Appeals Court Backs Ban on Candidates Mentioning Opponents

News Release: 
Friday, November 20, 2009

In October 2003 the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the City of Seattle can bar political candidates from mentioning their opponents in the City’s voter pamphlet.  The decision reversed a trial court ruling that found the ban was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.

The ruling came in a lawsuit the ACLU filed on behalf of City Council candidate Grant Cogswell in 2001.  The Seattle Ethics and Election Commission rejected Cogswell’s statement for the primary election voter guide on grounds that it mentioned his opponent – even though disagreement with the incumbent’s record on transportation issues was the main reason Cogswell was running for office. 

The ACLU believes candidates should be free to tell the public clearly and directly why they are seeking election to public office.  We argued that the City’s rule unfairly enables incumbents to tout their achievements in office while preventing challengers from discussing an incumbent’s record.  Unfortunately, the appeals court ruled that the government may place “reasonable” restrictions on speech in a limited public forum such as a city-sponsored voter pamphlet.

Cooperating attorneys Will Rava and Lisa Willmer are handling the case for the ACLU.

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