Washington high court holds law barring campaign lies unconstitutional

Washington high court holds law barring campaign lies unconstitutional

[JURIST] The Washington State Supreme Court [official website] has struck down a state statute [text] making it illegal to lie about political opponents. Justice James M. Johnson [official profile], writing the 5-4 majority opinion [PDF text] handed down Thursday, said: "There can be no doubt that false personal attacks are too common in political campaigns, with wide-ranging detrimental consequences. However, government censorship such as RCW 42.17.530(1)(a) is not a constitutionally permitted remedy."

Justice Barbara Madsen [official profile] dissented [PDF text], insisting that "the majority's decision is an invitation to lie with impunity". She argued that the First Amendment does not protect false campaign statements if the plaintiff can prove actual malice. The majority ruling bucks a trend evidenced in more than a dozen US states that have passed similar laws [OLR backgrounder]. The ruling also deviates from a 1991 US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a similar Ohio statute [text]. The New York Times has more.