520 U.S. 351 (1997), 95-1608, Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party

Docket Nº:Case No. 95-1608
Citation:520 U.S. 351, 117 S.Ct. 1364, 137 L.Ed.2d 589, 65 U.S.L.W. 4273
Party Name:TIMMONS, ACTING DIRECTOR, RAMSEY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PROPERTY RECORDS AND REVENUE, et al. v. TWIN CITIES AREA NEW PARTY
Case Date:April 28, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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520 U.S. 351 (1997)

117 S.Ct. 1364, 137 L.Ed.2d 589, 65 U.S.L.W. 4273

TIMMONS, ACTING DIRECTOR, RAMSEY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PROPERTY RECORDS AND REVENUE, et al.

v.

TWIN CITIES AREA NEW PARTY

Case No. 95-1608

United States Supreme Court

April 28, 1997

Argued December 4, 1996

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Most States ban multiple-party, or "fusion," candidacies for elected office. Minnesota's laws prohibit an individual from appearing on the ballot as the candidate of more than one party. When respondent, a chapter of the national New Party, chose as its candidate for state representative an individual who was already the candidate of another political party, local election officials refused to accept the New Party's nominating petition. The party filed suit against petitioners, Minnesota election officials, contending that the State's antifusion laws violated its associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court granted petitioners summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the fusion ban was unconstitutional because it severely burdened the party's associational rights and was not narrowly tailored to advance Minnesota's valid interests in avoiding intraparty discord and party splintering, maintaining a stable political system, and avoiding voter confusion.

Held:

Minnesota's fusion ban does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 356-370.

(a) While the First Amendment protects the right of citizens to associate and to form political parties for the advancement of common political goals and ideas, Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm. v. Federal Election Comm'n, 518 U.S. 604, 616, States may enact reasonable regulations of parties, elections, and ballots to reduce election-and campaign-related disorder, Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433. When deciding whether a state election law violates First and Fourteenth Amendment associational rights, this Court must weigh the character and magnitude of the burden the State's rule imposes on those rights against the interests the State contends justify that burden, and consider the extent to which the State's concerns make the burden necessary. Id., at 434. Regulations imposing severe burdens must be narrowly tailored and advance a compelling state interest. Lesser burdens, however, trigger less exacting review, and a State's important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, non-discriminatory restrictions. Ibid. No bright line separates permissible

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election-related regulation from unconstitutional infringements on First Amendment freedoms. Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730. Pp. 356-359.

(b) Minnesota's fusion ban does not severely burden the New Party's associational rights. The State's laws do not restrict the ability of the party and its members to endorse, support, or vote for anyone they like or directly limit the party's access to the ballot. The party's preferred candidate will still appear on the ballot, although as another party's candidate. The laws are also silent on parties' internal structure, governance, and policymaking. Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U.S. 214, and Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, distinguished. Instead, these provisions reduce the universe of potential candidates who may appear on the ballot as the party's nominee and limit, slightly, the party's ability to send a particularized message, to its candidate and to the voters, about the nature of its support for the candidate. However, ballots are designed primarily to elect candidates, not to serve as forums for political expression. See Burdick, supra, at 438. Pp. 359-363.

(c) Because Minnesota's fusion ban does not impose a severe burden on the New Party's rights, the State is required to show, not that the ban was narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests, but that the State's asserted regulatory interests are "sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation" on the party's rights. Norman v. Reed, 502 U.S. 279, 288-289. Elaborate, empirical verification of weightiness is not required. See Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189, 195-196. Here, the burden is justified by "correspondingly weighty" valid state interests in ballot integrity and political stability. States certainly have an interest in protecting the integrity, fairness, and efficiency of their ballots and election processes as means for electing public officials. E. g., Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, 145. Minnesota fears that a candidate or party could easily exploit fusion as a way of associating his or its name with popular slogans and catchphrases, transforming the ballot from a means of choosing candidates to a billboard for political advertising. It is also concerned that fusion might enable minor parties, by nominating a major party's candidate, to bootstrap their way to major-party status in the next election and circumvent the State's nominating-petition requirement for minor parties, which is designed to ensure that only bona fide minor and third parties are granted access to the ballot. The State's strong interest in the stability of its political systems, see, e. g., Eu, supra, at 226, does not permit it to completely insulate the two-party system from minor parties' or independent candidates' competition and influence, e. g., Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 802, and is not a paternalistic license for States to protect political

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parties from the consequences of their own internal disagreements, e. g., Eu, supra, at 227. However, it does permit the State to enact reasonable election regulations that may, in practice, favor the traditional two-party system. Minnesota's fusion ban is far less burdensome than a California law, upheld in Storer, 415 U.S., at 728, that denied ballot positions to any independent candidate affiliated with a party at any time during the year preceding the primary election, and it is justified by similarly weighty state interests. The Court expresses no view on the party's policy-based arguments concerning the wisdom of fusion. Pp. 363-370.

73 F.3d 196, reversed.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, and in Parts I and II of which Souter, J., joined, post, p. 370. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 382.

Richard S. Slowes, Assistant Solicitor General of Minnesota, argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, and Peter M. Ackerberg, Assistant Attorney General.

Laurence H. Tribe argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Joel Rogers, Sarah E. Siskind, Cornish F. Hitchcock, and David C. Vladeck. [*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

Most States prohibit multiple-party, or "fusion," candidacies for elected office.[1] The Minnesota laws challenged in

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this case prohibit a candidate from appearing on the ballot as the candidate of more than one party. Minn. Stat. §§ 204 B.06, subd. 1(b), and 204 B.04, subd. 2 (1994). We hold that such a prohibition does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Respondent is a chartered chapter of the national New Party. Petitioners are Minnesota election officials. In April 1994, Minnesota State Representative Andy Dawkins was running unopposed in the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's (DFL) primary.[2] That same month, New Party members chose Dawkins as their candidate for the same office in the November 1994 general election. Neither Dawkins nor the DFL objected, and Dawkins signed the required affidavit of candidacy for the New Party. Minn. Stat. § 204 B.06 (1994). Minnesota, however, prohibits fusion candidacies.[3] Because Dawkins had already filed as a candidate for the DFL's nomination, local election officials refused to accept the New Party's nominating petition.[4]

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The New Party filed suit in United States District Court, contending that Minnesota's antifusion laws violated the party's associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court granted summary judgment for the state defendants, concluding that Minnesota's fusion ban was "a valid and non-discriminatory regulation of the election process," and noting that "issues concerning the mechanics of choosing candidates . . . are, in large part, matters of policy best left to the deliberative bodies themselves." Twin Cities Area New Party v. McKenna, 863 F.Supp. 988, 994 (D. Minn. 1994).

The Court of Appeals reversed. Twin Cities Area New Party v. McKenna, 73 F.3d 196, 198 (CA8 1996). First, the court determined that Minnesota's fusion ban "unquestionably" and "severe[ly]" burdened the New Party's "freedom to select a standard bearer who best represents the party's ideologies and preferences" and its right to "broaden the base of public participation in and support for [its] activities." Ibid. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The court then decided that Minnesota's absolute ban on multiple-party nominations was "broader than necessary to serve the State's asserted interests" in avoiding intra-party discord and party splintering, maintaining a stable political system, and avoiding voter confusion, and that the State's remaining concerns about multiple-party nomination were "simply unjustified in this case." Id., at 199-200. The court noted, however, that the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit had upheld Wisconsin's similar fusion ban in Swamp v. Kennedy, 950 F.2d 383, 386 (1991) (fusion ban did not burden associational rights and, even if it did, the State's interests justified...

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