Norman v. Reed
Decided on Jan. 14, 1992; 502 US 279


A. Issues Discussed: 1st Amendment (press, speech, association), 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Can a state, through its election laws, constitutionally (1) prohibit a political party in one district from using the same name that a different political party uses in another district; (2) require more signatures to get on the ballot in a multidistrict political subdivision than are required to get on a state-wide ballot; and (3) require a political party seeking to be on ballots in a suburb and a city to obtain 25,000 signatures from both areas?


A. Background:

Petitioners, a group of political organizers, sought to expand the Harold Washington Party, an established party within the City of Chicago, to the surrounding suburbs within Cook County. Under Illinois law, the organizers of a new political party must collect 25,000 signatures of eligible voters in order to field a candidate for state office. If the organizers wish to run candidates solely for offices within a large political subdivision, such as Cook County, they must obtain 25,000 signatures from that subdivision. If the subdivision is comprised of separate "districts," the organizers must obtain 25,000 signatures from each district. Cook County contains two districts - city and suburban. Illinois law also provides that a new political party may not use the name of an established political party.

 The Petitioners gathered 44,000 signatures from the city district, but only 7,800 signatures from the suburban district. Respondent, Reed and other voters (collectively, Reed), filed objections with the Cook County Officers Electoral Board (The Board). The Board rejected Reed's claim and ruled that the Petitioners could use the Harold Washington Party name in the suburban district elections and that the failure to gather 25,000 signatures from the suburban district disqualified the candidates who were running only for suburban district offices, but did not disqualify the party's candidates running for city and county-side seats. On appeal, the circuit court of Cook's County affirmed The Board's ruling on the use of the party name, but held that the failure to obtain 25,000 signatures from the suburban district doomed the entire slate of candidates. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Illinois law prohibited use of the party name and that the inability to obtain 25,000 signatures in the suburban district required disqualification of the entire slate of candidates.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
R. Eugene Pincham argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioners. Also, Kenneth L. Gillis argued the cause for petitioners. On the briefs were Jack O’Malley, Burton Stephen Odelson, and Mathias William Delort. Gregory A. Adamski argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief was Karen Conti. Messrs. Also, O’Malley, Odelson, and Delort filed a brief for respondents.
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois by William T. Barker, Harvey M. Grossman, John A. Powell, Steven R. Shapiro, and Arthur N. Eisenberg; and for the Committee for Party Renewal by Robert E. Tait. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Respondent.

"We start with Reed’s contention that we should treat the controversy as moot because the election is over. We should not. Even if the issue before us were limited to petitioners’ eligibility to use the Party name on the 1990 ballot, that issue would be worthy of resolution as 'capable of repetition, yet evading review.'

Since petitioners chose to field candidates for the county board seats allocated to the separate districts and, as required by state law, used the 'component' (i. e., district specific) form of nominating petition, the State Supreme Court’s construction of § 10–2 required petitioners to accumulate 50,000 signatures (25,000 from the city district and another 25,000 from the suburbs) to run any candidates in Cook County elections. The State may not do this in the face of Socialist Workers Party, which forbids it to require petitioners to gather twice as many signatures to field candidates in Cook County as they would need statewide...

Illinois does not require a new party fielding candidates solely for statewide office to apportion its nominating signatures among the various counties or other political subdivisions of the State... Organizers of a new party could therefore win access to the statewide ballot, but not the Cook County ballot, by collecting all 25,000 signatures from the county’s city district. But if the State deems it unimportant to ensure that new statewide parties enjoy any distribution of support, it requires elusive logic to demonstrate a serious state interest in demanding such a distribution for new local parties. Thus, as in Socialist Workers Party, the State’s requirements for access to the statewide ballot become criteria in the first instance for judging whether rules of access to local ballots are narrow enough to pass constitutional muster. Reed has adduced no justification for the disparity here...

In responding to Reed’s objection that the HWP [Harold Washington Party] had not fielded candidates for any elected judicial offices in Cook County, the Circuit Court held that, under § 10–2, 'the exclusion of judicial candidates on the slate was a failure to fulfill the ‘complete slate requirement’ of the Election Code.' The court then overruled the Electoral Board and treated this failure as an alternative ground for invalidating the Party’s entire slate. We decline to consider whether that ruling was constitutional. The Supreme Court of Illinois itself did not address it and therefore did not decide whether, under Illinois law, the Party’s omission of judicial candidates doomed the entire slate. We therefore remand these cases to that court for its prompt resolution of this issue."

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Souter, D. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Took no part in the consideration of this case

The ACLU filed a brief as amicus curiae urging reversal; the United States Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part and remanded the ruling of the Supreme Court of Illinois in a 7-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.

[Editor's Note: The Win/Loss definition used on this website attributes a win or a loss based on whether or not the side the ACLU supported won or lost. Please see our Win/Loss methodology for further clarification. This case in particular is considered a win for the ACLU because its amicus brief supported the Petitioners and the Petitioners won.]