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U.S. Supreme Court

Illinois State Bd. of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party, 440 U.S. 173 (1979)

Illinois State Board of Elections v. Socialist Workers Party

No. 77-1248

Argued November 6, 1978

Decided February 22, 1979

440 U.S. 173


Under the Illinois Election Code, new political parties and independent candidates must obtain the signatures of 25,000 qualified voters in order to appear on the ballot in statewide elections. However, the minimum number of signatures required in elections for offices of political subdivisions of the State is 5% of the number of persons who voted at the previous election for such offices. Application of these provisions to a special mayoral election in Chicago produced the result that a new party or independent candidate needed substantially more signatures than would be needed for ballot access in a statewide election. In actions by appellees, an independent candidate, two new political parties, and certain voters, challenging this discrepancy on equal protection grounds, the District Court enjoined enforcement of the 5% provision insofar as it mandated more than 25,000 signatures, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. This Court's summary affirmance in Jackson v. Ogilvie, 403 U.S. 925, of the District Court's decision in 325 F.Supp. 864, upholding Illinois' 5% signature requirement is not dispositive of the equal protection question presented here. The precedential effect of a summary affirmance can extend no further than "the precise issues presented and necessarily decided by those actions," Mandel v. Bradley, 432 U. S. 173, 432 U. S. 176. In contrast to this case, the challenge in Jackson involved only the discrepancy between the 5% requirement and the less stringent requirements for candidates of established political parties. The issue presented here was not referred to by the Jackson District Court, and was mentioned only in passing in the jurisdictional statement subsequently filed with this Court. Thus, the issue was not adequately presented to, or decided by, this Court in its summary affirmance. Pp. 440 U. S. 180-183.

2. The Illinois Election Code, insofar as it requires independent candidates and new political parties to obtain more than 25,000 signatures in Chicago violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 440 U. S. 183-187.

Page 440 U. S. 174

(a) When such fundamental rights as the freedom to associate as a political party and the right to cast votes effectively are at stake, a State must establish that its regulation of ballot access is necessary to serve a compelling interest. Pp. 440 U. S. 184-185.

(b) "[E]ven when pursuing a legitimate interest, a State may not choose means that unnecessarily restrict constitutionally protected liberty," Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U. S. 51, 414 U. S. 58-59, and States must adopt the least drastic means to achieve their ends. This requirement is particularly important where restrictions on access to the ballot are involved. Since the State has determined that a smaller number of signatures in a larger political unit adequately serves its interest in regulating the number of candidates on the ballot, the signature requirements for independent candidates and political parties seeking offices in Chicago are clearly not the least restrictive means of achieving the same objective. Appellant State Board of Elections has advanced no reason, much less a compelling one, why the State needs a more stringent requirement for elections in Chicago than for statewide elections. Pp. 440 U. S. 185-186.

(c) Prior invalidation of Illinois' rules regarding geographic distribution of signatures tied the requirements for both city and state candidates solely to a population standard. However, while this may explain the anomaly at issue here, it does not justify it. Historical accident, without more, cannot constitute a compelling state interest. Pp. 440 U. S. 186-187.

3. The Court of Appeals properly dismissed as moot appellant's claim that the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners lacked authority to conclude a settlement agreement with respect to the unresolved issue whether the 5% signature requirement, coupled with the filing deadline, impermissibly burdened First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Appellant has presented no evidence creating a reasonable expectation that the Chicago Board will repeat its purportedly unauthorized actions in subsequent elections. Pp. 440 U. S. 187-188.

566 F.2d 586, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, .JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, and IV of which STEVENS, J. joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post p. 440 U. S. 188. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post p 440 U. S. 189. BURGER, C.J.,concurred in the judgment. REHNQUIST, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. post p. 440 U. S. 190.

Page 440 U. S. 175

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