CSC V. LETTER CARRIERS, 413 U. S. 548 (1973)

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U.S. Supreme Court

CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548 (1973)

United States Civil Service Commission v.

National Association of Letter Carriers

No. 72-634

Argued March 26, 1973

Decided June 25, 1973

413 U.S. 548


Some individual federal employees, an employees' union, and certain local Democratic and Republican political committees filed this action challenging as unconstitutional on its face the prohibition in § 9(a) of the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. § 7324(a)(2), against federal employees' taking "an active part in political management or in political campaigns." The section defines the phrase as

"those acts of political management or political campaigning which were prohibited on the part of employees in the competitive service before July 19, 1940, by determinations of the Civil Service Commission under the rules prescribed by the President."

The three-judge District Court recognized the "well established governmental interest in restricting political activities by federal employees," but held that the statutory definition of "political activity," the constitutionality of which was left open in United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U. S. 75, was vague and overbroad, and thus unconstitutional.


1. The holding of Mitchell, supra, that federal employees can be prevented from holding a party office, working at the polls, and acting as party paymaster for other party workers is reaffirmed. Congress can also constitutionally forbid federal employees from engaging in plainly identifiable acts of political management and political campaigning, such as organizing a political party or club; actively participating in fund-raising activities for a partisan candidate or political party; becoming a partisan candidate for, or campaigning for, an elective public office; actively managing the campaign of a partisan candidate for public office; initiating or circulating a partisan nominating petition or soliciting votes for a partisan candidate for public office; or serving as a delegate, alternate, or proxy to a political party convention. Pp. 413 U. S. 554-567.

2. It is the Civil Service Commission's regulations regarding political activity, the legitimate descendants of the 1940 restatement adopted by the Congress, and, in most respects the reflection

Page 413 U. S. 549

of longstanding interpretations of the statute by the agency charged with its interpretation and enforcement, and the statute itself, that are the bases for rejecting the claim that the Act is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Pp. 413 U. S. 568-581.

(a) The regulations specifying the various activities deemed prohibited by § 7324(a)(2) are set out in terms that the ordinary person exercising ordinary common sense can sufficiently understand and observe, without sacrifice to the public interest, and are not impermissibly vague. Pp. 413 U. S. 575-580.

(b) There is nothing fatally overbroad about the statute considered in connection with the Civil Service Commission's construction of its terms represented by the current regulations. The restrictions on endorsements in advertisements, broadcasts, and literature, and on speaking at political party meetings in support of partisan candidates for public or party office, the major areas of difficulty, are clearly stated, are normally performed only in the context of partisan campaigns by one taking an active role in them, and are sustainable just as the other acts of political campaigning are constitutionally proscribable. They do not, therefore, render the rest of the statute vulnerable for overbreadth. P. 413 U. S. 580.

(c) Even if the provisions forbidding partisan campaign endorsements and speechmaking were to be considered, in some respects, constitutionally overbroad, they would not invalidate the entire statute. Pp. 413 U. S. 580-581.

346 F.Supp. 578, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 413 U. S. 595.

Page 413 U. S. 550

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