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Court To Hear Campaign-Leaflet Case

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Washington

The U.S. Supreme Court last week agreed to hear the appeal of an Ohio woman who was fined by state election authorities for distributing unsigned leaflets in opposition to a school-tax referendum.

The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the $100 fine last year, ruling that the state's ban on anonymous campaign literature was a legitimate guard against "fraud, libel, or false advertising'' in elections.

In her appeal to the High Court in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (Case No. 93-986), Margaret McIntyre argues that the Ohio law violates the First Amendment's guarantee of free expression.

Ms. McIntyre's petition, prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and other lawyers, argues that "she is being punished for the communication of a classic, political viewpoint.''

It also argues that the election complaint, filed by the assistant superintendent of the Westerville, Ohio, school district, was a form of retribution against Ms. McIntyre for her opposition to the district's tax levy.

Ms. McIntyre distributed the leaflet in question in April 1988 at a school meeting where the district superintendent was speaking in favor of the tax proposal. The flier questioned the tax levy as a "waste of tax payers dollars'' [sic] and was signed "Concerned Parents and Tax Payers.''

The assistant superintendent of the district, J. Michael Hayfield, saw Ms. McIntyre distributing the leaflets and informed her that they violated Ohio election law because they did not include her name and address.

The school-tax levy was defeated that time and another time before passing on the third try about a year later. Soon after it passed, Ms. McIntyre received a notice from the Ohio Elections Commission that a complaint had been filed against her for distributing the unsigned leaflets. Mr. Hayfield filed the complaint.

Ms. McIntyre appealed the commission's $100 fine to a county court, which ruled the state law unconstitutional. But a state appeals court reversed that ruling and reinstated the fine. The state supreme court affirmed by a vote of 6 to 1.

A Long Campaign Tradition

The dissenter, Justice Craig Wright, wrote that it "would appear that as soon as the levy was safely passed, the school district ... sought retribution against McIntyre for her opposition.''

Justice Wright also argued that an American tradition of anonymous campaign literature goes back as far as the Federalist Papers, written during the campaign to ratify the U.S. Constitution. James Madison, one of the authors of the papers, "would be very surprised by the decision of the majority that a citizen does not have the right to issue anonymous statements expressing her views on ballot issues,'' Justice Wright said.

Ms. McIntyre's lawyers argue that the Ohio law is also in conflict with a 1960 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the distribution of anonymous leaflets by the organizers of a consumer boycott aimed at companies engaged in racial discrimination.

But State Attorney General Lee Fisher argued in his opposing brief that the decision in that case, Talley v. California, did not address laws designed to prevent election fraud and false advertising.

"Preventing fraud in elections and facilitating the public's ability to consider the credibility of sources ... outweigh the limited burden imposed on political activity'' by the law, Mr. Fisher argued.

More than half the states have campaign-literature-identification laws similar to Ohio's, although most do not enforce them against anonymous leafleting, according to Ms. McIntyre's lawyers.

The High Court will hear the case in its next term.

Other Action

In separate actions last week, the Court:

  • Agreed to hear a case from Georgia that may help clarify when states must issue refunds to taxpayers for taxes later found to be unconstitutional.

The case of Reich v. Collins (No. 93-908) is the latest in a series of cases heard by the High Court involving state taxes on federal pensions. Several states found to be unlawfully taxing federal pensions while exempting state pensions have tried to avoid issuing refunds. Millions of dollars are at stake in about 10 states.

  • Declined to review the Baltimore Teachers Union's challenge of a 1992 pay cut imposed by city officials. The union unsuccessfully argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the recession-driven cut violated its contract. The case was Baltimore Teachers Union v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (No. 93-1078).

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