Application of the overbreadth doctrine is, manifestly, strong medicine. It has been employed sparingly and only as a last resort. Facial overbreadth has not been invoked when a limiting construction has been or could be placed on the challenged statute. Equally important, overbreadth claims, if entertained at all, have been curtailed when invoked against ordinary criminal laws that are sought to be applied to protected conduct.
Three employees of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission were alleged to have been actively participating in their superior's re-election campaign, in violation of Section 818 of Oklahoma's Merit System of Personnel Administration Act. The aforementioned statute restricted the political activities of the State's classified civil servants. Due to the participation in the alleged political activities, the employees were charged by the State Personnel Board of violating Section 818. In response, the employees instituted an action challenging the Act's validity on the grounds that two of its paragraphs are invalid because of overbreadth and vagueness. The said paragraphs prohibited state employees from soliciting or receiving political contributions, becoming a candidate for paid public office, being a member of a political party's committee or of a political club, or taking part in the management or affairs of any political party or in any political campaign, except to express an opinion and to cast a vote. The District Court upheld the provisions.
Was Section 818 of Oklahoma's Merit System of Personnel Administration Act invalid on the grounds of overbreadth and vagueness?
The Court held that the statute, which gave adequate warning of what activities it proscribed and set forth explicit standards for those who must apply it, was not impermissibly vague. According to the Court, although the employees contend that the statute reached activities that were constitutionally protected as well as those that are not, it was clearly constitutional as applied to the conduct with which they were charged; because it was not substantially overbroad, they cannot challenge the statute on the ground that it might be applied unconstitutionally to others, in situations not before the Court. The Court concluded that the employees’ conduct falls squarely within the proscriptions of § 818, which deals with activities that the State has ample power to regulate.