The Volokh Conspiracy

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States can't force parties to elect local party officials



So the Supreme Court of the state of Washington unanimously held Thursday in Pilloud v. King County Republican Central Committee. The outcome was dictated by the U.S. Supreme Court's precedents related to the First Amendment associational rights of parties, but I thought people who aren't up on their election law might find it surprising, so I'm making note of it here. An excerpt:

Restrictions that limit a political party's discretion in how to organize itself, conduct its affairs, and select its leaders burden the party's right to free association. Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee (1989). If a state election law burdens the rights of political parties and their members, it can survive constitutional scrutiny under the First and Fourteenth Amendments only if it advances a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. A state has a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of its election process and, toward that end, may enact laws interfering with a party's internal affairs when necessary to ensure that elections are fair and honest. …

The Supreme Court struck down a state law regulating internal party governance in Eu. In that case, a California statute required a party's central committee chair to rotate between residents of northern and southern California. The Court struck down the law because it "limits a political party's discretion in how to organize itself, conduct its affairs, and select its leaders." California argued that the law serves a "compelling 'interest in the democratic management of the political party's internal affairs.'" But the Court held that was not a compelling interest because "the State has no interest in 'protect[ing] the integrity of the Party against the Party itself.'" …

The [Washington statute involved in this case] requires that the Committee elect district chairs, but the Committee bylaws require that the Committee appoint district chairs. The Committee's control over the selection of chairpersons is a matter of internal organization, analogous to the control over the geographic rotation of chairpersons held in Eu to be constitutionally protected…. "[A] State cannot substitute its judgment for that of the party as to the desirability of a particular internal party structure." … Because the statute specifies the manner in which an internal office is filled, the statute interferes with the Committee's discretion in organizing itself and selecting its leaders. Therefore, the statute can survive constitutional scrutiny only if it is necessary to ensure fair and orderly elections.

Pilloud argues that the statute ensures fair and orderly elections by preventing the county committee from improperly directing the activities of the district committee to exceed campaign contribution limits. But he has not presented evidence to support this claim, and the argument itself lacks merit. Campaign finance laws treat county and district organizations as a single entity for purposes of contribution limits—therefore, the county committee cannot exceed its contribution limit by directing the activities of the district committee. Because Pilloud fails to show the statute is necessary to ensure fair and orderly elections or otherwise advances a compelling state interest, the statute is unconstitutional.