Law School Case Brief
McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n - 514 U.S. 334, 115 S. Ct. 1511 (1995)
An author’s decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, U. S. Const. amend. I.
Ohio’s election statutes included a provision prohibiting the distribution of political campaign literature not containing the name and address of the person or campaign official issuing the literature, and a detailed and specific prohibitions against making or disseminating false statements during political campaigns. Leaflets expressing opposition to a proposed school tax levy in an Ohio school district were distributed by the leaflets’ author, whose name did not appear in some of the leaflets. A school district official, filing a complaint against the author with the Ohio elections commission, alleged that the distribution of the unsigned leaflets violated the anonymous campaign literature provision. The Ohio Elections Commission found the author in violation of the provision and fined the author $100. The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, in reversing on appeal, concluded that the provision was unconstitutional as applied. The Court of Appeals of Ohio, reversing the county court, reinstated the fine. The Supreme Court of Ohio, in affirming, concluded that for purposes of the Federal Constitution’s First Amendment, the burdens imposed by the anti-anonymity provision were counterbalanced by the state’s interests in providing voters with a mechanism by which the validity of the campaign literature’s message might be better evaluated, and identifying those who engage in fraud, libel, or false advertising. Petitioner sought certiorari review by the United States Supreme Court.
Was the anti-anonymity provision of the election statute valid and constitutional as a means to achieve the State’s election interests?
Applying strict scrutiny, the Court invalidated Ohio’s election statute as it was not narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest. According to the Court, the State’s interest in providing voters with additional relevant information was insufficient to support the constitutionality of the statute. Though the State had an interest in preventing fraud and libel, the statute punished fraud indirectly by indiscriminately outlawing a category of speech, based on content, with no necessary relationship to the danger sought to be prevented. The Court concluded that the State failed to show its interest in preventing the misuse of anonymous election-related speech justified a prohibition of all uses of that speech.
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