Meyer v. Grant

Citation486 U.S. 414,100 L.Ed.2d 425,108 S.Ct. 1886
Decision Date06 June 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-920,87-920
PartiesNatalie MEYER, Colorado Secretary of State, and Duane Woodard, Colorado Attorney General, Appellants, v. Paul K. GRANT et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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 five 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 that 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 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, 106 S.Ct. 2968, 92 L.Ed.2d 266, 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 (CA10 1987), affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Maurice G. Knaizer, Denver, Colo., for appellants.

William C. Danks, Denver, Colo., for appellees.

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 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).

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 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

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 initiative measure has a sufficiently broad base to warrant its placement on the ballot, and (b) protecting the integrity of the initiative process by eliminating a temptation to pad petitions.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed for the reasons stated by the District Court. After granting rehearing en banc, however, the court reversed. The en banc majority concluded that the record demonstrated that petition circulators engage in the communication of ideas while they are obtaining signatures and that the available pool of circulators is necessarily smaller if only volunteers can be used.

"Thus, the effect of the statute's absolute ban on compensation of solicitors is clear. It impedes the sponsors' opportunity to disseminate their views to the public. It curtails the discussion of issues that normally accompanies the circulation of initiative petitions. And it shrinks the size of the audience that can be reached. . . . In short, like the campaign expenditure limitations struck down in Buckley, the Colorado statute imposes a direct restriction which 'necessarily reduces the quantity of expression. . . .' Buckley [v. Valeo ], 424 U.S. [1,] 19 [96 S.Ct. 612, 634, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976) ]." 828 F.2d 1446, 1453-1454 (CA10 1987)(citations omitted).

The Court of Appeals then rejected the State's asserted justifications for the ban. It first rejected the suggestion that the ban was necessary either to prevent fraud or to protect the public from circulators that might be too persuasive:

"The First Amendment is a value-free provision whose protection is not dependent on 'the truth, popularity, or social utility of the ideas and beliefs which are offered.' NAACP v. Button, [371 U.S....

To continue reading

Request your trial
564 cases
  • Crossley v. California, Case No.: 20-cv-0284-GPC-JLB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • August 17, 2020
    ...matter is one deserving of the public scrutiny and debate that would attend its consideration by the whole electorate." Meyer v. Grant , 486 U.S. 414, 421-22, 108 S.Ct. 1886, 100 L.Ed.2d 425 (1988). Defendants assert that Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed since AB 5 does not qualify as c......
  • Arizonans for Second Chances, Rehab., & Pub. Safety v. Hobbs, CV-20-0098-SA
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arizona
    • September 4, 2020
    ...involves the type of interactive communication concerning political change that is appropriately described as "core political speech." 486 U.S. 414, 421–22, 108 S.Ct. 1886, 100 L.Ed.2d 425 (1988).¶69 The Supreme Court stated that such "direct one-on-one communication" is "the most effective......
  • DSCC v. Simon, A20-1017
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • October 28, 2020
    ...from Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc. , 525 U.S. 182, 119 S.Ct. 636, 142 L.Ed.2d 599 (1999), and Meyer v. Grant , 486 U.S. 414, 108 S.Ct. 1886, 100 L.Ed.2d 425 (1988), the district court concluded that the impact of the statutory limit on delivery assistance diminishe......
  • State v. TVI, Inc., 80915-6-I
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • August 16, 2021
    ...interest." State ex rel. Pub. Disclosure Comm'n v. 119 Vote No! Comm., 135 Wash.2d 618, 628, 957 P.2d 691 (1998) (quoting Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 425, 108 S. Ct. 1886, 100 L. Ed. 2d 425 (1988) ). ¶ 20 The dictionary defines "solicitation" as "the pursuit, practice, act, or an instance......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 100 No. 3, February 2023
    • February 1, 2023
    ...(Breyer, J., dissenting in part). (142.) Id. at 2358 (Breyer, J., dissenting in part) (alterations in original) (quoting Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 421 (143.) Id. 2359 (Breyer, J., dissenting in part) (quotingMeyer, 486 U.S. at 421). (144.) See John Downer, London Sch. of Econ. & Pol......
  • Freedom of speech, permissible tailoring and transcending strict scrutiny.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 144 No. 6, June 1996
    • June 1, 1996
    ...466 U.S. 789, 810-11 & n.28 (1984) (as to underinclusiveness). (30) See, e.g., Eu, 489 U.S. at 226, 228-29 (1989); Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 426 (1988); FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U.S. 238, 262 (1986); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 609-1......
  • Nonlethal self-defense, (almost entirely) nonlethal weapons, and the rights to keep and bear arms and defend life.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 62 No. 1, December 2009
    • December 1, 2009 Id. at 328. (108.) See, e.g., NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958). (109.) See, e.g., Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 416 (1988) (striking down a Colorado law against paying people to circulate initiative (110.) See, e.g., Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered v. Unite......
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Technology Vol. 35 No. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...gatherers because rules "cut down the size of the audience proponents can reach") (internal quotation omitted). (48.) Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414, 422-23 (49.) Id.; Buckley, 424 U.S. at 18. (50.) For an illuminating analysis of this dynamic, see James Grimmelmann, Listeners' Choices, 90 U.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT