The U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld the ability of states to restrict electioneering near polling places. Ruling in Burson v. Freeman, the high court upheld a Tennessee law that prohibits vote solicitation and the distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place.
Justice Harry A. Blackmun -- joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Byron R. White, and Justice Anthony Kennedy -- said the law is a content-based restriction on political speech in a public forum, speech that ordinarily would be protected by the Constitution's First and 14th amendments.
However, the four justices concluded that the Tennessee law was necessary to serve a compelling state interest and was narrowly tailored to achieve its goal of preventing voter intimidation and election fraud.
Justice Antonin Scalia provided a fifth vote to uphold the statute, but said he believed the law was valid because it provided for viewpoint-neutral regulation of a nonpublic forum. He said it was content-neutral because it affected all candidates equally, adding that streets and sidewalks outside polling places have not traditionally been considered public forums.
Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justice David H. Souter, dissented. The three justices said the speech and conduct prohibited by the law constitute "classic political expression" and may be restricted only upon a showing that the law was narrowly drawn. Unlike the court majority, the dissenters said the law was overly broad.
Justice Clarence Thomas took no part in the decision.