Legal Principle at Issue
Whether the government may constitutionally prohibit the distribution of campaign literature that does not contain the name and address of the person issuing it.
Reversed. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
Margaret McIntyre, a resident of Westerville, Ohio, opposed her local school district's request for a tax levy. She expressed her opposition by preparing and distributing a handbill to persons attending a meeting concerning the levy. Some of the handbills identified her as the author, but others were signed "CONCERNED PARENTS AND TAX PAYERS." The handbills were not false, misleading, or libelous. A school official informed Mrs. McIntyre that the handbills did not conform to Ohio's election laws because they did not identify the author. Mrs. McIntyre nevertheless distributed the handbills at another meeting. The Ohio Elections Commission found that Mrs. McIntyre's conduct was unlawful and fined her $100. The local trial court reversed the Commission's decision, holding that the prohibition against anonymous handbilling was unconstitutional as it was applied to Mrs. McIntyre. The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and reinstated the fine. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decision.
In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an author's decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.Talley v. California, 362 U.S. 60 (1960). Regulation of political speech is not permitted under the First Amendment unless the restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978). In 1989, the Court held that states have a compelling interest in preserving the integrity of their electorial process. Eu v. San Francisco City Democratic Central Comm., 489 U.S. 214 (1989). The Court had never before been asked to decide whether states could ban anonymous polictical handbilling.
Importance of Case
The Court held that anonymous speech about important public issues was "core political speech" and that any attempt by a state to regulate this speech must be "narrowly tailored" to achieve the state's legitimate interest in prohibiting unknown authors from providing the electorate with fraudulent and libelous information. The Court found that the Ohio prohibition was not narrowly tailored because it punished all unknown authors, not only those who attempted to publish false and misleading information.
Forty-eight other states have prohibitions similar to the Ohio statute. Whether this decision will be applied to a wide range of anonymous campaign handbilling and advertising likely will depend on the facts of the cases that are prosecuted across the country. This decision should discourage prosecutors from bringing cases against speakers who disseminate information that is not false or misleading.