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Court rules candidates have right to collect signatures in front of supermarkets

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that supermarkets cannot shush away signature collectors from their entrances, because they are public spaces where state constitutional rights apply.

The ruling comes in the case of Steven Glovsky, who was told by the manager of the Westwood Roche Bros. in 2012 that he could not collect signatures there for his run for the governor's council.

The state's highest court had earlier ruled that candidates could collect signatures in the common areas of malls. Roche Bros. argued its front entrance was not the same, because, unlike in mall common areas, the public was not invited to congregate there, but just to pass through on the way to shopping.

But the court disagreed. In today's ruling, it said supermarkets have grown large enough to become the functional equivalent of a downtown shopping street - what with their bakeries, florists, eating areas and banks - that the areas in front of them have become the same as a public street, at least for the purposes of signature collecting. In the case of the Westwood Roche Bros., the court said:

Because the property allegedly contains the only supermarket in Westwood, as well as these other amenities, it reasonably can be inferred that the property draws a significant portion of the town's voters. In some communities, an individual might solicit signatures from members of the public as they traverse the public way connecting the various shops that offer such amenities; to deprive Glovsky of similar access to the public where the assorted products have been consolidated under a single roof could "substantially impair the fundamental rights protected by [the free-election article of the state constitution].

But while the court ruled against the supermarket chain on the basic question, it dismissed Glovsky's claim that the store manager had used "threats, intimidation or coercion" to shoo him away. The manager did not threaten him physically or mention potential arrest, and as a store manager, he was dressed as a civilian, not the security guard whom the court had ruled had used such tactics in an earlier, unrelated case.

Justice Robert Cordy dissented from the ruling, saying it represents too much of an infringement on "the rights of countless commercial property owners across the Commonwealth" and that he doesn't buy the argument that freestanding supermarkets have essentially become the equivalent of the downtowns of yore or the malls of today:

By failing to recognize the enormous differences between large shopping complexes that duplicate traditional downtown functions and free-standing stores selling multiple products, the court completely undoes the intended balance between the rights of property owners and the rights of those whom they invite to use their property, and creates serious consequences for property owners who miscalculate their obligations despite their best intentions.

He said it will prove impossible for people to collect signatures "unobtrusively," as the majority held, when they are planted right in front of a store's only entrance and exit.

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Comments

Goofy decision. The entrance to a supermarket is nothing like the common areas of a mall.

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Perhaps the court should start considering the rights of citizens not to be harrassed by candidates and intitative-petition types while attempting to go about their daily activites instead.

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I'd agree that if someone is pushy they should be banned. If someone is standing around with a clipboard saying "Would like to sign a petition for..." and nothing else that's freedom of speech in my book. Only if they get in your face or follow you around will it cross a line.

The reasoning is correct too -- many towns only have a single big supermarket as a commercial district. If you have a town issue you should be allowed where people from the town are most likely to be.

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It reminds me of the doe eyed Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts selling things right at the door. I have a hard time walking by those kids but I learned after spending $10 for a small bag of popcorn.

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Gas stations. People are waiting anyway for the tank to fill up, so are are not detained by signature requests. It might only cut into their texting or Twitter/Facebook feed reading time.

I've collected signatures at supermarkets where most people just want to do their shopping and leave. Asking for signatures at a cooperative gas station were far more successful.

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And most folks pumping gas just want to fill their tanks and leave.

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Well... one could argue that most folks in MA just want to ____ and leave in general.

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want to run into a Scott Lively collecting signatures on your Saturday morning supermarket run? What isle are the nuts in?

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is quite aggressive and obnoxious when he regularly goes shopping for signatures outside the Stop and Shop off Morrissey Blvd. He makes sure to stick his paperwork in your face on the way in and the way out.

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hold up that big sheet of plywood while people sign it.

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I would love to meet this guy and ask him if he is a closeted homosexual.

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goes camping with Marcus Bachman every Summer. All they take is one sleeping bag and a pink pop tent.

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I'm curious if the candidate in Westwood was standing and asking for signatures the same way that candidates do in front of the West Roxbury Roche Bros. I, and I'm sure everyone else who shops there, have been asked for signatures for almost everyone running in Boston and Massachusetts every election year.

Just wondering if different stores have different policies, or if the Westwood person was more intrusive than those I see in WR.

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I hope Roche Bros. takes this to the Supreme Court. Individual property rights are being eroded by this decision. We all remember the ruling where some folks houses were taken by eminent domain for a private development a few years back. We need a redo to protect personal property rights. WE NEED TO KEEP AMERICA FREE!

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