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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Democratic Party of the United States
(on behalf of the Appellants)
(on behalf of the Appellees)
(on behalf of the Appellees)
Facts of the Case 

The Democratic Party of the United States (National Party) required that delegates sent to its National Convention were chosen exclusively by voters affiliated with the party, but the state of Wisconsin allowed non-Democrats to participate in state primaries. In the primary, voters expressed their choice among Presidential candidates for the Democratic Party's nomination. Although the Wisconsin Democratic Party (State Party) selected delegates at a caucus occurring after the primary, Wisconsin law required these delegates to allot their votes at the National Convention in accord with the amount of support each candidate received in the primary. The National Party prohibited the State Party delegates from participating in the 1980 National Convention because of non-Democrat influence in the state primary. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the National Party must admit the delegates since Wisconsin had a "compelling interest" to maintain the "open" feature of its primary system.


Can a state compel a National Party Convention to admit delegates from its state if those delegates were selected in a manner violating the National Party's rules?

Decision: 6 votes for Democratic Party Of U.S., 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Association

No. In a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Potter Stewart the Court reversed the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Referring to its decision in Cousins v. Wigoda, the Court held that the "First Amendment freedom to gather in association for the purpose of advancing shared beliefs is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by any State." Granting states the power to place delegates in a National Convention over party objections to how they were selected would impair the right of political parties to associate with whom they wish, especially when non-party members could influence the interests of the delegates. Justice Lewis Powell argued in his dissent that Wisconsin's "compelling interest" to involve non-affiliated voters in the primary justified this burden on the freedom of association, although the majority held that this could be accomplished without intruding upon internal party rules.

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DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE UNITED STATES. v. WISCONSIN. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 27 August 2015. <>.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE UNITED STATES. v. WISCONSIN, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 27, 2015).
"DEMOCRATIC PARTY OF THE UNITED STATES. v. WISCONSIN," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 27, 2015,