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January 16, 2008

Intriguing SCOTUS ruling about politicial parties

This morning the Supreme Court issued a relatively short decision addressing election law and the First Amendment in New York State Board of Elections v. Torres (06-766).  The ruling, which can be accessed here, was unanimous although there were two little interesting concurring opinions. 

The decision is technically about the election process for state judges, but I think there are lots of lessons to be drawn from the case for our study of legislation.  Students who suggest some of those lessons through the comments will earn Berman bonus points (and a free pass the first time I call on them and they are unprepared).

January 16, 2008 in Interesting statutes and cases | Permalink


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Although I usually back Scalia, I think there are bad policy implications from this opinion. Scalia at one point says that the fact that individuals would have to collect 500 signatures is reasonable - I'm inclined to agree with him on that specific figure, given the fact that other states have required potential candidates to collect 20,000 signatures (a bit much). But the problem is that even 500 signatures limits the pool of potential candidates to those candidates who have the time to collect 500 signatures. How does this relate to legislation? Well if we allow this practice for judicial elections, there is no reason why it shouldn't be applied to elections to the legislature. The problem that results is that we may have the most qualified legislator in the world not be able to run because s/he is too busy working a full time job and raise a family to collect even 500 signatures (or in the extreme 20,000). This limits the candidates to those individuals who are privileged enough with resources (be it time or money or both). Essentially only the wealthy (I use the word in a non specific way) are able to run, and thus be elected to office. How then can we say that our "representatives" truly represent the constituents? We can't.

Posted by: Alex | Jan 16, 2008 1:08:21 PM

Without commenting on whether I agree with the Court's ruling, I think that the Torres decision represents a recognition by the Court of one of the realities of the American political system: that those with power or resources often have a potentially undue and disproportionate influence in political decision-making. Though this may fly in the face of a pure conception of democracy, it is reality. In this case, New York's electoral system for state judges provides for candidacy to be determined by party leadership ("bosses"). Thus, if a potential nominee lacks political clout within a party, the party leadership often will not consider that person's candidacy to be a judge. This certainly exemplifies that the powerful few often make decisions affecting the whole.
For purposes of our Legislation class, I think this applies not only to elections of legislators, but also in that legislative agendas are often set in accordance with the interests of a few powerful groups or individuals. In short, political decision-making is often effectuated not by the majority, but conversely, by an influential and resourceful minority.
This also coincides with what we discussed in our second class: money = political power.

Posted by: Drew LaFramboise | Jan 16, 2008 7:00:30 PM

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