Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied October 29, 1997.
HEANEY, Circuit Judge.
Appellant, Christina Peeper, sought injunctive relief from a resolution of a county ambulance district board of directors limiting her participation as a member of that board because of her marriage to an employee of the ambulance district. The district court denied Peeper's motion, holding that the resolution was narrowly drawn to meet significant state interests. We reverse.
In April 1996, Peeper became a member of the Callaway County Ambulance District Board of Directors ("Board") after winning an election for the seat representing her subdistrict. Peeper's husband had worked as an emergency medical technician and supervisor for the Callaway County Ambulance District ("District") for two years at the time of Peeper's election to the Board. The District is a corporate body and political subdivision of the State of Missouri governed by the
Peeper attended her first meeting as a member of the Board on April 23, 1996. After conducting its routine business and election of officers, the Board adopted, over Peeper's objection, a resolution limiting Peeper's participation as a member of the Board. On May 28, 1996, the Board passed an amended resolution with the same goal. The resolution provided:
(Jt.App. at 62-64). The Missouri conflict-of-interest law, to which the resolution refers provides, in part, that:
Mo.Rev.Stat. § 105.454 (1997) (footnote added). Board members expressed concern about their own potential criminal liability
Peeper protested the May resolution and filed a claim in federal court seeking injunctive relief based on her claim that the resolutions violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and under the free speech clause of the Missouri Constitution. The district court denied Peeper's request for relief. The court held that the May resolution is "content-neutral," narrowly tailored to meet the significant government interests of preventing the appearance of government corruption and promoting the effective functioning of the District, and leaves open alternative channels of communication for Peeper. Id. at 6. The court further held that the May resolution conforms to the provisions of the Missouri conflict-of-interest law, specifically citing section 105.476 which provides, in part, that "nothing in [s]ections 105.450 to 105.498 shall prohibit any political subdivision from establishing additional or more stringent requirements than those specified in [s]ections 105.450. to 105.498." Mo.Rev. Stat. § 105.476 (1997). The restrictions in the May resolution place limitations on Peeper that are not rationally related to the goals of Missouri conflict-of-interest law and that impinge on Peeper's First Amendment associational rights and her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights. Therefore, we reverse.
We review the district court's conclusions of law de novo. United States v. Kistner, 68 F.3d 218, 220-21 (8th Cir.1995). Our first task is to determine whether the challenged resolution deserves scrutiny that goes beyond that traditionally required for restrictions placed on candidates or officeholders. See Clements v. Fashing, 457 U.S. 957, 963, 102 S.Ct. 2836, 2843, 73 L.Ed.2d 508 (1981). Where a regulation implicates a fundamental right, such as the First Amendment's free speech guarantee, we review the regulation under heightened scrutiny. Id. If no fundamental right is implicated, traditional equal protection principles apply. Id. Traditional equal protection principles dictate that state-imposed burdens that affect some citizens differently than others offend equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment only if such a burden is "wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the [s]tate's [constitutional] objectives." McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 425, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1104, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961).
The district court examined the May resolution under the First Amendment strict scrutiny standard.
Following this process, we initially consider the injury caused by restrictions on the officeholder. As is the case with restrictions on candidacy, restrictions on an elected official's ability to perform her duties implicate the interests of two distinct parties: the individual's First Amendment associational rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights; and the voters' rights to be meaningfully represented by their elected officials. Cf. Bullock, 405 U.S. at 143, 92 S.Ct. at 857(1972) ("[T]he rights of voters and the rights of candidates do not always lend themselves to neat separation" when considering the effect of limitations on candidacy). Restrictions on a public official's participation necessarily affect that individual's First Amendment associational rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.
Although the district court upheld the May resolution applying the more rigid strict-scrutiny standard, we hold the resolution unconstitutional under rational-basis review. The resolution's provisions injure Peeper's First Amendment associational rights and her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights. The resolution creates a standard specific to Peeper that treats her differently than other Board members, strongly implicating her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights. The restrictions also restrain Peeper's interaction with other Board members, implicating her First Amendment associational rights.
Having determined that the resolution injures Peeper's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, we evaluate the state's purported interests and whether the restrictions
The May resolution limits Peeper in a wide range of matters, most of which do not involve the concerns expressed by the Board or addressed by the conflict-of-interest law. For instance, the May resolution prevents Peeper from participating in discussions of or voting on "[l]egal actions, causes of action or litigation between the District and its employees" without a requirement that the topic be related to Peeper's husband's employment. Likewise, the resolution prevents Peeper from participating in discussions of hiring or firing employees or addressing testing and examination materials without regard to whether Peeper's husband is associated with the matters. The resolution goes well beyond the Missouri conflict-of-interest law's general prohibition of the misuse of confidential information for financial gain and recusal requirement for measures "designed ... to provide a special monetary benefit" to the official or her spouse.
The Board's concern about keeping its discussions free-flowing, particularly during the Board's closed sessions, is based on its belief that Peeper's presence would chill discussions between other Board members. This chilling, the Board contends, stems from the other Board members' opinion that if Peeper is present she might pass on confidential information to her husband who would, in turn, pass it on to his co-workers. It is incongruous, however, for a state to allow the election of people with such relationships to public office and then consider them less-trustworthy stewards of confidential information merely because of these relationships. The Missouri conflict-of-interest law prohibits any public official from misusing confidential information or acting for self-benefit, and those with spouses employed by the public bodies they serve perhaps face greater temptations to run afoul of that prohibition. One does not, however, face any additional temptation where the matters are unrelated to the official's spouse. Yet the May resolution prohibits Peeper from participating in any matter dealing with any employee's records, any testing material, or the hiring or firing of any employee. The Board's interest in preventing corruption or at least the appearance of corruption is not served by the vast portions of the May resolution that go beyond matters that could lead or appear to lead to corrupt behavior by Peeper. As such, those portions of the May resolution are not rationally related to the state interests cited by the Board.
Because provisions of the May resolution infringe upon Peeper's constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments without being rationally related to a legitimate state interest, the May resolution cannot stand as written.
We reverse the decision of the district court. In light of our holding that the May