There are a number of laws out there that work to keep people safe during campaigns, and there are lots of things that help to keep people safe when it comes to their reputation. As you likely know, there is a ton of debate that goes on about what should and should not be allowed during a campaign, and one of those things has to deal with honesty. Should people be allowed to tell lies and such in order to try and make themselves look better for a campaign? Surprisingly, a number of people are starting to say yes, and the courts in Massachusetts happen to agree with these people.
The court case, in short, went like this. There was a suit filed against a political action committee (PAC) that put out fliers with false information about Democratic state lawmaker Brian Mannal during last year’s midterm elections. He won the race anyway, but with the backing of a law that was in place in Massachusetts at that point (protecting campaigners from false information being spread about them), he sued. As the entire case went down the line, the State’s Supreme Court decided, because of the fundamental right of free speech given to us in the First Amendment of the Constitution, that the law itself was unconstitutional. That means that the case was, essentially, thrown out and Mannal still has that lie tarnishing his reputation to this day. It didn’t totally kill his political career, but it definitely had the chance to do so.
This makes some people a little confused, of course. So that means that, if people are lying and such, they’re protected by the Constitution? What would that mean for courtrooms, where people need to speak the truth – could they say they were practicing free speech? It makes that definition incredibly messy and confusing, and it could end up making some laws obsolete if we aren’t careful. There’s no word yet if Mannal is going to appeal and take this up to a higher court to determine exactly where the definition of this should lie. Many people think that he should, if for no other reason than to protect people from being misspoken about.
Imagine if this was used on a national platform. Of course, politicians exaggerate facts and information about each other during campaigns all of the time, but if that is protected by free speech, what happens to libel and slander? Are those, technically, free speech? And therefore, are they protected by the Constitution? Obviously, there’s always the thought of “Just because you have the right to free speech doesn’t mean that you are protected from the consequences of your speech.” But, that still gives us pretty muddy waters that we have to work through. Campaigns are confusing enough at times, and those who are politically savvy do a lot of fact checking to start with, wouldn’t it be that much worse for you to try and figure out who was speaking the truth and who was throwing around information that just had no basis in fact? That would be an incredibly difficult thing to do.
What do you think about this whole thing? Do you think that lying in campaign ads and mudslinging should be allowed because of free speech? Or do you think that the Supreme Court in Massachusetts stretched things a bit when it came to what that exact thing covers? It’s quite a unique issue to explore, and hopefully we will see what others think about it in months to come. What are your thoughts about this ordeal?