Mississippi Citizen Speech

Justice v. Hosemann
Protecting Citizen Speech


Download: Full Disclosure

In America, the only thing you should need to speak is an opinion.  But thanks to burdensome campaign finance laws, groups of concerned citizens need more than just their opinions: They also need a lawyer.

Vance Justice, Sharon Bynum, Matt Johnson, Alison Kinnaman, and Stan O’Dell are friends from Oxford, Mississippi.  During the 2011 election, they wanted to join together and speak out in favor of Initiative 31—a ballot measure to amend the Mississippi Constitution to provide greater protection from eminent domain abuse.  But if they spent just $200 to speak without registering with the government and navigating a complex web of regulations, they would be subject to fines and possible criminal penalties.  This meant that they could not even buy a single quarter-page advertisement in their local paper.  And they were very limited as to the number of signs and flyers they could make.  Ultimately, because of Mississippi’s campaign finance laws, they limited their speech in the 2011 election to avoid the burdens those laws impose on even small groups.

Campaign finance laws like Mississippi’s impose formation, registration, record-keeping, record-retention, and reporting requirements on people that are universally acknowledged to burden the exercise of speech and association rights at the core of the First Amendment.  Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court recently called these requirements “burdensome” and “expensive” even for corporations and unions.

That is why, in October 2011, the Institute for Justice filed suit against Mississippi’s laws in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi.  Although we were not able to fully litigate the issues in the case to completion prior to the 2011 election, the case has continued because the Plaintiffs want to speak out about ballot initiatives in future elections. 

In conjunction with this lawsuit, the Institute for Justice released a national report, Full Disclosure: How Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws Fail to Inform Voters and Stifle Public Debate.  The report shows that disclosure laws do little to help voters while imposing substantial costs on those wishing to participate in the political process.

On September 30, 2013, Judge Sharion Aycock found that Mississippi’s campaign finance requirements were so complicated that “a prudent person might have extraordinary difficulty merely determining what is required” and that “potential speakers might well require legal counsel to determine which regulations even apply, above and beyond how to comport with those requirements.”  Balancing the great burdens of Mississippi’s scheme against its low interest in the speech and association it was regulating, Judge Aycock ruled that “the burdens imposed by the State’s regulations are simply too great to be borne by the State’s interest in groups raising or expending as little as $200.” 

The Mississippi case is a part of the Institute for Justice’s Citizen Speech Initiative, a national effort to restore full protection to free political speech.  The fight for truly free speech, in Mississippi and beyond, will continue.

Essential Background


Backgrounder:  Protecting Citizen Speech

none available
Latest Release: Federal Court Refuses to Protect Citizens’ Political Speech (November 14, 2014)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Download: Granting Motion for Summary Judgment (September 30, 2013)
Launch Release: New Study Shows Campaign Finance Disclosure Laws Fail to Inform Voters and Stifle Public Debate (October 20, 2011) Download: Appellate Brief (March 31, 2014)


Download: Fifth Circuit Opinion (November 14, 2014) 

Case Timeline

Lawsuit Filed:

October 20, 2011

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi



Opinion: Granting Motion for Summary Judgment (September 30, 2013)

Fifth Circuit Opinion (November 14, 2014)

Current Court:


U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit



Awaiting ruling on petition for rehearing en banc

Next Key Date:



Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Media Advisory: Challenge to Mississippi Campaign Finance Laws Heads to 5th Circuit (September 2, 2014) none available

Release: Federal Courts in Arizona and Mississippi Declare Campaign Finance Schemes Unconstitutional (October 1, 2013)

Release: Free Speech Group Has Its Day in Federal Court (February 6, 2013) 

Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: Appeal May Revive Campaign-Spending Law Courthouse News Service (September 4, 2014)

Article: Mississippi appeals political spending law ruling Associated Press (August 2, 2014)

Article: IJ Defends Mississippi Citizen Speech Liberty & Law (December 2011)

Report: Keep Out: How State Campaign Finance Laws Erect Barriers to Entry for Political Entrepreneurs

Report: Mowing Down the Grassroots: How Grassroots Lobbying Disclosure Suppresses Political Participation
Report: Campaign Finance Red Tape

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