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LYNCH v. TORQUATO

April 1, 1964

Robert E. LYNCH, Fred Hoffman and Phyllis Klein, Plaintiffs,
v.
John R. TORQUATO, Edna Lugar, and Virgil Moraca, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUMBAULD

Plaintiffs, registered voters of the Democratic Party in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, bring this suit against officers of the Democratic County Committee of that county to enjoin them from conducting the election of the County Chairman in the manner provided by the existing rules of the Committee, and to require the Chairman to be elected by popular vote of all registered Democratic voters at the 1964 primary election.

Plaintiffs base their complaint upon the doctrine of Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S. Ct. 691, 7 L. Ed. 2d 66 3 (1962), and contend that there is a gross disproportion in the number of registered Democrats in the various precincts of Cambria County. The Cambria County Committee is composed of one Committeeman and one Committeewoman from each of the 190 voting precincts in the county. The County Chairman is elected by majority vote of the County Committee. The party organization has nothing to do with the laying out the voting precincts.

 Plaintiffs contend that this method violates the 'equal process clause' and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment 'in that plaintiffs' rights to vote for a County Chairman are substantially impaired'.

 Actually Baker v. Carr involved only the equal protection clause. It provided no substantive standards, but merely held that a case involving 'dilution' of a voter's rights presented a justiciable controversy (369 U.S. at 237, 82 S. Ct. 691, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663).

 The problem of providing satisfactory substantive standards is an unenviable one, which the federal courts will face in future litigation. It will involve considerations of history, geography, convenience, political groupings, and other matters so refractory to regulation by the rule of law that they convinced Mr. Justice Frankfurter that the subject was one altogether of political character, determinable only by considerations of expediency and statecraft, and that the courts should refrain from entering the political thicket. However, the majority of the Supreme Court were less hesitant, and in due time will doubtless fashion the machetes needed to clear a path towards the emergent temple of democracy.

 In Pennsylvania the basic consideration will necessarily be to prevent the possibility of domination by Philadelphia. Ever since the era when our ancestors in Western Pennsylvania were fighting Indians and the thrifty Quakers in the City of Brotherly Love were reluctant to pay taxes to provide for defense of the frontier, the tension between East and West has been strong, and led to the establishment of the State capital at a neutral spot where one Harris had established a ferry over the Susquehanna. Moreover the smaller counties need recognition of their interests as distinguished from the particular interests of Pittsburgh, or of Philadelphia, as the case may be. Any workable and adequate system of representation must give adequate strength to the three separate spheres of interest involved, and at the same time keep each voter's franchise from 'dilution', and avoid any unfair or artificial advantage to either political party in their struggles for victory at the polls.

 After these wayside reflections about the interesting possibilities that might arise in cases which are not before this Court, we turn to the case at bar.

 Whatever may be the ultimate ramifications of Baker v. Carr, it is clear that it gives no support to plaintiffs here.

 Simply stated, a rule prohibiting dilution of a voter's right to vote can afford no protection to a plaintiff who has no right to vote. There is then nothing to be diluted.

 From plaintiffs' own statement of the case, it is plain that the County Chairman is not a public official elected by registered voters of the county. No registered Democratic voter has a right to vote for such an official. No such office has been established by law and included among the offices named on the ballot to be chosen by the voters.

 Whatever the situation may be in other states (see Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S. Ct. 757, 88 L. Ed. 987 (1944)), in Pennsylvania party candidates for all State and local offices are chosen by a direct primary. Without racial discrimination of any kind, any qualified candidate can get his name put on the ballot by filing a petition signed by a sufficient number of registered voters. Except for national party conventions for selecting the nominees for President and Vice-President, selection or election of candidates by a convention is a thing of the past in Pennsylvania.

 Party officers, such as defendants, are functionaries of a private organization, chosen in accordance with the party's rules. They are in no sense public officers. They are not elective officers, for whom registered voters may cast a ballot. Hence it can not be said that plaintiffs have any right to vote which has been 'diluted'.

 Under Pennsylvania law, a party need not establish such an office as County Chairman. If it does, it may provide for his selection in any manner it sees fit. The law does not even require that members of the County ...


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