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Wurtzel v. Falcey

Decided: March 1, 1976.


For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. For reversal and remandment -- Justice Pashman. Pashman, J. (dissenting).

Per Curiam

This appeal derives from a declaratory judgment action in which plaintiffs-appellants challenged on equal protection grounds the minimum age requirements for certain elective offices in the New Jersey Constitution, which operated to deny them a place on the ballot in the 1973 general election. Art. IV, § I, para. 2 sets an age minimum of 21 years for members of the Assembly and 30 years for State Senators. When they attempted to run, none of the named plaintiffs was over 19 years of age, hence none would have been able to meet these age minima. The State's motion for summary judgment was granted by the trial court and affirmed by the Appellate Division in an unreported opinion. The appeal is here as of right. R. 2:2-1(a).

We affirm. There is no fundamental right to run for office. Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, 142-43, 92 S. Ct. 849, 855-856, 31 L. Ed. 2d 92, 99 (1972). As a practical matter substantial state regulation affecting the selection and qualification of candidates must exist to ensure fair and honest elections and keep order in the democratic process. Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 729, 94 S. Ct. 1274, 1278, 39 L. Ed. 2d 714, 723 (1974). Ballot regulations necessarily affect the franchise, which is a fundamental right, Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 86 S. Ct. 1079, 16 L. Ed. 2d 169 (1966); Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330, 92 S. Ct. 995, 31 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1972), and ordinarily restrictions on the franchise must meet a stringent test of justification. Hill v. Stone, 421 U.S. 289, 297, 95 S. Ct. 1637, 1643, 44 L. Ed. 2d 172, 179 (1975); Worden v. Mercer Cty. Bd. of Elections, 61 N.J. 325, 346 (1972). However, classifications based on residence, age, and citizenship are expressive of the state's legitimate interest in the integrity of the ballot, and if these classifications are reasonable, they are constitutionally inoffensive. Hill v. Stone, supra; Gangemi v. Rosengard, 44 N.J. 166, 173-74 (1965); see Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 91 S. Ct. 260, 27 L. Ed. 2d 272 (1970). Guided by these principles courts have consistently recognized that

reasonable age classifications affecting candidates do not have such an impact upon voters' or candidates' rights as to offend the equal protection clause. E.g., Manson v. Edwards, 482 F.2d 1076 (6th Cir. 1973); Blassman v. Markworth, 359 F. Supp. 1 (N.D. Ill. 1973); Human Rights Party v. Sec'y. of State for Michigan, 370 F. Supp. 921 (E.D. Mich. 1973).

Appellants have brought forth no new or compelling arguments that would lead us to question what appears to be a settled area of constitutional adjudication. We are satisfied that the minimum age requirements set forth in the New Jersey Constitution relate to the State's interest in maintaining the integrity of the ballot by ensuring competent candidates. In this context the requirements are reasonable. They fall with equal weight on all voters and do not permanently exclude any candidate, Blassman v. Markworth, supra, 359 F. Supp. at 7. It is not entirely without significance that their presence in our constitution is mirrored by the age requirements fixed in the U.S. Constitution for members of Congress, Art. I, § 2 (Representatives, 25 years) and § 3 (Senators, 30 years). See Manson v. Edwards, supra, 482 F.2d at 1078; Raza Unida Party v. Bullock, 349 F. Supp. 1272, 1283 (W.D. Texas 1972), aff'd in part, vacated in part sub nom. American Party of Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767, 94 S. Ct. 1296, 39 L. Ed. 2d 744 (1974).

Nor are we persuaded by appellants' contention that the State must show a compelling interest to justify the classifications created by these age requirements. "[T]o test the power to establish an age qualification by the 'compelling interest' standard is really to deny a State any choice at all, because no State could demonstrate a 'compelling interest' in drawing the line with respect to age at one point rather than another." Oregon v. Mitchell, supra, 400 U.S. at 294, 91 S. Ct. at 349, 27 L. Ed. 2d at 379. (Separate opinion of Stewart, J.) Rather, the power to establish an age requirement necessarily involves the power to choose a reasonable

one, id. at 294-95, 91 S. Ct. at 349, 27 L. Ed. 2d at 379, which is what the State has done. Therefore an evidentiary hearing on the relative equality of persons eighteen and twenty-one years old, sought here by appellants, is irrelevant to their equal protection claim once the determination is made that the age classifications provided by the State Constitution are reasonable. Appellants' offer of proof to the trial judge that the classification was unreasonable was limited to the claim that persons eighteen years old possess the same "biological, physiological, hygienical and sexual, and mental capacities" as do those who are twenty-one. This demonstration would not bear on the issue of whether both groups possess the same maturity and experience, far more critical to the State's interest in ensuring competent candidates -- if indeed such a contention is susceptible of proof. In short, this case simply raises an objection as to where the line was drawn without actually projecting a constitutional infringement.


PASHMAN, J. (dissenting). Plaintiffs challenge the constitutional validity of Article IV, Section I, Paragraph 2 of the New Jersey Constitution of *fn19471 on the grounds that the age requirements established by that provision deny them the equal protection of the law required by the United States Constitution.

Plaintiffs are four young adults who sought to place their names on the ballot as independent candidates for the State Senate and State Assembly in the November 1973 election. Although they had obtained the requisite number of signatures for their petitions and had otherwise complied with the requirements for candidacy, Acting Secretary of State Robert M. Falcey refused to accept their petitions because plaintiffs did not satisfy the age requirements set forth in N.J. Const. (1947), Art. IV, § I, para. 2.*fn2 In July 1973, plaintiffs brought this action challenging that provision.

The matter was heard on cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial judge, applying the traditional test for equal protection cases,*fn3 entered judgment for defendant and ruled that since the age requirements were rationally related to a legitimate state purpose, they were unassailable. To justify his decision, the trial judge found as a fact, that older people exhibit a greater capacity for mature reflection,

a higher quantum of worldly experience, a more responsible approach to the duties of office and a more stable political outlook than do adults under the age of 21. The Appellate Division thereafter affirmed in an unreported opinion and plaintiffs appealed to this Court as of right. R. 2:2-1(a).


In today's decision, the majority affirms the judgment of the lower court and declares that the age requirements of N.J. Const. (1947), Art. IV, § I, para. 2 are neither based on a "suspect" criterion nor violative of a "fundamental right." Consequently, they would find that defendant need only show that the age requirements are rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. Concluding that these restrictions are "expressive of the State's legitimate interest in the integrity of the ...

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