Williams v. Rhodes Socialist Labor Party v. Rhodes, s. 543

Decision Date15 October 1968
Docket Number544,Nos. 543,s. 543
PartiesGlen A. WILLIAMS et al., Appellants, v. James A. RHODES et al. SOCIALIST LABOR PARTY et al., Appellants, v. James A. RHODES et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

David J. Young, Columbus, Ohio, and Jerry Gordon, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, for appellants, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court.

Charles S. Lopeman, Columbus, Ohio, for appellees.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of Ohio in a series of election laws has made it virtually impossible for a new political party, even though it has hundreds of thousands of members, or an old party, which has a very small number of members, to be placed on the state ballot to choose electors pledged to particular candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States.

Ohio Revised Code, § 3517.01, requires a new party to obtain petitions signed by qualified electors totaling 15% of the number of ballots cast in the last preceding gubernatorial election. The detailed provisions of other Ohio election laws result in the imposition of substantial additional burdens, which were accurately summarized in Judge Kinneary's dissenting opinion in the court below and were substantially agreed on by the other members of that court. 1 Together these various restrictive provisions make it virtually impossible for any party to qualify on the ballot except the Republican and Democratic Parties. These two Parties face substantially smaller burdens because they are allowed to retain their positions on the ballot simply by obtaining 10% of the votes in the last gubernatorial election and need not obtain any signature petitions. Moreover, Ohio laws make no provision for ballot position for independent candidates as distinguished from political parties. The State of Ohio claims the power to keep minority parties and independent candidates off the ballot under Art. II, § 1, of the Constitution, which provides that:

'Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress * * *.'

The Ohio American Independent Party, an appellant in No. 543, and the Socialist Labor Party, an appellant in No. 544, both brought suit to challenge the validity of these Ohio laws as applied to them, on the ground that they deny these Parties and the voters who might wish to vote for them the equal protection of the laws, guaranteed against state abridgment by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The three-judge District Court designated to try the case ruled these restrictive Ohio election laws unconstitutional but refused to grant the Parties the full relief they had sought, 290 F.Supp. 983 (D.C.S.D.Ohio 1968), and both Parties have appealed to this Court. The cases arose in this way:

The Ohio American Independent Party was formed in January 1968 by Ohio partisans of former Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama. During the following six months a campaign was conducted for obtaining signatures on petitions to give the Party a place on the ballot and over 450,000 signatures were eventually obtained, more than the 433,100 required. The State contends and the Independent Party agrees that due to the interaction of several provisions of the Ohio laws, such petitions were required to be filed by February 7, 1968 and so the Secretary of the State of Ohio informed the Party that it would not be given a place on the ballot. Neither in the pleadings, the affidavits before the District Court, the arguments there, nor in our Court has the State denied that the petitions were signed by enough qualified electors of Ohio to meet the 15% requirement under Ohio law. Having demonstrated its numerical strength, the Independent Party argued that this and the other burdens, including the early deadline for filing petitions and the requirement of a primary election conforming to detailed and rigorous standards, denied the Party and certain Ohio voters equal protection of the laws. The three-judge District Court unanimously agreed with this contention and ruled that the State must be required to provide a space for write-in votes. A majority of the District Court refused to hold, however, that the Party's name must be printed on the ballot, on the ground that Wallace and his adherents had been guilty of 'laches' by filing their suit too late to allow the Ohio Legislature an opportunity to remedy, in time for the presidential balloting, the defects which the court held the law possessed. The appellants in No. 543 then moved before Mr. Justice Stewart, Circuit Justice for the Sixth Circuit, for an injunction which would order the Party's candidates to be put on the ballot pending appeal. After consulting with the other members of the Court who were available, and after the State represented that the grant of interlocutory relief would be in the interests of the efficient operation of the electoral machinery if this Court considered the chances of successful challenge to the Ohio statutes good, Mr. Justice Stewart granted the injunction, 89 S.Ct. 1, 21 L.Ed.2d 69.

The Socialist Labor Party, an appellant in No. 544, has all the formal attributes of a regular party. It has conventions and a State Executive Committee as required by the Ohio law, and it was permitted to have a place on the ballot until 1948. Since then, however, it has not filed petitions with the total signatures required under new Ohio laws for ballot position, and indeed it conceded it could not do so this year. The same three-judge panel heard the Party's suit and reached a similar result—write-in space was ordered but ballot position was denied the Socialist Labor Party. In this case the District Court assigned both the Party's small membership of 108 and its delay in bringing suit as reasons for refusing to order more complete relief for the 1968 election. A motion to stay the District Court's judgment was presented to Mr. Justice Stewart several days after he had ordered similar relief in the Independent Party case. The motion was denied principally because of the Socialist Party's failure to move quickly to obtain relief, with the consequent confusion that would be caused by requiring Ohio once again to begin completely reprinting its election ballots, but the case was set by this Court for oral argument, along with the Independent Party case.


Ohio's claim that the political-question doctrine precludes judicial consideration of these cases requires very little discussion. That claim has been rejected in cases of this kind numerous times. It was rejected by the Court unanimously in 1892 in the case of McPherson v. Blacker, 146 U.S. 1, 23—24, 13 S.Ct. 3, 6, 36 L.Ed. 869 and more recently it has been squarely rejected in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 208—237, 82 S.Ct. 691, 705—721, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962), and in Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 5—7, 84 S.Ct. 526, 528—530, 11 L.Ed.2d 481 (1964). Other cases to the same effect need not now be cited. These cases do raise a justiciable controversy under the Constitution and cannot be relegated to the political arena.


The State also contends that it has absolute power to put any burdens it pleases on the selection of electors because of the First Section of the Second Article of the Constitution, providing that 'Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors * * *' to choose a President and Vice President. There, of course, can be no question but that this section does grant extensive power to the States to pass laws regulating the selection of electors. But the Constitution is filled with provisions that grant Congress or the States specific power to legislate in certain areas; these granted powers are always subject to the limitation that they may not be exercised in a way that violates other specific provisions of the Constitution. For example, Congress is granted broad power to 'lay and collect Taxes,' 2 but the taxing power, broad as it is, may not be invoked in such a way as to violate the privilege against self-incrimination.3 Nor can it be thought that the power to select electors could be exercised in such a way as to violate express constitutional commands that specifically bar States from passing certain kinds of laws. Clearly, the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments were intended to bar the Federal Government and the States from denying the right to vote on grounds of race and sex in presidential elections. And the Twenty-fourth Amendment clearly and literally bars any State from imposing a poll tax on the right to vote 'for electors for President or Vice President.' Obviously we must reject the notion that Art. II, § 1, gives the States power to impose burdens on the right to vote, where such burdens are expressly prohibited in other constitutional provisions. We therefore hold that no State can pass a law regulating elections that violates the Fourteenth Amendment's command that 'No State shall * * * deny to any person * * * the equal protection of the laws.'


We turn then to the question whether the court below properly held that the Ohio laws before us result in a denial of equal protection of the laws. It is true that this Court has firmly established the principle that the Equal Protection Clause does not make every minor difference in the application of laws to different groups a violation of our Constitution. But we have also held many times that 'invidious' distinctions cannot be enacted without a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.4 In determining whether or not a state law violates the Equal Protection Clause, we must consider the facts and circumstances behind the law, the interests which the State claims to be protecting, and the interests of those who are disadvantaged by the classification.5 In the present situation the state laws...

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