McIntyre v. Ohio
On April 19, 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an Ohio regulation prohibiting anonymous political literature violated the First Amendment. This decision reversed the judgment of the Ohio Supreme Court.
[Although the FEC was not a party to this case, which involves state election law, the opinion is summarized here because the Court's holdings and rationale may have future relevance to aspects of federal election law.]
In April 1988, Margaret McIntyre distributed leaflets she produced to persons attending a public meeting to discuss a referendum on a proposed school tax levy. These leaflets expressed Mrs. McIntyre's opposition to the levy. Ohio Code, §3599.09(A), requires political literature to include the name and address of the issuer. Some of Mrs. McIntyre's leaflets were anonymous, yet she continued to distribute them even after she was made aware of §3599.09(A).
The Ohio Elections Commission fined Mrs. McIntyre $100 for violating §3599.09(A). On review, the case climbed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which upheld the $100 fine.
The First Amendment and overriding state interests
In arriving at its decision to overturn the Ohio court's ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court first determined that anonymous political speech is protected under the First Amendment. In support of this notion, the Court stated that:
" . . . anonymous pamphleteering . . . [has] an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation and their ideas from suppression at the hand of an intolerant society."
The Court recalled, for example, that the Federalist Papers, which favored the ratification of the Constitution, were published under fictitious names.
The Court's analysis focused on evaluating the state's interest in curbing anonymous speech. The Court cited First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti as a precedent for applying the following test: A government-imposed infringement on the First Amendment is tolerable if the infringement serves an overriding public interest. Additionally, Talley v. California requires that laws must be narrowly tailored so as to impact only on speech that threatens the public interest.
In the case at hand, Ohio maintained that §3599.09(A) served the state's interest in preventing the dissemination of fraudulent and libelous statements.
The Court, however, found that Ohio has a number of other regulations aimed at preventing fraud and libel. While acknowledging that §3599.09(A) may help to enforce the other prohibitions against the dissemination of false political information, the Court did not believe this justified the broad prohibition at §3599.09(A).
Ohio also argued that the regulation, by requiring political messages to include the issuer's name and address, provided voters with information on which to evaluate the message's worth. The Court dismissed this argument by noting that in the case of a leaflet written by a private citizen who is not known by the recipient, the name has no significance.
The Court thus reasoned that Ohio's interests were not sufficient to justify an infringement upon the First Amendment.
Reconciling McIntyre with Buckley v. Valeo
In closing, the Court distinguished this case from its 1976 landmark decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which dealt with the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act. The Court explained that Buckley addressed the issue of mandatory disclosure of campaign-finance expenditures; it did not involve a prohibition of anonymous campaign literature.
The Court stated that: "Though . . . mandatory reporting undeniably impedes protected First Amendment activity, the intrusion is a far cry from compelled self-identification on all election-related writings."
The Court pointed out that the law addressed in the Buckley decision is narrowly tailored to serve the public interest of campaign finance disclosure. The law regulates only candidate elections, and not referenda and other issue-based ballots. The Court stated, "In candidate elections, the government can identify a compelling state interest in avoiding the corruption that might result from campaign expenditures."
Source: FEC Record — June 1995. McIntyre v. Ohio, No. 93-986 (U.S. Supreme Court, Apr. 19, 1995).