Burson v. Freeman, 504 U.S. 191 (1992)

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certiorari to the supreme court of tennessee

No. 90-1056. Argued October 8, 1991—Decided May 26, 1992

Respondent Freeman, while the treasurer for a political campaign in Tennessee, filed an action in the Chancery Court, alleging, among other things, that 2-7-111(b) of the Tennessee Code—which prohibits the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place—limited her ability to communicate with voters in violation of, inter alia, the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The court dismissed her suit, but the State Supreme Court reversed, ruling that the State had a compelling interest in banning such activities within the polling place itself but not on the premises around the polling place. Thus, it concluded, the 100-foot limit was not narrowly tailored to protect, and was not the least restrictive means to serve, the State's interests.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. 802 S. W. 2d 210, reversed and remanded.

Justice Blackmun, joined by The Chief Justice, Justice White, and Justice Kennedy, concluded that 2-7-111(b) does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 196-211. (a) The section is a facially content-based restriction on political speech in a public forum and, thus, must be subjected to exacting scrutiny: The State must show that the regulation is necessary to serve a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly drawn to achieve that end. This case presents a particularly difficult reconciliation, since it involves a conflict between the exercise of the right to engage in political discourse and the fundamental right to vote, which is at the heart of this country's democracy. Pp. 196-198. (b) Section 2-7-111(b) advances Tennessee's compelling interests in preventing voter intimidation and election fraud. There is a substantial and long-lived consensus among the 50 States that some restricted zone around polling places is necessary to serve the interest in protecting the right to vote freely and effectively. The real question then is how large a restricted zone is permissible or sufficiently tailored. A State is not required to prove empirically that an election regulation is perfectly tailored to secure such a compelling interest. Rather, legislatures should be permitted to respond to potential deficiencies in the electoral process with foresight, provided that the response is reasonable and


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