Lopez Torres vs. NYS Board of Elections Essay

 

1. Introduction

This paper seeks to determine whether someone who cannot get popular support should be allowed to prevail in the context of the Lopez Torres decision by the US Supreme Court which by discussing the case and comparing both arguments.

 

2. Analysis and Discussion

2.1 Facts of the case:

Respondent Lopez Torres got elected sometime in 1992 to a certain civil court with a limited jurisdiction as against that of the New York’s State Supreme Court after being nominated by the Democratic Party through a primary election.  With politics having its way, party leaders began to demand that she make patronage hires after her election but then she consistently refused to do so.[1] This has caused the local party to oppose her unsuccessful candidacy at the Supreme Court nominating conventions in 1997, 2002, and 2003. This prompted Lopez Torres and other respondents (including other candidates who had failed to secure the nominations of their parties, and other interested parties) to bring a suit in federal court against the New York Board of Elections. They contended the state election law has made it more difficult for the rights of challengers seeking to run against candidates favored by the party leadership, and deprived voters and candidates of their rights to gain access to the ballot and to associate in choosing their party’s candidates. The respondents want the court to declare the convention system of New York for Selecting Supreme Court Justices to be violative of their First Amendment rights and want an order from the court to establish a direct primary election to select party nominees for Supreme Court Justice[2].

Lopez Torres brought her case initially to the District Court which issued a preliminary injunction granting the relief requested pending the New York Legislature’s enactment of a new statutory scheme.[3] The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the lower court.[4]

The arguments which upheld the respondents there was violation of the First Amendment “because of the quantity of signatures and delegate recruits are required to obtain a Supreme Court nomination at a judicial convention.” The Second Circuit’s holding effectively returned New York to the system of electing Supreme Court Justices that existed before the 1921 amendments to the election law. The  New York State Board of Elections brought the case to the US Federal Supreme Court[5].

 

2.2 Issue

The issue in the instant case is whether the New York’ system of choosing party nominees for the State Supreme Court is violative of the first amendment the First Amendment.

 

2.3 Ruling and Arguments

Going by arguments of the respondents, they were questioning the legality of convention system to be one responsible for causing people without popular support to be allowed to prevail over candidates with popular support when conducted via primaries.

Are the respondents correct?  The US Federal Supreme Court sided with the state of New York when upheld its system of choosing party nominees for the State Supreme Court to be not violative of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. It explained that a political party has  a First Amendment right to limit membership at is wishes, and to choose a candidate-selection that will it its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform. The right however of the state is not without limits.[6]

On the argument of respondent that the New York’s electoral system does not assure them a fair chance of prevailing in their parties’ candidate-selection process, the court found no precedents to support the same. The court found no unnecessary state-imposed impediment to the individual’s associated right to vote that would have entitled respondent for a court’s remedy.  In citing Kusper v. Pontices[7] to contradict the respondents argument, the court also cited it previous upholding of New York law’s signature and deadline requirements to be entirely reasonable.   .

The Court noted that the  respondent’s real complaint is that the convention process following the delegate election denies them a realistic chance to secure their party’s nomination because the party leadership gets more vote for its delegate slate and effectively determines the nominees. It explained that this just a matter of party leadership having more widespread support than a candidate not supported by the leadership.  For the respondents to succeed in their complaint, the court said the complaint must focus on invalidating the ballot-access requirements and not on the manner in which political actors function under those requirements. The first is justiciable while the second is political question and beyond the purview of judicial power.

Respondent’s also argued that the existence of entrenched “one-party rule” in the State’s general election which requires the power of First Amendment be used to impose additional competition in the parties’ nominee-selection process. The court answered that this could not be done since the State legislature has not provided a manner of doing so and for the court do it would amount to law making on its part which beyond what is provided in the US Constitution and neither the First Amendment gives the court such a right.

Speaking through Justice Scalia who delivered the opinion of the Court,  the court found the New York’s requirement that political parties select their nominees for Supreme Court Justice at a convention of delegates chosen by party members in a primary election to be not violative of the of the First Amendment of the Constitution[8].

The court said that a political party has right to limit its membership as it wishes, and to select a candidate-selection process that will in its view bring into being the nominee who best represents its political platform under the First Amendment[9].  The court however noted restrictions on these rights but not what respondents now want to happen. The Court explained that respondents (Lopez Torres, et. al) cannot rely on the right that the First Amendment confers on political parties to structure their internal party processes and to select the candidate of the party’s choosing. In support of its ruling, the Court cited both the two big state parties, the Republican and Democratic parties which have defended the New York’s electoral system as not violative of the US Constitution in making sure that that these parties will have a fair chance of prevailing in their parties’ candidate-selection process. The court said the weapon wielded by these parties “is their own claimed associational right not only to join, but to have certain degree of influence in the party.”[10]

In other words, the court was saying that joining a party admits of the extent of influence that one may get and not having a party’s support must be an admitted political phenomenon.

The court realized that the real complaint of respondents was not their being deprived of their rights to vote in  the election for delegates, nor their being deprived of their rights that election, but their not having a realistic chance to secure the party’s nomination under  the convention process. Respondents argued the party leadership inevitably gets more votes for its slate of than the unsupported candidate can get for himself.   The court stated that in a party the leadership effectively determines the nominees and such is not unnatural to happen in a democracy. It explained that there is no New York law which compels election of the leadership’s slate or compels the delegates elected on the leadership’s slate to vote the way the leadership desires. The fact also that there was no law preventing an unsupported candidate from attending the convention and seeking to persuade the delegates to support his or her, should be taken as part of natural process.  The respondents claim cannot be granted as its dwelling on questions where the court could not come in.  This is based on fact that the respondents are complaining not of the state law, but of the voters’ (and their elected delegates’) preference for the choices of the party leadership, which in its nature is a political question.[11]

As to argument of respondent that they lack a ‘fair shot’, the court said that it is not within its power to define what is an individuals’ constitutional right as what constitutes a “fair shot” is a reasonable enough question for legislative judgment, which the court will accept so long as it does not too much infringe upon the party’s associational rights.[12] The court is in effect upholding the right of parties to make nominees, where it finds no precedent to say what a “fair shot” at party nomination is.

Respondents also wanted the First Amendment to revise party processes in the present case, on their argument that party loyalty in New York’s judicial districts will make the general-election ballot “uncompetitive”. They cited the existence of entrenched “one-party rule” and want the First Amendment to impose additional competition in the nominee-selection process of the parties to make way for competitiveness.

The court in response explained the lack of association between the competitiveness of the general election and the respondents’ associational rights in the party’s selection process. The court argued that it must not be an issue for “a person who associates with a party and seeks its nomination whether the party is a contender in the general election, an underdog, or the favorite.”  The court however explained that “so long as all candidates have an adequate opportunity to appear on the general-election ballot”, the is still competitiveness.  It explained a candidate failing to obtain a major party’s nomination via convention have still the chance to get on the general-election ballot for the judicial district if he or she can provided the requisite number of signatures of voters resident in his or her district.[13]

As to the reason why one-party rule is entrenched, the court said that those voters approve of the positions and candidates that the party regularly puts forward. The court explained that it is not a function of the First Amendment to require revision of those positions or candidates. It said that while it may discourage party monopoly, it said also that the Constitution has given no authority for federal courts to lay down such a course since the US Constitution under the First Amendment fashioned an open market place where there is freedom of political ideas that cannot be interfered upon by government citing Abrams v. United States.[14]  The court further cited that the New York State has shown a willingness to reconsider its method of selecting Supreme Court Justices for three times so that if said state wishes to return to the primary system that it discarded in 1921, the court said that it is free to do so but the First Amendment does not compel such a thing.[15]

 

3. Conclusion

In upholding the right of New York State Legislature to determine how it selects is Supreme Court Justices,  the US Supreme Court has in effect denied the complaint of the respondent questioning the right of the party to allow justices to be put into office by the choice of party representatives and not at the primaries.  The court has answered every argument posed by the respondents and it is true indeed that a person lacking popular support directly from voters may prevail upon a more popular one. The idea is not however without wisdom since the State Legislature of New York has chosen that election of the New York State Supreme Court Justice should not be by popular vote but by delegates vote through the party system. The reason was that the candidates for the positions would have more chances of being screened. Many years ago the use of primary was abolished because it leaves judicial selection to the uninformed about judicial qualifications. If the New York State Legislature will restore the same, the US Supreme may likewise honor the same.
Works Cited:

 

Abrams v. United States 250 U. S. 616, 630 (1919)

California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U. S. 567, 574-575 (2000).

Kusper v. Pontices  414 U.S. , 51, 57

Lopez Torres et al v. New York State Board Of Elections et al 462 F. 3d 161 (2006)

Lopez Torres et al v. New York State Board Of Elections et al. 411 F. Supp. 2d 212, 256 (EDNY 2006).

N. Y. Elec. Law Ann.  Section 6-142(2).

New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008, {www document} URL, http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=000&invol=06-766 Accessed April 28, 2008

[1] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[2] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[3] Lopez Torres et al v. New York State Board Of Elections et al 411 F. Supp. 2d 212, 256 (EDNY 2006).
[4] Lopez Torres et al v. New York State Board Of Elections et al 462 F. 3d 161 (2006)
[5] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[6] California Democratic Pary v. Jones , 530 U.S. 567, 577.
[7] 414 U.S. , 51, 57
[8] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[9] California Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U. S. 567, 574-575 (2000).
[10] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, see above
[11] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[12] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008
[13] N. Y. Elec. Law Ann.  Section 6-142(2).
[14] 250 U. S. 616, 630 (1919) (Holmes, J., dissenting).
[15] New York State Board Of Elections et al. v. Lopez Torres et al, No. 06-766, Decided January 16, 2008

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