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Law School Case Brief

Burdick v. Takushi - 504 U.S. 428, 112 S. Ct. 2059 (1992)

Rule:

Under this standard of weighing the character and magnitude of the asserted injury against the constitutional rights sought to be vindicated, the rigorousness of the court's inquiry into the propriety of a state election law depends upon the extent to which a challenged regulation burdens U.S. Const. amend. I and XIV rights. Thus, when those rights are subjected to "severe" restrictions, the regulation must be narrowly drawn to advance a state interest of compelling importance. But when a state election law provision imposes only "reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions" upon the U.S. Const. amend. I and XIV rights of voters, the state's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify the restrictions. 

Facts:

Hawai'i election law requires a candidate to participate in a new-party, established-party, or nonpartisan primary election in order to obtain a position on the general election ballot. The primaries are open--that is, all registered voters may choose in which primary to vote. The law provides that a candidate may appear on a primary ballot by filing nominating papers, containing a specified number of voter signatures, 60 days before the primary. A registered voter in Hawai'i who notified state officials that he wished to cast write-in votes was advised by the officials that the law did not provide for write-in voting and that any write-in votes would be ignored. The voter filed suit against the officials in the United States District Court for the District of Hawai'i, which ruled that the failure to provide for write-in voting constituted a violation of the voter's rights of freedom of expression and association under the Federal Constitution's First Amendment. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the judgment and directed the District Court to abstain from reaching the federal constitutional issue until state courts had determined whether the election laws of Hawai'i permitted write-in voting. On remand, the District Court certified questions to the Supreme Court of Hawai'i, which held that the state laws barred write-in voting. The District Court then granted the voter's renewed motion for summary judgment and injunctive relief. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in reversing on appeal, expressed the view that although the prohibition on write-in voting placed some restrictions on the voter's rights of expression and association under the Constitution's First and Fourteenth Amendments, that burden was justified in light of (1) the ease of access to the state's ballots, (2) the alternatives available to the voter for expressing political beliefs, (3) the state's broad powers to regulate elections, and (4) the interests of Hawai'i in fostering political stability, an informed electorate, and the integrity of the election process. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue:

Did a state's prohibition on write-in voting violate rights of voters of Hawai'i under Federal Constitution's First and Fourteenth Amendments?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that, for purposes of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Hawaii's prohibition on write-in voting, and the requirement that a candidate participate in the open primary in order to obtain a position on the general election ballot, did not unconstitutionally limit access to the ballot by party or independent candidates, and did not unreasonably interfere with the right of voters to associate and have candidates of their choice placed on the ballot, since (1) any burden on voters' freedom of choice and association was a very limited one, given that (a) the state provided for easy access to the ballot, and (b) there was nothing content based about a flat ban on all forms of write-in ballots; (2) the prohibition on write-in voting promoted the state's legitimate interests in (a) guarding against party raiding in the primary election, (b) avoiding the possibility of unrestrained factionalism at the general election, and (c) averting sore-loser candidacies in the general election; and (3) such state interests outweighed a voter's limited interest in waiting until the eleventh hour to choose a candidate.

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