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NATIONAL ASSN. OF LETTER CARRIERS v. UNITED STATES
July 31, 1972
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LETTER CARRIERS, AFL-CIO, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL
The National Association of Letter Carriers and six federal employees have brought this class action on behalf of all federal employees seeking a declaratory judgment that 5 U.S.C. § 7324 (a)(2), the provision of the so-called Hatch Act which prohibits certain federal employees from taking "an active part in political management or in political campaigns," is unconstitutional.
In urging that enforcement of the challenged provisions be enjoined, plaintiffs assert that the Act is vague, overly broad, and in conflict with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Defendants are the Civil Service Commission, its three members, and the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Finding the question substantial in the light of current constitutional doctrine, this three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2282 and 2284. A voluminous record was developed by stipulation, some testimony was taken, and the issues have been fully briefed and argued.
There is an obvious, well-established governmental interest in restricting political activities by federal employees which was asserted long before enactment of the Hatch Act. Many federal employees have been prevented from running for political office and engaging in the more obvious forms of partisan political activity since the passage of the Civil Service Act in 1883.
A narrower issue, however, is presented here which was specifically left unresolved by Mitchell.3 This litigation focuses not on the merits of the objective of the Hatch Act but on the manner in which Congress defined the conduct it purported to prohibit in the name of "political management or political campaigns." The meaning and effect of the prohibitions measured against First Amendment standards is now properly raised by qualified plaintiffs having a direct interest as a class in the matter, and this admittedly troublesome constitutional issue can no longer be avoided.
Section 15 of the Act here challenged provides:
. . . the phrase "an active part in political management or in political campaigns" means those acts of political management or political campaigning which were prohibited on the part of employees in the competitive service before July 19, 1940, by determinations of the Civil Service Commission under rules prescribed by the President. § 7324(a).
This definition is ambiguous and unsatisfactory. It incorporates by reference over 3,000 rulings made by the Commission between 1886 and 1940. These rulings, which were not before the Congress when the Act was passed, have now been assembled and are in the record of this case.
When examined they have a sweep and indefiniteness that no one would even attempt in these days to defend if analyzed against the strictures of the First Amendment. A few examples suffice to make this apparent. Disciplinary action was taken against federal employees in situations where the employee engaged to some extent in the following:
(1) made a wager on an election;
(2) offensively discussed a "political question";
(3) disparaged the President;
(4) denounced a political party while in a jovial mood ...
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