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Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation

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Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation is a 1999 decision of the United States Supreme Court, decided by a 6-3 vote, that helps define what restrictions a state can, and cannot, place on the initiative process and on petition circulators.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Ruth Ginsburg. The three justices who dissented from the opinion were William Rehnquist, Sandra O'Connor and Stephen Breyer.

The plaintiff in this case, the American Constitutional Law Foundation, sued in federal court to overturn six provisions of Colorado law governing the initiative petition process on the grounds that the contested provisions violate the free speech guarantee in the U.S. Constitution.

Specifically, the plaintiff asked the court to overturn the provisions in Colorado law that:

  • (1) the requirement that petition circulators be at least 18 years old.
  • (2) the requirement that petition circulators be registered voters.
  • (3) the limitation of the petition circulation period to six months.
  • (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.
  • (5) the requirement that circulators attach to each petition section an affidavit containing the circulator's name and address.
  • (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.
  • (b) the amount of money proponents paid per petition signature.
  • (c) the total amount paid to each circulator.
  • (d) 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.

When the plaintiffs entered into federal district court, that 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 plaintiffs appealed the district court decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Tenth Circuit upheld, as "reasonable regulations of the ballot-initiative process":

  • the age restriction.
  • the six-month limit on petition circulation.
  • the affidavit requirement.

The Tenth Circuit court struck down:

  • the requirement that petition circulators be registered voters.
  • held portions of the badge and disclosure requirements invalid as trenching unnecessarily and improperly on political expression.

Invalidation of disclosure requirements

The provisions in the Colorado law requiring that ballot-initiative proponents file a final report when the initiative petition is submitted disclosing each paid circulator by name and address, and the total amount paid to each circulator, was invalidated.

The Tenth Circuit Court also ruled (and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld) that Colorado's compelled disclosure in monthly reports of the name and address of each paid circulator, and the amount of money paid and owed to each circulator during the month in question was unconstitututional.

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