Legal Principle at Issue
Whether a state may constitutionally prohibit the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place.
Reversed and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
A Tennessee statute prohibits the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. Mary Rebecca Freeman, the treasurer for the campaign of a city council candidate in Nashville, challenged the statute in Tennessee state court. Freeman argued that the statute violated the freedom of speech provisions in the Tennessee and United States Constitutions. The trial judge rejected her challenge. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statute was unconstitutional.
Importance of Case
All of the Justices agreed that Tennessee has a compelling interest in protecting voters from confusion and undue influence and in protecting the integrity of the electoral process. The prevailing plurality held that the 100-foot restriction was narrowly tailored to advance that interest because the restriction did not "significantly impinge" on constitutional rights. The dissent disagreed, arguing that Tennessee had not introduced evidence sufficient to support the need for a restricted area greater than 10 feet. The Court rarely holds that a statute survives the "strict scrutiny" test applied in this case. Most states have statutes similar to the Tennessee act at issue, and the Court's decision in essence upholds each of those statutes as well.
Speech concerning a political campaign is entitled to the highest protection. Eu v. San Francisco Democratic Comm., 489 U.S. 214 (1989). Moreover, when speech in a public forum is prohibited because of its content, the state must be able to demonstrate that the regulation is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental issue. Perry Education Ass'n. v. Perry Local Educators' Ass'n., 460 U.S. 37 (1983).