Massachusetts court says candidate has shown right to meet voters outside grocery store

IndustriesAssociated Press

Candidates for public office in Massachusetts have the right to collect nominating signatures outside supermarkets, the highest court ruled Friday in a decision that expands the rights of candidates on commercial private property.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Steven Glovsky was able to show that he had a right to collect signatures outside a Roche Brothers supermarket under a section of the state constitution that guarantees equal access to the ballot.

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Glovsky sued in 2012 after the manager of a Roche Brothers store in Westwood said he could not collect signatures.

A Superior Court judge dismissed Glovsky's lawsuit, and the high court heard his appeal.

In its ruling, the SJC expanded the reach of a 1983 decision, which found that a political candidate has the right to solicit nomination signatures in the common areas of the Northshore Mall. The court found in its earlier ruling that large malls are public gathering places that have taken the place of traditional downtowns, so candidates have the right to collect signatures in common areas.

"Now candidates will be able to stand in front of their local supermarket and gather nominating signatures freely and with peace of mind in doing so," Glovsky said. "That is a tremendous result and benefit for all future people interested in getting involved in state politics."

Roche Brothers did not immediately comment.

The 18-store supermarket chain, based in Wellesley, argued that state law does not grant a general right to collect signatures on private property.

"The overwhelming consensus among courts that have considered this issue is that though individuals may have a constitutional right to solicit or engage in political activity at a large mall, they do not have the same right at a private supermarket over the store owner's objections," attorneys for Roche Brothers argued in a legal brief.

The SJC found that Roche Brothers did not violate Glovsky's rights by threats or intimidation, as Glovsky claimed.