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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