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CLEMENTS V. FASHING, 457 U. S. 957 (1982)

U.S. Supreme Court

Clements v. Fashing, 457 U.S. 957 (1982)

Clements v. Fashing

No. 80-1290

Argued January 12, 1982

Decided June 25, 1982

457 U.S. 957


Article III, § 19, of the Texas Constitution provides that

"[n]o judge of any court, Secretary of State, Attorney General, clerk of any court of record, or any person holding a lucrative office under the United States, or this State, or any foreign government shall during the term for which he is elected or appointed, be eligible to the Legislature."

As interpreted by the Texas Supreme Court, § 19 requires an officeholder to complete his current term of office -- if it overlaps the legislature's term -- before he may be eligible to serve in the state legislature. Article XVI, § 65, provides that, if holders of certain state and county offices whose unexpired term exceeds one year become candidates for any other state or federal office, this shall constitute an automatic resignation of the office then held. Appellees -- who challenged these provisions in Federal District Court as violating the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution -- included officeholders subject to § 65, each of whom alleged that he would have announced his candidacy for higher judicial office except that such announcement would constitute an automatic resignation from his current position, and one of whom (Baca), a Justice of the Peace, also alleged that he could not become a candidate for the state legislature because of § 19. The other appellees were voters who alleged that they would vote for the officeholder appellees were they to become candidates. The District Court held that the challenged provisions denied appellees equal protection, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is reversed. 631 F.2d 731, reversed.

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and V, concluding that:

1. The uncontested allegations in the complaint are sufficient to create an actual case or controversy between the officeholder appellees and those Texas officials charged with enforcing §§ 19 and 6. Pp. 457 U. S. 961-962.

2. Sections 19 and 65 do not violate the First Amendment. The State's interests are sufficient to warrant the de minimis interference with appellees' First Amendment interests in candidacy. In addition,

Page 457 U. S. 958

appellees' First Amendment challenge as elected state officeholders contesting restrictions on partisan political activity must fail, since §§ 19 and 65 represent a far more limited restriction on political activity than has been upheld with regard to civil servants. Cf. CSC v. Letter Carriers, 413 U. S. 548; Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U. S. 601; United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U. S. 75. Pp. 457 U. S. 971-973.

JUSTICE REHNQUIST, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE POWELL, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concluded in Parts III and IV that neither of the challenged provisions of the Texas Constitution violates the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 457 U. S. 962-971.

(a) Candidacy is not a "fundamental right" that itself requires departure from traditional equal protection principles under which state law classifications need only be drawn in such a manner as to bear some rational relationship to a legitimate state end. Decision in this area of constitutional adjudication is a matter of degree, and involves a consideration of the facts and circumstances behind the law, the interests the State seeks to protect by placing restrictions on candidacy, and the nature of the interests of those who may be burdened by the restrictions. In determining whether the provisions challenged here deserve "scrutiny" more vigorous than that which the traditional principles would require, the nature of the interests affected and the extent of the burden the challenged provisions place on the candidacy of current officeholder must be examined. Pp. 457 U. S. 962-966.

(b) As applied to Baca, a Justice of the Peace whose term of office is four years, whereas a state legislator's term is two years, § 19 simply requires that Baca must wait, at most, two years -- one election cycle -- before he may run as a candidate for the legislature. In establishing this maximum "waiting period," § 19 places a de minimis burden on the political aspirations of a current officeholder. This sort of insignificant interference with access to the ballot need only rest on a rational predicate in order to survive an equal protection challenge. Section 19 clearly rests on a rational predicate, since it furthers Texas' interests in maintaining the integrity of its Justices of the Peace by ensuring that they will neither abuse their position nor neglect their duties because of aspirations for higher office. Moreover, Texas has a legitimate interest in discouraging its Justices of the Peace from vacating their current terms of office, thereby avoiding the difficulties that accompany interim elections and appointments. Nor is § 19 invalid in that it burdens only those officeholders who desire to run for the legislature. It would be a perversion of the Equal Protection Clause to conclude that Texas must restrict a Justice of the Peace's candidacy for all offices before it can restrict his candidacy for any office. Pp. 457 U. S. 966-970.

Page 457 U. S. 959

(c) The burdens imposed on candidacy by the automatic resignation provision of § 65 are even less substantial than those imposed by § 19. Both provisions serve essentially the same state interests. Nor is § 65 invalid on the ground that it applies only to certain elected officials and not to others. Its history shows that the resignation provision was a creature of state electoral reforms, and a regulation is not devoid of a rational predicate simply because it happens to be incomplete. The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit Texas from restricting one elected officeholder's candidacy for another elected office unless and until it places similar restrictions on other officeholders. Pp. 457 U. S. 970-971.

REHNQUIST, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and V, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III and IV, in which BURGER, C.J., and POWELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 457 U. S. 973. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, and in Part I of which WHITE, J., joined,post, p. 457 U. S. 976.

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