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ARDEN v. VILLAGE OF OAK LAWN

March 24, 1982

MICHAEL P. ARDEN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
VILLAGE OF OAK LAWN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shadur, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Four police officers employed by the Village of Oak Lawn ("Oak Lawn"), joined as plaintiffs by the Oak Lawn chapter of Combined Counties Police Association, Inc. ("CCPA"),*fn1 bring this class action*fn2 against Oak Lawn, its President and Board of Trustees and its Chief of Police. Plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against an Oak Lawn ordinance as an unconstitutional abridgement of the First Amendment right of Oak Lawn employees to engage in political activities. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 12(b)(6) for failure to state a cause of action. Their motion is denied.

On June 9, 1981 Oak Lawn's Board of Trustees passed an ordinance (the "Ordinance") sharply restricting the political activities of municipal employees:

Sec. 2-59. Prohibited Activities

  Village employees, including policemen and
  firemen, are prohibited from engaging in the
  following activities connected with elections for
  Village offices or propositions:
  1.  from soliciting contributions for candidates,
      parties or political purposes;
  2.  from taking part in the management or affairs
      of any political party's or candidate's
      political campaign;
  3.  from addressing or taking an active part in
      political rallies or meetings; and
  4.  from riding in caravans for a political party
      or political candidate.

Defendants' motion to dismiss poses the questions whether, accepting the Complaint's allegations and all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor, the Ordinance cannot be viewed as vague or overbroad in violation of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.

For most people in our democracy political activity lies close to the heart of the First Amendment and is hence — via the Fourteenth Amendment — protected from state infringement.*fn3 Nonetheless it is well-settled that government employees are something less than first-class citizens in that respect, for the First Amendment does not forbid restrictions on their partisan political conduct. United Public Workers v. Mitchell, 330 U.S. 75, 67 S.Ct. 556, 91 L.Ed. 754 (1947). Less than a decade ago the Supreme Court, in United States Civil Service Comm'n v. National Ass'n of Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. 548, 93 S.Ct. 2880, 37 L.Ed.2d 796 (1973) and Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U.S. 601, 93 S.Ct. 2908, 37 L.Ed.2d 830 (1973), "unhesitatingly" (413 U.S. at 556, 93 S.Ct. at 2886) reaffirmed the vitality of United Public Workers.*fn4

But plaintiffs urge persuasively that the Ordinance, which is not limited to partisan elections, casts too wide a net. Throughout Letter Carriers and Broadrick, as in United Public Workers, the Court spoke of partisan political activity. Letter Carriers, 413 U.S. at 556, 93 S.Ct. at 2886; Broadrick, 413 U.S. at 616-18, 93 S.Ct. at 2918-19; United Public Workers, 330 U.S. at 99-101, 67 S.Ct. at 569-70. Party politics provided the rational underpinning for inhibiting First Amendment activity in each decision. See also Magill v. Lynch, 560 F.2d 22, 29 (1st Cir. 1977) (". . . the government may constitutionally restrict its employees' participation in nominally nonpartisan elections if political parties play a large role in the campaigns.").

By necessary implication a municipality may not constitutionally prevent its employees from participating in nonpartisan political elections. Because the Ordinance plainly includes such nonpartisan elections within its ban, it runs afoul of the First Amendment.*fn5

On defendants' motion to dismiss, all well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint must be taken as true. ...


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