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HECHINGER v. MARTIN

March 24, 1976

JOHN W. HECHINGER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT MARTIN, Chairman, District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WRIGHT

 This case is now before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion For Summary Judgment And For Entry of Permanent Injunction, Defendants' Cross-Motion For Summary Judgment, and the Joint Cross-Motion of Intervenors For Summary Judgment. For the reasons explained herein, plaintiffs' motion is denied, and summary judgment is granted for defendants.

 Background

 The facts of this case are not in dispute. Plaintiffs Hechinger, Huff, Lewis, Dulcan, and Berenson are affiliated Democrats in the District of Columbia. Plaintiff Democratic Central Committee is the District of Columbia's local Democratic party organization. Intervenor Republican Committee is the District of Columbia's local Republican organization. Intervenor Jerry A. Moore, Jr. is an affiliated Republican who was elected on November 5, 1975 to one of four at-large seats on the District of Columbia Council. Intervenor Rich is an unaffiliated voter who was defeated in his bid for one of the four at-large seats on the Council in the election of November 5, 1975. Defendants Martin and Chapman are chairperson and member respectively on the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics.

 Plaintiffs in this case seek a judgment declaring Sections 401(b)(2) *fn1" and 401(d)(3) *fn2" of the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act *fn3" unconstitutional and enjoining the defendant Board from enforcing those limitations. In an earlier action, *fn4" in which plaintiffs sought similar relief immediately prior to the 1974 election, the Court held that the action should be dismissed, without prejudice to refiling, because it was then too close to that election for the Court to take responsible action. The present action is substantially the same as the earlier action, as permitted by that decision.

 The District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act provides for the election of a Council for the District of Columbia to act as the District's legislature. The Council is made up of thirteen members. Eight are elected from wards, four are elected at-large, and one is elected at-large separately as chairperson of the Council. The purpose of the limitations contained in the sections at issue is to ensure minority representation on the Council (As of March, 1975, 76.55% of the District's qualified voters had affiliated with the Democratic party). The act was signed by the President on December 24, 1973. On May 7, 1974, pursuant to its provisions, the Act was submitted to the voters of the District and was approved by a majority of 82.74% of the vote cast. As a result of the November 5, 1974 election, Democrats were elected to all eight ward seats on the Council, to two of the at-large seats, and to the chair of the Council, for a total of 84.6% of the votes on the Council. Plaintiffs now seek to have the Court invalidate Sections 401(b)(2) and 401(d)(3) of the Act on First and Fifth Amendment grounds.

 First Amendment

 Plaintiffs claim that the statute deprives them of First Amendment rights in two respects. In the first place, it prevents plaintiffs as registered Democrats from exercising their vote in accordance with their political beliefs in the election of at-large councilmen on the District of Columbia City Council. Additionally, according to plaintiffs, the statute prevents them from free and effective association with other Democrats in political activity aimed at electing Democrats to the at-large seats on the Council. Intervenors' version of the question presented by plaintiffs' claims is well stated, i.e. that plaintiffs' claims in this regard present the question whether the Constitution requires that the political party with the majority of registered voters must have the right in an election for a multi-member body to elect all the members of that body.

 We have examined all the authorities cited by plaintiffs in support of their position, and are unable to discern any such requirement. On the contrary, it appears that the minority representation provision is more compatible with the First Amendment than plaintiffs' requirement would be.

 No one seriously contests the fundamental nature of the rights claimed by plaintiffs under the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has in fact articulated the concept on many occasions -- most recently in Buckley, et al. v. Valeo, Secretary of the United States Senate, et al., 424 U.S. 1, 96 S. Ct. 612, 46 L. Ed. 2d 659 (1976).

 But this latest expression from the Supreme Court appears to meet in a somewhat head-on fashion all of plaintiffs' claims in this regard.

 
"The Court's decisions involving associational freedoms establish that the right of association is a 'basic constitutional freedom' that is 'closely allied to freedom of speech and a right which, like free speech, lies at the foundation of a free society.' Kusper v. Pontikes, 414 U.S. [51] at 57, [94 S. Ct. 303, 38 L. Ed. 2d 260]; Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 486, 5 L. Ed. 2d 231, 81 S. Ct. 247 (1960). See, e.g. Bates v. Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516, 522-523, 4 L. Ed. 2d 480, 80 S. Ct. 412 (1960); NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. [449] at 460-461, [78 S. Ct. 1163, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1488]; NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. [415] at 452, [83 S. Ct. 328, 9 L. Ed. 2d 405] (Harlan, J., dissenting). In view of the fundamental nature of the right to associate, governmental 'action which may have the effect of curtailing the freedom to associate is subject to the closest scrutiny.' NAACP v. Alabama, supra, at 460-461. Yet, it is clear that '[neither] the right to associate nor the right to participate in political activities is absolute.' Civil Service Comm'n v. National Association of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 567, 37 L. Ed. 2d 796, 93 S. Ct. 2880 (1973). Even a '"significant interference" with protected rights of political association' may be sustained if the State demonstrates a sufficiently important interest and employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms. Cousins v. Wigoda, 419 U.S. [477] at 488, [95 S. Ct. 541, 42 L. Ed. 2d 595]; NAACP v. Button, supra, at 438; Shelton v. Tucker, supra, at 488."

 424 U.S. 1, 25, 96 S. Ct. 612, 46 L. Ed. 2d 659.

 We think that the Congress' interest in facilitating some representation of political minorities on the City Council of the nation's capitol is a valid one, sufficiently important to warrant the challenged interference with the rights of political association, and that the means adopted to promote that interest ...


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