Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party

RESPONDENT: Popular Democratic Party
LOCATION: Furnace Woods School

DOCKET NO.: 81-328
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 457 US 1 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 22, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1982

Abe Fortas - for appellees
Philip A. Lacovara - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

In 1981, a representative of Puerto Rico's Popular Democratic Party ("Party") died in office. Searching for a replacement, the Governor of Puerto Rico held a "by-election" open to candidates of all parties. The Party challenged the Governor, alleging that under Puerto Rico statutes only candidates and electors affiliated with the Party could participate in the by-election. On appeal from a Superior Court judgment favoring the Party, Puerto Rico's Supreme Court modified the judgment holding that a by-election was only required if the party of the legislator vacating the seat fails to name a replacement within 60 days. Before Puerto Rico's Supreme Court could deliver its decision, the Party held an election open only to its members and, then, pursuant to the Supreme Court's mandate, swore in a new representative. Rodriguez appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Do Puerto Rico's statutes, authorizing a political party to appoint one of its own members as an interim replacement to a vacated seat, infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of association or equal protection?

Media for Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 1982 in Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first today in 81-328, Rodriguez against Popular Democratic Party.

Mr. Lacovara.

Philip A. Lacovara:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, in a series of decisions going back at least a century, this Court has recognized the basic principles that we believe control the case here this morning.

For example, in 1875, the Court stated in Minor against Happersett,

"Necessarily, the members of the legislature are elected by the voters of the state. "

In 1964, in the landmark case of Reynolds against Sims, the Court said,

"Representative government is in essence self-government through the medium of elected representatives of the people. "

And then, in one of the many, many cases applying the Reynolds versus Sims principle, the Court said in 1969 in Kramer versus the Union Free School District,

"The right to vote establishes the legitimacy of representative government. "

Well, counsel, are you suggesting that those cases stand for any more than the proposition that where once a right to vote is accorded, it has to be afforded in a non-discriminatory manner?

Philip A. Lacovara:

I think they do stand for more than that, Justice Rehnquist, although since Puerto Rico has recognized the right to vote for its legislature, it might be necessary for the Court to go no further than to apply those principles, but we contend that the principles that this Court has already recognized demonstrate that there is an absolute obligation on the part of the states and by virtue of the compact between Puerto Rico and the United States on people of Puerto Rico to provide for an elected legislature.

What provision of the Constitution gives rise to that duty?

Philip A. Lacovara:

As we have tried to explain in our brief, Justice Rehnquist, the obligation to provide for an elected state legislature appears from at least two provisions of the Constitution.

One, of course, is Article I, Section 2, which necessarily assumes that state legislatures are elected, since it provides that the electors for the United States House of Representatives must be the same as those who are the electors for the state legislature.

In explaining that clause and other similar assumptions underlying the union of states that was forged in the Constitution, James Madison and the other authors of the Federalist Papers treated it as a fundamental given that the union being established under the Constitution was a union of states with a republican form of government, and that a republican form of government included elected legislatures.

How do you explain that in many instances when a Senator, United States Senator dies or leaves office by resignation, the governor is empowered in many instances to appoint his successor until the next election?

Now, he is not elected by the people, then, is he?

Philip A. Lacovara:

Well, originally, Mr. Chief Justice, the provisions of Article I, Section 3, called for the appointment of all United States Senators by the legislatures.

There was no popular election.

That has changed.

Philip A. Lacovara:

That has changed.

And the Seventeenth Amendment provides for direct election of Senators, but recognizing the historical tradition of having appointed legislators, the Seventeenth Amendment provides that governors may make temporary appointments, but the Seventeenth Amendment, quite consistent with the tradition on which we are relying, insists that the temporary appointment by the governor may last only until the people, as the Amendment says, have the power, the opportunity to elect a successor.

That might be as much as two years, or lacking a day or two, two years, wouldn't it?

Philip A. Lacovara:

There is one case in which the... a lower court found that a delay of over two years was temporary, but the court emphasized that the Amendment recognizes the right of the people to elect the Senator, and the court specifically said it would not be able to sustain a statute like the one here by which the governor was authorized to appoint a substitute Senator for the full balance of the term.

Of course, what we have here before the Court is a statute similar to the one adopted in a minority of states that permits appointment to fill the balance of a legislative term.

We think that that approach is fundamentally at odds with the right of representative government, which is recognized in Article I, is specifically enforced in Article IV, the republican form of government clause, and if further support would be needed, several other courts have suggested that the right to vote at least for state legislative office, and that is all this case involves, can also be inferred from the provisions of the First Amendment, from the due process clause of the--

Haven't we held that Article IV is a political question?

Philip A. Lacovara:

--Going back 150 years, in Luther against Borden, the Court suggested that in some circumstances a guarantee clause claim might be non-justiciable, but as Justice Brennan's opinion for the Court in Baker against Carr explained in considerable detail, the fact that certain claims under the republican form of government clause might not be Justiciable does not mean that any claim under that clause is non-justiciable, particularly when the fundamental core of the republican form of government is at issue, and I submit that is what we have here, or when other provisions of the Constitution give explicit guidance to the Court on the content of the republican form of government, and here, both the text of the Constitution and the history before, during, and after the debates on the ratification of the Constitution leave, I submit, no room to doubt that the bedrock organization established by the Constitution of the United States is a union of states governed by elected legislatures.

Must you win on this basic proposition to prevail in this case?

Philip A. Lacovara: