Politicians Lying is Free Speech
The Supreme Court of the state of Washington has ruled that lying politicians are protected by the 1st Amendment.
A sharply divided state Supreme Court has ruled that a law that bars political candidates from deliberately making false statements about their opponents violates the First Amendment right of free speech. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court affirmed a state Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the law. The measure was enacted by the Legislature in 1999, a year after a similar ban on false statements involving initiatives and other ballot measures was thrown out by the state Supreme Court.
State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, invoked the law in 2002 after his Green Party challenger, Marilou Rickert, distributed a flier that asserted Sheldon voted to shut down a state institution in his district. In fact, he voted against a budget that included closure of the Mission Creek youth camp, although critics said he didn’t do enough to support the facility. He filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission, which investigated and imposed the maximum fine, $1,000. By then, Sheldon had easily won re-election. The commission action was upheld in Superior Court, but overturned by the appeals bench.
The Supreme Court majority said the new law “like its predecessor, is unconstitutional on its face.” “The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment,” Justice James Johnson wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Charles Johnson, Richard Sanders and Susan Owens.
Quite right. While the headlines are amusing, the case in controversy makes clear how ridiculous trying to enforce this law is. Was Sheldon’s opponent making a false statement or merely making a different factual interpretation? Surely, that’s a matter best left up to the voters rather than the legal system.
via Purple Avenger