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Gjersten v. Board of Election Commissioners for City of Chicago

May 13, 1986

EDWARD W. GJERSTEN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
THE BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS; ED. H. SMITH, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, V. THE BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS; DONALD L. PAMON, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES, CROSS-APPELLANTS, V. THE BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, CROSS-APPELLEES



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. Nos. 84-C-0560, 84-C-1048; 84-C-2166--Ilana Diamond Rovner, Judge.

Author: Ripple

Before COFFEY, EASTERBROOK and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Under Illinois law, a candidate for the office of ward committeeman must submit a nominating petition containing the signatures of ten percent of the electors in his ward. However, a candidate for the office of township committeeman need only acquire the signatures of five percent of the electors in the township. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-10(i) (Smith-Hurd Supp. 1983). In this case, several potential candidates for the office of ward committeeman challenged the constitutionality of the State's minimum signature and requirement for access to the ballot. The district court, concluding that the signature requirement violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment, granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment. The court enjoined the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners (Board) from refusing to place on the ballot any candidate for ward committeeman who had obtained signatures of five percent or more of the primary electors in his party and ward. It further ordered the Board to conduct special elections in specified wards. The court also denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the issue of money damages. The defendants appeal the court's decision to issue the injunctions, and several plaintiffs cross-appeal the court's decision not to grant their motion for summary judgment on the question of damages.*fn1 We affirm the district court's decision to enjoin further use of the ten-percent signature requirement. However, we find that the district court did not engage in the careful analysis required before a federal court declares a state election invalid and imposes the drastic remedy of a special election. Therefore, we reverse and remand this case for further action consistent with this opinion.

I

FACTS

The Illinois Election Code, Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, §§ 1 to 14, regulates the internal structure of political parties in Illinois. According to the statutory scheme, the party is governed by the state central committee and the county central committees. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-7. The county central committee consists of the various precinct, township and ward committeemen. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-8(d). In Cook County, the central committee contains representatives from both the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County. While Chicago is divided into wards, suburban Cook County is divided into townships. Both ward committeemen and township committeemen serve on the Cook County Central Committee.*fn2 Every four years, on the third Tuesday in March, the citizens of the wards and townships cast their votes for representatives to the Cook County Central Committee. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-8(b).

The statute also establishes the method by which a candidate can have his name included on the ballot: "The name of no candidate for . . . township committeeman . . . or ward committeeman . . . shall be printed upon the primary ballot unless a petition for nomination has been filed in his behalf as provided in this Article." Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-10. The statute requires that a candidate for ward committeeman submit a nominating petition containing signatures of not less than ten percent nor more than sixteen percent of the primary electors of his party in his ward. The same section of the statute requires that a candidate for township committeeman file a petition including signatures of not less than five percent nor more than eight percent of the primary electors of his party in his township. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-10(i).*fn3 The Board of Election Commissioners reviews the signatures in the nominating petition; determines whether the petition contains the required number of valid signatures; and decides if a candidate's name will be included on the ballot. Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-13.*fn4

Shortly before the March 1984 election, the Board refused to include on the ballot the names of several candidates for ward committeeman. The Board concluded that their nominating petitions did not contain the requisite number of valid signatures. The candidates and several of their voter supporters filed suit in federal district court challenging the constitutionality of the signature requirement.*fn5 The plaintiffs immediately sought an injunction requiring the Board to place their names on the ballot. The district court concluded: that it was highly likely that the plaintiffs would succeed on the merits; that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable injury if an injunction did not issue; that the harm to the plaintiffs exceeded the potential harm to the defendants; and that public interest favoring issuing the injunction. The court ordered the names of plaintiffs Tillmon, Eddings, Smith, Streeter and Margolus placed on the ballot in their wards. Smith v. Board of Election Commissioners, 587 F. Supp. 1134 (N.D. Ill. 1984).

Following the court's ruling, many other political candidates who had been excluded from the ballot filed motions to intervene in the suit and to have their names placed on the ballot. The court granted motions to intervene filed by plaintiffs Pamon, Dixon, Forte, McDermot, Benjamin and Leonard. However, the court found that the proximity of the election shifted the balance in favor of the defendants and therefore refused to enter a mandatory injunction requiring the Board to place the intervenors' names on the ballot. The Board conducted the primary election on March 20, 1984. Candidates Tillmon, Streeter and Margolus were victorious in their respective wards.

After the election, the Board appealed the district court's decision to grant the preliminary injunction. This court held that the issues raised in that appeal were moot because the Board had already held the election. However, we also noted that, since there was a strong probability that these candidates would find themselves frustrated by the same signature requirement in the next election, the underlying action in the district court was not moot. Gjertsen v. Board of Election Commissioners, 751 F.2d 199 (7th Cir. 1984). The case in the district court proceeded with the filing of a motion for summary judgment by the plaintiffs. The district court, relying on the analysis developed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction, held Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 46, § 7-10(i) unconstitutional. The court recognized that the state has an interest in controlling access to the ballot but found no justification for the ten-percent signature requirement in the city wards if the five-percent requirement was sufficient to protect the state's interest in the suburban townships. The court therefore granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and decided that the appropriate remedy was a special election in each ward in which a plaintiff met the five-percent signature requirement. The court also denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the issue of money damages.

The Board filed a motion seeking reconsideration. The district court refused to vacate its order but granted a stay of the special elections pending the outcome of this appeal. The Board appealed the district court's decision which granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and issued injunctions prohibiting future use of the ten-percent signature requirement and ordering special elections. Several plaintiffs cross-appealed the court's decision not to award money damages. The cross-appeal is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.*fn6

II

CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE ...


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