Free Speech on the Docket

Brown v. Socialist Workers Party
459 U.S. 87 (1982)

Case Dates:
Wednesday, 6 November, 1974 - Wednesday, 8 December, 1982
Facts:

According to 3517.10 of the Ohio Revised Code, candidates for political office must disclose all contributors and recipients of campaign funds. The Socialist Workers Party had been regularly running candidates for office but refused to disclose their finances because the names and addresses of contributors and recipients would be public record for six years, submitting these individuals to potential threats and harassment.

In 1974, the Socialist Workers Party, represented by ACLU attorneys Tom Buckley, Gordon Beggs, Ben Sheerer, Stanley Laughlin and Bruce Campbell, filed a class action suit in district court against then Attorney General William J. Brown. They argued that applying Ohio’s Campaign Expense Reporting Law to minor political parties violated their First Amendment rights. The government cannot compel speech which might result in threats or harassment.

The District Court for the Northern District of Ohio issued a temporary restraining order allowing the Socialist Workers Party to withhold campaign funds information. The Southern District Court issued a similar restraining order.

Attorney General Brown appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed that Ohio’s campaign reporting law violated the First Amendment rights of the Socialist Workers Party.

Read the decision on FindLaw.