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California Democratic Party and others versus Bill Jones

California Democratic Party versus Bill Jones

Case name: California Democratic Party and others versus Bill Jones (California secretary of state) and others.

Court: The Supreme Court of the United States.

Citation: 22 Ill.530 U.S. 567, 120 S. Ct. 2402, 147 L. Ed. 2d 502 (2000).

Key Facts

The petitioners in the case were four political parties by the names: California Democratic Party, Republican Party of California, the California Libertarian party and the Peace and Freedom Party. Each of the parties has a rule which prohibits the party non-members from voting in its primaries. The petitioners first brought the suit in the US District Court of California Eastern District against the respondent with the allegation that their right of association under the first amendment had been violated in the State’s blanket primary. They were seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.

It was recognized by the District court that a new law which had been passed allowing people affiliated to the party to vote, would bring in quite a considerable number of voters non-affiliated with the party into its primaries. This could lead to a situation where a different nominee other than the one intended by party members being nominated. Nevertheless, the court held that the burden that was on the appellants’ right to association was in fact, not severe and was justified in the interests of the state. It was believed to be bringing democracy in the election process and the representation of people. The Ninth Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the District Court.

The respondents rested their defense on the idea that the primaries indeed play a vital role in the selection of public officials by the citizens (Burdick v. Takushi). For this reason, they are not meant to be a private affair but a public one and it is the role of the state in ensuring that the interest of the public is served.


The case presented a question of whether it is in line with the first amendment to the American constitution for the state of California to use a “blanket” primary in the determination of the nominee of a political party for the general election. Under the law of California, the only way to get access to the general ballot is either to be nominated by a political party or vie as an independent candidate after having obtained 1% signatures of the state voters. Until 1996 the party primaries used to be “closed” meaning only members of the party were allowed to vote. However, in 1996 the state citizens adopted proposition 198 which changed the primaries from a partisan type to a blanket one. Under the new system, any person who is an eligible voter would vote in any party’s primary irrespective of their affiliation.

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The general principle in existence before the case began is that representative democracy in so far as governance is concerned is not possible without the citizens’ ability to come together and promote among themselves those candidates who bear political views similar to theirs’. The formation of political parties was just in a way similar to the formation of the union of states.


The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the decision made by the Court of Appeal for the ninth Circuit.


The court first recognized that the freedom of people to come together to further their common political beliefs was protected by the first amendment. This amendment allows people who make up the association to limit the association to those who are members only. It also noted that freedom would just be an empty guarantee if the said association was denied power to limit control on the decisions they make to people who share the same interest (Roberts vs United States Jaycees).

Political parties should have the right to exclude non-members from nominating their candidates. It is through the candidates that the party can communicate what it stands for since the one nominated becomes the ambassador of the party (Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party). The first amendment accords special protection to a political party’s process of selecting only candidates who bear its ideologies. The court held that the strength in the proposition of supporting the interests of the state was not enough to justify the intruding of the party members’ freedom of association. It was the court’s opinion that the blanket primary supported by the State of California violated the previous judicial precedents (Democratic Party v. Wisconsin ex rel. La Follette). The system would lead to the nominees of a particular party being determined by the members of the opponent party, which would pose very great danger. The impact of this would be even greater on Parties regarded as the minority.

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The Supreme Court also found out that the conclusion that the burden that had been placed on the rights of the petitioners by proposition 198 which was made by the appeal court was inadmissible. The respondents claim that the proposal not to alter the power of parties to engage in other traditional aspects such as conducting of campaigns or maintenance of party members discipline in the legislature was found to be unconvincing. The accuracy of this assertion was found to be questionable since the candidates would have to respect the ideologies of the electorate rather than those of the party. The court desisted from overlooking the restriction that had been placed on the petitioners’ rights under the first amendment. It was not possible to have a substitute to the concept of the ability of a political party select its own candidates. The Proposition by the state was found to be unconstitutional and merely intended to serve the interests of the state.

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Personal Opinion

The Appeal Court had erred in its interpretation of the law by granting the state the right to carry out a blanket primary. This was tantamount to perpetuating an unconstitutional proposition that would not cater for the interests of political parties. The interest of the state in this case was inadmissible because it undermined the rights of the petitioners which are enshrined in the constitution. The constitution being the supreme rendered the new law null and void to the level it was inconsistent with its provisions. Despite promoting state interests of ensuring participation of the electorate in electing their leaders was unfair and I do not find this compelling enough to warrant the action taken. In fact under the guise of having the welfare of the state at heart the state was ignorant of the fact that it was the desire of the voters to participate in the primaries which was not affected much by the state’s support. The voter who wanted to participate in any primary had the right to become a member of the political party. Although, the interests of the state may have been intended for the common good of the citizens, this was not the best way of dealing with the issue. The Supreme Court’s decision was right and was based on a deep understanding of both the letter and spirit of the law.