486 U. S. 414
June 6, 1988
Colorado has a ballot initiative process where citizens can petition and put a question up for vote. But Colorado law banned the payment of those who collect signatures for such a petition. Signature collectors charged that this violated the First Amendment, by unduly burdening the ability of citizens to get initiatives on the ballot.
The Supreme Court unanimously found a First Amendment violation. Stevens said that political questions like those decided by initiative vote deserved the highest level of Constitutional protection, and that Colorado’s law substantially limited the reach of communication between citizens. To support the law, the state argued that it was required to ensure genuine grass roots support for the initiative, and to ensure that signature collectors did not resort to fraud. Stevens found both arguments weak and doubtful when compared to the First Amendment concerns.
Colorado also urged that it were not Constitutionally required to provide an initiative process at all, and thus the state remained free to impose any restrictions whatsoever. Stevens responded that once a state provides a new political process, it cannot shield the First Amendment from operating in that new process. Even though the Court ruled unanimously, I’m not sure they adequately answered this last argument, and I might have dissented.