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BULLOCK V. CARTER, 405 U. S. 134 (1972)

U.S. Supreme Court

Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134 (1972)

Bullock v. Carter

No. 70-128

Argued November 17, 1971

Decided February 24, 1972

405 U.S. 134


Appellees who sought to become candidates for local office in the Texas Democratic primary election challenged in the District Court the validity of the Texas statutory scheme which, without write-in or other alternative provisions, requires payment of fees ranging as high as $8,900. Appellees claimed that they were unable to pay the required fees, and were therefore barred from running. Under the Texas statute, the party committee estimates the total cost of the primary and apportions it among candidates according to its judgment of what is "just and equitable," in light of "the importance, emolument, and term of office." The fees for local candidates tend appreciably to exceed those for state-wide candidates. Following a hearing, the District Court declared the fee system invalid and enjoined its enforcement. Appellants contend that the filing fees are necessary both to regulate the primary ballot and to finance elections.

Held: The Texas primary election filing fee system contravenes the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 405 U. S. 140-149.

(a) Since the Texas statute imposes filing fees of such magnitude that numerous qualified candidates are precluded from filing, it falls with unequal weight on candidates and voters according to their ability to pay the fees, and therefore it must be "closely scrutinized" and can be sustained only if it is reasonably necessary to accomplish a legitimate state objective, and not merely because it has some rational basis. Pp. 405 U. S. 140-144.

(b) Although a State has an interest in regulating the number of candidates on the ballot and eliminating those who are spurious, it cannot attain these objectives by arbitrary means such as those called for by the Texas statute, which eliminates legitimate potential candidates, like those involved here, who cannot afford the filing fees. Pp. 405 U. S. 144-147.

(c) The apportionment of costs among candidates is not the only means available to finance primary elections, and the State can identify certain bodies as political parties entitled to sponsorship if the State itself finances the primaries, as it does general

Page 405 U. S. 135

elections, both of which are important parts of the democratic process. Pp. 405 U. S. 147-149.

321 F.Supp. 1358, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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