Two candidates for Congress in New Jersey today asked a federal court to declare the state’s restrictions on campaign slogans unconstitutional. The Institute for Free Speech is representing the candidates, Eugene Mazo and Lisa McCormick, in the First Amendment challenge.
“New Jersey’s regulation of campaign slogans is one of the country’s most blatant violations of candidates’ right to free speech. The state effectively allows groups to register slogans just to prevent candidates from using them. Campaigns must be allowed to speak to voters in their own words and with their own slogans,” said Institute for Free Speech Attorney Ryan Morrison.
New Jersey law allows candidates in primary elections for Congress to include a slogan of up to six words next to their name on the ballot. The law, however, prohibits slogans from naming or referring to any other person or any incorporated entity in New Jersey, unless the candidate receives their permission. This has fueled a competition in the state to incorporate entities in order to own the rights to their names for ballot slogans and exclude others from using them.
Eugene Mazo is a law professor who is seeking the Democratic nomination to the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District. Mazo submitted three slogans, but all were rejected by the state because each named an incorporated entity in New Jersey. To avoid having no slogan appear on the ballot, Mazo did what other candidates do: he registered corporations of his own in the state, named after slogans he wished to use. “I have studied American democracy as a scholar, a voter, and now as a political candidate. And what I can tell you is that New Jersey’s ballot restrictions are unconstitutional. Simply put, they violate the First Amendment. My goal in filing this lawsuit is to create an equal playing field for candidates of diverse political views who believe, as I do, that free speech is sacred. Under our Constitution, New Jersey has no right to regulate what a political candidate can say to his or her voters,” said Mazo.
Lisa McCormick is a small business owner who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the House in New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District. State officials denied her choice of slogan – “Not Me. Us.” – because McCormick did not have permission from the incorporated entity organized in New Jersey under that name. A second slogan naming Bernie Sanders was also denied because she did not have Sanders’ permission to use his name. Ultimately, McCormick was able to secure permission to use the slogan, “Democrats United for Progress.” Candidates have the right to use the rhetoric and language of their choice in their slogans. Yet New Jersey’s law allows anyone to claim ownership of a slogan simply by incorporating an entity under that name. This system is unwise and unconstitutional. The case is Mazo and McCormick v. Way, et al. It is before the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Newark Division. Mazo and McCormick are represented by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech and Walter M. Luers. To read the complaint, click here.