Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Notwithstanding H. Ross Perot's strong third place finish in the 1992 Presidential election,' history suggests a successful presidential candidate must be a member of one of the two major political parties to win. As a result, many candidates compete for each major party's nomination. Moreover, the leaders of state Democratic and Republican parties that hold presidential primaries often have attempted to remove the lesser-known, and sometimes politically unpopular, candidates from the ballot. One argument advanced by state party leaders in support of their attempts to prevent some candidates from appearing on the ballot is that the political party has a First Amendment freedom of association that includes the right not to associate with those candidates they deem ideologically outside the party. Aside from having the support of law, theoretical justification for this proposition exists. The purpose of political parties is to advance the shared beliefs of their members and convert often diffuse beliefs into specific, responsive public decisions. One way political parties advance shared beliefs is to select candidates representing those shared beliefs to run in a general election." If those candidates can attract sufficient popular support to be elected, the candidates can effectuate the political parties' interests. American political parties, however, are not ideologically monolithic. In fact, Justice Powell characterized them as having "a fluidity and overlap of philosophy and membership." Political parties do not win elections by converting voters into adherents of their entire platform, but by forging coalitions with competing interests in the hopes of attracting more voters than the coalition put together by the opposing party." As a result, political parties often develop vague and overlapping programs that do not offer the voter sharply different choices.