U.S. Supreme Court Declines Review In Major First Amendment Case

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 4, 2013

Arlington, Va.—In a serious setback for the political speech of ordinary Americans, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied review of a First Amendment challenge to Florida’s political committee (PAC) laws. The lawsuit, Worley v. Florida Secretary of State, was filed by the Institute for Justice in 2010 on behalf of three Florida neighbors who wanted to pool $600 to buy radio advertisements opposing a controversial constitutional amendment, but were quickly overwhelmed by burdensome regulations.

Under Florida law, whenever two or more people want to spend more than a modest amount to speak out during an election, they must form a heavily regulated PAC. Last June, the11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s law in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court has previously held such laws to be unconstitutionally burdensome even for corporations and unions. The Supreme Court’s refusal to review the 11th Circuit’s decision makes that ruling final.

IJ Senior Attorney Paul Sherman, lead counsel in the case, said, “The Supreme Court’s refusal to take this case means that ordinary Americans in Florida, Georgia and Alabama are subject to laws that would be unconstitutional as applied to General Motors or the AFL-CIO. The unfortunate result is fewer rights for political speakers and less information for voters.”

The 11th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with recent rulings in Arizona and Mississippi, which invalidated virtually identical laws as violating the First Amendment. Those cases also are being litigated by the Institute for Justice.

IJ client Nathan Worley said, “We’re disappointed the Court didn’t take up our case, but we are not discouraged because we are not the only people standing up to these laws. These things take time, but one day, the Supreme Court will make clear that ordinary people have the right to get together and get their message out there without dealing with a lot of red tape.”

Over the course of the three-year litigation, IJ produced expert testimony showing that laws like Florida’s produce no measurable benefits for voters. Those findings were supported by the government’s own expert witness, who testified that Florida’s law was not well tailored to providing useful information to voters. IJ also secured an admission from the government that 98 percent of the campaign-finance complaints it receives are politically motivated attempts to “harass” or “punish” one’s political opponents. The 11th Circuit, however, ignored this evidence in rendering its decision upholding the law.

Sherman concluded, “The results in this case illustrate the vital need for judicial engagement, a willingness on the part of judges to take evidence seriously in all constitutional cases. The undisputed facts showed that Florida’s PAC regulations place incredible burdens on speakers for no benefit whatsoever. The 11th Circuit may have ignored these burdens, but it will not be the last word in this important fight. Sooner or later, the Supreme Court is going to take up this issue, and when they do, the Institute for Justice will be there to defend the First Amendment rights of ordinary Americans.”