McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n, 514 U.S. 334, 14 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 334 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

zenry to make informed choices among candidates for office is essential, for the identities of those who are elected will inevitably shape the course that we follow as a nation. As the Court observed in Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U. S. 265, 272 (1971), 'it can hardly be doubted that the constitutional guarantee has its fullest and most urgent application precisely to the conduct of campaigns for political office.' " Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 14-15 (1976) (per curiam).

Of course, core political speech need not center on a candidate for office. The principles enunciated in Buckley extend equally to issue-based elections such as the school tax referendum that Mrs. McIntyre sought to influence through her handbills. See First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 776-777 (1978) (speech on income tax referendum "is at the heart of the First Amendment's protection"). Indeed, the speech in which Mrs. McIntyre engaged—handing out leaflets in the advocacy of a politically controversial viewpoint—is the essence of First Amendment expression. See International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U. S. 672 (1992); Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U. S. 444 (1938). That this advocacy occurred in the heat of a controversial referendum vote only strengthens the protection afforded to Mrs. McIntyre's expression: Urgent, important, and effective speech can be no less protected than impotent speech, lest the right to speak be relegated to those instances when it is least needed. See Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U. S. 1, 4 (1949). No form of speech is entitled to greater constitutional protection than Mrs. McIntyre's.

When a law burdens core political speech, we apply "exacting scrutiny," and we uphold the restriction only if it is narrowly tailored to serve an overriding state interest. See, e. g., Bellotti, 435 U. S., at 786. Our precedents thus make abundantly clear that the Ohio Supreme Court applied a significantly more lenient standard than is appropriate in a case of this kind.


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