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When the constitutional right to speak is sought to be deterred by a state's general taxing program due process demands that the speech be unencumbered until that state comes forward with sufficient proof to justify its inhibition. A state clearly has no such compelling interest at stake as to justify a short-cut procedure that must inevitably result in suppressing protected speech.
The Constitution of California required that tax exemption be denied persons who advocate the unlawful overthrow of the government of the United States or of a state, or who advocate the support of a foreign government engaged in hostilities with the United States. To effectuate this constitutional provision, the California legislature enacted a statute requiring a property-tax exemption claimant to sign a statement on his tax return declaring that he did not engage in the proscribed advocacy. In No. 483, a veteran who, because of his refusal to file the oath, was denied veteran's property tax exemption, brought an action for declaratory relief in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, California, which the court held that both the constitutional provision and the tax exemption statute were invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment as restrictions on freedom of speech. The California Supreme Court reversed. In No. 484, a veteran who had been denied exemption because of his failure to file the oath sued in the Superior Court for the City and County of San Francisco, California, to recover taxes paid under protest, and for declaratory relief, and that court upheld the validity of both the constitutional provision and the tax exemption statute, and the Supreme Court of California affirmed.
By requiring property-tax exemption claimants to execute the oath in question before they can avail of the exemption, did the California statute violate the taxpayers’ right to free speech?
In reversing the lower court's decision, the Court held that when the constitutional right to speak was sought to be deterred by a state's general taxing program, due process required that the speech be unencumbered until the state came forward with sufficient proof to justify its inhibition. The Court held that the State of California clearly had no such compelling interest at stake as to justify a short-cut procedure inevitably resulting in a suppression of protected speech. The Court further held that by placing the burden of proof on the taxpayers, the taxing program violated the requirements of due process and improperly infringed upon the taxpayers' right to free speech. Therefore, the Court concluded that the taxpayers were not obliged to execute the oath as the first step of the tax exemption procedure.