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Thursday, October 30, 2008

First Amendment Victory: Federal Court Suspends Florida’s “Electioneering Communications” Law

Federal Court suspends Florida's Electioneering Communications LawArlington, Va. - Widely abused by corrupt incumbent public officials to chill the spread of news about acts of malfeasance perpetrated against taxpayers, a much criticized Florida Law has been stricken by a U.S. District Court.

Just in time for Election Day, community groups and educational non-profits across Florida and the nation have been set free to speak about candidates and issues on the Florida ballot thanks to a ruling today by U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle. Noting that “no court has ever upheld such a sweeping regulation of political speech,” Judge Mickle granted a preliminary injunction request to suspend Florida’s “electioneering communications” law while a challenge to the regulation continues.

“This is a tremendous victory for free speech,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall. “All Floridians-not just political insiders-can now discuss important political issues before the election without fear of being punished or forced to submit to onerous regulations.”

Earlier this month, the Institute for Justice filed a First Amendment challenge to the law on behalf of the Broward Coalition of Condominiums, Homeowners Associations and Community Organizations, the University of Florida College Libertarians and the National Taxpayers Union, as well as the leaders of each organization.

Under Florida’s “electioneering communications” law, the broadest regulation of political speech in the nation, any group of people that simply mentions a candidate or a ballot issue in a public newsletter or on a website must register with the government and report all of its spending and donors, even those who never intended their gift to go towards political speech. Groups that fail to comply face fines and possible jail time for their speech. Individuals are also subject to burdensome reporting requirements if they spend just $100 of their own money to speak.

In his ruling, Judge Mickle found that the First Amendment challenge to Florida’s sweeping law is likely to succeed. He wrote, “The rights to speak and associate freely regarding issues of public concern are zealously guarded by the First Amendment. Unfettered and unregulated speech is the rule, not the exception. Just because a restriction is labeled as a restriction on campaign finance does not mean that it faces an easier path to constitutionality than a restriction outside that context.”

Today’s ruling frees IJ’s clients and others like them to speak freely in advance of next week’s election. For example, the all-volunteer Broward Coalition can add to its newsletter a page that discusses ballot issues of concern to the community. The UF College Libertarians can advertise a campus event with a local politician and distribute a flier about ballot issues to university students. And the National Taxpayers Union can update its national guide to tax-related ballot measures to include those in Florida.

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