Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Prohibition on Lying by Politicians

In a 5-4 decision, the Washington Supreme Court struck down a state law prohibiting political candidates from deliberately lying in campaign ads. The majority ruled that the law threatens first amendment rights. Justice Jim Johnson noted “There can be no doubt that false personal attacks are too common in political campaigns, with wide-ranging detrimental consequences. However, government censorship … is not a constitutionally permitted remedy.” His colleague, Justice Barbara Madsen said in dissent that the ruling was “an invitation to lie with impunity. … It is little wonder that so many view political campaigns with distrust and cynicism.” The majority has a point here. Courts have traditionally left such questions to the court of public opinion. Moreover, candidates can used defamation to pursue the most serious lies, though they have to satisfy the higher standard of actual malice under New York Times v. Sullivan.

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3 thoughts on “Washington Supreme Court Strikes Down Prohibition on Lying by Politicians”

  1. Bill to Outlaw Libelous and Slanderous Messages During Political Campaigns, Debates over Legislation in Congress, and Other Related Public Communications

    To prevent deliberate misrepresentation of facts to prevent using deliberately misleading debate tactics during political presentations:

    1. Present a Bill that makes it possible to bring libel and slander suits when libelous and/or slanderous accusations are made against political candidates, especially during political campaigns. This should include false accusations against candidates, political spokespersons, and organizations. This should include false statements and accusations against politicians in a campaign. This should apply to such defamatory statements even if made on behalf of but not by a campaigning politician or organization. If accusers from an opposing party make false accusations that are later disavowed by officials of their party, they must provide proof of absence of authorization or encouragement. The source of the libelous or slanderous statement should not be given the status of privileged communication. The burden of proof of innocence should be on those making the accusation. The claim of damage should not be the responsibility of the claimant. This law should include libelous and slanderous statements made by media organizations and their employees, especially those viewed by the public.
    2. This law should apply to messages made on the politician’s own behalf, on behalf of a political party, or politically related organization. This law should apply just as do the laws of libel and slander that are applied to the general public and to persons who are not in politics.
    3. This Bill, or an additional companion Bill, should include the formation of ‘fact-checking’ departments that are independent of television networks, or other media based news corporations or organizations.
    4. The bill should include a mandatory provision for free media time for the ‘fact-checking’ departments to make presentations of their findings and sources of their findings following all politically related programs in a meaningful and timely manner. This should apply to radio, to written or video coverage on the internet, as well as to magazines and newspapers.
    5. In addition to ‘fact-checking’, this Bill should make it mandatory for reputable experts in the fields of logic and debate to make critiques of the logic and the debate tactics used by persons during political programs and presentations. These critiques should be included during or after such programs. Critiques could also be attached as a segment of ‘fact-checking’ if this requires additional time before it can be presented.
    6. These ‘programs on ‘fact-checking’ and ‘critiquing of logic and debate tactics’ should apply to ads that are in any way related to politics or political messages.
    7. Critiques and fact-checking should apply to all politically related messages whether presented via video or radio speech, writings on the television screen, writings in newspapers, magazines, or on the internet, and should extend to the floors of both Houses of Congress and any and all other political venues.
    8. The purpose of this Bill would be to point out to the public where, when, if, and how political presentations had distorted the facts; used spurious logic; used deceptive debate tactics; or used deceptive manipulation of visual imagery.

    These six suggestions are consistent with the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights Amendment I and our laws concerning Libel and Slander.

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    B. LIBEL AND SLANDER and types of defamation in law
    In common law , written defamation was libel and spoken defamation was slander. Today, however, there are no such clear definitions. Permanent forms of defamation, such as the written or pictorial, are usually called libel, while the spoken or gestured forms are called slander.

    The term libel is also often used if a wide audience for the defamation is possible. Courts have split over which category radio and television is in; today’s statutes generally categorize defamation occurring in those media as slander. The offenses are alike in several respects. The defamation—essentially exposure to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or pecuniary loss—must directly affect the reputation of a living person. It must be published, i.e., revealed to someone besides the subject of the attack. It is no defense that the defendant merely repeated but did not originate the defamation.

    The plaintiff is required to prove the colloquium (circumstances of utterance showing that the statement was directed against him or her specifically) and, when necessary, the innuendo (the factors making an apparently innocent statement defamatory). Generally, truth is an absolute defense in a suit for defamation. A false defamatory statement may be privileged if the actor was a legislator, executive officer, or speaking in a court proceeding. The requirement of colloquium makes unactionable defamation of a large group, e.g., a racial or professional group.

    Whether the charge is libel or slander is important. Most libels are deemed injurious and give immediate ground for suit. However, only certain types of statements are slanderous per se and do not require proof of pecuniary damages; these include imputation of crime, of loathsome disease, or of professional or occupational incapacity. In other cases, there may not be any recovery unless the pecuniary loss caused by the injury is proved. The award to the successful plaintiff in a suit for defamation will usually include punitive, as well as compensatory, damages if the defendant willfully lied or published the defamation repeatedly.

    In New York Times Company v. Sullivan (1964), the U.S. Supreme Court provided a significant expansion of the protection of the press from libel actions. Stemming from a case in which an elected official in Montgomery, Ala., complained of defamation by civil-rights activists, the court ruled that to protect the free flow of speech and opinions, public officials could only collect damages for libel if falsehoods were made with “reckless disregard” for the truth. This ruling has since been extended to any celebrity before the public.

    The Sullivan ruling shifted the burden of proof in many libel cases from the defendant to the plaintiff, who must now prove the falsehood was issued with actual malice, that is, with deliberate knowledge that the statement was both incorrect and defamatory. The ruling was a victory for the media, but left the plaintiff with the difficult task of obtaining the sources for the allegedly libelous information—sources that reporters often hold confidential. In most cases, the court requires the plaintiff to show that a reasonable effort has been made to obtain the information elsewhere before it requires the reporter to divulge any sources.

    In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed that only factual misrepresentation is to be considered libel or slander, not expression of opinion. It has also ruled that libel suits may be filed across state lines, not only in the state where the plaintiff lives. Libel suits apply not only to the media and public personalities but also to businesses, which account for approximately 70% of all suits. In recent years, producers of foods and other goods have succeeded in urging more than a dozen states to pass laws allowing them to sue critics of the safety or other aspects of their products; experts predict such laws will be overturned, but they have in the meantime had a “chilling” effect on public discussion in some cases.

    Freedom of press is the liberty to print or to otherwise disseminate information, as in print, by broadcasting, or through electronic media, without prior restraints such as licensing requirements or content review and without subsequent punishment for what is said. Freedom of the press, which has been limited not only by governments but at times by churches, is absolute in no country. In modern democracies, it is rarely attacked by overt forms of censorship but is often compromised by governments’ ability to withhold information, by self-censorship in reaction to various pressures, by selective government “leaking” of information or disinformation, and by other factors.

    In the United States, freedom of the press and the broader freedom of speech (see speech, freedom of ) are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and are considered fundamental rights of the people. In practice, though, some kinds of speech and publication (e.g., obscenity or violations of copyright ) are considered outside the amendment’s purview, and others, like commercial speech (advertising or product claims), receive a reduced level of protection. In addition, broadcasters are subject to government licensing requirements. The protections to be afforded users of on-line computer services, the Internet , and other new means of publication are the focus of a developing debate; in 1996, a federal district court panel struck down the new Communications Decency Act, holding that Internet communications were entitled to the same degree of protection as printed communications.

    Plan for Withdrawal from Iraq

    The following are the preliminary and tentatively proposed parts and steps of this Plan.

    1. Inform the current, official, elected leader of Iraq and the Sunni and Shiite sectarian leaders and Kurdish leaders that the US and Coalition troops are leaving. At the same time, offer them this proposal.
    2. US diplomats can meet with the leaders of the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds and propose the reconstruction of the infrastructure and all else destroyed by the Western Coalition forces under the following conditions. The leaders of the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds meet as an informal Iraqi Coalition and agree to provide a joint citizen security force sufficient to guard transport to and from and at reconstruction sites.
    3. The Iraqi Coalition should also agree to provide engineers and other indigenous workers to assist in reconstruction of the infrastructure regardless of the location, namely territories that are mainly Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish.
    4. In addition, the Iraqi Coalition will permit workers from any of the other Middle Eastern countries to participate in the reconstruction projects side by side with the US, Iraqi, and other Western and Middle Eastern countries.
    5. The funding for this reconstruction will come mainly, but hopefully not exclusively, from the US.
    6. The Iraqi Coalition joint security and reconstruction personnel will always be present and involved in every aspect and every stage of the reconstruction wherever the location may be in Iraq.
    7. If this formula for reconstruction works in a manner acceptable to all leaders and members of the new Iraqi Coalition, then at a date agreeable to all, the leaders of the Iraqi Coalition will begin to negotiate their own creation of a federation of three separate, equal, autonomous states. The three states shall consist of the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. A provision should be made for a gradual transition from the current government to the new Federation.
    8. The Iraqi Coalition leaders will become, and begin acting, somewhat like governors of states with broad State’s rights. The form of government in each state should be left to be decided by the governors of each state and whoever else each deems appropriate to participate in this decision making for their state.
    9. The management of oil industry should remain under the control of the Iraqi Coalition or Federation when and as it is formed. The number and composition of the managers should be equally distributed among the states.
    10. The US and Western countries should suggest that a census be taken of the entire nation or Federation of Iraq. The Iraqi Coalition or Federation should proportionately divide the revenues from their oil industry based on the population census in each state, as a percentage of the whole nation.
    11. If, as has been suggested, the presence of large numbers of citizens with Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd identification are commingled in neighborhoods of all three states, and, further, if they are not able to live peaceably together in these mixed neighborhoods, then the following plan is suggested. The reconstruction workers and Security forces from the three Iraqi states, other Middle Eastern countries, and the Western nations if requested, should be obliged to facilitate relocation to new and comparable homes in the states on their own ethnic identities or places of their own choosing.
    12. If during the implementation of this plan it meets with serious barriers or opposition, the Iraqi Coalition or Federation, at their own discretion, should have recourse to unbinding consultation with experts from the European Union, the US, or any of the assisting Middle Eastern nations. This should also include requests for free assistance from these other nations, should they be willing to provide same.

  2. Sounds like a twist of the first amendment, to appease the corruption. If deliberately lying is legal in the campaign, why would the lying stop there? Why would one trust anything said, anytime, anywhere, it’s sickening to think about.

    The old saying of “politically correctness” takes on a new definition. Maybe we could say alternative justice?

  3. Finally, I can lie and lie and lie and nothing can happen to me. Well, that is if I’m running for public office. How stupid can this be. Why would I vote for someone that lie’s. Ops, they all do so why not make it legal. Glad we got that settle, only lier’s run for office.

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