FEDERAL COURT STRIKES DOWN MISSOURI BURDENS ON POLITICAL SPEECH
A Warning Shot to Over-Regulators Across the Country
ST. LOUIS, MO – In a successful First Amendment challenge led by Chris Gober and Stephen Hoersting of The Gober Group, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has affirmed a federal court’s decision to strike down a Missouri statute as unconstitutional. That statute requires groups to “form” a political committee no later than thirty days before an election if they wish to speak in support of a candidate or ballot measure.
Missourians for Fiscal Accountability (MFA) was formed in October 22, 2014, and the organization sought to advocate for a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution voted upon during the November 4, 2014 general election. MFA endeavored to register as a “campaign committee” as required by Missouri statute; however, Missouri law precluded MFA from collecting or spending money to support the proposed amendment because MFA did not register as a campaign committee at least thirty days before the election. Six days prior to the general election, MFA initiated a lawsuit alleging that Missouri’s “blackout period” is an unconstitutional “prior restraint” on political speech in violation of the First Amendment.
In an opinion authored by Circuit Judge Duane Benton, the Eighth Circuit court rejected the State of Missouri’s argument that the statute is merely a disclosure law that is subject to a lower level of constitutional scrutiny. The court reasoned:
[T]he fact that a statute does not limit speech on its face does not mean that it is a disclosure requirement. While a formation deadline by itself might not expressly limit speech, the formation deadline here is more than a disclosure requirement because it prohibits (or significantly burdens) formation of a campaign committee, a requisite for legally engaging in speech, even if the individual or group is willing to comply with organizational and disclosure requirements.
After determining that the government must prove that the law furthers a compelling interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, the court concluded, “Assuming, without deciding, that this interest is compelling, the formation deadline is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored.”
“This is a resounding victory that underscores what we have argued all along: this law is an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech being masqueraded by the government as a nominal disclosure requirement,” says Chris Gober. “Today’s ruling sends a warning shot to over-regulators across the country who are seeking to undermine the First Amendment in the name of disclosure.”
The protracted litigation, which has been drawn out over three and a half years, included two appeals to the Eighth Circuit that MFA won. During the course of the litigation, MFA has been represented by attorneys Chris Gober, Stephen Hoersting, and Troy McCurry of The Gober Group, Caleb Jones of Columbia, Mo., and Bryan White of White Graham Buckley & Carr. A copy of the most recent Eighth Circuit opinion can be viewed here.
About The Gober Group
The Gober Group is an Inc. 5000 law firm that represents CHANGEMAKERS in the business and political ecosystems. Rather than describing what we do by practice area, we’re different in that like to describe the type of client we serve: ambitious and innovative COMPANIES, CAUSES, and INFLUENCERS that require our expertise at the intersection of business, law, politics and, of course, relationships.
For more information about the firm, please visit http://gobergroup.com.