Broadrick v. Oklahoma 8212 1639

Decision Date25 June 1973
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
PartiesWilliam M. BROADRICK et al., Appellants, v. State of OKLAHOMA et al. —1639
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Appellants, state employees charged by the Oklahoma State Personnel Board with actively engaging in partisan political activities (including the solicitation of money) among their coworkers for the benefit of their superior, in alleged violation of § 818 of the state merit system Act, brought this suit challenging the Act's validity on the grounds that two of its paragraphs are invalid because of overbreadth and vagueness. One paragraph provides that no classified service employee 'shall directly or indirectly, solicit, receive, or in any manner be concerned in soliciting or receiving any assessment . . . or contribution for any political organization, candidacy or other political purpose.' The other provides that no such employee shall belong to 'any national, state or local committee of a political party' or be an officer or member of a committee or a partisan political club, or a candidate for any paid public office, or take part in the management or affairs of any political party or campaign 'except to exercise his right as a citizen privately to express his opinion and . . . vote.' The District Court upheld the provisions. Held: Section 818 of the Oklahoma statute is not unconstitutional on its face. CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796. Pp. 607—618.

(a) The statute, which gives adquate warning of what activities it proscribes and sets forth explicit standards for those who must apply it, is not impermissibly vague. Pp. 607—608.

(b) Although appellants contend that the statute reaches activities that are constitutionally protected as well as those that are not, it is clearly constitutional as applied to the conduct with which they are charged and because it is not substantially overbroad they cannot challenge the statute on the ground that it might be applied unconstitutionally to others, in situations not before the Court. Appellants' conduct falls squarely within the proscriptions of § 818, which deals with activities that the State has ample power to regulate, United Public Workers of America v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754; CSC v. Letter Carriers, supra, and the operation of the statute has been administratively confined to clearly partisan political activity. Pp. 608—618.

338 F.Supp. 711, affirmed.

John C. Buckingham, Oklahoma City, Okl., for appellants.

Michael Dennis Martin, Oklahoma City, Okl., for appellees.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 818 of Oklahoma's Merit System of Personnel Administration Act, Okla.Stat.Ann., Tit. 74, § 801 et seq., restricts the political activities of the State's classified civil servants in much the same manner that the Hatch Act proscribes partisan political activities of federal employees. Three employees of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission who are subject to the proscriptions of § 818 seek to have two of its paragraphs declared unconstitutional on their face and enjoined because of asserted vagueness and overbreadth. After a hearing, the District Court upheld the provisions and denied relief. 338 F.Supp. 711. We noted probable jurisdiction of the appeal, 409 U.S. 1058, 93 S.Ct. 550, 34 L.Ed.2d 510, so that appellants' claims could be considered together with those of their federal counterparts in United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL—CIO, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796. We affirm the judgment of the District Court.

Section 818 was enacted in 1959 when the State first established its Merit System of Personnel Administration.1 The section serves roughly the same function as the analogous provisions of the other 49 States,2 and is patterned on § 9(a) of the Hatch Act.3 Without question, a broad range of political activities and con- duct is proscribed by the section. Paragraph six, one of the contested portions, provides that '(n)o employee in the classified service . . . shall, directly or indirectly solicit, receive, or in any manner be concerned in soliciting or receiving any assessment . . . or contribution for any political organization, candidacy or other political purpose.' Paragraph seven, the other challenged paragraph, provides that no such employee 'shall be a member of any national, state or local committee of a political party, or an officer or member of a committee of a partisan political club, or a candidate for nomination or election to any paid public office.' That paragraph further prohibits such employees from 'tak(ing) part in the management or affairs of any political party or in any political campaign, except to exercise his right as a citizen privately to express his opinion and to cast his vote.' As a complementary proscription (not challenged in this lawsuit) the first paragraph prohibits any person from 'in any way' being 'favored or discriminated against with respect to employment in the classified service because of his political . . . opinions or affiliations.' Responsibility for maintaining and enforcing § 818's proscriptions is vested in the State Personnel Board and the State Personnel Director, who is appointed by the Board. Violation of § 818 results in dismissal from employment and possible criminal sanctions and limited state employment ineligibility. Okla.Stat.Ann., Tit. 74, §§ 818 and 819.

Appellants do not question Oklahoma's right to place even-handed restrictions on the partisan political conduct of state employees. Appellants freely concede that such restrictions serve valid and important state interests, particularly with respect to attracting greater numbers of qualified people by insuring their job security, free from the vicissitudes of the elective process, and by protecting them from 'political extortion.'4 See United Public Workers of America v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 99—103, 67 S.Ct. 556, 569—571, 91 L.Ed. 754 (1947). Rather, appellants maintain that however permissible even commendable, the goals of § 818 may be, its language is unconstitutionally vague and its prohibitions too broad in their sweep, failing to distinguish between conduct that may be proscribed and conduct that must be permitted. For these and other reasons,5 appellants assert that the sixth and seventh paragraphs of § 818 are void in toto and cannot be enforced against them or anyone else.6

We have held today that the Hatch Act is not impermissibly vague. United States Civil Service Commission v. National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL—CIO, supra, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796. We have little doubt that § 818 is similarly not so vague that 'men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning.' Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 127, 70 L.Ed. 322 (1926). See Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108 114, 92 S.Ct. 2294, 2298—2302, 33 L.Ed.2d 222 (1972); Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104, 110—111, 92 S.Ct. 1953, 1957—1958, 32 L.Ed.2d 584 (1972); Cameron v. Johnson, 390 U.S. 611, 616, 88 S.Ct. 1335, 1338, 20 L.Ed.2d 182 (1968). Whatever other problems there are with § 818, it is all but frivolous to suggest that the section fails to give adequate warning of what activities it proscribes or fails to set out 'explicit standards' for those who must apply it. Grayned v. City of Rockford, supra, 408 U.S., at 108, 92 S.Ct., at 2298. In the plainest language, it prohibits any state classified employee from being 'an officer or member' of a 'partisan political club' or a candidate for 'any paid public office.' It forbids solicitation of contributions 'for any political organization, candidacy or other political purpose' and taking part 'in the management or affairs of any political party or in any political campaign.' Words inevitably contain germs of uncertainty and, as with the Hatch Act, there may be disputes over the meaning of such terms in § 818 as 'partisan,' or 'take part in,' or 'affairs of' political parties. But what was said in Letter Carriers, supra, 413 U.S., at 578—579, 93 S.Ct., at 2897, is applicable here: 'there are limitations in the English language with respect to being both specific and manageably brief, and it seems to us that although the prohibitions may not satisfy those intent on finding fault at any cost, they are set out in terms that the ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand and comply with, without sacrifice to the public interest.'7 Moreover, even if the outermost boundaries of § 818 may be imprecise, any such uncertainty has little relevance here, where appellants' conduct falls squarely within the 'hard core' of the statute's proscriptions and appellants concede as much.8 See Dombrowski v. Pfister, 380 U.S. 479, 491 492, 85 S.Ct. 1116, 1123—1124, 14 L.Ed.2d 22 (1965); United States v. National Dairy Products Corp., 372 U.S. 29, 83 S.Ct. 594, 9 L.Ed.2d 561 (1963); Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97, 71 S.Ct. 576, 95 L.Ed. 774 (1951); Robinson v. United States, 324 U.S. 282, 286, 65 S.Ct. 666, 668, 89 L.Ed. 944 (1945); United States v. Wurzbach, 280 U.S. 396, 50 S.Ct. 167, 74 L.Ed. 508 (1930).

Shortly before appellants commenced their action in the District Court, they were charged by the State Personnel Board with patent violations of § 818. 9 According to the Board's charges, appellants actively participated in the 1970 re-election campaign of a Corporation Commissioner, appellants' superior. All three allegedly asked other Corporation Commission employees (individually and in groups) to do campaign work or to give referrals to persons who might help in the campaign. Most of these requests were made at district offices of the Commission's Oil and Gas Conservation Division. Two of the appellants were charged with soliciting money for the campaign from Commision employees and...

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