The exception to state sovereign immunity only applies against officials who threaten and are about to commence proceedings, either of a civil or criminal nature, thus creating an unconstitutional act, violating the U.S. Constitution. The doctrine does not apply when the defendant official has neither enforced nor threatened to enforce the statute challenged as unconstitutional. Absent a real likelihood that the state official will employ his supervisory powers against plaintiffs' interests, the Eleventh Amendment bars federal court jurisdiction.
Two Minnesota-based, grassroots advocacy organizations along with their corresponding leaders, hereinafter appellants, opposed school-funding ballot initiatives, which Minnesota law authorized individual school boards to propose. Appellants claimed that a provision of the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) inhibited Appellants' ability to speak freely against these ballot initiatives and, thereby, violated their First Amendment rights. The district court denied Appellants motion for summary judgment. Applying a strict scrutiny analysis to the instant facts, the district court held that § 211B.06 served a "compelling interest" (i.e., preserving fair and honest elections and preventing a fraud upon the electorate through the deliberate spreading of material, false information) and that, on balance, that interest was important enough to justify the speech § 211B.06 has restricted in pursuit of that interest. Subsequently, the appellants sought a review of the district court’s decision.
Did § 211B.06 serve a compelling interest to justify the restriction of Appellants’ right to free speech?
The Court noted that the prohibition of knowingly false speech about ballot initiatives under Minn. Stat. § 211B.06, subd. 1, required strict scrutiny since the political speech of organizations opposing school-funding ballot initiatives occupied the core of freedom of speech. In the case at bar, the Court asserted that regardless of whether the state's interest in preserving fair and honest elections and preventing fraud on the electorate was a compelling state interest, the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored to serve that interest since anyone could file a complaint, whether founded or unfounded, which in itself would chill political speech, and counter-speech was a less restrictive means of challenging false or misleading speech. The Court further ruled that the statute was under-inclusive in exempting news items or editorial comments by the news media which potentially left equally injurious speech untouched.