Snortland v. Crawford, 9906-A

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of North Dakota
Citation306 N.W.2d 614
Docket NumberNo. 9906-A,9906-A
PartiesHoward SNORTLAND, Contestant, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. Joseph CRAWFORD, Contestee, Appellee and Cross-Appellant. Civ.
Decision Date08 June 1981

Chapman & Chapman, Bismarck, contestant, appellant and cross-appellee; argued by Daniel J. Chapman, Bismarck.

Wheeler, Wolf, Peterson & McDonald, Bismarck, for contestee, appellee and cross-appellant; argued by David L. Peterson, Bismarck.

PAULSON, Justice.

Howard Snortland appeals from a judgment entered on January 26, 1981, by the District Court of Cass County, which dismissed with prejudice the contest of election action initiated by Snortland against Joseph Crawford. Crawford has cross-appealed from the conclusion of law included in the judgment which determined that a "false statement" was made, within the meaning of the chapter governing corrupt election practices; and has cross-appealed from the district court's refusal to rule on Crawford's motion to dismiss the action because of the alleged unconstitutionality of certain statutes. We affirm.

In Ring v. Grand Forks Public Sch. Dist. No. 1, 483 F.Supp. 272 (D.N.D.1980), the Federal District Court for North Dakota held that § 15-47-10 of the North Dakota Century Code was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Section 15-47-10, N.D.C.C., required that the Ten Commandments of the Christian religion be displayed in places where public school classes convene for instruction. After the Federal District Court had issued its decision, Snortland was notified by the regional counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union that school districts in this State were continuing to display copies of the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Snortland, in his capacity as North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction, informed school districts in the State of the decision of the Federal District Court but also informed the school districts that actual enforcement of the decision would rest with local law enforcement agencies.

In addition, several newspapers, including the Minot Daily News and the Fargo Forum, published articles on the Ring, supra, decision. The Minot Daily News published an Associated Press release on the subject and the Minot paper carried the headline: "SNORTLAND ORDERS SCHOOLS TO REMOVE TEN COMMANDMENTS." The text of the article as published by the Minot Daily News is as follows:


"BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) North Dakota school superintendents will be required to remove the Ten Commandments from classroom walls.

"State Superintendent of Public Instruction Howard Snortland said Thursday the department will address the issue in its March newsletter.

"Snortland said a ruling by District Judge Paul Benson of Fargo makes it illegal to display the biblical material in public schools in North Dakota.

"On Jan. 29, Benson ruled a 1927 state law mandating display of the Ten Commandments was unconstitutional.

"Snortland said school districts will not have the option of voluntarily posting the commandments.

"The decision followed a controversy in the Grand Forks school district. Last spring, Wilma Belcourt, Grand Forks, demanded that the school board comply with the little-known law.

"Four Grand Forks residents filed suit in district court last July, challenging the constitutionality of the rarely enforced law.

"The Grand Forks school board voted last week not to appeal Benson's ruling. Earlier, Attorney General Allen Olson announced the state would not contest the decision."

The Fargo Forum article by the Associated Press was substantially the same, but carried the headline: "SCHOOLS FACE COMMANDMENTS ORDER." The articles were printed in February, 1980.

In a newsletter titled "Outlook", which is published by the Department of Public Instruction, Dr. Lowell Jensen, who was then the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, wrote an article which concerned the Federal District Court's decision, as follows, in pertinent part:

"1. What is the outcome of the district court case involving the posting of the Ten Commandments in elementary, secondary, and college and university classrooms of the public school system?

"The case, heard in the United States District Court, the Northeastern Division, held that the posting of the Ten Commandments in conformity with North Dakota Century Code 15-47-10 is unconstitutional. The court stated that 'The statute fails to meet two of the three criteria required to withstand the Establishment Clause challenge. It does not serve a secular legislative purpose and it advances religion. Freedom of religion is one of the most important of the individual rights that have been excluded by our Constitution from control or infringement by the Government. Any infringement, however well intended, takes something away from that aspect of our freedom that may never be recovered. Of even more concern, it serves as a basis for further infringement.'

"The case was decided, then, against the Grand Forks School District. The Grand Forks School District had a 30-day period in which to appeal the judgment which was entered on January 28, 1980. Therefore, although the final date for filing an appeal had not passed at the time of this writing, the Grand Forks School Board had publicly announced that they did not intend to file an appeal. If no appeal is filed prior to the expiration of the 30-day period, it then becomes unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments in North Dakota public school classrooms and schools would be advised to remove the Ten Commandments from their classrooms." (Jensen, Question-Aired, OUTLOOK: N.D. Education, March 15, 1980, at 3; re: Ring v. Grand Forks Public Sch. Dist. No. 1, 483 F.Supp. 272 (D.N.D.1980).)

Sometime after these articles were published, the Judiciary "C" Committee of the North Dakota Legislative Council for the 46th Legislative Assembly, subsequent to the Ring, supra, decision, convened and recommended that legislation be introduced at the 47th Legislative Assembly to allow schools to post the Ten Commandments in school classrooms. No representative from the Department of Public Instruction testified or stated a position on the proposed legislation before such Committee. At this point, Crawford's campaign committee, which was active in seeking to have him elected to the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, recommended that Crawford address the sensitive political issue of posting the Ten Commandments in schools and Snortland's actions in relation to this issue.

On or about October 27, 1980, a letter printed and mailed by the North Dakota Republican Party which contained the signature of John M. Sellie, its chairman, was sent to approximately 20,000 people in this State. Sellie revised part of the first paragraph of the letter while Crawford authored the remainder of the contents in the letter. The letter contained the following statements, in pertinent part:

"October 1980

"Dear Neighbor,

"As a rural North Dakota resident, I've witnessed the closing of small schools over the years. Now some rural and small town children ride a school bus up to three hours per day to attend a larger school where the quality of education is no better than at our small schools.

"I am asking you to help Dr. Joe Crawford in his bid for State Superintendent of Schools for three reasons: First, he is committed to fight for the smaller schools. His opponent has spent his career trying to close them down. Now our smaller schools are on the verge of collapse. Crawford will accept the leadership role necessary to keep them viable.

"Second, we need Crawford as State Superintendent because he opposes the present superintendent's call for binding arbitration, which would permit an outside committee to determine what the local school will pay the teachers. This proposal would destroy local control of our schools. Dr. Crawford is against it.

"Third, Crawford feels it to be a serious error for the State Superintendent to order the Ten Commandments out of the schools. Morals in this country are bad enough, and Crawford has pledged to carry on the fight to return the Ten Commandments to the schools.

"Crawford will fight for our schools. Fight for him November 4th.

Best personal regards,

/s/ John O. Sellie

/s/ Chairman, North Dakota

/s/ Republican Party "Prepared and paid for by the Republican Party of North Dakota John Sellie, Chairman, Box 1917, Bismarck, North Dakota 58502"

Snortland, the incumbent, and Crawford were candidates for the office of North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction. In the general election held on November 4, 1980, Crawford received 154,221 votes, while Snortland received 116,510 votes. A certificate of election was issued on November 19, 1980, and Crawford filed his oath of office on November 25, 1980. Snortland initiated this action on December 3, 1980, by filing a notice of contest of election in which he alleged that Crawford's action in preparing the letter sent on or about October 27, 1980, constituted an "illegal act" within the meaning of § 16-20-22, N.D.C.C., and that Crawford had exceeded the campaign spending limitation set forth in § 16-20-04, N.D.C.C. On December 9, 1980, Crawford submitted an application for a temporary restraining order and a writ of prohibition to this court, in order to prohibit the district court from taking action on the contest of election action. On December 18, 1980, Snortland submitted an application for a temporary restraining order to prohibit Crawford from assuming the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction pending the completion of the contest of election action.

In Crawford v. Snortland, 300 N.W.2d 254 (N.D.1980), we declined to accept original jurisdiction over the matter and determined that Crawford could assume the duties of the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction because the ...

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  • Rickert v. State, Public Disclosure Com'n, 77769-1.
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
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    ...when used by political candidates can lead to public cynicism and apathy toward the electoral process"); Snortland v. Crawford, 306 N.W.2d 614, 623 (N.D.1981) ("[u]ndoubtedly, the State interest in preserving the integrity of the election process and allowing the electorate to choose among ......
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