Private organizations whose aim is to elect individuals who share common beliefs to public office.
The internal decisions made by political parties, which are private associations, have largely been left alone by federal and state governments. Political parties are, however, in some ways regulated by the federal and state governments, and it is with regard to these regulations that the Supreme Court has made some rulings. The Court deemed much of the regulation of parties to be a political question and, therefore, out of the Court’s jurisdiction. For example, the Court never ruled on the constitutionality of a primary election for selecting delegates to a national party convention. That is an act of a private association and as such is not subject to court supervision. In the case of political parties, it is as important to recognize what the Court has not done.
However, the Court has made some rulings that have either involved or affected the ways in which parties operate. It ruled on ballot access, which regards the placement of a name or political party on the official ballot printed by a state for a general election. Williams v. Rhodes
The Court ruled that states must allow other parties a reasonable means to get on the ballot because to do otherwise violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Hugo L. Black, recognizing that most regulation of political parties is a political question, asserted that ballot access is a “justiciable controversy under the Constitution and cannot be relegated to the political arena.” Black argued in part from the First Amendment freedom of assembly. In the majority opinion, he stated that “the right to form a party means little if a party can be kept off the election ballot and thus denied an equal opportunity to win votes.” The Court did not rule in this case that all parties must be given ballot access. The state has a compelling interest in reasonably limiting ballot access so that the ballot is not confusing to voters. Therefore, states can enact a threshold for ballot access.
Although political parties do not have a right to be on the ballot, all political parties are permitted to exist. For example, it was never possible in the United States to outlaw the existence of the Communist
The Court ruled that states can dictate who can vote in the primary elections of the major parties. In Rosario v. Rockefeller
Another important way in which the Court affected the operation of political parties is in campaign finance regulation. The most important campaign spending case, Buckley v. Valeo
The Court addressed political party spending again in Colorado Republican Campaign Committee v. Federal Election Commission
Epstein, Leon D. Political Parties in the American Mold. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986. Green, John C., and Daniel Shea, eds. The State of the Parties: The Changing Role of Contemporary American Parties. 2d ed. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. Rosenston, Steven, Roy Behr, and Edward Lazarus. Third Parties in America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Davis v. Bandemer
Equal protection clause
Financing political speech
Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois