American Party of Texas v. White - 415 U.S. 767 (1974)


U.S. Supreme Court

American Party of Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767 (1974)

American Party of Texas v. White

No. 72-887

Argued November 5, 1973

Decided March 26, 1974*

415 U.S. 767

Syllabus

Texas laws involved in this litigation provide four methods for nominating candidates in a general election: (1) candidates of parties whose gubernatorial choice polled more than 200,000 votes in the last general election are nominated by primary election only, and the nominees of these parties automatically appear on the ballot; (2) candidates whose parties poll less than 200,000 votes, but more than 2% of the total vote cast for governor in that election are nominated by primary election or nominating conventions; (3) if the foregoing procedures do not apply, precinct conventions can, pursuant to Tex.Election Code, Art. 13.45(2) (Supp. 1973), nominate candidates if the party is able, by notarized signatures, to evidence support by at least 1% of the total gubernatorial vote at the last preceding general election or (by a process to be completed within 55 days after the general May primary election) can produce sufficient supplemental petitions with notarized signatures (not including voters who have already participated in any other party's primary election or nominating process) to make up a combined total of the 1%; and (4) under Arts. 13.50 and 13.51, an independent candidate, regardless of the office sought, can qualify by filing within the time prescribed a petition signed by a certain percentage of voters for governor at the last preceding general election in a specified locality, the percentages varying with the offices sought (in this case 3% in a congressional district and 5% in a State Representative's district). In no event, are more than 500 signatures required of a candidate for any "district office." No voter, participating in any other political party nominating process or signing a nominating petition for the same office, may sign an independent's petition. Appellants, minority political parties and their candidates and supporters, and unaffiliated candidates,

Page 415 U. S. 768

brought actions in the District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the enforcement of the Texas election laws, which they claimed infringed their associational rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and were invidiously discriminatory. They also challenged the practice of printing on absentee ballots only the names of the two major political parties and the State's failure to require printing minority party and independent candidates' names on absentee ballots and the exclusion of minority parties from the benefits of the McKool-Stroud Primary Financing Law of 1972, which provided for public financing from state revenues for primary elections of political parties casting 200,000 or more votes in the last preceding general election for governor. The District Court upheld the constitutionality of the State's election scheme.

Held:

1. Article 13.45(2), which does not freeze the status quo but affords minority parties a real and essentially equal opportunity for ballot qualification, does not contravene the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and is in furtherance of a compelling state interest. Storer v. Brown, ante p. 415 U. S. 724. Pp. 415 U. S. 776-788.

(a) The Equal Protection Clause does not forbid the requirement that small parties proceed by convention, rather than primary election. The convention process has not been shown here to be invidiously more burdensome than the primary election, followed by a runoff election where necessary. Pp. 415 U. S. 781-782.

(b) So long as the larger parties must demonstrate major voter support at the last election, it is not invidious to require smaller parties (which need make no such demonstration) to establish their position otherwise, and the 1% requirement (which two of the appellant parties were able to meet) imposes no insurmountable obstacle on a small party. Pp. 415 U. S. 782-784.

(c) The bar against a person's signing a supplemental petition who has voted in a primary election or participated in a party convention is not unconstitutional, since he may choose to vote or to sign a nominating petition, but not to do both. Nor is it invidious to disqualify those who have voted in a primary from signing petitions for another party seeking ballot position for its candidates for the same offices where that party had access to the entire electorate and an opportunity to commit voters on primary day. Cf. Rosario v. Rockefeller, 410 U. S. 752. Pp. 415 U. S. 785-786.

(d) The 55-day period provides sufficient time for circulating

Page 415 U. S. 769

supplemental petitions, and is not unduly burdensome, nor is the notarization requirement. Pp. 415 U. S. 786-787.

2. The percentage provisions in Arts. 13.50 and 13.51 with the 500 signature feature are not unduly burdensome. Requiring independent candidates to evidence a "significant modicum of support" is not unconstitutional, and the record here is devoid of any proof to support the claims of appellant independent candidates (who relied solely on the minimal 500 vote signature requirement) that these requirements were impermissibly onerous. Pp. 415 U. S. 788-791.

3. The challenged McKool-Stroud provisions are not unconstitutional, since they were designed to compensate for primary election expenses to which the major parties alone are subject, and, as the District Court correctly found,

"the convention and petition procedure available for small and new parties carries with it none of the expensive election requirements burdening those parties required to conduct primaries."

Moreover, the State is not obliged to finance the efforts of every nascent political group seeking ballot placement, like appellant American Party, which failed to qualify for the general election ballot. Pp. 415 U. S. 791-794.

4. The District Court erred in sustaining the exclusion of minority parties from the absentee ballot. No justification was offered by appellees for not giving absentee ballot placement to appellant Socialist Workers Part, which satisfied the statutory requirement for demonstrating the necessary community support needed to win general ballot position for its candidates. Goosby v. Osser, 409 U. S. 512; O'Brien v. Skinner, 414 U. S. 524. Pp. 415 U. S. 794-795.

No. 72-942, affirmed; No. 72-887, 349 F.Supp. 1272, affirmed in par, vacated and remanded in part.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 415 U. S. 795.

Page 415 U. S. 770



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