560 F.2d 22 (1st Cir. 1977), 76-1532, Magill v. Lynch

Docket Nº:76-1532.
Citation:560 F.2d 22
Party Name:Robert T. MAGILL et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Dennis M. LYNCH et al., Defendants, Appellants.
Case Date:July 25, 1977
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 22

560 F.2d 22 (1st Cir. 1977)

Robert T. MAGILL et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,


Dennis M. LYNCH et al., Defendants, Appellants.

No. 76-1532.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 25, 1977

Argued March 3, 1977.

Page 23

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 24

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 25

William F. McMahon, Providence, R. I., and Moses Kando, Pawtucket, R. I., was on brief, for defendants, appellants.

Amato A. DeLuca, Warwick, R. I., with whom Shiela Cabral-Souza, Providence, R. I., was on brief, for plaintiffs, appellees.

Before COFFIN, Chief Judge, MOORE [*] and ALDRICH, Circuit Judges.

COFFIN, Chief Judge.

The plaintiffs in this case are Pawtucket, Rhode Island firemen who ran for city office in 1975. The defendants are city officials who threatened to enforce the city's "Little Hatch Act" against the firemen if they ran. Pawtucket's counterpart to the federal Hatch Act prohibits city employees from engaging in a broad range of political activities. Becoming a candidate for any city office is specifically proscribed. 1 Pawtucket's elections are, by charter, held in odd years, and do not utilize party nominating machinery or make reference to party labels in the election itself. The federal district court granted a preliminary injunction ordering the defendants not to penalize the plaintiffs for their campaigns. Plaintiff Healy's pursuit of a city council seat ended with his defeat in the primary. Plaintiff Magill's campaign for mayor survived the primary, only to founder in the general election. Some time later, the district court made its preliminary injunction final. 2 This appeal followed.

The question before us is whether Pawtucket's charter provision, which bars a city employee's candidacy in even a nonpartisan city election, is constitutional. The issue compels us to extrapolate two recent Supreme Court decisions, Civil Service Comm'n v. Nat'l Ass'n of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796 (1973) and Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 93 S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973). Both dealt with laws barring civil servants from partisan political activity. Letter Carriers reaffirmed United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754 (1947), upholding the constitutionality of the Hatch Act as to federal employees. Broadrick sustained Oklahoma's "Little Hatch Act" against constitutional attack, limiting its holding to Oklahoma's construction

Page 26

that the Act barred only activity in partisan politics. 3 In Mancuso v. Taft, 476 F.2d 187, 200 (1st Cir. 1973), we assumed that proscriptions of candidacy in nonpartisan elections would not be constitutional. Letter Carriers and Broadrick compel new analysis.

The Pawtucket charter, a comprehensive document endorsed by the voters in 1953 and revised in 1966, attempts to make elections for mayor and city council nonpartisan. This intent is expressed by the charter's structuring of the election process. Elections are held in off years, when few state or federal contests are held, to minimize coattail campaigning. Candidates are nominated by petitions that may be signed by any city elector no matter what his party affiliation. The number of nominated candidates is narrowed to two for each office by a primary election open to all voters; and the surviving candidates run against each other in the general election. The candidates' party affiliations do not appear on the ballot. In short, so far as the laws of Pawtucket can make them, these elections are nonpartisan.

But institutions exist in their cultural context. And in Pawtucket the context has historically been partisan. The stipulations of the parties and uncontradicted testimony presented by the defendants paint this picture of elections in Pawtucket. The city has two political parties, Democratic and Republican. These parties regularly endorse candidates in the primary and general elections. The endorsements are frequently solicited by candidates at party meetings; and the Democratic endorsement in particular, is highly prized. Plaintiff Magill himself appeared at one Democratic endorsement meeting, where he urged those present to support him, though he did not formally request an endorsement. For the past decade, the chairman of the city's Democratic committee has been the mayor. At the last election he was opposed by the chairman of the city's Republican committee, as well as by plaintiff Magill. Many regular Democratic workers who serve in partisan statewide campaigns also give aid to endorsed Democratic candidates in the city elections. The 1975 campaign illustrates how pervasive is the influence of political parties on city elections. Twelve officials were to be elected in that year: a mayor, three councilmen-at-large, two school committee members, and six councilmen. Originally, thirty candidates were nominated for these posts. Only twelve of the thirty were endorsed by the Democratic committee. All twelve survived the primary, and ten were ultimately elected. Every successful candidate except one, who was not endorsed by the Democrats had advertised his endorsement or political affiliation in the city's newspaper.

The district court took note of this ambivalent character of the Pawtucket system. It took as its objective the task of determining whether the system was partisan or not. It also relied on our First Amendment analysis in Mancuso, and looked for compelling city interests that could not be served by less restrictive alternatives. It observed that the city's interests were less compelling than were the government's interests in Letter Carriers and Broadrick, there being

Page 27

less likelihood that adherence to a state or national party platform could influence municipal policy, little danger of creation of a powerful and possibly corrupt political machine, and little prospect of city employees using their office to influence voters. The court stressed the facts that no party label appeared in the ballot, therefore making it more difficult to vote a straight party ticket; that anyone could sign nominating petitions and could vote in the primary elections; and that there was no pattern of automatic party support. It concluded "That elections for municipal offices in Pawtucket, while not completely sterilized from contact with party politics, are in fact substantially non-partisan in character" and that the dangers of partisan political activity are not a compelling justification for the charter restrictions.

Appellees contend that the district court's finding of nonpartisanship must stand unless clearly erroneous. We do not see our standard of review in this light. Of course all of the subsidiary facts are...

To continue reading