Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976)

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Author: Justice Burger

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Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976)

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, dissenting.

The Court’s decision today represents a significant intrusion into the area of legislative and policy concerns -- the sort of intrusion MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN has recently protested in other contexts. I therefore join MR. JUSTICE POWELL’s dissenting opinion, and add a few words simply to emphasize an aspect that seems particularly important to me.

The Illinois Legislature has pointedly decided that roughly half of the Sheriff’s staff shall be made up of tenured career personnel and the balance left exclusively to the choice of the elected head of the department. The Court strains the rational bounds of First Amendment doctrine and runs counter to longstanding practices that are part of the fabric of our democratic system to hold that the Constitution commands something it has not been thought to require for 185 years. For all that time our system has wisely left these matters to the States and, on the federal level, to the Congress. The Court’s action is a classic example of trivializing constitutional adjudication -- a function of the highest importance in our system.

Only last week, in National League of Cites v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833 (1976), we took steps to arrest the downgrading of States to a role comparable to the departments of France, governed entirely out of the national capital. Constant inroads on the powers of the States to manage their own affairs cannot fail to complicate our system and centralize more power in Washington. For the reasons MR. JUSTICE POWELL persuasively adduces, the First Amendment neither requires nor justifies such inroads in this case. In my view, the issue is not so much whether the patronage system is "good" or "bad," as the plurality characterizes the problem, but whether the choice of its use in the management of the very government of each State was not, in the words of the Tenth Amendment, "reserved to the States . . . or to the people."

Congress long ago, as a matter of policy, opted for a federal career service with a small number of purely political appointments in the Executive Branch, and many governmental departments have a limited number of positions in which the persons appointed have no tenure, but serve at the pleasure of the cabinet officer or agency chief, who in turn serves at the pleasure of the President. See, e.g., Leonard v. Douglas, 116 U.S.App.D.C. 136, 321 F.2d 749 (1963). The considerations leading to these legislative conclusions are -- for me -- not open to judicial scrutiny under the guise of a First Amendment claim, any more than is the right of a newly elected Representative or Senator, for example, to have a staff made up of persons who share his political philosophy and affiliation and are loyal to him. It seems to me that the Illinois Legislature’s choice is entitled to no less deference.

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Chicago: Burger, "Burger, J., Dissenting," Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976) in 427 U.S. 347 427 U.S. 376. Original Sources, accessed February 3, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8F5D2XDVBAMGLJW.

MLA: Burger. "Burger, J., Dissenting." Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976), in 427 U.S. 347, page 427 U.S. 376. Original Sources. 3 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8F5D2XDVBAMGLJW.

Harvard: Burger, 'Burger, J., Dissenting' in Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976). cited in 1976, 427 U.S. 347, pp.427 U.S. 376. Original Sources, retrieved 3 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8F5D2XDVBAMGLJW.