Brown, Secretary of State of California v. Chote
Decided on May 7, 1973; 411 US 452


The California Election Code is challenged for barring indigents from running for office

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Civil Rights (State)

B. Legal Questions Presented:

1. Is the California Elections Code which requires candidates in a primary election to pay a filing fee prior to having their names listed on the primary ballot constitutional?

2. Does the California Elections Code deny voters or indigent prospective candidates equal protection of the laws?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Under the California Election Code, candidates for Congress must pay a filing fee prior to having their names listed on the primary ballot. Appellee Chote sought to run for Congress but asserted that he was unable to pay the statutory filing fee.

A Deputy Secretary of State informed appellee that his name would not be placed on the ballot unless he paid the fee. Appellee then filed a class action suit in District Court to challenge the constitutionality of the filing-fee statutes, alleging that California's filing-fee system was unconstitutional since it barred indigents, such as himself, from seeking elective office, and it barred him from voting for the candidate of his choice. He also moved the District Court to issue a preliminary injunction so as to allow him to participate as a candidate in the upcoming primary.

The District Court granted appellee's motion for a preliminary injunction. The State appealed directly to the US Supreme Court and the high court granted certiorari.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Philip Elman argued the cause for appellee.
Henry G. Ullerich argued the cause for appellant.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable 
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Melvin L. Wulf, M. Buckley, A.Wirin, Fred Okrand, and Laurence R. Sperber filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance. No amici curiae briefs filed on behalf of appellant.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[T]he State of California, for reasons not clear to us in light of the limited record, asked the Court to address itself to the ultimate merits of appellee's constitutional claim, a question which the District Court did not reach. In the present posture of the case, there is no occasion to consider any issues beyond those addressed by the District Court...

In reviewing such interlocutory relief, this Court may only consider whether issuance of the injunction constituted an abuse of discretion. In light of the arguments presented by appellee and the fact that appellee's opportunity to be a candidate would have been foreclosed, absent some relief, we cannot conclude that the court's action was an abuse of discretion. We therefore affirm the action taken by the District Court in granting interim relief.

In doing so, we intimate no view as to the ultimate merits of appellee's contentions. The record in this case clearly reflects the limited time which the parties had to assemble evidence and prepare their arguments. While the District Court's swift action is understandable in view of the deadline which it faced, the resulting record was simply insufficient to allow that court to consider fully the grave, far-reaching constitutional questions presented.

The specific deadline which led the District Court to grant equitable relief has now passed. Nothing precludes appellee from seeking a trial on the merits, if he chooses to proceed. The case is therefore remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con

  • Burger, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro  (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the US Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the District Court in a unanimous 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.