Brief Fact Summary. Libertarian Party of Oklahoma (P) filed against Oklahoma (D) on the ground that the state primary laws were a violation of the First Amendment, since they allowed only party members or Independents to vote in a party primary election.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. State election laws which regulate the class of voters allowed to vote in a party primary election are not in violation of the First Amendment rights of free speech or association.
Issue. Whether election laws of a state which restrict the voters who may be invited to participate in a party’s primary election to the party’s own voters or Independent candidates are in violation of the First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
Held. (Thomas, J.) No. Election laws of a state which restrict the voters invited to participate in a party primary to the party’s own voters or Independents do not violate the First Amendment. The law in this case imposed only a minor burden, that of being registered with a party before voting in its primary, on the freedom of association that voters enjoy. At the same time it advanced substantial state interests, including that of keeping parties separate and identifiable in their representation of different interests. All electoral laws which place restrictions on the freedom of association need not be subjected to strict scrutiny.
Representative democracy in any populous unit of governance is unimaginable without the ability of citizens to band together in promoting among the electorate candidates who espouse their political views.View Full Point of Law
Concurrence. The claim by the Libertarian Party brings the freedom of association into consideration. These rights are not seen as minimal. The semi-closed primary law of Oklahoma does not restrict the Libertarian Party’s association rights except in a small way, and that without any special bias against the party, and the extent of restriction is justifiable given the magnitude of the interests served. However, in the action of inviting a voter to take part in a primary and in the voter’s willing response, there is a strong element of freedom to associate which should be the first element considered by the court in its decision.
Discussion. The Supreme Court has, in this decision, without meaning it, given some additional power to the state from the party as regards party politics. Cases involving election laws often find the regulations under strict scrutiny as to whether the law serves a very strong government interest, is narrowly tailored to serve that interest and is the least restrictive way to achieve it. In this instance, however, the Court applied the test of rational scrutiny, that is, whether the state has a legitimate justification for the restriction. This is because of the fact that the law applied only a mild limitation on the voters’ freedom of association. Once the state was shown to have a reasonable and lawful basis for its law, the regulation was determined to be valid under the constitution.