Outlawing the Federalist Papers: can free speech be anonymous too?

Author:Doherty, Brian

The Supreme Court is scheduled to announce its decision on whether free speech allows anonymity of the speakers. The complaint against anonymous pamphleteering was filed by Ohio politicians against Margaret McIntyre. Twenty-seven other states have also filed amicus briefs on the case.


Publius would have to watch his back in Ohio these days. The Supreme Court will decide this term whether or not to remedy this situation.

Early American patriots often used pseudonyms like Publius (used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay when they wrote the Federalist Papers) when they advocated political change. But Ohio doesn't like the idea of anonymity in political pamphleteering.

One reason to crave anonymity in political speech is fear of reprisal from vengeful officials. In 1988, this fear came to life for Margaret McIntyre of Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus.

McIntyre was accused by an angry school-board official of distributing pamphlets against a proposed new school tax without putting her name on the pamphlets. The Ohio Elections Commission slapped her with a $100 fine.

Mrs. McIntyre - and her husband, who has carried on the case since her death in May 1994 - look the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This term, the justices will decide whether the right of free speech includes the right to anonymous speech.

Not only Ohio and the McIntyres will be affected by the outcome. Twenty-seven other states with similar laws filed amicus briefs on behalf of Ohio. But David Goldberger of the Ohio State University College of Law, the McIntyres' lawyer on the case, stresses that even a decision in their favor wouldn't necessarily mean an end to bans of anonymous speech in political literature.

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