The Supreme Court

Switching Parties

Last minute party switching to impact a primary election is another problem that has been dealt with in the courts. In a 1973 precedent-setting case, Rosario v. Rockefeller, the Supreme Court ruled that states could set lengthy time restrictions related to party affiliation to prevent last minute party switching.

New York State's requirement for a voter to register the party of his or her choice 30 days before a general election in order to vote in the next primary election was challenged as unconstitutional because it deprived voters of the right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to associate with the party of their choice. The law creates the longest lead time in the country for declaring a party because it means prospective voters must register their party about eight months before a presidential primary and 11 months before a nonpresidential one.

The state claimed the primary purpose of this statute is to prevent last minute party switching and deter “raiding” by opposing party members. In a split 5 to 4 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that the law was constitutional. Justice Stewart wrote the opinion for the Court, which was signed by Burger, White, Blackmun, and Rehnquist. Justice Powell wrote the dissent, which was signed by Douglas, Brennan, and Marshall.

In the majority opinion, Stewart wrote:

The Supreme Court found that “New York did not prohibit the petitioners from voting in the 1972 primary election or from associating with the political party of their choice. It merely imposed a legitimate time limitation on their enrollment, which they chose to disregard.”

In his dissent Justice Powell wrote:

As you can see, even though elections are state-controlled activities, the United States Supreme Court steps in when Constitutional questions arise. In the next section, we'll explore the role of the Supreme Court in taxation issues.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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