McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n,
514 U.S. 334 (1995)

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CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO No. 93-986. Argued October 12, 1994-Decided April 19, 1995

After petitioner's decedent distributed leaflets purporting to express the views of "CONCERNED PARENTS AND TAX PAYERS" opposing a proposed school tax levy, she was fined by respondent for violating § 3599.09(A) of the Ohio Code, which prohibits the distribution of campaign literature that does not contain the name and address of the person or campaign official issuing the literature. The Court of Common Pleas reversed, but the Ohio Court of Appeals reinstated the fine. In affirming, the State Supreme Court held that the burdens § 3599.09(A) imposed on voters' First Amendment rights were "reasonable" and "nondiscriminatory" and therefore valid. Declaring that § 3599.09(A) is intended to identify persons who distribute campaign materials containing fraud, libel, or false advertising and to provide voters with a mechanism for evaluating such materials, the court distinguished Talley v. California, 362 U. S. 60, in which this Court invalidated an ordinance prohibiting all anonymous leafletting.

Held: Section 3599.09(A)'s prohibition of the distribution of anonymous campaign literature abridges the freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment. Pp.341-357.

(a) The freedom to publish anonymously is protected by the First Amendment, and, as Talley indicates, extends beyond the literary realm to the advocacy of political causes. Pp.341-343.

(b) This Court's precedents make abundantly clear that the Ohio Supreme Court's reasonableness standard is significantly more lenient than is appropriate in a case of this kind. Although Talley concerned a different limitation than § 3599.09(A) and thus does not necessarily control here, the First Amendment's protection of anonymity nevertheless applies. Section 3599.09(A) is not simply an election code provision subject to the "ordinary litigation" test set forth in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U. S. 780, and similar cases. Rather, it is a regulation of core political speech. Moreover, the category of documents it covers is defined by their content-only those publications containing speech designed to influence the voters in an election need bear the required information. See, e. g., First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765,776-777. When a law burdens such speech, the Court applies "exacting scrutiny,"


upholding the restriction only if it is narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest. See, e. g., id., at 786. Pp.343-347.

(c) Section 3599.09(A)'s anonymous speech ban is not justified by Ohio's asserted interests in preventing fraudulent and libelous statements and in providing the electorate with relevant information. The claimed informational interest is plainly insufficient to support the statute's disclosure requirement, since the speaker's identity is no different from other components of a document's contents that the author is free to include or exclude, and the author's name and address add little to the reader's ability to evaluate the document in the case of a handbill written by a private citizen unknown to the reader. Moreover, the state interest in preventing fraud and libel (which Ohio vindicates by means of other, more direct prohibitions) does not justify § 3599.09(A)'s extremely broad prohibition of anonymous leaflets. The statute encompasses all documents, regardless of whether they are arguably false or misleading. Although a State might somehow demonstrate that its enforcement interests justify a more limited identification requirement, Ohio has not met that burden here. Pp. 348-353.

(d) This Court's opinions in Bellotti, 435 U. S., at 792, n. 32-which commented in dicta on the prophylactic effect of requiring identification of the source of corporate campaign advertising-and Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 75-76-which approved mandatory disclosure of campaign-related expenditures-do not establish the constitutionality of § 3599.09(A), since neither case involved a prohibition of anonymous campaign literature. Pp. 353-356.

67 Ohio St. 3d 391, 618 N. E. 2d 152, reversed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. GINSBURG, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 358. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 358. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., joined, post, p. 371.

David Goldberger argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were George Q. Vaile, Steven R. Shapiro, Joel M. Gora, Barbara P. O'Toole, and Louis A. Jacobs.

Andrew 1. Sutter, Assistant Attorney General of Ohio, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the briefs were Lee Fisher, Attorney General, Andrew S. Bergman, Robert A. Zimmerman, and James M. Harrison, Assistant At-

Full Text of Opinion

Primary Holding

The First Amendment gives individuals the right to hand out anonymous leaflets on political issues.


McIntyre handed out leaflets to people attending a meeting called by the superintendent of public schools to discuss a referendum on a proposed school tax levy. The leaflets urged opposition to the levy, and some of them identified her as the author, while the others attributed their position to concerned parents and taxpayers. While the tax levy eventually passed, a school official argued that McIntyre had violated Section 3599.09(A) of the Ohio Code by handing out unsigned leaflets.

The Ohio Elections Commission agreed with the charges and fined McIntyre $100, but the court reversed on the grounds that she did not mislead the public or act in a surreptitious manner. Therefore, it found that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to her conduct, but the appellate court reinstated the fine.



  • John Paul Stevens (Author)
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Anthony M. Kennedy
  • David H. Souter
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Stephen G. Breyer

Strict scrutiny is appropriate when a law restricts political speech, which is at the core of First Amendment protections. The statute is overly broad because it affects pure speech rather than the electoral process, it is not limited to libelous, fraudulent, or false statements, and it is a content-based restriction. Anonymous pamphleteering is a historically protected and socially desirable tradition of dissent in a democratic society. Anonymity helps protect dissenters from a majority that opposes them.


  • Clarence Thomas (Author)

The original meaning of the concept of freedom of speech and of the press protects anonymous political leafletting. This should decide the case without resorting to an analysis of whether this practice is historically rooted or whether such speech has value.


  • Antonin Scalia (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

The historical basis for this anonymous form of speech does not necessarily mean that it is a constitutional right. Shielding the speaker from accountability raises the possibility of fraud, harassment, and other misconduct, as with anonymous letters and telephone calls. An exception to the law may be found if it is needed to prevent threats or retaliation against the speaker, but any ban on anonymous speech should not be ruled to be invalid per se.


  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Author)

Case Commentary

Anonymity is an important way in which political speech on controversial matters can be encouraged, since it reduces the risk of retaliation.

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