LOCATION: New Jersey Office of Legislative Services
DOCKET NO.: 85-1551
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1987-1988)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
CITATION: 484 US 72 (1987)
ARGUED: Oct 06, 1987
DECIDED: Dec 01, 1987
Norman L. Cantor - on behalf of Respondent
Rex E. Lee - on behalf of the Appellees
Facts of the case
In 1982, the New Jersey Legislature overrode the Governor's veto and enacted a statute requiring the state's public school teachers to permit students to observe a minute of silence before the start of each school day. A group of New Jersey public school teachers, students, and parents sued the New Jersey Department of Education, its Commissioner, and two township boards of education. The suit alleged that the statute violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After the named defendants and the New Jersey Attorney General refused to defend the statute, Alan J. Karcher, the Speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly, and Carmen A. Orechio, the President of the New Jersey Senate, intervened as defendants on behalf of the Legislature. The district court ruled against them and declared the "minute-of-silence" statute unconstitutional. Karcher and Orechio appealed the ruling in their official capacities as presiding officers of the Legislature. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, and shortly thereafter, Karcher and Orechio lost their respective officer positions. They subsequently filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court, but the successors to their offices indicated to the Court that they were withdrawing the appeal on behalf of the Legislature. The plaintiffs argued that the withdrawal of the appeal ended the controversy and that the Court no longer had jurisdiction to review the case, according to Article III of the Constitution. Karcher and Orechio countered that they should be permitted to continue the appeal in their capacities as legislators and representatives of the legislative body that enacted the statute. Alternatively, they argued that the Court should vacate the judgment of the lower court upon their dismissal as appellants. They contended that New Jersey law does not authorize presiding legislative officers to represent the Legislature in litigation, and they argued that their loss of presiding officer status rendered the judgment unappealable.
1. May public officials who have participated in a lawsuit solely in their official capacities appeal an adverse judgment after they have left office?
2. If not, must the appellate court vacate the judgment of the lower court on the grounds that it is unreviewable?
Media for Karcher v. MayAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 06, 1987 in Karcher v. May
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 01, 1987 in Karcher v. May
Sandra Day O'Connor:
The opinion of the Court in No. 85-1551, Karcher versus May will be announced by Justice O'Connor.
This case comes to us on appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Thrid Circuit.
The former presiding officers of the New Jersey Legislature seek to appeal a judgment declaring unconstitutional the New Jersey law providing for a minute of silence in the public schools of that state.
We do not reach the merits of the holding of the Court below because in the opinion filed today, we hold that public officials who have participated in a lawsuit solely in their official capacities may not appeal an adverse judgment after they have left office.
Mr. Karcher and Mr. Orechio participated in the judgment below only in their official capacities as the presiding officers of the New Jersey General Assembly and the Senate.
Since they no longer hold those positions and since the incumbent presiding officers have withdrawn the legislature's appeal, Mr. Karcher and Mr. Orechio may not pursue this appeal in their capacities as presiding officers.
They have never participated in this lawsuit in their capacities as individual legislators or as representatives of the expired 200th New Jersey Legislature which enacted the provision.
For that reason, we hold they are not, in those capacities, parties entitled to appeal in the Court of Appeals judgment.
Because we have no proper party appellant before us, we dismiss the appeal for want of jurisdiction.
Justice White has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.