U.S. Presidential Primaries and the Caucus-Convention System: A Sourcebook

By James W. Davis | Go to book overview

10 Supreme Court Decisions and Presidential Nominations

During the mid- 1970s and early 1980s the Supreme Court on several occasions umpired credentials disputes within political parties over the seating of delegates at the national conventions or disputes between political parties and a state government over the delegate selection process. Also, the Supreme Court adjudicated a major case involving the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 as it related to fund-raising and spending ceilings in presidential and senatorial primaries and the general election campaign.


EARLY COURT ACTION

The first major case involving federal elections and the direct primary did not arise until after the 1918 Michigan senatorial primary. Prior to the 1940s, strange as it may seem, primary elections for federal offices were immune from government regulation. The reason was that southern Democrats in Congress had succeeded in excluding campaign expenditures in primaries from the Corrupt Practices Act of 1911. 1 In the early twentieth century, Democratic primaries in the one-party South predetermined the outcome of the general election because the weak Republican Party seldom fielded candidates in the primary. Therefore, if primaries were excluded from federal regulation, the southerners could avoid any spending limits in the only election that really counted.

In the 1921 case Newberry v. United States, 2 the question arose: Does the power of Congress to make regulations affecting congressional elections extend to primary elections? The Supreme Court's answer was ambiguous.

By way of background, Senator Truman Newberry spent a good deal more money than the statutory limit to defeat Henry Ford, the motor ty

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