Friday, May 2, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Law Requiring Candidate Petition Circulators to Disclose Employers

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against an Ohio law that requires candidate petition circulators to disclose their employers against a First Amendment challenge.  The ruling in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Husted means that the requirement stays on the books through the primary election on Tuesday, and that candidates of the plaintiff Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) will not appear on that primary ballot.  This in turn means that those candidates won't appear on the general election ballot, and that therefore the LPO will likely not receive the required number of votes in the general election to retain its recognition as a political party in Ohio.

This, in turn, means that the LPO will likely have to re-qualify as a political party in Ohio.  That's no easy task: it would have to get more than 38,500 signatures from at least one-half of the congressional districts in the state, meeting the very petition requirement (and others) that was at issue in this case.

The case involves Ohio's requirement that petition circulators--in this case, candidate petition circulators--disclose their employer on the petition form.  The LPO challenged that requirement, arguing that it violated the First Amendment on its face, after its petition circulator failed to disclose, causing the state to discard those petitions (and causing the candidates not to appear on the primary ballot).

The Sixth Circuit disagreed.  The court applied the "exacting scrutiny" test for disclosure requirements and determined that the strength of the governmental interest reflected the seriousness of the burden on First Amendment rights.  In particular, the court said that Ohio's requirement has but a "scant" chill on First Amendment freedoms.  Op. at 18.  On the other hand, the court said that the state's interest in the requirement is "substantial and legitimate."  Op. at 20.  That interest is in combating fraud in candidate petition circulation--a problem that came to a head, according to the court, during the circulation of petitions for Ralph Nader in the 2004 presidential election.

The court distinguished Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., where the Supreme Court struck a Colorado law requiring paid circulators to wear identification badges stating their names and their employers' names and phone numbers.  The court said that ACLF involved an initiative campaign, where this case involved a candidate petition (where the risk of corruption is higher); that the ACLF record contained no evidence that paid circulators were more apt to commit fraud than volunteers, but where this record contains that evidence; that the Colorado law required more disclosure of information; and that Colorado had other measures to deter fraud and diminish corruption.

The court also distinguished McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, where the Supreme Court struck an Ohio law that prohibited the distribution of campaign literature that did not contain the name and address of the person or campaign offiical issuing it.  The court said that the Ohio law in McIntyre outlawed an entire category of speech (anonymous political speech), where the Ohio circulator requirement only required disclosure.

The court also ruled that the LPO did not establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its due process (vagueness) challenge to the requirement.

The court recognized the practical significance of its ruling for the LPO:

Without a gubernatorial candidate on the general election ballot . . . the LPO in all likelihood will lose its status as a ballot-qualified party in Ohio.  We note that the LPO has struggled to become and remain a ballot-qualified party in Ohio, and we acknowledge that this decision entails that their efforts must continue still.  But we also note that we decide one case at a time, on the record before us.  In so doing, we preserve the First Amendment's primary place in our democracy over the long run.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2014/05/sixth-circuit-upholds-law-requiring-candidate-petition-circulators-to-disclose-employers.html

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