Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party 520 U.S. 351 (1997)

Author:Richard L. Hasen

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Beginning with Williams v. Rhodes (1968), the Supreme Court rebuffed attempts by state legislatures to justify BALLOT ACCESS restrictions or other election laws favoring the Democratic and Republican parties on grounds that such laws favored the "two-party system." Though the Williams Court did not reject the idea that a state in theory could defend an election law on these grounds, the Court struck down Ohio's ballot access law because it favored "two particular parties?the Republicans and the Democrats?and in effect tends to give them a complete monopoly."

The 6?3 Timmons decision, in which the Court for the first time accepted the two-party rationale, suggests a major

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shift in favor of allowing state legislatures to protect the Democratic and Republican parties. The Twin Cities Area New Party, a minor political party, wished to nominate Andy Dawkins as its candidate for state representative in the Minnesota legislature. Dawkins was already the candidate of the Democratic Party (known in Minnesota as the Democratic?Farmer?Labor Party, or DFL). Though neither Dawkins nor the DFL objected to this multiple-party or "fusion" candidacy, Minnesota officials refused to accept the New Party's nominating petitions because Minnesota law prohibits fusion. A majority of states similarly ban fusion, though a few states, most notably New York, allow the practice.

The New Party challenged Minnesota's antifusion law as unconstitutional under the FIRST and FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS. The Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST, upheld the law's constitutionality. In ballot access and similar election law cases, the Court does not use a single level of scrutiny (or "litmus-paper test") to judge a challenged law's constitutionality. Instead, the Court calibrates the scrutiny to the severity of the law's burden on First Amendment rights; the greater the burden, the higher the scrutiny. The Timmons majority first held that the burden on the New Party was not severe, though it recognized that the law slightly burdened the party by reducing the universe of potential party nominees and by limiting the ability of the party to send a message to voters and to its preferred candidates through its nomination process.

Nonetheless, the Court held that three "sufficiently weighty" state interests justified the burden. First, the fusion ban prevented parties from joining with sham parties with popular catch phrases...

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