McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n

Decision Date19 April 1995
Docket Number93986
Citation131 L.Ed.2d 426,115 S.Ct. 1511,514 U.S. 334
PartiesJoseph McINTYRE, Executor of Estate of Margaret McIntyre, Deceased, Petitioner, v. OHIO ELECTIONS COMMISSION
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

After petitioner's decedent distributed leaflets purporting to express the views of "CONCERNED PARENTS AND TAX PAYERS" opposing a proposed school tax levy, she was fined by respondent for violating § 3599.09(A) of the Ohio Code, which prohibits the distribution of campaign literature that does not contain the name and address of the person or campaign official issuing the literature. The Court of Common Pleas reversed, but the Ohio Court of Appeals reinstated the fine. In affirming, the State Supreme Court held that the burdens § 3599.09(A) imposed on voters' First Amendment rights were "reasonable" and "nondiscriminatory" and therefore valid. Declaring that § 3599.09(A) is intended to identify persons who distribute campaign materials containing fraud, libel, or false advertising and to provide voters with a mechanism for evaluating such materials, the court distinguished Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 80 S.Ct. 536, 4 L.Ed.2d 559, in which this Court invalidated an ordinance prohibiting all anonymous leafletting.

Held: Section 3599.09(A)'s prohibition of the distribution of anonymous campaign literature abridges the freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment. Pp. __.

(a) The freedom to publish anonymously is protected by the First Amendment, and, as Talley indicates, extends beyond the literary realm to the advocacy of political causes. Pp. __.

(b) This Court's precedents make abundantly clear that the Ohio Supreme Court's reasonableness standard is significantly more lenient than is appropriate in a case of this kind. Although Talley concerned a different limitation than § 3599.09(A) and thus does not necessarily control here, the First Amendment's protection of anonymity nevertheless applies. Section 3599.09(A) is not simply an election code provision subject to the "ordinary litigation" test set forth in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 75 L.Ed.2d 547, and similar cases. Rather, it is a regulation of core political speech. Moreover, the category of documents it covers is defined by their content—only those publications containing speech designed to influence the voters in an election need bear the required information. See, e.g., First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 776-777, 98 S.Ct. 1407, 1415-1416, 55 L.Ed.2d 707. When a law burdens such speech, the Court applies "exacting scrutiny," upholding the restriction only if it is narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest. See, e.g., id., at 786, 98 S.Ct., at 1421. Pp. __.

(c) Section 3599.09(A)'s anonymous speech ban is not justified by Ohio's asserted interests in preventing fraudulent and libelous statements and in providing the electorate with relevant information. The claimed informational interest is plainly insufficient to support the statute's disclosure requirement, since the speaker's identity is no different from other components of a document's contents that the author is free to include or exclude, and the author's name and address add little to the reader's ability to evaluate the document in the case of a handbill written by a private citizen unknown to the reader. Moreover, the state interest in preventing fraud and libel (which Ohio vindicates by means of other, more direct prohibitions) does not justify § 3599.09(A)'s extremely broad prohibition of anonymous leaflets. The statute encompasses all documents, regardless of whether they are arguably false or misleading. Although a State might somehow demonstrate that its enforcement interests justify a more limited identification requirement, Ohio has not met that burden here. Pp. __.

(d) This Court's opinions in Bellotti, 435 U.S., at 792, n. 32, 98 S.Ct., at 1424, n. 32—which commented in dicta on the prophylactic effect of requiring identification of the source of corporate campaign advertising—and Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 75-76, 96 S.Ct. 612, 661-662, 46 L.Ed.2d 659—which approved mandatory disclosure of campaign-related expenditures—do not establish the constitutionality of § 3599.09(A), since neither case involved a prohibition of anonymous campaign literature. Pp. __.

(1993) 67 Ohio St.3d 391, 618 N.E.2d 152, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined.

David A. Goldberger, Columbus, OH, for petitioner.

Andrew I. Sutter, Columbus, OH, for respondent.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented is whether an Ohio statute that prohibits the distribution of anonymous campaign literature is a "law . . . abridging the freedom of speech" within the meaning of the First Amendment.1


On April 27, 1988, Margaret McIntyre distributed leaflets to persons attending a public meeting at the Blendon Middle School in Westerville, Ohio. At this meeting, the superintendent of schools planned to discuss an imminent referendum on a proposed school tax levy. The leaflets expressed Mrs. McIntyre's opposition to the levy.2 There is no suggestion that the text of her message was false, misleading, or libelous. She had composed and printed it on her home computer and had paid a professional printer to make additional copies. Some of the handbills identified her as the author; others merely purported to express the views of "CONCERNED PARENTS AND TAX PAYERS." Except for the help provided by her son and a friend, who placed some of the leaflets on car windshields in the school parking lot, Mrs. McIntyre acted independently.

While Mrs. McIntyre distributed her handbills, an official of the school district, who supported the tax proposal, advised her that the unsigned leaflets did not conform to the Ohio election laws. Undeterred, Mrs. McIntyre appeared at another meeting on the next evening and handed out more of the handbills.

The proposed school levy was defeated at the next two elections, but it finally passed on its third try in November 1988. Five months later, the same school official filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission charging that Mrs. McIntyre's distribution of unsigned leaflets violated § 3599.09(A) of the Ohio Code.3 The Commission agreed and imposed a fine of $100.

The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas reversed. Finding that Mrs. McIntyre did not "mislead the public nor act in a surreptitious manner," the court concluded that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to her conduct. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-34 to A-35. The Ohio Court of Appeals, by a divided vote, reinstated the fine. Notwithstanding doubts about the continuing validity of a 1922 decision of the Ohio Supreme Court upholding the statutory predecessor of § 3599.09(A), the majority considered itself bound by that precedent. Id., at A-20 to A-21, citing State v. Babst, 104 Ohio St. 167, 135 N.E. 525 (1922). The dissenting judge thought that our intervening decision in Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60, 80 S.Ct. 536, 4 L.Ed.2d 559 (1960), in which we invalidated a city ordinance prohibiting all anonymous leafletting, compelled the Ohio court to adopt a narrowing construction of the statute to save its constitutionality. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-30 to A-31.

The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed by a divided vote. The majority distinguished Mrs. McIntyre's case from Talley on the ground that § 3599.09(A) "has as its purpose the identification of persons who distribute materials containing false statements." 67 Ohio St.3d 391, 394, 618

N.E.2d 152, 154 (1993). The Ohio court believed that such a law should be upheld if the burdens imposed on the First Amendment rights of voters are "reasonable" and "nondiscriminatory." Id., at 396, 618 N.E.2d, at 155, quoting Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 788, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d 547 (1983). Under that standard, the majority concluded that the statute was plainly valid:

"The minor requirement imposed by R.C. 3599.09 that those persons producing campaign literature identify themselves as the source thereof neither impacts the content of their message nor significantly burdens their ability to have it disseminated. This burden is more than counterbalanced by the state interest in providing the voters to whom the message is directed with a mechanism by which they may better evaluate its validity. Moreover, the law serves to identify those who engage in fraud, libel or false advertising. Not only are such interests sufficient to overcome the minor burden placed upon such persons, these interests were specifically acknowledged in [First National Bank of Boston v.] Bellotti [, 435 U.S. 765, 98 S.Ct. 1407, 55 L.Ed.2d 707 (1978),] to be regulations of the sort which would survive constitutional scrutiny." 67 Ohio St.3d, at 396, 618 N.E.2d, at 155-156.

In dissent, Justice Wright argued that the statute should be tested under a more severe standard because of its significant effect "on the ability of individual citizens to freely express their views in writing on political issues." Id., at 398, 618 N.E.2d, at 156-157. He concluded that § 3599.09(A) "is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest and is, therefore, unconstitutional as applied to McIntyre." Id., at 401, 618 N.E.2d, at 159.

Mrs. McIntyre passed away during the pendency of this litigation. Even though the amount in controversy is only $100, petitioner, as the executor of her estate, has pursued her claim in this Court. Our grant of certiorari, 510 U.S. ----, 114 S.Ct. 1047, 127 L.Ed.2d 370 (1994), reflects our agreement with his appraisal of the importance of the question...

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