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Renne v. Geary
Decided on June 17, 1991; 501 US 312


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

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

B. Legal Question Presented: 

Does Article II, § 6(b) of the California Constitution, prohibiting political party or party central committee endorsement of, support of, or opposition to candidates for nonpartisan office, violate the 1st and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Article II, § 6(b) of the California Constitution prohibited political parties and party central committees from endorsing, supporting, or opposing candidates for nonpartisan offices (such as county, city, judicial and school board offices).  The City and County of San Francisco enforced this provision by editing the candidates’ statements printed in voter pamphlets (which the City and County printed and mailed to voters), deleting all references to endorsements by the Republican or Democratic party central committees or officers or members of those committees.

A group of ten registered voters, the chairman and three members of the San Francisco Republican County Central Committee, and one member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, along with Election Action (an association of voters), sued the City and County of San Francisco.  They requested a declaration from the court that the California provision was unconstitutional, and asked to have the court enjoin, or stop, the City and County from enforcing it by editing the candidates’ statements in voter pamphlets.  They claimed that their 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech, and related rights under the 14th Amendment, were violated by this editing and deletion of portions of the candidates’ statements.

The District Court ruled that the California provision was unconstitutional and enjoined the City and County from enforcing it.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision, and the City and County brought the matter to the United States Supreme Court.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Arlo Hale Smith argued the cause and filed a brief for Respondents. Dennis Aftergut argued the cause for Petitioners.  With him on the briefs were Louise H. Renne, pro se, and Thomas J. Owen.
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Opposing Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Karl Olson, Steven R. Shapiro and Alan L. Schlosser filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging affirmance.

Cedric C. Chao argued the cause for the California Democratic Party, et al., as amici curiae, urging affirmance.

Jerome B. Falk, Jr., and Steven L. Mayer filed a brief for the California Judges Association as amicus curiae, urging reversal.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"Respondents have failed to demonstrate a live dispute involving the actual or threatened application of 6(b) to bar particular speech.  Respondents’ generalized claim that petitioners have deleted party endorsements from candidate statements in past elections does not demonstrate a live controversy...  The allegation that the Democratic Committee has not endorsed candidates ‘[i]n elections since 1986’ for fear of the consequences of violating 6… provides insufficient indication of a controversy continuing at the time this litigation began or arising thereafter…  Nor can a ripe controversy be found in the fact that the Republican Committee endorsed candidates for nonpartisan elections in 1987, the year this suit was filed… We also discern no ripe controversy in the allegations that respondents desire to endorse candidates in future elections, either as individual committee members or through their committees… The record also contains no evidence of a credible threat that 6(b) will be enforced, other than against candidates in the context of voter pamphlets…
Postponing consideration of the questions presented until more concrete controversy arises also has the advantage of permitting the state courts further opportunity to construe 6(b), and perhaps, in the process, to ‘materially alter the question to be decided...'

The free speech issues argued in the briefs filed here have fundamental and far-reaching import.  For that very reason, we cannot decide the case based upon the amorphous and ill-defined factual record presented to us."

Held:  The judgment is vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dimiss Respondent’s third cause of action without prejudice.

Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con

  • Kennedy, A. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Con (Wrote concurring opinion, voted with the majority)
  • O’Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Joined majority opinion in all but Part II-B)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined Marshall's dissent, voted with the minority)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the United States Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.