Broadrick v. Oklahoma

LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-1639
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 413 US 601 (1973)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1973
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1973

John C. Buckingham - for appellants
Mike D. Martin -
Michael Dennis Martin - for appellees

Facts of the case


Media for Broadrick v. Oklahoma

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1973 in Broadrick v. Oklahoma

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in 71-1639, Broadrick against Oklahoma.

Mr. Buckingham, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

John C. Buckingham:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case is on appeal from a three-judge Federal Court decision, denying appellants' civil class action for injunctive relief to enjoin the deprivation of the civil rights of the appellants and all classified employees in the State of Oklahoma.

The appellees with State Personnel Board, initiated proceedings against the appellants seeking to dismiss said appellants from employment by the State Corporation Commission for alleged political activities under Title 74 going to statute -- Section 818.

This action by the State Personnel Board precipitated the filing of the suit in Federal Court.

The questions presented on this appeal maybe briefly stated as follows.

May a state by statute proscribe in broad and general terms First Amendment rights of state employees and two, may a state constitutionally classify the employees of some, but not all of the state agencies and broadly prohibit the employees of those agencies from enjoying First Amendment rights while permitting the unclassified employees of the state, all other public employees and the citizenry at large to freely enjoy the same.

Now we urge to this honorable Court, that such proscriptions by a state statute are wanting in constitutional acceptability are of the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

If the political activities prohibition provisions of the Hatch Act in the previous case are found to be subject to successful challenges as being vague and overbroad, a fortiori the political activities prohibition provision of the Oklahoma Merit Act should be determined as constitutionally warranted.

If however, the political activities prohibition provisions of the Hatch Act are found to be constitutionally sound, it does not necessarily follow that the political activities or proscriptions of the Oklahoma Merit Act are constitutionally well found as said proscriptions are inherently distinguishable from the pertinent portions of Federal Hatch Act.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Which would you regard as the more lenient to the two acts?

John C. Buckingham:

I would suggest the Hatch Act is more lenient.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Let me ask you another question while I have you interrupted is the reverse.

When this action was begun, were there not state disciplinary proceedings pending?

John C. Buckingham:

There were, sir.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Could one man say that the Federal Court should have abstained?

John C. Buckingham:

No, sir.

We feel in this particular instance because facially the statutes involved which predicated the action against the state employees are both so vague and broad as to permit the Federal Courts under 1983, because the civil rights in question involved to rules specifically on that statute.

Abstention to make all additional employees who may have conducted, the State Personnel Board feel should warrant some kind of action, prosecutory action under these two Sections we feel it is untenable when you read the two statutes.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, but then Younger against Harris involved a claim of over facial, over-breadth too, didn't it?

Isn't really the only distinction between that and this and that this is civil and that was criminal?

John C. Buckingham:

No, sir.

We feel in our particular case, in this particular statute, as you know in the Hatch Act and further acts, there are some proscribed permitted activities, political activities perhaps non partisan activities.

The Oklahoma statute does not describe any permitted political activities of any kind other than a private expression and the right to vote with the use of such terms as --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

You may not take but the disciplinary proceedings that were pending, whether they are administrative proceedings?

John C. Buckingham:

No, sir.

They are administrative proceedings insofar as the determination under the Oklahoma Merit Act, that if the charges are valid then they will be discharged from their jobs.

In addition, under the particular act, if they are discharged, criminal actions in the nature of misdemeanor can also be brought against them.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, what I am not clear about is, what proceedings were pending when this action was brought?