34 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 225 (1977)
Elrod v. Burns: Chipping at the Iceberg of Political Patronage

handle is hein.journals/waslee34 and id is 237 raw text is: ELROD V. BURNS: CHIPPING AT THE ICEBERG OF
Political patronage has been defined as the appointive positions
in government awarded either for past political services or in expecta-
tion of future work.' The term also covers governmental benefits and
services distributed by office-holders. The practice in America pre-
dates the Constitution, although its popularization occurred later,
during the administrations of Presidents Jackson, Lincoln and
Franklin Roosevelt.' The practice became so pervasive that a politi-
cian's success virtually hinged on his ability to dispense patronage.
Officials who did not understand or use patronage well were invaria-
bly ineffective administrators.3
Eventually public concern over the excesses of patronage led to
reform. The Pendleton Act4 created a federal civil service where hir-
ing and firing was done on a non-partisan basis. The Hatch Act5
sharply curtailed the political activity of most federal employees,
further removing politics from government administration. Despite
these legislative efforts to reduce the scope of patronage, judicial
challenges to the system historically have met with little success.6
In Elrod v. Burns,7 the Supreme Court faced for the first time a
constitutional challenge to the venerable institution of political pa-
tronage. In December, 1970, several employees of the Cook County,
Illinois, Sheriff's Department were dismissed from their jobs after a
change in the political administration.' None of the discharged em-
cited as SoRAUl]. Another commentator defines patronage jobs as all those posts,
distributed at the discretion of political leaders, the pay for which is greater than the
value of the public services performed. Wilson, The Economy of Patronage, 69 J. POL.
ECON. 369, 370 n.4 (1961).
2 For a brief but fascinating history of patronage from the ancient Chinese to the
present, as well as a more extensive treatment of the practice in modem politics, see
M. TOLCHIN & S. TOLCHIN, To THE VIcTOR (1971) [hereinafter cited as TOLCMN].
Id. at 91.
Jan. 16, 1883, ch. 27, 22 Stat. 403 (codified in scattered sections of 5, 18, 40
5 Aug. 2, 1939, ch. 410, 53 Stat. 1147 (codified in scattered sections of 5, 18
4 See notes 50, 51, 53, 61 and 62 infra.
96 S. Ct. 2673 (1976).
In 1970, Richard Elrod, a Democrat, was elected to replace a Republican as
sheriff of Cook County. All of the respondents were Republicans. When Elrod assumed
office he began to replace all non-civil service employees of the department according
to the custom with members of his own party. 96 S. Ct. at 2678-79.

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