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CONSUMER PARTY v. DAVIS
February 12, 1986
CONSUMER PARTY, MAX WEINER, LANCE HAVER, WILLIAM THORN, and LISA BRANNAN
WILLIAM R. DAVIS, Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; RICHARD ANDERSON, Bureau of Legislation, Commissions and Elections; MARGARET TARTAGLIONE, MARION TASKO and JOHN KANE, Commissioners of the City of Philadelphia
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHAPIRO
This action is before the court following a final hearing. The court's earlier order granting the plaintiffs preliminary relief was vacated by the Court of Appeals on November 27, 1985, 778 F.2d 140. Plaintiffs contend that Act 190, 25 P.S. § 2872.1 ("Act 190"), enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly to solve the "ballot clutter" problem in Democratic Party primary elections in Philadelphia is unconstitutional as applied to the Consumer Party and its members. Act 190 markedly increased the number of signatures necessary to secure a place on the primary ballot of a political party.
In passing Act 190, the legislature unwittingly but effectively barred political parties with few registered members from nominating candidates for the primary election. Moreover, because primary nomination is the only route available for members of political parties to attain general election ballot access, 25 P.S. § 2862, small parties, unable to nominate candidates for the general election ballot, are deprived of meaningful participation in the political process.
Consumer Party v. Davis, 778 F.2d 140, 142 (3d Cir. 1985) (footnote omitted).
After an evidentiary hearing and argument on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the application of Act 190 to the Consumer Party, the court found that while Act 190 might be constitutional alone, the Election Code as a whole now required the Consumer Party to nominate by primary but, because of Act 190's raised signature requirements, made it effectively impossible for Consumer Party candidates to appear on either the primary or general election ballots. A political body not qualifying for party status would find it much easier to place candidates on primary and general election ballots. Thus, the Consumer Party's success in achieving political party status resulted in its greater difficulty in electing candidates. The court found that this electorial scheme violated the rights of plaintiffs. See Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 21 L. Ed. 2d 24, 89 S. Ct. 5 (1968).
This court then applied the balancing test set forth in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 789, 75 L. Ed. 2d 547, 103 S. Ct. 1564 (1983), and found that:
1. The plaintiffs had demonstrated a high probability of success on the merits because it appeared clear that Consumer Party candidates were effectively denied all access to the general election ballot because of the increased signature requirements imposed by Act 190 in violation of the Constitution.
2. There was no constitutional right to a primary, and Pennsylvania's primary requirements were not so burdensome that they impermissibly discriminated against a small or new political party if and only if there were ballot access in the general election.
3. There was an important public interest in allowing the Pennsylvania state legislature, within constitutional bounds, to alleviate so-called "ballot clutter."
4. Increasing the number of signatures required for a primary ballot position did not constitute irreparable harm only if there was available a form of relief less intrusive to the state electoral scheme than invalidating signature requirements for primary nominations.
The court then considered four alternative forms of relief that might be afforded the Consumer Party to ensure its candidates access to the general election ballot:
i. Invalidating Act 190, at least for the Consumer Party, and reinstating former signature requirements to allow the Consumer Party to nominate its candidates ...
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