Riddell v. National Democratic Party

Citation508 F.2d 770
Decision Date21 February 1975
Docket NumberNo. 72-2437,72-2437
PartiesTom H. RIDDELL, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees, v. The NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY et al., Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

George F. Woodliff, Curtis E. Coker, James A. Peden, Jr., Jackson, Miss., for plaintiffs-appellants, cross-appellees.

Charles Morgan, Jr., Atlanta, Ga., Norman Siegel, New York City, John C. Brittain, Jr., Frank R. Parker, Jackson, Miss., Joseph A. Califano, Earl C. Dudley, Jr., Washington, D.C., Morris Brown, Emily Carssow, Neil Bradley, Atlanta, Ga., for defendants-appellees, cross-appellants.

William Allain, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Miss., Jackson, Miss., for 3rd party defendant cross-appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before TUTTLE, GODBOLD and MORGAN, Circuit Judges.

TUTTLE, Circuit Judge.

This case presents serious issues concerning the operation of our political democracy. In it two different groups vie for the right to call themselves 'The Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi' and, when the complaint was originally filed, for the right to represent the Democrats of Mississippi at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. This latter claim was settled by the convention itself, and thus we need not consider it at this time as it has been mooted by the convention action. 1 The primary question presented, however, remains an important and hotly contested one-- which of the two groups involved in the suit should have the right to call itself 'The Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi' and, inferentially, the extent to which the state of Mississippi or the federal courts can make this type of determination.


The state of Mississippi has an extensive network of statutes governing the operation of political parties and elections. At issue in this case are those provisions of Mississippi Code Annotated 3107 et seq. which require each political party in the state to elect a slate of officers and register its name and party officials with the state. By so doing the political party is granted the exclusive right to use the name registered. The statutes provide that: 'No political party shall use or register any name or part thereof which has already been registered with the secretary of state by any other political part(ies).' 3107-01.

The plaintiffs in this suit (hereinafter referred to as the Regulars) complied with the terms of this statute in 1950, registering themselves as 'The Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi.' Their rivals for the use of the title 'Democratic Party' (hereinafter referred to as the Loyalists) were formed from the Freedom Democratic Party which had participated in the Democratic National Convention of 1964, attempting unsuccessfully to unseat the delegation of the official Democratic Party. In 1968 this rival faction was seated as the delegation from Mississippi, and thereafter was recognized by the National Democratic Committee as the representative of the National Democratic Party in the state. The two Mississippi delegates to the Democratic National Committee have been selected since 1968 from this second group, and the Loyalists received the call for the 1972 Democratic Convention. This precipitated this suit.

The Regulars brought this action to enjoin the Loyalists from using the name 'Democratic Party' in the state, and from participating in the National Democratic Convention of 1972. Joined as party defendants were the National Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee, both of whom were requested to be enjoined from recognizing the opposing Democratic Party as they had done previously in 1968. 2

The Loyalists cross-claimed that the National Democratic Party should be enjoined from seating the Regulars, inasmuch as the Regulars were guilty of past racial discrimination; in addition the Loyalists counterclaimed that the Mississippi statute which established the Regulars' right to exclusive use of the name 'Democratic Party' was unconstitutional. At this time the Loyalists moved to add as parties the Governor, Secretary of State and Attorney General of Mississippi. 3

The district court decided that the Regulars were the official, legal 'Democratic Party of the State of Mississippi' and the Loyalists had no legal existence. The trial judge declared that the National Democratic Party's rejection of the Regulars in 1968 deprived the 'vast majority of Democrats in the state of Mississippi of a voice in the national elections' and accordingly ordered the National Democratic Party to afford the plaintiffs a full opportunity to be heard on the merits of their respective claims to be seated at the 1972 convention.

Following the decision of the 1972 Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention to seat the Loyalists, the plaintiffs requested additional injunctive relief. The district court in denying that request noted that while it was reluctant to attempt to police the conduct of the Democratic National Convention, it did feel that it was within its powers to enforce its finding that the Regulars were the sole official Democratic Party of the state and retained jurisdiction over the case. Thus while the district court denied the requested injunctive relief against the Democratic National Convention, the case presents the possibility of future injunctive relief against the use of the term 'Democratic Party' within the state of Mississippi by the defendant Loyalists. The district court dismissed the Loyalists' counterclaims and cross-claims.

Both the Loyalists and the Regulars appeal. The Regulars contend that the district court erred in refusing to enjoin the continued use of the term 'Democratic Party' by the Loyalists, while the Loyalists contend that the district court erred in failing to declare that the Mississippi statute granting the Regulars exclusive rights to the terms 'Democratic Party' and 'Democratic' was unconstitutional. We agree that the Mississippi statute which purports to grant such exclusive rights to the terms 'Democratic Party' and 'Democratic' was unconstitutional, and accordingly the district court erred in its dismissal of the defendant's counterclaim. We reverse the decision of the district court below which held that the Regulars had a valid claim to the exclusive use of the term 'Democratic Party.'


The Loyalists challenged the district court's subject matter jurisdiction over the Regulars' claims. The Regulars invoked federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1343(1), (3) and (4), stating claims under42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985(2), and 1973c. In our view the Loyalists' conduct in functioning as a viable political party, holding precinct elections and county nominating conventions, and participating in the national nominating conventions of 1968 and 1972 of the Democratic Party have constituted the performance of such public functions as to give rise to state action for purposes of federal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1343 and 42 U.S.C. 1983. They complied insofar as they were able with state statutes governing the conduct of precinct elections and local nominating conventions in selecting national convention delegates, 4 and thus they have provided the machinery whereby candidates are nominated for national office. In so doing, their conduct partakes of sufficient state action to justify federal court review. Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 73 S.Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed. 1152 (1953); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987 (1944); Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73, 52 S.Ct. 484, 76 L.Ed. 984 (1932). The distinction between primary elections, and nominating conventions has not been held to be of constitutional significance. 5 See, e.g., Gray v. Sanders 372 U.S. 368, 374-375, 83 S.Ct. 801, 9 L.Ed.2d 821 (1963); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987 (1944); Bode v. Nat'l Democratic Party, 146 U.S.App.D.C. 373, 452 F.2d 1302 (1972); State of Georgia v. Nat'l Democratic Party, 145 U.S.App.D.C. 102, 447 F.2d 1271 (1971).

Alternately, we believe that the district court had jurisdiction by virtue of the counterclaim of the Loyalists against the Regulars which clearly stated a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. 1983 inasmuch as the claim involved the contention that the state statute unconstitutionally granted the Regulars exclusive rights to the title 'Democratic Party.' See, Haberman v. Equitable Life Assurance Society of U.S., 224 F.2d 401 (5th Cir. 1955).


Part of the counterclaim of the Loyalists involved a request for injunctive relief against enforcement of the Mississippi statute, 3107 et seq., and as such would be improperly considered by a single judge under 28 U.S.C. 2281. That part of the counterclaim which requested a declaration that Mississippi Code Ann. 3107 et seq. is unconstitutional on its face, however, can be considered without a statutory three-judge court inasmuch as only declaratory relief was requested. Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 372 U.S. 144, 152-155, 83 S.Ct. 554, 9 L.Ed.2d 644 (1962); Triple A. Realty, Inc. v. Florida Real Estate Comm., 468 F.2d 245, 246 (5th Cir. 1972).


It is undisputed that the use of the name 'Democratic Party' has substantial value; both parties earnestly seek to have their right to use the name established by this Court. The Regulars argue in their brief that 'the political label alone carries with it thousands of votes that might go for another candidate if the party affiliation of the candidates were not known.' In our view the value goes beyond the effect the term 'Democratic Party' has on ignorant or undecided voters, for it permits a group to identify itself with an historical tradition, a national and regional political organization, and a well-established structure to facilitate fund-raising. 6 We...

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