Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

RESPONDENT: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
LOCATION: Public Schools

DOCKET NO.: 84-312
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 473 US 788 (1985)
ARGUED: Feb 19, 1985
DECIDED: Jul 02, 1985

Charles Stephen Ralston - on behalf of the respondent
Rex E. Lee - on behalf of the petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 19, 1985 in Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Devine against NAACP Legal Defense Educational Fund.

Mr. Solicitor General, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Rex E. Lee:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the Combined Federal Campaign is an annual effort by the federal government to solicit contributions to charity from its employees.

Like most employers who engage in like efforts, the federal government has never opened its campaign to all categories of charities.

Among the groups who have never participated are churches, universities, opera guilds, animal welfare groups, and other groups, including the respondents in this case.

The question presented here is whether the President has the constitutional authority to limit participation in the Combined Federal Campaign to agencies that provide or support direct health and welfare services to individuals or their families.

Not included within the eligible groups are organizations such as the respondents, legal advocacy groups whose objective is to influence public policy through litigation.

For the first 19 years of its existence, the Combined Federal Campaign did not include legal advocacy groups and was generally understood not to include them.

The federal government's practice in this respect was also consistent with the practice of other employers, such as private employers, and also consistent with the practices of federated charitable fundraisers such as the United Way and its predecessors, the United Fund and the old community chests.

In 1980, however, after the petitioner's predecessor had determined them to be ineligible, several legal advocacy groups filed suit in District Court which held that the direct services requirement which they had allegedly failed to meet was unconstitutionally vague.

The President's steps taken in response to that decision, culminating in Executive Order 12404, which--

William H. Rehnquist:

Was that decision ever appealed?

Rex E. Lee:

--It was not.

William H. Rehnquist:

Is there any indication in the record why it wasn't appealed?

Rex E. Lee:

No, there is not.

The Executive Order 12404 which was issued in February, 1983, made explicit that which had been the consistent understanding and practice for 20 years, and I quote from the language of the executive order:

"Agencies that seek to influence the determination of public policy through litigation shall not be eligible to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign. "

The issue in this case is remarkably narrow.

Everyone agrees that the respondent's right to engage in fundraising activities is constitutionally protected, and no one contends that every charity should be constitutionally entitled to participate in the Combined Federal Campaign.

So that the problem is one of line drawing.

Who is to be admitted and who is not, and by what criteria does the Constitution permit that distinction to be made?

The controlling issue as seen by the Court of Appeals, by the respondents, and by the petitioner, is whether drawing the line where the President has drawn it, the same line that existed through five previous Administrations, is reasonable.

The respondents and the Court of Appeals are absolutely correct in our view in focusing on reasonableness as the relevant and controlling constitutional question, and we will join them orally, as we have in the briefs, on that issue as the issue in the case.

But I want to do so against the background that this necessarily assumes and correctly assumes that we are dealing here with a non-public forum, and that assumption is a correct one.

The only public property, indeed, the only place that is at issue in this case is the federal work place, which the federal government most assuredly has not opened generally for expressive activity.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Mr. Lee, does your case stand or fall on that proposition?

Rex E. Lee:

No, it does not, Justice Blackmun.

It is simply a recognition at the outset that that is the correct analytical framework, but even if it did not, we would contend that what the President did was still constitutional.

But in any event, there is general agreement that the focal point for analysis in this case should be whether the President's decision was feasible, that is, whether there are differences between these respondents and the Combined Federal Campaign eligible charities which are sufficiently relevant to legitimate governmental objectives that the eligibility criteria are reasonable.

We submit that there is not only a reasonable distinction, but that each of the three objectives stated in the executive order constitutes a separate and independently sufficient reasonable ground for sustaining the criteria, and I will discuss each of them separately.