Norman v. Reed Cook County Officers Electoral Board

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Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

502 U.S. 279

Norman  v.  Reed Cook County Officers Electoral Board

No. Nos 90-1126, 90-1435  Argued: Oct. 7, 1991. --- Decided: Jan 14, 1992


Illinois citizens wishing to establish a "new political party" may field candidates for statewide office after collecting the signatures of 25,000 eligible voters, and they may field candidates solely for offices in a large "political subdivision" upon collecting the signatures of 25,000 subdivision voters. Ill.Rev.Stat., ch. 46, § 10-2. However, when a subdivision comprises large separate districts from which some of its officers are elected, party organizers seeking to fill such offices must collect 25,000 signatures from each district. Ibid. A new political party becomes an "established political party" if it receives 5% of the vote in the next election, but a party that has not engaged in a statewide election can become "established" only in a subdivision where it has fielded candidates. Petitioners sought to expand the Harold Washington Party (HWP), an established party in Chicago, to Cook County, a subdivision comprising two electoral districts: a city district and a suburban district. Before the 1990 elections, they presented the county with a petition containing 44,000 signatures from the city district and 7,800 signatures from the suburban district and a slate of candidates for both at-large and district-specific seats. Respondent Reed and other voters (collectively, Reed) filed objections with the Cook County Officers Electoral Board (Board). The Board rejected Reed's claim that § 10-5-which prohibits a new party from bearing an established party's name-prevented petitioners from using the HWP name, holding that § 10-5's purpose was to prevent persons not affiliated with a party from latching on to its name, thus causing voter confusion and denigrating party cohesiveness, and that these dangers were not present here since one Evans-the only HWP candidate to run in Chicago's most recent election-had authorized petitioners to use the name. The Board also found that petitioners' failure to gather 25,000 signatures from the suburbs disqualified the HWP candidates wishing to run for suburban-district seats, but not those running for city-district and county-wide offices, and that petitioners' failure to designate HWP candidates for judicial seats did not disqualify the entire slate. The County Circuit Court affirmed the Board's ruling on the use of the HWP name, but held that the entire slate was doomed under § 10-2 by the failure to obtain sufficient suburban-district signatures and, alternatively, the failure to list any judicial candidates. The State Supreme Court held that § 10-5 prohibited petitioners from using the HWP name and that, under § 10-2, the failure to gather enough suburban-district signatures disqualified the entire slate. This Court granted petitioners' application for a stay, permitting them to run in the election. Although no HWP candidates were elected, several received over 5% of the vote, which would qualify the HWP as an "established political party" within all or part of the county in the next election.


1. The controversy is not moot even though the 1990 election is over, both because it is "capable of repetition yet evading review," and because the results of that election will entitle the HWP to enter the next election as an established party in all or part of the county so long as its candidates were entitled to their places on the 1990 ballot. P. 287-288.

2. Sections 10-2 and 10-5, as construed by the State Supreme Court, violate petitioners' right of access to the county ballot. Pp. 288-295.

(a) The right of citizens to create and develop new political parties derives from the First and Fourteenth Amendments and advances the constitutional interest of likeminded voters to gather in pursuit of common political ends, thus enlarging all voters' opportunities to express their own political preferences. See, e.g., Illinois Elections Bd. v. Socialists Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173, 184, 99 S.Ct. 983, 990, 59 L.Ed.2d 230. Therefore, a State may limit new parties' access to the ballot only to the extent that a sufficiently weighty state interest justifies the restriction. Any severe restriction must be narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance. See id., at 184, 186, 99 S.Ct., at 990, 991. P. 288-289.

(b) The State Supreme Court's inhospitable reading of § 10-5 is far broader than is necessary to serve the asserted state interest in preventing misrepresentation and electoral confusion. That interest could be served merely by requiring candidates to get formal permission from an established party to use its name, a simple expedient for fostering an informed electorate without suppressing small parties' growth. Reed offers no support for her apparent assumption that petitioners did not obtain such permission from the Chicago HWP, and the State Supreme Court itself found unworthy of mention any theory that Evans lacked authority under state law to authorize the HWP name's use. Pp. 289-291.

(c) Similarly, disqualifying all HWP candidates because of the failure to collect 25,000 signatures in each district is not the least restrictive means of advancing Illinois' interest in limiting the ballot to parties with demonstrated public support, since it would require petitioners to collect twice as many signatures to field candidates in the county as they would need if they wished to field candidates for statewide office. See Illinois Elections Bd. v. Socialist Workers Party, supra. Even if Illinois could have constitutionally required petitioners to demonstrate a distribution of support throughout Cook County, it could have done so without also raising the overall quantum of needed support above what the State expects of new statewide parties. Moreover, it requires elusive logic to show a serious state interest in demanding a distribution of support for new local parties when the State deems it unimportant to require such support for new statewide parties. Pp. 291-294.

(d) Nonetheless, requiring candidates for suburban-district offices to obtain 25,000 nominating signatures from the suburbs does not unduly burden their right to run under the HWP name. Just as the State may not cite the HWP's failure in the suburbs as reason for disqualifying its candidates in the city district, neither may the HWP cite its success in the city district as a sufficient condition for running candidates in the suburbs. P.295.

3. The issue whether the HWP's failure to field judicial candidates doomed the entire slate is remanded to the State Supreme Court to consider in the first instance. Pp. 295-296.

Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion. THOMAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Robert E. Pincham, Jr., Chicago, Ill., for petitioners in No. 90-1126.

Kenneth L. Gillis, Chicago, Ill., Burton S. Odelson, Evergreen Park, Ill., for petitioners in No. 90-1435.

Gregory A. Adamski, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Justice SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).