[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled Tuesday that Washington's system for primary elections does not violate the First Amendment right of freedom of association. The decision came in the consolidated cases of Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party and Washington v. Washington State Republican Party [Duke Law case backgrounder; JURIST report], challenges to Initiative 872 [PDF text], which instituted a "top two" primary system in 2004. The system allows voters to select any candidate in the primary, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the November election, even if they are from the same party.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held [PDF text] that the initiative violated First Amendment rights of state political parties, but the Supreme Court reversed:
Because I872 does not on its face impose a severe burden on political parties' associational rights, and because respondents' arguments to the contrary rest on factual assumptions about voter confusion that can be evaluated only in the context of an as-applied challenge, we reverse.The Court went on to conclude:
Respondents ask this Court to invalidate a popularly enacted election process that has never been carried out. Immediately after implementing regulations were enacted, respondents obtained a permanent injunction against the enforcement of I872. The First Amendment does not require this extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people. Because I872 does not on its face provide for the nomination of candidates or compel political parties to associate with or endorse candidates, and because there is no basis in this facial challenge for presuming that candidates' party-preference designations will confuse voters, I872 does not on its face severely burden respondents' associational rights. We accordingly hold that I872 is facially constitutional.Read the Court's opinion [text] per Justice Thomas, along with a concurrence [text] from Chief Justice Roberts, and a dissent [text] from Justice Scalia. AP has more.