M. Dane Waters
Initiative & Referendum Institute
Swidler Berlin Shereff Friedman
ACLU / Washington, DC
The Initiative & Referendum Institute,
ACLU, and Coalition of Citizen Groups
Sue U.S. Postal Service Over Free-Speech Violations
(Washington, D.C.) -- A coalition of citizen groups
and individuals from across the political spectrum filed a legal complaint today in the
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
The suit seeks to overturn the USPS regulation prohibiting citizens from collecting
petition signatures on initiative petitions on postal property. The new postal regulation
severely limits the ability of citizens around the country to place issues before their
M. Dane Waters, President and Founder of the
Initiative & Referendum Institute -- a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational and research
organization dedicated to the study and protection of the initiative and referendum
process and the group spearheading the lawsuit -- declared "Today, citizens across
the political spectrum are coming together to further democracy, protect the initiative
and referendum process, uphold the First Amendment, and overturn an unconstitutional and
unnecessary government restriction that limits the ability of voters to reform their
government. This lawsuit is essential to the preservation of self-government."
The lawsuit has its origin in a June 1998 change in
postal policy regarding petitioning on postal property. Until the change, citizens were
allowed to gather signatures for ballot issues in front of all post offices, so long as
the petitioners were not disruptive to postal business. The new policy prohibits
"soliciting signatures on petitions, polls or surveys" in front of any post
office. As a result, citizens of every political stripe have lost an important, and often
times necessary, location to gather petition signatures.
24 states and thousands of cities and towns currently
allow citizens to gather signatures to put an issue on the ballot. The change in postal
policy is substantially hampering the efforts of citizens around the country who are
working to get propositions on the ballot for voters to decide. The Initiative &
Referendum Institute spent six months attempting to negotiate a resolution to this issue
prior to deciding to go to court but the USPS failed to even offer a compromise.
In a public announcement of the lawsuit, M. Dane
Waters said "We wish that we didn't have to take the USPS to court, we had hoped that
given the facts they would recognize that petitioning for ballot issues is protected free
speech indeed "core political speech" according to the U.S. Supreme Court -- but
the USPS has not shown any willingness to rescind their prohibition on petitioning on
postal property and instead has chosen to waste the taxpayers dollars to defend a clearly
unconstitutional regulation. This prohibition is an affront to the First Amendment, which
protects not only free speech, but also the right to petition our government for the
redress of grievances. It must be overturned."
The public announcement of the lawsuit was made today
at a press conference at the J.W. Marriott in Washington, DC. Speaking at the press
conference were the attorneys handling the case as well as several of the plaintiffs in
the lawsuit including Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States and Paul
Jacob of U.S. Term Limits.
John Ferguson of Swidler Berlin Sheriff Friedman (the
firm handling the case) stated, "As a nation, we lament the decline in public
participation in the democratic process. Thus it is particularly surprising and
unfortunate when an agency of the government acts to preclude vital aspects of public
participation. Yet, in its 1998 regulation prohibiting -- indeed, criminalizing -- the
peaceable gathering of signatures on petitions, referenda and initiatives in United States
Postal Service's parking lots and on its walkways, the Postal Service has, in fact, acted
to impair an important aspect of the exercise of a long-recognized First Amendment Right.
This action by the Postal Service is particularly
surprising as the Postal Service had expressly recognized the right of citizens to gather
signatures on petitions, referenda and initiatives on its property as recently as 1992.
Moreover, the Postal Service's 1998 reversal of position was unsupported by evidence that
any behavior warranted the dramatic change in its position. We bring this action to right
what we believe to be a serious constitutional violation."
Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the American Civil
Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, who is serving as co-counsel on the case,
stated, "Although the Postal Service likes to think of itself as a private business,
it is still a part of the United States government and subject to the First Amendment.
Sidewalks and similar outdoor areas open to the public, where people meet and greet each
other, are also areas where people have a constitutional right to exchange political
information and to seek signatures on petitions."
Other plaintiffs in the case who could not be present
at the press conference include: Clean (WA state), Oregon Taxpayers United, Citizens for Limited Taxation (MA), Americans for
Medical Rights (CA), Oregonians for Fair Taxation, Nebraskans for Limited Terms, David
Morris (SC), John Michael (ME), Dennis Polhill (CO), Bart Grant (UT), Lynn Fritchman (ID),
Sherry Bockwinkel (WA state), Barbara Anderson (MA),
Bill Sizemore (OR), Andrew Bandyk (MI), Gloria Robinson (MI), Mary Baggett (GA), Vincent
Ott (MI), Kathleen Snarey (MI) and William Westermeyer (AZ).
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The full text of the complaint will be available on
the Institute's website as of 6/2/00.
Initiative & Referendum Institute
1825 I Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20006
202.429.5539 (office) 202.986.3001 (fax)
visit our websites at http://www.iandrinstitute.org
Saturday, May 27, 2000
Can't get enough of our money
By the time anyone challenges the reinstatement of
legislators will have spent the money
Addiction is a terrible thing. Its victims will cheat
and steal to get the substances they must abuse. A drunk may steal from his friends, a
drug addict from his own mother, a gambler from his children. All will lie to cover their
tracks, and again to cover their lies.
It reminds us of the Massachusetts Legislature's
relationship with our money.
Our cash-addicted lawmakers have yet to meet a source
of income they can resist or a lie they are unwilling to tell. Reinstating illegal fees
for drivers licenses and car registrations to save the Big Dig illustrates the point.
The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles long has
been a "cash cow" for the state, taking in about $14 for every dollar it spends
to operate. That's a profit margin unheard of in real-world business.
And although the state's constitution forbids it to
charge more for a state service than the actual cost of providing it, lawmakers allowed
the Registry to do so for years because they couldn't resist the millions it made: $807
million alone in fiscal year 1998, for example, against a Registry operating budget of
only $57.6 million. They especially could not resist making all this money without passing
a tax and dealing with opposition.
So our lawmakers and the Registry lied to us and to
our forefathers until the watchdog group Citizens for
Limited Taxation sued in the early 1990s to stop them. The Commonwealth
wisely capitulated before the suit came to trial, agreeing, among other things, to make
drivers licenses renewable without cost for the life of the driver, and auto registrations
renewable without cost for as long as the owner kept the vehicle. The agreement would have
left about $90 million a year in the pockets of Massachusetts residents and shortened
lines at Registry offices.
Suddenly, though, the Big Dig project, poorly planned
and executed, falls billions in the hole. To save it, lawmakers need a quick lifeline.
Back come the license and registration fees.
Not content to lie to the public, our lawmakers will
now lie to the courts. By the time anyone can stop them, the money will be collected and
It begs the image of a smoker so desperate that he
will light up within reach of a no-smoking sign, knowing that by the time someone in
authority steps in, the cigarette will be finished, and he can blow smoke in our faces