[ Scalia ]
[ Kennedy ]
[ 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.
CALIFORNIA DEMOCRATIC PARTY et al. v. JONES, SECRETARY OF STATE OF CALIFORNIA, et al.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
One way that candidates for public office in California gain access to the general ballot is by winning a qualified political partys primary. In 1996, Proposition 198 changed the States partisan primary from a closed primary, in which only a political partys members can vote on its nominees, to a blanket primary, in which each voters ballot lists every candidate regardless of party affiliation and allows the voter to choose freely among them. The candidate of each party who wins the most votes is that partys nominee for the general election. Each of petitioner political parties prohibits nonmembers from voting in the partys primary. They filed suit against respondent state official, alleging, inter alia, that the blanket primary violated their First Amendment rights of association. Respondent Californians for an Open Primary intervened. The District Court held that the primarys burden on petitioners associational rights was not severe and was justified by substantial state interests. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.
Held: Californias blanket primary violates a political partys First Amendment right of association. Pp. 419.
(a) States play a major role in structuring and monitoring the primary election process, but the processes by which political parties select their nominees are not wholly public affairs that States may regulate freely. To the contrary, States must act within limits imposed by the Constitution when regulating parties internal processes. See, e.g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U.S. 214. Respondents misplace their reliance on Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, and Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, which held not that party affairs are public affairs, free of First Amendment protections, see, e.g., Tashjian v. Republican Party of Conn., 479 U.S. 208, but only that, when a State prescribes an election process that gives a special role to political parties, the parties discriminatory action becomes state action under the Fifteenth Amendment. This Nation has a tradition of political associations in which citizens band together to promote candidates who espouse their political views. The First Amendment protects the freedom to join together to further common political beliefs, id., at 214215, which presupposes the freedom to identify those who constitute the association, and to limit the association to those people, Democratic Party of United States v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette, 450 U.S. 107, 122. In no area is the political associations right to exclude more important than in its candidate-selection process. That process often determines the partys positions on significant public policy issues, and it is the nominee who is the partys ambassador charged with winning the general electorate over to its views. The First Amendment reserves a special place, and accords a special protection, for that process, Eu, supra, at 224, because the moment of choosing the partys nominee is the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power, Tashjian, supra, at 216. Californias blanket primary violates these principles. Proposition 198 forces petitioners to adulterate their candidate-selection processa political partys basic functionby opening it up to persons wholly unaffiliated with the party, who may have different views from the party. Such forced association has the likely outcomeindeed, it is Proposition 198s intended outcomeof changing the parties message. Because there is no heavier burden on a political partys associational freedom, Proposition 198 is unconstitutional unless it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. See Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358. Pp. 414.
(b) None of respondents seven proffered state interestsproducing elected officials who better represent the electorate, expanding candidate debate beyond the scope of partisan concerns, ensuring that disenfranchised persons enjoy the right to an effective vote, promoting fairness, affording voters greater choice, increasing voter participation, and protecting privacyis a compelling interest justifying Californias intrusion into the parties associational rights. Pp. 1418.
169 F.3d 646, reversed.
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and OConnor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined as to Part I.