ON PETITION FOR REHEARING
ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
Today's appeal requires that we construe a section of our recently enacted Elections Code, a provision placing severe restraints upon political activities of county commissioners of election. Specifically at issue is whether a commissioner may resign and seek another office during the term for which he was elected commissioner. We find that, by virtue of constitutionally valid legislative enactment, our law disqualifies an elections commissioner from such candidacy.
We affirm the Circuit Court's ruling which is to that effect.
On November 6, 1984, Eddie Meeks, Plaintiff below and Appellant here, was elected to the office of Elections Commissioner, District 5, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. Thereafter, Meeks was elected Chairman of the Tallahatchie County Elections Commission, a capacity in which he served until he tendered his letter of resignation as Commissioner effective June 1, 1987.
On May 14, 1987, Meeks formally qualified as a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for the office of Justice Court Judge, Post 2, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi. On that date Meeks filed his qualifying statement of intent with the Circuit Clerk of Tallahatchie County, Miss. Code Ann. 23-15-299 (Supp. 1987), and paid the statutorily required filing fee. At this time, Meeks was still serving as Elections Commissioner as explained above, his resignation not being tendered until some seventeen days thereafter.
On June 14, 1987, the Tallahatchie County Democratic Party Executive Committee met to consider the matter of certification of candidates for the August 4, 1987, Democratic Party primary election. At that meeting, the Executive Committee refused to certify Meeks as a candidate, reasoning that he had been elected to act as Elections Commissioner and in fact had acted as Elections Commissioner with respect to the 1987 elections. See Miss. Code Ann. 23-15-217 (Supp. 1987).
Meeks immediately brought suit in the Circuit Court of Tallahatchie County seeking an order directing that the Democratic Executive Committee place his name on the ballot as a candidate for Justice Court Judge. Upon expedited consideration and upon trial on the merits, the Circuit Court rendered a bench opinion followed by a final judgment denying Meeks relief. This appeal has followed.
Meeks first assigns as error the alleged failure of the Tallahatchie County Democratic Executive Committee to afford him due process of law. His point is that, at least in his view, he was not afforded an adequate opportunity to present his views to the Democratic Executive Committee before certification was denied.
The record reflects that the Democratic Executive
Committee met on June 14, 1987, without Meeks present and at that meeting the Committee did indeed vote to deny certification. While the Committee was still in session, Meeks received word of its action. He immediately went to the Committee meeting and at that time was allowed to present his views. The Committee did not reverse its decision. Thereafter, as indicated above, Meeks was afforded plenary hearing de novo on the merits in the Circuit Court. Significantly, nothing in the proceedings before the Circuit Court reflects any particular deference to the decision of the Democratic Executive Committee such as, for example, a refusal to disturb findings of fact unless clearly erroneous.
Without doubt, election to public office is a public function and any integral part of that function must be constitutional. The nomination process may appear to be more a private than a governmental function because it is conducted by political parties. Appearances notwithstanding, our law recognizes that the selection of party nominees by primary elections is an integral part of the entire election process. Fanning v. State, 497 So.2d 70, 72 (Miss. 1986); Mississippi State Board of Election Commissioners v. Meredith, 301 So.2d 571, 573 (Miss. 1974). In any event, we think it established Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence, however, that the primary election process is sufficiently state action that persons affected by it and participating in it have available due process protections. See generally Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 73 S. Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed. 1152 (1953) Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S. Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987 (1944); United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S. Ct. 1031, 85 L.Ed. 1368 (1941).
Without engaging in linguistic gymnastics regarding property rights, liberty interests and the like, we hold that when one files the proper qualifying papers and pays the requisite filing fee to become a candidate for public office, neither the state nor, in the case of a primary election, a political party may arbitrarily or capriciously deprive him or her of a place on the ballot. Eddie Meeks was entitled to due process protections on two levels. First, he was entitled to the opportunity to ...