406 U.S. 583 (1972), 70-21, Socialist Labor Party v. Gilligan

Docket Nº:No. 70-21
Citation:406 U.S. 583, 92 S.Ct. 1716, 32 L.Ed.2d 317
Party Name:Socialist Labor Party v. Gilligan
Case Date:May 30, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 583

406 U.S. 583 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1716, 32 L.Ed.2d 317

Socialist Labor Party



No. 70-21

United States Supreme Court

May 30, 1972

Argued march 23, 1972




Appellant political party, its officers, and members, attacked the constitutionality [92 S.Ct. 1717] of revisions of the Ohio election code made following this Court's decision in Socialist Labor Party v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, and a provision that a political party execute a loyalty affidavit under oath in order to obtain a ballot position. The District Court, deciding the case on cross-motions for summary judgment on the basis of the pleadings and supporting affidavits, upheld all appellants' challenges except that involving the oath provision. All parties appealed. A revision of the election code made after this Court noted probable jurisdiction mooted all but the oath issue. Appellants, who did not attack the oath provision in Rhodes and who have been on the ballot and presumably have complied with that provision since its adoption in 1941, contend that it violates the First Amendment, is impermissibly vague, does not comport with due process, and, since it applies to them and not the two major political parties, violates equal protection.

Held: The record and pleadings on the one issue not mooted by the supervening legislation (an issue that received scant attention in appellants' complaint, and none in the affidavits supporting the cross-motions for summary judgment) are inadequate for resolution of the constitutional questions presented, and, in view of the abstract and speculative posture of the case, the appeal must therefore be dismissed. Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549. Pp. 585-589.

318 F.Supp. 1262, appeal dismissed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 589.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant Socialist Labor Party has engaged in a prolonged legal battle to invalidate various Ohio laws restricting minority party access to the ballot. Concluding that "the totality of the Ohio restrictive laws, taken as a whole," violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, this Court struck down those laws in Socialist Labor Party v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 34 (1968).1 Following that decision, the Ohio Legislature revised the state election code, but the Party was dissatisfied with the revisions, and instituted the present suit in 1970.

The Socialist Labor Party, its officers, and members, joined as plaintiffs in requesting a three-judge District Court to invalidate on constitutional grounds various sections of the revised election laws of Ohio. The plaintiffs specifically challenged provisions of the Ohio election laws requiring that a party either receive a certain percentage of the vote cast in the last preceding election or else file petitions of qualified electors corresponding to the same percentage; provisions relating to the organizational structure of a party; provisions requiring that a political party elect a specified number of delegates and alternates to a state convention; and provisions requiring a party to be part of a national political party that holds national conventions at which delegates elected in state primaries nominate presidential and vice

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presidential candidates. In addition, they challenged that part of the Ohio election code requiring a political party to file an affidavit under oath stating in substance that the party is not engaged in an attempt to overthrow the government by force or violence, is not associated with a group making such an attempt, and does not carry on a program of sedition or treason as defined by the criminal law.

The case was decided on cross-motions for summary judgment, the three-judge District Court having before it the complaint and answer of the respective parties, [92 S.Ct. 1718] and affidavits filed pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 56. The court ruled on the merits in favor of all of appellants' constitutional challenges to the Ohio election laws except that involving the oath requirement, with respect to which it ruled in favor of the appellees. Both sides appealed to this Court, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 401 U.S. 991 (1971).

Since then, the posture of this litigation has undergone a significant change. On December 23, 1971, the Ohio Legislature enacted Senate Bill No. 460, which embodied an extensive revision of the state election code. Both sides now agree that the passage of this Act renders moot all but one of the issues decided below. The one challenged provision that remains unamended is the State's requirement that a political party execute the above-described affidavit under oath in order to obtain a position on the ballot.

Appellants' 1970 complaint represented a broadside attack against interrelated and allegedly overly restrictive provisions of the Ohio election laws. The three-judge District Court, in its ruling for the appellants on the issues that have now become moot, stated:

The 1969 amendments to the election laws merely perpetuate the restrictive laws enacted between 1948 and 1952. The overall effect of these laws

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is still to deny to plaintiffs their constitutional right of political association.

318 F.Supp. 1262, 1269-1270 (footnote omitted).

Thus, appellants, at the time they filed their 1970 action, were fenced out of the political process by a series of restrictive provisions that prevented them from making any progress toward a position on the ballot as a designated political party. Their challenge was necessarily of a somewhat abstract character, since, under their allegations, they were able to comply with very few of the provisions regulating access to the ballot. Now, however, with the enactment of a revised election code, the abstract character of the single remaining challenge to the Ohio election procedures stands out all the more.

Appellants did not, in their action that came here in 1968, challenge the loyalty oath. Their 1970 complaint respecting the loyalty oath is singularly sparse in its factual allegations. There is no suggestion in it that the Socialist Labor Party has ever refused in the past, or will now refuse, to sign the required oath. There is no allegation of injury that the party has suffered or will suffer because of the existence of the oath requirement.

It is fairly inferable that the absence of such allegations is not merely an oversight in the drafting of a pleading. The requirement of the affidavit under oath was enacted in 1941, 119 Ohio Laws 586, and has remained continuously in force since that date. The Socialist Labor Party has appeared on the state ballot since the law's passage, and, unless the state officials have ignored what appear to be mandatory oath provisions, it is reasonable to conclude that the party has in the past executed the required affidavit.

It is axiomatic that the federal courts do not decide abstract questions posed by parties who lack "a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy." Baker v.

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Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204 (1962); Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 101 (1968). Appellants argue that the affidavit requirement violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but their pleadings fail to allege that the requirement has in any way affected their speech or conduct, or that executing the oath would impair the exercise of any right that they have as a political party or as members of a political party. They contend that to require it of them, but not of the two major political parties, denies them equal protection, but they do...

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