Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ohio law on paying petition circulators found unconstitutional

I didn't see any local coverage of this court decision, but I found this update from the law firm of Bricker & Eckler:

On March 5, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued its opinion in Citizens for Tax Reform v. Deters, Case No. 07-3031, which affirmed the holding of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio that Ohio Rev. Code 3599.111 created an unconstitutional abridgement of free speech. That Ohio statute prohibited compensation to a petition or referendum signature-gatherer on a per-signature basis, or any basis other than for "time worked." The Sixth Circuit held that while the statute has "the sensible purpose of reducing fraudulent signatures," the law nonetheless was contrary to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and thus invalid, as "creat[ing] a significant burden on a core political speech right that is not narrowly tailored."


The Court noted that while Ohio's reason for the law -- the elimination of election fraud -- "is certainly a compelling state interest," § 3599.111 was not narrowly drafted to accomplish this purpose. While the state presented evidence that there was fraud in Ohio preceding the 2004 presidential election by some circulators retained on a per-signature pay basis, the Court found no proof the pay basis was the cause of the fraud. Further, Ohio already criminalizes election fraud through Rev. Code § 3599.28, which makes false signatures on an election-related documents a fifth-degree felony. The Court found this type of law adequate to deter improper conduct in the gathering of signatures. The Court concluded its opinion by holding that "[b]y making speech more costly, the State is virtually guaranteeing that there will be less of it. Because its ban on all forms of payment to circulators except based on the amount of time worked would create a significant burden on [plaintiff's] and other petitioners’ core political speech rights, the State must justify it with a compelling interest and narrowly tailored means."

Full text of the court decision.

1 comment:

Publius said...

Generally speaking, Ohio has some good judges, both on the Federal and State benches.

There are always decisions that I will disagree with, but on the whole, they generally write well-reasoned decisions. This is another example of that.


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