Clingman v. Beaver

PETITIONER:Michael Clingman, Secretary, Oklahoma State Election Board, et al.
RESPONDENT:Andrea L. Beaver, et al.
LOCATION:Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 04-37
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 544 US 581 (2005)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2004
ARGUED: Jan 19, 2005
DECIDED: May 23, 2005

Gene C. Schaerr –
James C. Linger – argued the cause for Respondents
Wellon B. Poe, Jr. – argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

Oklahoma’s election laws created a primary system in which a party could invite only its own members and Independents to vote in its primary. The Libertarian Party and voters registered in other parties argued the laws violated the First Amendment freedoms of expression and association by preventing the Libertarian Party from inviting members of other parties to vote in its primary elections. The district court ruled for Oklahoma. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ruled Oklahoma’s election laws violated the First Amendment.


Do state election laws that restrict the voters a party may invite to vote in its primary election violate the First Amendment rights to freedom of expression and association?

Media for Clingman v. Beaver

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 19, 2005 in Clingman v. Beaver

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 23, 2005 in Clingman v. Beaver

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court in Clingman against Beaver will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of a certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Oklahoma has a semi closed primary in which a political party may invite only its own party members and registered independents to vote in that party’s primary.

During the 2000 election cycle the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma or LPO wanted to open its party primary to all registered Oklahoma voters regardless of their party affiliation.

The State Election Board agreed as to independent voters but not as to voters registered with other political parties.

The LPO and several republican and democratic voters then brought this law suit alleging that Oklahoma’s semi-closed primary system unconstitutionaly burdens their First Ammendment right to freedom of political association.

The Court of Appeals agreed.

It concluded that the State’s semi-closed primary system imposed a severe burden on associational rights and thus was constitutional only if the system was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.

Finding none of Oklahoma’s interest compelling the Court of Appeals enjoined Oklahoma from using its primary system.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case for further proceedings.

Electoral regulations are subject to strict scrutiny only if they impose severe burdens on associational rights.

However, Oklahoma’s semi closed primary system places a minor burden on parties and voters.

Registered members of the republican, democratic, and reformed parties who wished to vote in the LPO primary need only file a form with the County Election Board Secretary to change their registration.

With nominal effort they are able to vote in the LPO primary.

For the same reason the LPO need only persuade voters to make the minimal effort necessary to switch parties.

Oklahoma may impose such minor barriers between voter and party to serve important regulatory interest.

Oklahoma’s semiclosed primary system advances a number of important interests.

It preserves political parties as viable and identifiable interest groups enhances parties electioneering and party building efforts and guards against party rating and soar loser candidacies by spurned primary contenders.

In the face of such interest we have repeatedly upheld reasonable, non discriminatory regulations such as Oklahoma’s semiclosed primary law.

Oklahoma remains free to allow the LPO to invite all registered voters, whatever their party affiliation to vote in their primary, but the Constitution leaves that choice to the citizens of Oklahoma.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment which Justice Breyer joins in part; Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion which Justice Souter joins in part and Justice Ginsburg joins in full.