11.01.2008 0

First Amendment Glove Save!

  • On: 11/04/2008 09:43:34
  • In: First Amendment
  • By Robert Romano

    It may have in the near-term been a small victory for free speech—but it portends an age in American politics where candidates can sue to get ads taken off the air that make them look bad.

    Fortunately, this time it didn’t work, but the American people must be vigilant to preserve their freedom to criticize elected officials and politicians.

    In Wisconsin, the Coalition for America’s Families has won its case against Mark Radcliffe, candidate for Wisconsin State Assembly in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. Mr. Radcliffe had requested the court to forcibly remove an ad the Coalition had run because they claimed that it “falsely refers to the plaintiff as supporting plans to double taxes, supporting a 15 billion dollar health care plan that creates new taxes, and refers to the Wall Street Journal as reporting that the plaintiff’s plan represents $510.00 per month increase in taxes for every Wisconsin work.”

    The Court of Appeals ruled that “there has not yet been a final adjudication as to whether the ad contains a false or defamatory statement…” and, therefore, Mr. Radcliffe’s demand to have the ads pulled from the air was not “an adequate basis for prior restraint in the context of a defamation claim.” This overturned a prior ruling by the trial court that the Coalition had appealed.

    In other words, the court ruled that the ad could not be pulled because there had been no finding in court that the ad was defamatory, libelous, or otherwise.

    And of course, there should certainly be a prohibition against courts applying a temporary injunction—which basically is prior restraint—against any political ad, news story, or any other form of speech or press.

    But there is a larger issue at stake. Ultimately, this is the end result of regulating political speech in the first place. Campaign committees, advocacy organizations, and political committees must abide by onerous regulations and reporting requirements that can have the effect of stifling other forms of citizen speech.

    Mr. Radcliffe’s case basically amounted to his claim that he had changed his mind on the issues in the ad, and that it was therefore misleading. If that is the direction campaign speech law takes, it will become impossible to hold politicians accountable for the stands that they take.

    Instead, citizens must be allowed to broadcast views critical of election officials and politicians. That, by definition, is political speech, protected by the First Amendment.

    Robert Romano is the Editor of ALG News Bureau.

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