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SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY v. ROCKEFELLER

June 18, 1970

SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY, Clifton DeBerry, Kipp Dawson, Jon Rothschild, Miguel Padilla, Ruthann Miller, Hedda Garza, Michael Arnall and Jack Wood, Plaintiffs,
v.
Nelson A. ROCKEFELLER, Governor of the State of New York, John P. Lomenzo, Secretary of State of the State of New York, Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of the State of New York, Defendants. SOCIALIST LABOR PARTY OF AMERICA, an independent political association, John Emanuel, Walter Steinhilber, Stephen Emery, Bernard Reitzes, Israel Feinberg, Doris Ballantyne, Freedom & Peace Party of New York State, an independent political association, Karl Bernard, Nathan Solomon, Andrew Talbutt, David Dubnau, Jeanne Dubnau, Marjorie Thalheimer, on behalf of each and on behalf of all other independent political associations in the State of New York wishing to submit candidates for election to public office, and their respective supporters, including, without being limited to, Communist Party (U.S.A.), Peace & Freedom Party, National Renaissance Party, and Socialist Worker's Party, Plaintiffs, v. Nelson A. ROCKEFELLER, Governor of the State of New York; John P. Lomenzo, Secretary of State of the State of New York; Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of the State of New York; the Board of Elections of the City of New York, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TENNEY

TENNEY, District Judge.

The above two captioned suits, consolidated without opposition by order of the district court dated May 11, 1970, and submitted to a statutory three-judge court by orders of Chief Judge J. Edward Lumbard of the Court of Appeals dated May 4, and 14, 1970, place in issue the constitutionality of various sections of the New York State Election Law (McKinney's 1964) (hereinafter referred to as the "Election Law") which govern and affect the process to be followed by independent political parties in nominating candidates for election to state-wide and local public offices in the next-scheduled general election to be held in November 1970.

Basing jurisdiction of the court upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs seek to redress the alleged deprivation, under color of State law or statute, of rights, privileges and immunities secured to them by Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States and by the First, Ninth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments thereto. A declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202 and permanent injunctive relief are sought to invalidate and restrain defendants from enforcing and implementing the following sections of the Election Law. *fn1"

 (a) Section 138(5)(a) of the Election Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 17, which provides:

 
"An independent nominating petition for candidates to be voted for by all the voters of the state must be signed by at least twelve thousand voters, of whom at least fifty shall reside in each county of the state, and counties of Fulton and Hamilton to be considered as one county";

 (b) Sections 138(1) and (6) of the Election Law, which provide, respectively:

 
"Independent nominations for public office may be made by a petition * * * containing the signatures of qualified voters of the political unit for which a nomination is made who were registered to vote therein at the last preceding general election"; and
 
"The name of a person signing * * * [an independent party nominating] petition for an election for which voters are required to be registered shall not be counted if such person was not registered at the time of the last preceding general election as a qualified voter; or, if such person voted at a primary election where a candidate was nominated for an office for which such petition purports to nominate a candidate; or, if the name of a person who has signed such a petition appears upon another petition designating or nominating the same or a different person for the same office";

 (c) Section 138(3) of the Election Law, which provides that petitions for independent nominations for public office be "authenticated by witnesses" who must aver on a separate form that the witness "know each of the voters whose names are subscribed to this petition";

 (d) Section 168 of the Election Law, which provides that "The board of regents of the state of New York shall make provisions for the giving of literacy tests" which shall ascertain whether the voter "is able to read and write English, or is able to read and write English save for physical disability only." A new voter may be registered without having taken such literacy test by presenting evidence of the fact or completing an affidavit to the effect that the voter has completed the work up to and including the sixth grade of an approved elementary school in which English is the language of instruction or of a public or private school accredited by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which school instruction is carried on predominantly in the English language;

 (e) Section 376 of the Election Law, which provides that the compilation of current names, residence addresses and registration serial numbers of the registered voters in each election district be sent free of charge to those parties which polled more than 50,000 votes in the last gubernatorial election, that at least twelve copies be kept for public inspection at each main office of the board of elections and that surplus copies at not exceeding the cost of reproduction be sold to anyone who may apply therefor; and

 (f) Section 31 of the Election Law, which provides that the respective chairmen of the New York and Kings County Republican and Democratic Parties shall recommend or nominate qualified persons for appointment as commissioners of elections.

 In the first of the above two captioned suits, plaintiff Socialist Workers Party of New York (hereinafter referred to as the "S.W.P."), an independent political party as defined by Section 2 of the Election Law (having polled less than 50,000 votes for governor at the last preceding election), has selected a slate of candidates for election to state-wide and local public offices and seeks to obtain the required number of signatures on nominating petitions to qualify these candidates for a position on the ballot in the November 1970 general election. Charging that the established political parties in New York support a capitalist system in which all real power is invested in a tiny minority, the very rich, the S.W.P. seeks to present an alternate program to the electorate of "working people, Afro-Americans, Puerto Ricans, women, and students winning control over their own lives." *fn2" Joined with S.W.P. as parties plaintiff in this suit are its candidates for state-wide and local offices in the upcoming election, and three New York State citizens who have become registered voters since the last general election held in November 1969 and who intend to sign nominating petitions for S.W.P. candidates. Only one of these three plaintiffs had satisfied New York State's residency requirements at the time of the last general election. *fn3"

 Plaintiff Socialist Labor Party of America (hereinafter referred to as the "S.L.P."), named in the second of the above two captioned suits, seeks to achieve a "classless society based upon collective ownership of all industry, to be administered by a government composed of democratically elected representatives of each industry." *fn4" Joined with S.L.P. as parties plaintiff are its 1969 candidates for New York City office, its 1970 candidates for state-wide office, its chief executive officer, campaign manager and Kings County organizer.

 Plaintiff Freedom and Peace Party of New York (hereinafter referred to as the "F.P.P."), joined with S.L.P. in the second of the above two captioned suits, describes itself as an affiliate of a national organization "dedicated to the elimination of racism and militarism from American life." *fn5" This independent party has not yet officially designated its candidates for the 1970 general election. However, joined with F.P.P. as parties plaintiff are named individuals who "are prepared to run for public office as candidates of [F.P.P.] and wish to appear officially upon the ballot in such capacity", *fn6" its officers and a qualified voter who had not yet attained the age of 21 years at the time of the last preceding general election and wishes to sign a nominating petition on behalf of a minority candidate in connection with the 1970 elections. *fn7"

 In substance, plaintiffs charge that the threatened enforcement of the provisions of the Election Law set forth above discriminates against and imposes unreasonably burdensome procedures upon independent or minority parties which impede their full and equal participation in the electoral process. They argue that independent candidates are unable to qualify for positions on the general election ballot without seriously draining their financial and manpower resources and debilitating the strength of the independent party to conduct a vigorous election campaign. Additionally, it is urged that enforcement of these statutory provisions will deprive plaintiffs of their right to freely associate for the advancement of their political beliefs, and debase and otherwise impair the right of all registered voters to the equal opportunity to effectively cast their votes for candidates of their choice.

 DISCUSSION

 The right of individuals to organize and associate for the advancement of their political beliefs and the right of all qualified voters, regardless of political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively for candidates of their choice have been firmly established among our precious freedoms. Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 30, 89 S. Ct. 5, 21 L. Ed. 2d 24 (1968). So long as these rights are held inviolate, minority and dissident political views can be aired in the public forum to serve as alternate solutions to contemporary problems and checks on the representation provided by the established or traditional political parties. It is this competition in ideas, approaches and governmental policies which is at ...


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