William J. Cox v. Jimmy Carter, et al

On July 9, 1979, a class-action lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of all citizens alleging that the government no longer represented the interests of ordinary voters. As a remedy, the Court was asked to order the other two branches of government to hold a national policy referendum on the most critical questions facing the nation every four years when its president was elected.

The Court declined to hear the petition, but the Los Angeles Times commented that the case was one of the ten more interesting cases the Court declined to hear that year.

The issues presented by the petition are even more critical today. Pertinent parts of the petition follow.

It Is Necessary and Urgent That This Matter Be Reviewed

If it were true that a course of action was being undertaken by elected representatives which would ultimately be destructive of the continuance of effective common government, would not there be a co-existent threat to the lives and fortunes of each of its citizens?

If a citizen were to recognize what she or he perceived as such a threat, what redress would that person have?

Inherent in a republican form of government is access by individuals to their elected officials. However, if one were to believe regularly published reports that Congress is in the grips of special interests groups, and if one were to realistically perceive that letters by an ordinary citizen to one’s elected representatives either goes unanswered or provoke a machine-signed form letter response, then can it still be said that ordinary citizens are represented in government?

Another alternative, clearly abhorrent to the continuation of peaceful government, would be for a citizen to declare his or her independence, and to undertake violently to subvert the action of government.

In the Declaration of Independence, it was made clear that individuals have a right to declare their independence of a government which is no longer willing to address itself to the fundamental rights of its citizenry.

In a free and peaceful society, is not the only remaining viable remedy a petition to compel a vote?

The right of the people to vote for elected representatives is contained in the Constitution as amended by Articles XV, XVII, XIX, XXIV, and XXVI. In addition, every citizen of the United States has a right to petition the government for redress of grievances. (U.S. Constitution, First Amendment)

Confirmation of the right to petition in the Bill of Rights indicates that its effect provides more than a right to simply vote for elected representatives. Otherwise, its presence there would be without effect, a principle contrary to rules of constitutional interpretation.

If a petition were to be brought to compel action by the executive and legislative branches of government, where else could the petition be brought but in the Supreme Court of the United States?

All power not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government or reserved to the States, resides with the people. (U.S. Constitution, Tenth Amendment)

Since there can be no right without a remedy, is it not true that the one power retained by each citizen in a democratic system is the vote? Therefore, if a decision had to be made, affecting the future of all people, would they not have the right to demand a vote on the issue? If such a vote was advisory only, would not the process be consistent, rather than inconsistent, with the Constitution?

Should this Court decide that the continued existence of the Nation, as originally conceived, was dependent upon a national expression of its governed people, would it not have a duty to compel the Senate and the President to hold a national policy referendum?

Would not such action be essential in order to peaceably explore the will of the people necessary to ensure their survival and that of their common government?


At no time in the history of the United States has it been so threatened as it is today. In a shrinking technological world, in which wide oceans and friendly neighbors no longer offer protection against a precise first strike nuclear attack against our defensive weapons; one in which the United States has become increasingly dependent for its survival upon petroleum energy from unstable nations rapidly coming under the influence of totalitarian domination; and one in which the United States is viewed with disdain by many, as a country without internal conviction or external strength, is it not time to allow the people a voice in the future of their nation and in the quality of life preserved for their children?

Internally, is it not true that the election of representatives is now more dependent upon massive expenditures of contributions from special interests groups than upon a vote by an informed electorate?

Has not the vote in political contests become so valueless as to create disenfranchisement through apathy for most Americans?

Among candid speaking people, it is now necessary, for the first time, to assess the possibility of reduction in freedom in order to ensure our national survival.

In a world in which the frequency of internal terrorist attacks has become so commonplace as to regularly cause the collapse of governments, is it realistic to believe that the United States will long remain unscathed?

Upon the advent of internal upheaval, how long will the Bill of Rights survive the need of government to maintain order? An exiled prominent soviet dissident, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, advised in a commencement address to Harvard graduates in 1978 that Americans must be ready to surrender freedoms in order to counter Russian power.

Do we want our children to live in the absence of freedom? Do we want to? Must we?

The Constitution expressly provides a right of citizens to petition their government for redress. If individuals are denied a right of redress, is not the alternative a resort to violence?

In a free society, is it not the duty of a concerned person of conscience to avoid the use of force, even if he believes that his existence under ineffectual government is being threatened?

Does it not become the duty of such an individual to petition his government to allow him to exercise his vote along with all other citizens in a national policy referendum in order to effectuate a peaceful reformation?

Is it true that we are at a point in history where critical decisions are being made which shall forever decide the future of our Country?

Is it not a time of peril for all those citizens upon whom the Government is dependent for its legitimacy?

Has it not been a duty of each of us since the moment of the existence of Mankind to provide a better world for our children than that which we inherited from those who conceived us? If this be true, and if a citizen finds as a matter of conscience, that his government is no longer responsive to his needs, is it not his duty to his children and grandchildren to issue the most forceful petition possible, short of the threat of violence?

Does not the Supreme Court have an equivalent duty to at least review such a petition, to weight the threat, and to consider alternatives?

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