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Freedom Republicans v. FEC


On April 7, 1992, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia remanded this case to the FEC, ordering the agency "with all deliberate speed...[to] begin rulemaking proceedings designed to consider the means through which the FEC will ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act...." Title VI bars racial discrimination in any program receiving federal funds.[1]

On January 18, 1994, finding that Freedom Republicans lacked standing to bring suit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss. On October 3, 1994, the Supreme Court refused to review that decision, and on December 7, 1994, the case was dismissed by the district court. (Civil Action No. 92-0153 (CRR).)


The plaintiffs in this case-The Freedom Republicans, Inc., and its President, Lugenia Gordon-alleged that the Republican Party's delegate selection process discriminated against African Americans in violation of Title VI. (Plaintiffs had made similar allegations in an administrative complaint, which FEC staff dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.) Claiming that the FEC was responsible for ensuring that the convention funding program complied with Title VI, plaintiffs asked the court to order the agency to conduct an investigation of the Republican Party's delegate selection procedures and to adopt Title VI regulations on delegate selection.

Plaintiffs additionally claimed that Title VI prohibited the FEC from providing any public funds to the Republican Party for its 1992 national convention because of the Party's alleged discriminatory delegate process. In moving for partial summary judgment, however, plaintiffs asked the court to consider only their request for a rulemaking.

The FEC asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing, among other things, that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit; that they had not exhausted administrative remedies; that Title VI did not apply to the public funding programs the FEC administers; and that the FEC did not have authority to issue delegate selection regulations under Title VI.

District court ruling

Finding that Title VI applies "to the FEC as well as to both major political parties and other recipients of federal funds," the court granted plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment and denied the FEC's motion to dismiss. The court held that the FEC was obligated to adopt rules that would ensure enforcement of Title VI in the delegate selection process.

Plaintiffs' standing to bring suit

The agency argued that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit. (The FEC contended that the jurisdiction of the courts can be invoked only when an individual plaintiff has suffered actual injury and that plaintiff Gordon made no such allegation. The FEC similarly argued that Freedom Republicans failed to allege injury to its members sufficient to invoke the court's jurisdiction.)

The court, however, held that Freedom Republicans had standing to sue on behalf of its members because the organization satisfied the three criteria set forth in Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission.[2] First, the individual members of the group could themselves have brought action under Title VI, which "entitles the Plaintiffs to a private right of action against the agency for dereliction of its enforcement duties." Second, the interests Freedom Republicans sought to protect were germane to its purpose, namely, "advancing the interests of African Americans through, and within, the Republican Party." and third, "the presence of individuals who have actually been denied delegate status on the basis of racial discrimination is not necessary" when an organization challenges an agency's interpretation of law, "such as the FEC's interpretation of the applicability of Title IV."

Administrative remedies

The FEC also contended that the plaintiffs had failed to pursue an administrative remedy still open to them: to petition the agency to issue a rulemaking on Title IV. The court pointed out that the administrative complaint plaintiffs had filed with the agency "put the FEC on sufficient notice of Plaintiffs' desire for a rulemaking."

Application of Title IV

The FEC contended that Title IV [3] was not applicable to the public funding of national nominating conventions because of First Amendment concerns (i.e., government control over the selection of delegates to the party conventions). The court, however, said that there were numerous cases in which First Amendment rights were overridden "by the need to prevent state-sponsored discrimination."

The court rejected the FEC's argument that convention funding does not qualify as "federal financial assistance" because Title VI applies only to programs where funding is provided to a nonfederal entity, which then provides the assistance to the ultimate beneficiaries. In the court's view, convention funding meets this test because the funds "enable the party to provide a platform for other, ultimate beneficiaries, such as Republican candidates and party members."

Responding to the FEC's argument that Congress never intended for the agency to have any control over the internal workings of the parties, the court said that there was nothing in the legislative history suggestive of Congress's desire to prevent the FEC from enforcing Title VI.

Court of Appeals ruling

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concluded that Freedom Republicans had no standing to bring suit against the Commission for the purpose of pressuring the Republican Party to change its delegate-selection rules. The court found that Freedom Republicans failed to meet two requirements for standing under Article III of the Constitution.

First, the organization failed to show that the allegedly discriminatory delegate-selection process was caused by the authorization of federal funding to the Republican convention. The court said that "the injury alleged in Freedom Republicans' complaint is not fairly traceable to any encouragement on the part of the government, but appears instead to be the result of decisions made by the Party without regard to funding implications." Second, Freedom Republicans failed to show that court action or action by the FEC would likely redress the injury. The court found no "adequate likelihood, as opposed to speculation, that the Party would choose to change its time-tested delegate-selection mechanism rather than forego the convention funding."

Accordingly, on January 18, 1994, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss.

Petition to Supreme Court; dismissal

On October 3, 1994, the Supreme Court denied Freedom Republicans' petition for a writ of certiorari. The district court dismissed the case on December 7, 1994.


[1] In response to the FEC's motion to amend judgment, and over the objection of plaintiffs, the court revised its order on May 4, 1992 , to make clear that the order referred to a rulemaking governing the delegate selection process of federally funded national party conventions. The amended order also made clear that the court did not impose a deadline for the promulgation of the rules.

[2] 432 U.S. 333, 97 S.Ct. 2434 (1977).

[3] Title VI states: "Each Federal agency... which is empowered to extend Federal financial assistance to any program or activity, by way of grant, loan, or authorized and directed to effectuate the provisions of section 2000d of this issuing rules, regulations or orders of general applicability which shall be consistent with achievement of the objectives of the statute authorizing the financial assistance." 42 U.S.C. §2000d-1.

Source:   FEC Record February 1995; March 1994; and June 1992. Freedom Republicans, Inc. v. FEC, 788 F. Supp. 600 (D.D.C. 1992), rev'd, 13 F.3d 412 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 115 S. Ct. 84 (1994).