LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court
DOCKET NO.: 71-1371
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 410 US 752 (1973)
ARGUED: Dec 13, 1972
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1973
A. Seth Greenwald - for respondents Rockefeller and others; Louis J
Burt Neuborne - for petitioners; Melvin L
David N. Dinkins - pro se, filed a brief for respondents Dinkins and others
Joseph Jaspan - for respondents Meisser and others
Facts of the case
Media for Rosario v. Rockefeller
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 13, 1972 in Rosario v. Rockefeller
Warren E. Burger:
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.
This case involves the constitutionality of Section 186 of New York?s Election Law, which imposes severe restrictions upon qualified voters seeking to join the political party of their choice and to participate in their party's primary elections in New York State.
The complex and often indirect operation of New York?s deferred party enrollment scheme is set out at length in petitioner's brief at pages 4 through 7.
But while the operation of New York scheme maybe complex and difficult to follow, it's effect is very clear.
New York?s scheme imposes two serious impediments upon the free operation of the electoral process in New York State.
First, it establishes a cut off period for participation in a party primary which is longer than the cut off period of any other state in the United States.
In order to qualify to participate in a presidential primary in New York State which is in New York State are held every four years in June, a potential party enrollee must enroll in October of the preceding year, fully eight months before the party primary.
In order to participate in a primary in a none presidential year which in New York state are held in September, a potential enrollee must enroll in the party in October, fully 11 months prior to the primary in question.
Thus petitioners in the instance case, who registered to vote for the first time in December of 1971 and who sought to enroll in the party of their choice for the first time in December of 1971, were barred from voting in the June 1972 primary because their enrollments had not become effective on or before October 2, 1971, fully eight months before the primary.
The second impact which New York statutory scheme has on the operation of the political process is to impose a waiting period of a substantial period of time between the attempt of a voter to join the party of his choice and the effective date of his acceptance by the party.
Indeed, petitioners in this case who attempted to join the democratic party for the first time in December of 1971 and be completed solemn declarations of party loyalty at that time pledging to adhere to principles of the party and to support the candidates of the party generally at the next elections, will not be recognized by the state of New York as members of the democratic party until sometime between November 14, 1972 and February 1, 1973, a waiting period of between 11 to 14 months.
Indeed, the drastic operation of New York?s law can be understood, if we apply it to a person in New York State who registers today for the first time.
If one of the two million unregistered voters in New York qualified but unregistered voters in New York City were today to seek to enroll and to seek to register in a New York City registration office, he would be ineligible to participate in the primaries for the Mayor of the City of New York scheduled to be held in September of 1973 and his application to become a member of the political party in question would not become effective under New York Law until sometime between November 15, 1973 and February 1, 1974.
The existence of so drastic, a curtailment of the political process poses very serious constitutional issues, but we should note at the outset that there are several issues which are not posed in this case.
There is not posed in this case any issue of internal party regulation in that the statutes in question are imposed by New York State upon the political parties of New York whether or not they wish to have them applied.
Indeed, in the instant case, the Democratic Party, the party into which the four petitioners sought entry in December of 1971, appeared in state Court in June of 1972 shortly before the primaries and requested that petitioners similarly situated, that that plaintiffs similarly situated to the petitioners be permitted to participate in the democratic primary.
That State Court preceding was dismissed because of lack of time and has not been re-instituted, but we should emphasize that there is no interest whatever in permitting the political parties in the state of New York to regulate themselves raised by this case.
Nor does this case necessarily raise the arguably more difficult issue of party switching or the alteration of a pre existing party affiliation.
For the four petitioners in this case are all new registrants, first time voters, who are seeking to do nothing more than to register their initial party affiliation.
Warren E. Burger:
Does the impact of your position has an effect on the parties and on people who are already registered in one political party or the other?
I think not sir.
I think it would simply permit those persons who wish to join a political party to do so.
Warren E. Burger:
What about those who?ve already joined one and they wanted to vote in the primary of the other party, wouldn?t your, the adoption since you opened that up --
I Understand sir.
It would be possible for this Court to frame the decision narrowly to apply only to those persons who are seeking to register their initial party affiliation.
Warren E. Burger:
Is that all you really to seek --
No sir, we are not, we believe that the application of the New York process even to persons who have been members of one political party and who seek to alter their party affiliations raise very serious constitutional questions and we believe that under the least drastic alternative analysis which this Court has evolved that even those regulations cannot stand, but I simply --
Byron R. White:
Is there something in the record to show what, in what category the name plaintiff?s are?