candidate, not the party which received the most votes, should be at the top of the ballot.

There also was a question about whether the Republican Party had exhausted all of its administrative remedies before bringing the lawsuit to court. The justices unanimously decided that the party had done so.

Merrill, who called the lawsuit a “regrettable distraction” back in August, said Wednesday that she disagrees with the decision, but will abide with it.

“While I am surprised at the outcome today, I am confident that my office interpreted the statute in good faith and with due diligence,” Merrill said. “My staff interpreted the law back in 2011, for the municipal election ballot that year, relying on recent precedent, thorough research and a careful analysis of the statute. The Supreme Court disagrees with our view, and I respect the court’s final decision in this matter.”

Republican Party Chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. praised the decision.

“In the party’s view, the language of the statute clearly states that Republicans should receive the top line based on the results of the 2010 gubernatorial election,” Labriola said. “I regret that it was necessary to file a legal action in response to the Secretary of State’s incorrect interpretation of election law, but I am pleased that our Republican candidates will have their rightful place on the top ballot line for the November 6, 2012 election.”

A more in-depth explanation of the court’s decision will follow, but having clarity on the issue will allow registrars to print the ballots for the Nov. 6 election. Absentee ballots must be printed by Oct. 5.