Monday, June 29, 2009

Eleventh Circuit Reverses Injunction Prohibiting Florida From Enforcing Prohibition From Soliciting at Polls

In Citizens for Police Accountability Political Committee v. Browning (08-15115), the Eleventh Circuit reviewed a decision from the Middle District of Florida that barred enforcement of Florida Statute § 102.031(4).

"Florida Statute § 102.031(4) says that no person may solicit voters 'within 100 feet of the entrance to any polling place . . . or early voting site,' and broadly defines “solicit” to include, among other things, 'seeking or attempting to seek a signature on any petition[.]' Fla. Stat. §§

Reversing the district court, the Eleventh Circuit concluded:

We accept that the right to engage in political discourse is “the essence of self-government.” Garrison v. Louisiana, 85 S. Ct. 209, 216 (1964). But voting is about the most important thing there is. And as history has taught us, the right of political discourse is far from absolute: it must at times step aside so other freedoms similarly pivotal to our republic can thrive. The Florida statute, which balances the right to engage in political speech against the right to vote without interference and harassment, represents one of those times. We stress the short time (a few days a year) and small area (less than a football field) in which the Florida statute suppresses some political speech around the polls; Plaintiffs are free to solicit signatures unencumbered most days a year and to solicit signatures outside the solicitation-free zone all days a year. And by the way, we are not alone in our decision: other courts, in cases involving petitions, have also upheld statutes establishing solicitation-free zones around polling places. We believe that the sanctity of the voting process and 18 the abuse it has historically faced must allow the Florida legislature to exercise some foresight, to take precautions, and to prohibit questionable conduct near polling places before that conduct proves its danger; a compromised election is too great a harm to require otherwise.

We, therefore, conclude today that the Florida statute does not violate the First Amendment by banning Plaintiffs from engaging in exit solicitation about a non-ballot issue within 100 feet of polling places in Florida. Accordingly, the district court abused its discretion in granting Plaintiffs a preliminary injunction.



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