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U.S. Supreme Court

Democratic Party v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette, 450 U.S. 107 (1981)

Democratic Party v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette

No. 79-1631

Argued December 8, 1980

Decided February 25, 1981

450 U.S. 107


Rules of the Democratic Party of the United States (National Party) provide that only those who are willing to affiliate publicly with the Democratic Party may participate in the process of selecting delegates to the Party's National Convention. Wisconsin election laws allow voters to participate in its Democratic Presidential candidate preference primary without regard to party affiliation and without requiring a public declaration of party preference. While the Wisconsin delegates to the National Convention are chosen separately, after the primary, at caucuses of persons who have stated their affiliation with the Democratic Party, those delegates are bound to vote at the Convention in accord with the results of the open primary election. Thus, while Wisconsin's open Presidential preference primary does not itself violate the National Party's rules, the State's mandate that primary results shall determine the allocation of votes cast by the State's delegates at the National Convention does. When the National Party indicated that Wisconsin delegates would not be seated at the 1980 National Convention because the Wisconsin delegate selection system violated the National Party's rules, an original action was brought in the Wisconsin Supreme Court on behalf of the State, seeking a declaration that such system was constitutional as applied to appellants (the National Party and Democratic National Committee) and that they could not lawfully refuse to seat the Wisconsin delegation. Concluding, inter alia, that the State had not impermissibly impaired the National Party's freedom of political association protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the State's delegate selection system was constitutional and binding upon appellants, and that they could not refuse to seat delegates chosen in accord with Wisconsin law.

Held: Wisconsin cannot constitutionally compel the National Party to seat a delegation chosen in a way that violates the Party's rules. Cousins v. Wigoda, 419 U. S. 477, controlling. Pp. 450 U. S. 120-126.

(a) The National Party and its adherents enjoy a constitutionally protected right of political association under the First Amendment, and

Page 450 U. S. 108

this freedom to gather in association for the purpose of advancing shared beliefs is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by any State, and necessarily presupposes the freedom to identify the people who constitute the association and to limit the association to those people only. Here, the members of the National Party, speaking through their rules, chose to define their associational rights by limiting those who could participate in any binding process leading to the selection of delegates to their National Convention. Pp. 450 U. S. 120-122.

(b) Wisconsin's asserted compelling interests in preserving the overall integrity of the electoral process, providing secrecy of the ballot, increasing voter participation in primaries, and preventing harassment of voters, go to the conduct of the open Presidential preference primary, not to the imposition of voting requirements upon those who, in a separate process, are eventually selected as delegates. Therefore, such asserted interests do not justify the State's substantial intrusion into the associational freedom of members of the National Party. Pp. 450 U. S. 124-126.

93 Wis.2d 473, 287 N.W.2d 519, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 450 U. S. 126.

Page 450 U. S. 109

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