Jerry Gordon, Pioneer Attorney for Ballot Access, Dies

On the night of October 27, Jerry Gordon died at the age of 88. He had been the first attorney to file a ballot access lawsuit in federal court against a state law requiring a very high number of signatures. He filed that case in January 1968 against Ohio, which then required 433,100 valid signatures for a new party to get on the ballot. He filed it in the northern district of Ohio.

The 3-judge court sat on the case, which had been filed for the Socialist Labor Party, for six months. Finally it issued an opinion saying the case should have been filed in the southern district. This was wrong, because one of the plaintiffs, Peter Kapitz, the U.S. Senate nominee for the Socialist Labor Party, lived in Cleveland, which is in the northern district.

Gordon dutifully refiled the case in the southern district. The 3-judge panel in that district combined his case with the case filed for George Wallace and the American Independent Party. Then they ruled that although the Ohio law might be unconstitutional, they would not put either party on the ballot. Both parties then filed with the U.S. Supreme Court. The American Independent Party asked Justice Potter Stewart to put their party on the ballot, even before the U.S. Supreme Court had heard the case. The court wasn’t sitting yet. Stewart put the American Independent Party on the ballot. Gordon asked three days later that the Socialist Labor Party be also put on, but Stewart refused on the grounds that the delay of three days was inconvenient for the ballot-printing process. The next month the Court heard the case and struck down the Ohio law.

In 1969 the Ohio legislature lowered the petition from 15% to 7%, which still required over 200,000 signatures. In 1970 Gordon filed a new case for the Socialist Labor Party, and this time the 3-judge court not only struck down the 7% petition; it put the SLP on the ballot for the 1970 and 1972 elections.

Gordon, who lived in Cleveland, accomplished a great deal more than just these two ballot access cases. He represented activists in many types of cases. Thanks to Carole Seligman for the news.


Jerry Gordon, Pioneer Attorney for Ballot Access, Dies — 2 Comments

  1. Richard, you are right that Jerry accomplished “a great deal more” during his long and active life. He was a very rare individual who took his citizenship more responsibly than anybody I know except Ralph Nader.

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