Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc. - 525 U.S. 182 (1999)


OCTOBER TERM, 1998

Syllabus

BUCKLEY, SECRETARY OF STATE OF COLORADO v. AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW FOUNDATION, INC., ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT

No. 97-930. Argued October 14, 1998-Decided January 12, 1999

Colorado allows its citizens to make laws directly through initiatives placed on election ballots. The complaint in this federal action challenged six of the State's many controls on the initiative-petition process. Plaintiffs-respondents, the American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., and several individuals (collectively, ACLF), charged that the following prescriptions of Colorado's law governing initiative petitions violate the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantee: (1) the requirement that petition circulators be at least 18 years old, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 1-40-112(1); (2) the further requirement that they be registered voters, ibid.; (3) the limitation of the petition circulation period to six months, § 1-40-108; (4) the requirement that petition circulators wear identification badges stating their names, their status as "VOLUNTEER" or "PAID," and if the latter, the name and telephone number of their employer, § 1-40-112(2); (5) the requirement that circulators attach to each petition section an affidavit containing, inter alia, the circulator's name and address, § 1-40-111(2); and (6) the requirements that initiative proponents disclose (a) at the time they file their petition, the name, address, and county of voter registration of all paid circulators, the amount of money proponents paid per petition signature, and the total amount paid to each circulator, and (b) on a monthly basis, the names of the proponents, the name and address of each paid circulator, the name of the proposed ballot measure, and the amount of money paid and owed to each circulator during the month, § 1-40-121. The District Court struck down the badge requirement and portions of the disclosure requirements, but upheld the age, affidavit, and registration requirements, and the six-month limit on petition circulation. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. That court properly sought guidance from this Court's recent decisions on ballot access, see, e. g., Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U. S. 351, and on handbill distribution, see, e. g., McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U. S. 334. The Tenth Circuit upheld, as reasonable regulations of the ballotinitiative process, the age restriction, the six-month limit on petition circulation, and the affidavit requirement. The court struck down the


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requirement that petition circulators be registered voters, and also held portions of the badge and disclosure requirements invalid as trenching unnecessarily and improperly on political expression. This Court agreed to review the Court of Appeals dispositions concerning the registration, badge, and disclosure requirements. See 522 U. S. 1107.

Precedent guides this review. In Meyer v. Grant, 486 U. S. 414, this Court struck down Colorado's prohibition of payment for the circulation of ballot-initiative petitions, concluding that petition circulation is "core political speech" for which First Amendment protection is "at its zenith." Id., at 422, 425. This Court has also recognized, however, that "there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order ... is to accompany the democratic processes." Storer v. Brown, 415 U. S. 724, 730; see Timmons, 520 U. S., at 358; Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U. S. 780, 788.

Held: The Tenth Circuit correctly separated necessary or proper ballotaccess controls from restrictions that unjustifiably inhibit the circulation of ballot-initiative petitions. Pp. 191-205.

(a) States have considerable leeway to protect the integrity and reliability of the ballot-initiative process, as they have with respect to election processes generally. "[N]o litmus-paper test" will separate valid ballot-access provisions from invalid interactive speech restrictions, and this Court has come upon "no substitute for the hard judgments that must be made." Storer, 415 U. S., at 730. But the First Amendment requires vigilance in making those judgments, to guard against undue hindrances to political conversations and the exchange of ideas. See Meyer, 486 U. S., at 421. The Court is satisfied that, as in Meyer, the restrictions in question significantly inhibit communication with voters about proposed political change, and are not warranted by the state interests (administrative efficiency, fraud detection, informing voters) alleged to justify those restrictions. This judgment is informed by other means Colorado employs to accomplish its regulatory purposes. Pp. 191-192.

(b) Beyond question, Colorado's registration requirement drastically reduces the number of persons, both volunteer and paid, available to circulate petitions. That requirement produces a speech diminution of the very kind produced by the ban on paid circulators at issue in Meyer. Both provisions "limi[t] the number of voices who will convey [the initiative proponents'] message" and, consequently, cut down "the size of the audience [proponents] can reach." Meyer, 486 U. S., at 422, 423.

The ease with which qualified voters may register to vote does not lift the burden on speech at petition circulation time. There are individuals for whom, as the trial record shows, the choice not to register


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Full Text of Opinion

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