413 U.S. 548 (1973), 72-634, United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers

Docket Nº:No. 72-634
Citation:413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796
Party Name:United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers
Case Date:June 25, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 548

413 U.S. 548 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796

United States Civil Service Commission

v.

National Association of Letter Carriers

No. 72-634

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1973

Argued March 26, 1973

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

Some individual federal employees, an employees' union, and certain local Democratic and Republican political committees filed this action challenging as unconstitutional on its face the prohibition in § 9(a) of the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. § 7324(a)(2), against federal employees' taking "an active part in political management or in political campaigns." The section defines the phrase as

those acts of political management or political campaigning which were prohibited on the part of employees in the competitive service before July 19, 1940, by determinations of the Civil Service Commission under the rules prescribed by the President.

The three-judge District Court recognized the "well established governmental interest in restricting political activities by federal employees," but held that the statutory definition of "political activity," the constitutionality of which was left open in United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, was vague and overbroad, and thus unconstitutional.

Held:

1. The holding of Mitchell, supra, that federal employees can be prevented from holding a party office, working at the polls, and acting as party paymaster for other party workers is reaffirmed. Congress can also constitutionally forbid federal employees from engaging in plainly identifiable acts of political management and political campaigning, such as organizing a political party or club; actively participating in fund-raising activities for a partisan candidate or political party; becoming a partisan candidate for, or campaigning for, an elective public office; actively managing the campaign of a partisan candidate for public office; initiating or circulating a partisan nominating petition or soliciting votes for a partisan candidate for public office; or serving as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a political party convention. Pp. 554-567.

2. It is the Civil Service Commission's regulations regarding political activity, the legitimate descendants of the 1940 restatement adopted by the Congress, and, in most respects the reflection

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of longstanding interpretations of the statute by the agency charged with its interpretation and enforcement, and the statute itself, that are the bases for rejecting the claim that the Act is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Pp. 568-581.

(a) The regulations specifying the various activities deemed prohibited by § 7324(a)(2) are set out in terms that the ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand and observe, without sacrifice to the public interest, and are not impermissibly vague. Pp. 575-580.

(b) There is nothing fatally overbroad about the statute considered in connection with the Civil Service Commission's construction of its terms represented by the current regulations. The restrictions on endorsements in advertisements, broadcasts, and literature, and on speaking at political party meetings in support of partisan candidates for public or party office, the major areas of difficulty, are clearly stated, are normally performed only in the context of partisan campaigns by one taking an active role in them, and are sustainable just as the other acts of political campaigning are constitutionally proscribable. They do not, therefore, render the rest of the statute vulnerable for overbreadth. P. 580.

(c) Even if the provisions forbidding partisan campaign endorsements and speechmaking were to be considered, [93 S.Ct. 2883] in some respects, constitutionally overbroad, they would not invalidate the entire statute. Pp. 580-581.

346 F.Supp. 578, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 595.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

On December 11, 1972, we noted probable jurisdiction of this appeal, 409 U.S. 1058, based on a jurisdictional statement presenting the single question whether the prohibition in § 9(a) of the Hatch Act, now codified in 5 U.S.C. § 7324(a)(2), against federal employees taking "an active part in political management or in political campaigns," is unconstitutional on its face. Section 7324(a) provides:

An employee in an Executive agency or an individual employed by the government of the District of Columbia may not --

(1) use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election; or

(2) take an active part in political management or in political campaigns.

For the purpose of this subsection, the phrase "an active part in political management or in political campaigns" means those acts of political management or political campaigning which were prohibited on the part of employees in the competitive service before July 19, 1940, by determinations of the Civil Service Commission under the rules prescribed by the President.1

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A divided three-judge court sitting in the District of Columbia had held the section unconstitutional. 346 F.Supp. 578 (1972). We reverse the judgment of the District Court.

I

The case began when the National Association of Letter Carriers, six individual federal employees and certain local Democratic and Republican political committees filed a complaint, asserting on behalf of themselves and all federal employees that 5 U.S.C. § 7324(a)(2) was unconstitutional on its face and seeking an injunction against its enforcement.2

Each of the plaintiffs alleged that the Civil Service Commission was enforcing, or threatening to enforce, the Hatch Act's prohibition against active participation in political management or political campaigns with respect to certain defined activity in which that plaintiff desired to engage.3 The Union, for example, [93 S.Ct. 2884] stated

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among other things that its members desired to campaign for candidates for public office. The Democratic and Republican Committees complained of not being able

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to get federal employees to run for state and local offices. Plaintiff Hummel stated that he was aware of the provision of the Hatch Act, and that the activities he desired to engage in would violate that Act, as, for example, his participating as a delegate in a party convention or holding office in a political club.

A three-judge court was convened, and the case was tried on both stipulated evidence and oral testimony. The District Court then ruled that § 7324(a)(2) was unconstitutional on its face and enjoined its enforcement. The court recognized the

well-established governmental interest in restricting political activities by federal employees which [had been] asserted long before enactment of the Hatch Act,

346 F.Supp. at 579, as well as the fact that the

appropriateness of this governmental objective was recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States when it endorsed the objectives of the Hatch Act. United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75 . . . (1947). . . .

Id. at 580. The District Court ruled, however, that United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75 (1947), left open the constitutionality of the statutory definition of "political activity," 346 F.Supp. at 580, and proceeded to hold that definition to be both vague and overbroad, and therefore unconstitutional and unenforceable against the plaintiffs [93 S.Ct. 2885] in any respect. The District Court also added, id. at 585, that, even if the Supreme Court in Mitchell could be said to have upheld the definitional section in its entirety, later decisions had so eroded the holding

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that it could no longer be considered binding on the District Court.

II

As the District Court recognized, the constitutionality of the Hatch Act's ban on taking an active part in political management or political campaigns has been here before. This very prohibition was attacked in the Mitchell case by a labor union and various federal employees as being violative of the First, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments and as contrary to the Fifth Amendment by being vague and indefinite, arbitrarily discriminatory, and a deprivation of liberty. The Court there first determined that, with respect to all but one of the plaintiffs, there was no case or controversy present within the meaning of Art. III because the Court could only speculate as to the type of political activity the appellants there desired to engage in or as to the contents of their proposed public statements or the circumstances of their publication. As to the plaintiff Poole, however, the Court noted that

[h]e was a ward executive committeeman of a political party, and was politically active on election day as a worker at the polls and a paymaster for the services of other party workers.

330 U.S. at 94. Plainly, the Court thought, these activities fell within the prohibition of § 9(a) of the Hatch Act against taking an active part in political management or political campaigning; and "[t]hey [were] also covered by the prior determinations of the [Civil Service] Commission," id. at 103 (footnote omitted), as incorporated by § 15 of the Hatch Act,4 the Court, relying on a

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Civil Service Commission publication, Political Activity and Political Assessments, Form 1236, Sept. 1939, for the latter conclusion. Id. at 103 n. 38. Poole's complaint thus presented a case or controversy for...

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