The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion on a "resign-to-hold elected office" law passed by the Indiana General Assembly in 2012. Claussen v. Pence, 2016 WL 3213036. The law provides that “an individual is considered to have resigned as a government employee when the individual assumes an elected office of the unit that employs the individual.” Indiana Code § 3-5-9-5. In this case, civil servants in Indiana who served on both city and town councils filed a lawsuit claiming that the new Indiana law violated their First Amendment and the Equal Protection rights. The State of Indiana and its Governor along with the several members of the State Board of Accounts moved to dismiss the case, which was granted by the U.S. District Court of Northern District of Indiana.
The elected officials appealed the dismissa, but the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court's decision. In their appeal, the elected officials contended that law violated their right to municipal office by requiring them to resign from their civil servant positions after winning an election. The 7th Circuit relied on a series of "resign-to-run" cases, which upheld laws that require public employees to resign before running for election. Relying on those cases, the Court determined that Indiana's law was constitutional and was actually more favorable to the candidates because it allowed them to run for election while still being employed as civil servants.
The elected officials argued that the law was a violation of their fundamental right to hold municipal office. The court rejected this argument, ruling that holding a municipal office is not a fundamental right, so Indiana only needed to establish that the law was rationally related to a legitimate government purpose. Because the reasoning behind the law was to limit potential corruption and self-dealing by elected officials by not allowing them to serve on city and town councils that would oversee their civil servant positions, the court held that the slight burden placed on elected officials was outweighed by Indiana’s legitimate interest to avoid corruption and self dealing.
The elected officials also argued that their rights to equal protection had been violated because they were treated differently than private government contractors. The court also rejected this argument, stating that plaintiffs were not a suspect class, and government contractors are subject to extensive disclosure requirements to reduce the risk of self-dealing. Since Indiana’s law was related to preventing any actual or perceived corruption, the law again passed constitutional muster.
Although this case interprets Indiana law, Illinois has a similar ban on elected municipal officials holding any other municipal office in the same municipality where they hold elected office (with a few identified exceptions):
(65 ILCS 5/3.1-15-15) (from Ch. 24, par. 3.1-15-15)Sec. 3.1-15-15. Holding other offices. A mayor, president, alderman, trustee, clerk, or treasurer shall not hold any other office under the municipal government during the term of that office, except when the officer is granted a leave of absence from that office or except as otherwise provided in Sections 3.1-10-50, 3.1-35-135, and 8-2-9.1. Moreover, an officer may serve as a volunteer fireman and receive compensation for that service.
Post Authored by Douglas Spale and Julie Tappendorf