Blakeslee v. St. Sauveur - A court case that The ACLU of Rhode Island is currently involved in.

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Blakeslee v. St. Sauveur (2014)

Category: Free Speech    

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2014: U.S. District Court Judge William Smith has struck down the state law that makes it a crime to circulate anonymous political literature, including unsigned newspaper editorials. The ACLU of Rhode Island sued over the legality of the statute earlier this year to halt the Town of Smithfield’s stated plans to enforce it. The statute, which carries a potential one-year prison sentence, bars the distribution of any anonymous political literature that relates to ballot questions or that criticizes a political candidate’s “personal character or political action.”

In a four-page decision, Judge Smith called it “hard to imagine what the Rhode Island General Assembly was thinking when it passed this law . . . [but it] must be invalidated as a violation of the First Amendment.”

The ACLU of Rhode Island filed the federal lawsuit to prevent the Smithfield Police Department from continuing to enforce a broadly written state law that makes it a crime to circulate anonymous political literature, including unsigned newspaper editorials. The statute, which carries a potential one-year prison sentence, bars the distribution of any anonymous political literature that relates to ballot questions or that criticizes a political candidate’s “personal character or political action.”

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled an almost identical Ohio statute unconstitutional, calling anonymous pamphleteering “an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent” designed to “protect unpopular individuals from retaliation - and their ideas from suppression - at the hand of an intolerant society.” That decision cited a long history of anonymous political literature in this country, including the Federalist Papers.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Rhode Island law has never been formally repealed, and last year the Smithfield Police Department arrested a political consultant for purportedly violating it. As a result of the court decision, the defendants will pay $4,000 in attorneys’ fees in response to the successful challenge to the statute.

Related Documents
Related News Releases
  • Oct 07, 2014 - Judge Rules Unconstitutional State Ban On Anonymous Political Literature
  • Apr 15, 2014 - ACLU Sues Smithfield for Enforcing Unconstitutional Ban on Anonymous Literature