[ Thomas ]
[ Opinion of OConnor ]
[ Stevens ]
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
CLINGMAN, SECRETARY, OKLAHOMA STATE ELECTION BOARD, et al. v. BEAVER et al.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT
Under Oklahomas semiclosed primary law, a political party may invite only its own registered members and voters registered as Independents to vote in its primary. When the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma (LPO) notified the State Election Board it wanted to open its upcoming primary to all registered voters regardless of party affiliation, the Board agreed as to Independents, but not as to other parties members. The LPO and several Oklahomans registered as Republicans and Democrats then sued for equitable relief, alleging that Oklahomas statute unconstitutionally burdens their First Amendment right to freedom of political association. The District Court upheld the statute on the grounds that it did not severely burden respondents associational rights and that any burden imposed was justified by Oklahomas asserted interests in preserving parties as viable and identifiable interest groups and in ensuring that primary results accurately reflect party members voting. Reversing, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the statute imposed a severe burden on respondents associational rights and was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.
Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.
363 F.3d 1048, reversed and remanded.
Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court except as to Part IIA, concluding that Oklahomas semiclosed primary system does not violate the right to freedom of association. Any burden it imposes is minor and justified by legitimate state interests. Pp. 34, 816.
(a) The First Amendment protects citizens right to band together in promoting among the electorate candidates who espouse their political views. California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 574. Regulations imposing severe burdens on associational rights must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, but when they impose lesser burdens, a States important regulatory interests will usually be enough to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions. Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358. In Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, 224, n. 13, the Court left open the question whether a State may prevent a political party from inviting registered voters of other parties to vote in its primary. Pp. 34.
(b) Oklahomas system does not severely burden associational rights. The Court disagrees with respondents argument that the burden Oklahoma imposes is no less severe than the burden at issue in Tashjian, and thus the Court must apply strict scrutiny as it did in Tashjian. Tashjian applied strict scrutiny without carefully examining the burden on associational rights. Not every electoral law burdening associational rights is subject to strict scrutiny, which is appropriate only if the burden is severe, e.g., Jones, supra, at 582. Requiring voters to register with a party before participating in its primary minimally burdens voters associational rights. Moreover, Tashjian is distinguishable. Oklahomas semiclosed primary imposes an even less substantial burden than did the Connecticut closed primary at issue in Tashjian. Unlike that law, Oklahomas system does not require Independent voters to affiliate publicly with a party to vote in its primary, 479 U.S., at 216, n. 7. Although, like the earlier law, Oklahomas statute does not allow parties to broaden opportunities for joining by their own act, but requires intervening action by potential voters, ibid., this burden is not severe, since many electoral regulations require that voters take some action to participate in the primary process. Such minor barriers between voter and party do not compel strict scrutiny. See Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, 143. To deem ordinary and widespread burdens like these severe would subject virtually every electoral regulation to strict scrutiny, hamper the ability of States to run efficient and equitable elections, and compel federal courts to rewrite state electoral codes. The Constitution does not require that result. Pp. 810.
(c) Oklahomas primary advances a number of regulatory interests this Court recognizes as important: It preserv[es] [political] parties as viable and identifiable interest groups, Nader v. Schaffer, 417 F. Supp. 837, 845 (D. Conn.), affd, 429 U.S. 989; enhances parties electioneering and party-building efforts, 417 F. Supp., at 848; and guards against party raiding and sore loser candidacies by spurned primary contenders, Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 735. Pp. 1014.
(d) The Court declines to consider respondents expansion of their challenge to include several of Oklahomas ballot access and voter registration laws. Those claims were neither raised nor decided below, see, e.g., Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Aviall Services, Inc., 543 U.S. ___, ___, and respondents have pointed to no unusual circumstances warranting their consideration now, see Taylor v. Freeland & Kronz, 503 U.S. 638, 645646. Pp. 1416.
Justice Thomas, joined by The Chief Justice, Justice Scalia, and Justice Kennedy, concluded in Part IIA that a voter unwilling to disaffiliate from another party in order to vote in the LPOs primary forms little association with the LPOnor the LPO with him. See Tashjian, supra, at 235. But even if Oklahomas system burdens an associational right, the burden is less severe than others this Court has upheld as constitutional. The reasons underpinning Timmons, supra, show that Oklahomas system burdens the LPO only minimally. As in Timmons, Oklahomas law does not regulate the LPOs internal processes, its authority to exclude unwanted members, or its capacity to communicate with the public. And just as in Timmons, in which a Minnesota law conditioned a partys ability to nominate the candidate of its choice on the candidates willingness to disaffiliate from another party, Oklahoma conditions a partys ability to welcome a voter into its primary on the voters willingness to dissociate from his current party of choice. If a party may be prevented from associating with its desired standard bearer because he refuses to disaffiliate from another party, it may also be prevented from associating with a voter who refuses to do the same. Oklahomas system imposes an even slighter burden on voters than on the LPO. Disaffiliation is not difficult: Other parties registered members who wish to vote in the LPO primary simply need to file a form changing their registration. Voters are not locked in to an unwanted party affiliation, see Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. 51, 6061, because with only nominal effort they are free to vote in the LPO primary. Pp. 48.
Justice OConnor, joined by Justice Breyer except as to Part III, agreed with most of the Courts reasoning, but wrote separately to emphasize two points. First, the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma (LPO) and voters registered with another party have constitutionally cognizable interests in associating with one another through the LPOs primary, and these interests should not be minimized to dispose of this case. Second, while the Court is correct that only Oklahomas semiclosed primary law is properly under review, that standing alone it imposes only a modest, nondiscriminatory burden on respondents associational rights, and that this burden is justified by the States legitimate regulatory interests, there are some grounds for concern that other Oklahoma laws governing party recognition and changes in party affiliation may unreasonably restrict voters ability to participate in the LPOs primary. A realistic assessment of regulatory burdens on associational rights would, in an appropriate case, require examination of the cumulative effects of the States overall primary scheme; and any finding of a more severe burden would trigger more probing review of the States justifications. Pp. 111.
Thomas, J., delivered an opinion, which was for the Court except as to Part IIA. Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia and Kennedy, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and OConnor and Breyer, JJ., joined except as to Part IIA. OConnor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Breyer, J., joined except as to Part III. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, and in which Souter, J., joined as to Parts I, II, and III.