Meyer v. Grant
486 U.S. 414 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Meyer v. Grant, 486 U.S. 414 (1988)

Meyer v. Grant

No. 87-920

Argued April 25, 1988

Decided June 6, 1988

486 U.S. 414

Syllabus

A Colorado statute allows a proposed state constitutional amendment to be placed on a general election ballot if its proponents can obtain the signatures of at least 5 percent of the total number of qualified voters on an "initiative petition" within a 6-month period, but makes it a felony to pay petition circulators. Concluding that they would need the assistance of paid personnel to obtain the required signatures within the allotted time, appellee proponents of a constitutional amendment that would remove motor carriers from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission's jurisdiction brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against appellant state officials, seeking a declaration that the statutory payment prohibition violated their First Amendment rights. The District Court upheld the statute, but the Court of Appeals ultimately reversed, holding that the statute violates the First Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Held: The statutory prohibition against the use of paid circulators abridges appellees' right to engage in political speech in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 486 U. S. 420-428.

(a) The statute is subject to exacting scrutiny, since the circulation of an initiative petition seeking to deregulate the Colorado trucking industry necessarily constitutes "core political speech," for which First Amendment protection is at its zenith. The statute burdens such speech in two ways: First, it limits the number of voices who will convey appellees' message and the hours they can speak and, therefore, limits the size of the audience they can reach. Second, it makes it less likely that appellees will garner the number of necessary signatures, thus limiting their ability to make the matter the focus of statewide discussion. The statute's burden on speech is not relieved by the fact that other avenues of expression remain open to appellees, since the use of paid circulators is the most effective, fundamental, and perhaps economical means of achieving direct, one-on-one communication, and appellees' right to utilize that means is itself protected by the First Amendment. Nor is the statutory burden rendered acceptable by the State's claimed authority to impose limitations on the scope of the state-created right to legislate by initiative; the power to ban initiatives entirely does not include

Page 486 U. S. 415

the power to limit discussion of political issues raised in initiative petitions. Posadas de Puerto Rico Associates v. Tourism Co. of Puerto Rico,478 U. S. 328, distinguished. Pp. 486 U. S. 420-425.

(b) The State has failed to sustain its burden of justifying the statutory prohibition. The argument that justification is found in the State's interest in assuring that an initiative has sufficient grass roots support to be placed on the ballot is not persuasive, since that interest is adequately protected by the requirement that the specified number of signatures be obtained. Nor does the State's claimed interest in protecting the integrity of the initiative process justify the prohibition, because the State has failed to demonstrate the necessity of burdening appellees' ability to communicate in order to meet its concerns. It cannot be assumed that a professional circulator -- whose qualifications for similar future assignments may well depend on a reputation for competence and integrity -- is any more likely to accept false signatures than a volunteer motivated entirely by an interest in having the proposition placed on the ballot. Moreover, other statutory provisions dealing expressly with the potential danger of false signatures are adequate to minimize the risk of improper circulation conduct. Pp. 486 U. S. 425-428.

828 F.2d 1446, affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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