Eu v. S.F. Cty. Democratic Cent. Comm.
489 U.S. 214 (1989)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Eu v. S.F. Cty. Democratic Cent. Comm., 489 U.S. 214 (1989)

Eu v. San Francisco Democratic Central Committee

No. 87-1269

Argued December 5, 1988

Decided February 22, 1989

489 U.S. 214

Syllabus

Section 11702 of the California Elections Code (Code) forbids the official governing bodies of political parties to endorse or oppose candidates in primary elections, while § 29430 makes it a misdemeanor for any candidate in a primary to claim official party endorsement. Other Code sections dictate the organization and composition of parties' governing bodies, limit the term of office for a party's state central committee chair, and require that the chair rotate between residents of northern and southern California. Various party governing bodies, members of such bodies, and other politically active groups and individuals brought suit in the District Court, claiming, inter alia, that these Code provisions deprived parties and their members of the rights of free speech and free association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs as to the provisions in question, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The challenged California election laws are invalid, since they burden the First Amendment rights of political parties and their members without serving a compelling state interest. Pp. 489 U. S. 222-233.

(a) The ban on primary endorsements in §§ 11702 and 29430 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. By preventing a party's governing body from stating whether a candidate adheres to the party's tenets or whether party officials believe that the candidate is qualified for the position sought, the ban directly hampers the party's ability to spread its message and hamstrings voters seeking to inform themselves about the candidates and issues, and thereby burdens the core right to free political speech of the party and its members. The ban also infringes a party's protected freedom of association rights to identify the people who constitute the association and to select a standard-bearer who best represents the party's ideology and preferences, by preventing the party from promoting candidates at the crucial primary election juncture. Moreover, the ban does not serve a compelling governmental interest. The State has not adequately explained how the ban advances its claimed interest in a stable political system or what makes California so peculiar that it is virtually the only State to determine that such a ban

Page 489 U. S. 215

is necessary. The explanation that the State's compelling interest in stable government embraces a similar interest in party stability is untenable, since a State may enact laws to prevent disruption of political parties from without, but not from within. The claim that a party that issues primary endorsements risks intraparty friction which may endanger its general election prospects is insufficient, since the goal of protecting the party against itself would not justify a State's substituting its judgment for that of the party. The State's claim that the ban is necessary to protect primary voters from confusion and undue influence must be viewed with skepticism, since the ban restricts the flow of information to the citizenry without any evidence of the existence of fraud or corruption that would justify such a restriction. Pp. 489 U. S. 222-229.

(b) The restrictions on the organization and composition of the official governing bodies of political parties, the limits on the term of office for state central committee chairs, and the requirement that such chairs rotate between residents of northern and southern California cannot be upheld. These laws directly burden the associational rights of a party and its members by limiting the party's discretion in how to organize itself, conduct its affairs, and select its leaders. Moreover, the laws do not serve a compelling state interest. A State cannot justify regulating a party's internal affairs without showing that such regulation is necessary to ensure that elections are orderly, fair, and honest, and California has made no such showing. The State's claim that it has a compelling interest in the democratic management of internal party affairs is without merit, since this is not a case where intervention is necessary to prevent the derogation of party adherents' civil rights, and since the State has no interest in protecting the party's integrity against the party itself. Nor are the restrictions justified by the State's claim that limiting the term of the state central committee chair and requiring that the chair rotate between northern and southern California help to prevent regional friction from reaching a critical mass, since a State cannot substitute its judgment for that of the party as to the desirability of a particular party structure. Pp. 489 U. S. 229-233.

826 F.2d 814, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except REHNQUIST, C.J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 489 U. S. 233.

Page 489 U. S. 216

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