486 U.S. 414 (1988), 87-920, Meyer v. Grant

Docket Nº:No. 87-920
Citation:486 U.S. 414, 108 S.Ct. 1886, 100 L.Ed.2d 425, 56 U.S.L.W. 4516
Party Name:Meyer v. Grant
Case Date:June 06, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court

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486 U.S. 414 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1886, 100 L.Ed.2d 425, 56 U.S.L.W. 4516




No. 87-920

United States Supreme Court

June 6, 1988

Argued April 25, 1988




A Colorado statute allows a proposed state constitutional amendment to be placed on a general election ballot if its proponents can obtain the signatures of at least 5 percent of the total number of qualified voters on an "initiative petition" within a 6-month period, but makes it a felony to pay petition circulators. Concluding that they would need the assistance of paid personnel to obtain the required signatures within the allotted time, appellee proponents of a constitutional amendment that would remove motor carriers from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission's jurisdiction brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against appellant state officials, seeking a declaration that the statutory payment prohibition violated their First Amendment rights. The District Court upheld the statute, but the Court of Appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the statute violates the First Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The statutory prohibition against the use of paid circulators abridges appellees' right to engage in political speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 420-428.

(a) The statute is subject to exacting scrutiny, since the circulation of an initiative petition seeking to deregulate the Colorado trucking industry necessarily constitutes "core political speech," for which First Amendment protection is at its zenith. The statute burdens such speech in two ways: First, it limits the number of voices who will convey appellees' message and the hours they can speak and, therefore, limits the size of the audience they can reach. Second, it makes it less likely that appellees will garner the number of necessary signatures, thus limiting their ability to make the matter the focus of statewide discussion. The statute's burden on speech is not relieved by the fact that other avenues of expression remain open to appellees, since the use of paid circulators is the most effective, fundamental, and perhaps economical means of achieving direct, one-on-one communication, and appellees' right to utilize that means is itself protected by the First Amendment. Nor is the statutory burden rendered acceptable by the State's claimed authority to impose limitations on the scope of the state-created right to legislate by initiative; the power to ban initiatives entirely does not include

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the power to limit discussion of political issues raised in initiative petitions. Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico, 478 U.S. 328, distinguished. Pp. 420-425.

(b) The State has failed to sustain its burden of justifying the statutory prohibition. The argument that justification is found in the State's interest in assuring that an initiative has sufficient grass roots support to be placed on the ballot is not persuasive, since that interest is adequately protected by the requirement that the specified number of signatures be obtained. Nor does the State's claimed interest in protecting the integrity of the initiative process justify the prohibition, because the State has failed to demonstrate the necessity of burdening appellees' ability to communicate in order to meet its concerns. It cannot be assumed that a professional circulator -- whose qualifications for similar future assignments may well depend on a reputation for competence and integrity -- is any more likely to accept false signatures than a volunteer motivated entirely by an interest in having the proposition placed on the ballot. Moreover, other statutory provisions dealing expressly with the potential danger of false signatures are adequate to minimize the risk of improper circulation conduct. Pp. 425-428.

828 F.2d 1446, affirmed.

[108 S.Ct. 1889] STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

STEVENS, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Colorado, the proponents of a new law, or an amendment to the State Constitution, may have their proposal placed on the ballot at a general election if they can obtain enough signatures of qualified voters on an "initiative petition" within

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a 6-month period. One section of the state law regulating the initiative process makes it a felony to pay petition circulators.1 The question in this case is whether that provision is unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that the statute abridged appellees' right to engage in political speech, and therefore violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution. We agree.


Colorado is one of several States that permits its citizens to place propositions on the ballot through an initiative process. Colo.Const., Art. V, § 1; Colo.Rev.Stat. §§ 1-40-101 to 1-40-119 (1980 and Supp.1987). Under Colorado law, proponents of an initiative measure must submit the measure to the State Legislative Council and the Legislative Drafting Office for review and comment. The draft is then submitted to a three-member title board, which prepares a title, submission clause, and summary. After approval of the title, submission clause, and summary, the proponents of the measure then have six months to obtain the necessary signatures, which must be in an amount equal to at least five percent of the total number of voters who cast votes for all candidates for the Office of Secretary of State at the last preceding general election. If the signature requirements are met, the petitions may be filed with the Secretary of State, and the measure will appear on the ballot at the next general election. Colo.Rev.Stat. §§ 1-40-101 to 1-40-105 (1980 and Supp.1987).

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State law requires that the persons who circulate the approved drafts of the petitions for signature be registered voters. Colo.Const., Art. V, § 1(6). Before the signed petitions are filed with the Secretary of State, the circulators must sign affidavits attesting that each signature is the signature of the person whose name it purports to be and that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, each person signing the petition is a registered voter. Colo.Rev.Stat. § 1-40-109 (Supp.1987). The payment of petition circulators is punished as a felony. Colo.Rev.Stat. § 1-40-110 (1980), n. 1, supra.

Appellees are proponents of an amendment to the Colorado Constitution that would remove motor carriers from the jurisdiction of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. In early 1984, they obtained approval of a title, submission clause, and summary for a measure proposing the amendment, and began the process of obtaining the 46,737 signatures necessary to have the proposal appear on the November, 1984, ballot. Based on their own experience as petition circulators, as well as that of other unpaid circulators, appellees concluded that they would need the assistance of paid personnel to obtain the required number of signatures within the allotted time. They then brought this action under [108 S.Ct. 1890] 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Secretary of State and the Attorney General of Colorado, seeking a declaration that the statutory prohibition against the use of paid circulators violates their rights under the First Amendment.2

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After a brief trial, the District Judge entered judgment upholding the statute on alternative grounds. First, he concluded that the prohibition against the use of paid circulators did not burden appellees' First Amendment rights because it did not place any restraint on their own expression or measurably impair efforts to place initiatives on the ballot.3 The restriction on their ability to hire paid circulators to speak for them was not significant, because they remained free to use their money to employ other spokesmen who could advertise their cause. Second, even assuming, arguendo, that the statute burdened appellees' right to engage in political speech, the District Judge concluded that the burden was justified by the State's interests in (a) making sure that an


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