Fourth Circuit Halts Maryland Online Speech Law

Court deals blow to mandates on Internet publishers

December 6, 2019   •  By IFS Staff   •  
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Alexandria, VA – The Institute for Free Speech released the following statement praising today’s ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in The Washington Post, et al. v. McManus. The Institute filed an amicus brief in the case supporting the newspapers.

“The Fourth Circuit recognized what should have been clear all along. You can’t fight foreign propaganda by violating the First Amendment,” said Institute for Free Speech President David Keating. “Congress and other states should take note: the First Amendment protects online publishers from crushing regulatory burdens.”

Maryland’s law required online advertisers, including news outlets, to amass and publish vast amounts of information in order to possibly find a Russian posing as an American to run ads. Its extensive regulations imposed “layer upon layer of expressive burdens,” the Fourth Circuit wrote. The court rejected the state’s argument that online publishers could avoid the law’s burdens by refusing political ads.

“After all, another way of saying ‘opt out’ is ‘stop speaking,'” the ruling explained. “Indeed, when a private entity, let alone a newspaper, decides to host political speech, its First Amendment protections are at their apex. To contend that news outlets forgo some of their free speech rights by accepting political speech turns the First Amendment on its head and does nothing to salvage the Act.”

The ruling described the law as “a compendium of traditional First Amendment infirmities.”

The Institute for Free Speech filed an amicus brief in the case calling Maryland’s law a “massive overreaction” that imposed “novel and comprehensive” regulation on Internet publishers.

To read the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, click here.

About the Institute for Free Speech

The Institute for Free Speech is a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that promotes and defends the First Amendment rights to freely speak, assemble, publish, and petition the government. Originally known as the Center for Competitive Politics, it was founded in 2005 by Bradley A. Smith, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. The Institute is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

IFS Staff

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