Burdick v. Takushi

Citation112 S.Ct. 2059,504 U.S. 428,119 L.Ed.2d 245
Decision Date08 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-535,91-535
PartiesAlan B. BURDICK, Petitioner v. Morris TAKUSHI, Director of Elections of Hawaii, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Petitioner, a registered Honolulu voter, filed suit against respondent state officials, claiming that Hawaii's prohibition on write-in voting violated his rights of expression and association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court ultimately granted his motion for summary judgment and injunctive relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prohibition, taken as part of the State's comprehensive election scheme, does not impermissibly burden the right to vote.

Held: Hawaii's prohibition on write-in voting does not unreasonably infringe upon its citizens' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 432-442.

(a) Petitioner assumes erroneously that a law that imposes any burden on the right to vote must be subject to strict scrutiny. This Court's cases have applied a more flexible standard: A court considering a state election law challenge must weigh the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate against the precise interests put forward by the State as justification for the burden imposed by its rule, taking into consideration the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff's rights. Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 788-789, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 1569-1570, 75 L.Ed.2d 547. Under this standard, a regulation must be narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance only when it subjects the voters' rights to "severe" restrictions. Norman v. Reed, 502 U.S. ----, ----, 112 S.Ct. 698, 705, 116 L.Ed.2d 711. If it imposes only "reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions" upon those rights, the State's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify the restrictions. Anderson, supra, 460 U.S., at 788, 103 S.Ct., at 1570. Pp. 432-434.

(b) Hawaii's write-in vote prohibition imposes a very limited burden upon voters' rights to associate politically through the vote and to have candidates of their choice placed on the ballot. Because the State's election laws provide easy access to the primary ballot until the cut-off date for the filing of nominating petitions, two months before the primary, any burden on the voters' rights is borne only by those who fail to identify their candidate of choice until shortly before the primary. An interest in making a late rather than an early decision is entitled to little weight. Cf. Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 736, 94 S.Ct. 1274, ----, 39 L.Ed.2d 714. Pp. 434-439.

(c) Hawaii's asserted interests in avoiding the possibility of unrestrained factionalism at the general election and in guarding against "party raiding" during the primaries are legitimate and are sufficient to outweigh the limited burden that the write-in voting ban imposes upon voters. Pp. 439-440.

(d) Indeed, the foregoing analysis leads to the conclusion that where, as here, a State's ballot access laws pass constitutional muster as imposing only reasonable burdens on First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, a write-in voting prohibition will be presumptively valid, since any burden on the right to vote for the candidate of one's choice will be light and normally will be counterbalanced by the very state interests supporting the ballot access scheme. Pp. 441-442.

937 F.2d 415 (CA9 1991), affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, SOUTER, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and STEVENS, JJ., joined.

Arthur N. Eisenberg, for petitioner.

Steven S. Michaels, for respondents.

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case is whether Hawaii's prohibition on write-in voting unreasonably infringes upon its citizens' rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Petitioner contends that the Constitution requires Hawaii to provide for the casting, tabulation, and publication of write-in votes. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the prohibition, taken as part of the State's comprehensive election scheme, does not impermissibly burden the right to vote. 937 F.2d 415, 422 (1991). We affirm.

I

Petitioner is a registered voter in the city and County of Honolulu. In 1986, only one candidate filed nominating papers to run for the seat representing petitioner's district in the Hawaii House of Representatives. Petitioner wrote to state officials inquiring about Hawaii's write-in voting policy and received a copy of an opinion letter issued by the Hawaii Attorney General's Office stating that the State's election law made no provision for write-in voting. 1 App. 38-39, 49.

Petitioner then filed this lawsuit, claiming that he wished to vote in the primary and general elections for a person who had not filed nominating papers and that he wished to vote in future elections for other persons whose names were not and might not appear on the ballot. 1 id., at 32-33. The United States District Court for the District of Hawaii concluded that the ban on write-in voting violated petitioner's First Amendment right of expression and association and entered a preliminary injunction ordering respondents to provide for the casting and tallying of write-in votes in the November 1986 general election. App. to Pet. for Cert. 67a-77a. The District Court denied a stay pending appeal. 1 App. 76-107.

The Court of Appeals entered the stay, 1 id., at 109, and vacated the judgment of the District Court, reasoning that consideration of the federal constitutional question raised by petitioner was premature because "neither the plain language of Hawaii statutes nor any definitive judicial interpretation of those statutes establishes that the Hawaii legislature has enacted a ban on write-in voting." Burdick v. Takushi, 846 F.2d 587, 588 (CA9 1988). Accordingly, the Court of Appeals ordered the District Court to abstain, see Railroad Comm'n of Tex. v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971 (1941), until state courts had determined whether Hawaii's election laws permitted write-in voting.1

On remand, the District Court certified the following three questions to the Supreme Court of Hawaii:

"(1) Does the Constitution of the State of Hawaii require Hawaii's election officials to permit the casting of write-in votes and require Hawaii's election officials to count and publish write-in votes?

"(2) Do Hawaii's election laws require Hawaii's election officials to permit the casting of write-in votes and require Hawaii's election officials to count and publish write-in votes?

"(3) Do Hawaii's election laws permit, but not require, Hawaii's election officials to allow voters to cast write-in votes and to count and publish write-in votes?" App. to Pet. for Cert. 56a-57a.

Hawaii's high court answered "No" to all three questions, holding that Hawaii's election laws barred write-in voting and that these measures were consistent with the State's Constitution. Burdick v. Takushi, 70 Haw. 498, 776 P.2d 824 (1989). The United States District Court then granted petitioner's renewed motion for summary judgment and injunctive relief, but entered a stay pending appeal. 737 F.Supp. 582 (Haw.1990).

The Court of Appeals again reversed, holding that Hawaii was not required to provide for write-in votes:

"Although the prohibition on write-in voting places some restrictions on [petitioner's] rights of expression and association, that burden is justified in light of the ease of access to Hawaii's ballots, the alternatives available to [petitioner] for expressing his political beliefs, the State's broad powers to regulate elections, and the specific interests advanced by the State." 937 F.2d, at 421.2

In so ruling, the Ninth Circuit expressly declined to follow an earlier decision regarding write-in voting by the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. See ibid., citing Dixon v. Maryland State Administrative Bd. of Election Laws, 878 F.2d 776 (CA4 1989). We granted certiorari to resolve the disagreement on this important question. 502 U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 698, 116 L.Ed.2d 711 (1991).

II

Petitioner proceeds from the erroneous assumption that a law that imposes any burden upon the right to vote must be subject to strict scrutiny. Our cases do not so hold.

It is beyond cavil that "voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitutional structure." Illinois Bd. of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 184, 99 S.Ct. 983, 990, 59 L.Ed.2d 230 (1979). It does not follow, however, that the right to vote in any manner and the right to associate for political purposes through the ballot are absolute. Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189, 193, 107 S.Ct. 533, 536, 93 L.Ed.2d 499 (1986). The Constitution provides that States may prescribe "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives," Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, and the Court therefore has recognized that States retain the power to regulate their own elections. Sugarman v. Dougall, 413 U.S. 634, 647, 93 S.Ct. 2842, 2850, 37 L.Ed.2d 853 (1973); Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, 479 U.S. 208, 217, 107 S.Ct. 544, 550, 93 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986). Common sense, as well as constitutional law, compels the conclusion that government must play an active role in structuring elections; "as a practical matter, there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order, rather than chaos, is to accompany the democratic processes." Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730, 94 S.Ct. 1274, 1279, 39 L.Ed.2d 714 (1974).

Election laws will invariably impose some burden upon individual voters. Each provision of a code, "whether it governs the...

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