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LAROUCHE v. FOWLER

November 1, 1999

LYNDON H. LAROUCHE, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DONALD L. FOWLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Before Sentelle, Circuit Judge, Jackson, District Judge, and Kennedy, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam.

  OPINION ON MOTION TO DISMISS

This three-judge court was convened to consider a Voting Rights Act case arising out of Lyndon LaRouche's unsuccessful campaign to capture the Democratic Party's 1996 nomination for President of the United States. The suit was originally filed on August 2, 1996, and also contained additional constitutional claims. The application for a three-judge court was denied and the entire complaint dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The court of appeals then affirmed in part and remanded in part, which required the assembly of a three-judge court on the claims under the Act. See LaRouche v. Fowler, 152 F.3d 974, 998 (D.C.Cir. 1998). We now consider the remaining portions of defendants' motions to dismiss. We conclude that the defendant Democratic National Party is not a covered jurisdiction under the Act, and that the defendant state parties are not required to request preclearance of national party rules. We therefore grant the motion.

I.

The focus of this action is on Democratic National Committee ("DNC") rules which essentially extinguished Lyndon LaRouche's chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 1996. The facts are already detailed extensively in the opinion of the court of appeals. See id. at 975-77. We restate the relevant facts here.

LaRouche first announced his presidential bid on August 7, 1993. On March 12, 1994, the DNC adopted Delegate Selection Rules for their 1996 convention. Rule 11(K) stated:

  For purposes of these rules, a Democratic candidate
  for President must be registered to vote, must be a
  declared Democrat, and must, as determined by the
  Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, have
  established a bona fide record of public service,
  accomplishment, public writings and/or public
  statements affirmatively demonstrating that he or she
  has the interests, welfare and success of the
  Democratic Party of the United States at heart and
  will participate in the Convention in good faith.
  The DNC also promulgated its "Call to the 1996 Democratic National Convention," in which Article IV defined a presidential candidate as:
  any person who, as determined by the National
  Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, has
  accrued delegates in the nominating process and plans
  to seek the nomination, has established substantial
  support for his or her nomination as the Democratic
  candidate for the Office of the President of the
  United States, is a bona fide Democrat whose record
  of public service, accomplishment, public writings
  and/or public statements affirmatively demonstrates
  that he or she is faithful to the interests, welfare
  and success of the Democratic Party of the United
  States, and will participate in the Convention in
  good faith.

LaRouche qualified for a position on the Democratic party ballot in a number of states by the spring of 1996. But on January 5, 1996, DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler sent a letter to the chairpersons of all state Democratic Party organizations. Under Rule 11(K) and Article IV (the "Rules"), Fowler stated in relevant part that LaRouche was "not a bona fide Democrat," as shown by his "beliefs which are explicitly racist and anti-Semitic, and otherwise utterly contrary to the fundamental beliefs . . . of the Democratic Party. . . ." Thus, LaRouche was "not to be considered a qualified candidate," and "state parties . . . should disregard any votes that might be cast for Mr. Larouche [sic], should not allocate delegate positions to Mr. Larouche and should not recognize the selection of delegates pledged to him at any stage of the Delegate Selection Process." The letter further stated that "Mr. Larouche will not be entitled to have his name placed in nomination for the office of President at the 1996 Democratic National Convention."

LaRouche was not excluded from any primary ballots as a result of this letter. But, he alleges that he received enough votes to receive representation in Democratic nominating activities in Louisiana, Virginia, Texas, and Arizona, and the District of Columbia. Due to the Fowler letter, however, each of these jurisdictions denied LaRouche such representation.

LaRouche and his supporters then filed this suit against Fowler, the DNC, and the state Democratic parties and various party officials of each of the above-mentioned states (the "state defendants"). He alleged that the Democratic Party nominating procedures which undermined his campaign had been adopted unlawfully because they were not precleared under the Voting Rights Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1973 et seq., and also violated his Constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also requested the appointment of a three judge court.

The one-judge district court denied the application and dismissed the entire action. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of some claims. First, claims against the District of Columbia Democratic Party were dismissed because it is not a "covered jurisdiction" subject to preclearance under the Act. See LaRouche, 152 F.3d at 986. Second, the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of LaRouche's § 1983 claims. See id. at 998.

The appeals court remanded the Voting Rights Act claims against Fowler, the DNC, and the state defendants. It noted that a single judge may dismiss claims under the Act only if the plaintiff's challenge is "wholly insubstantial" or "obviously frivolous." Id. at 982-83. Because the extent to which political party activities are subject to the Act is not clear after Morse v. Republican Party, 517 U.S. 186, 116 S.Ct. 1186, 134 L.Ed.2d 347 (1996), and although that case might be distinguishable, the court was unable to say that the plaintiffs' ...


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