Plan for State to Police Speech Could be Costly, Unconstitutional

February 13, 2013   •  By Sarah Lee
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Plan for State to Police Speech Could be Costly, Unconstitutional

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Matt Nese, CCP’s Director of External Relations, in comments to Montana’s Senate Judiciary Committee on H.B. 129, warned that the proposal “would set a dangerous precedent allowing the government itself to define the truth or falsity of campaign speech.” The legislation seeks to amend the state’s law that regulates the truth of campaign speech after it was found unconstitutionally vague in a 2012 court case.

Nese contends that the Legislature’s revisions to the law fail to remedy the court’s concerns, and that the statute should instead be repealed in order to preserve Montanans’ political speech rights and avoid a potentially costly lawsuit against the state. The comments were sent in advance of a hearing on H.B. 129, scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013.

“If H.B. 129 is signed into law as written, there is a high likelihood that the provision will again be successfully challenged. Any potential legal action will cost the state a great deal of money defending the case, and will distract the Attorney General’s office from meritorious legal work,” Nese writes. “Additionally, it is probable that the state will be forced by the courts to award legal fees to any potential plaintiffs. Legal fee awards are often costly, and can cost governments well over one hundred thousand dollars.”

Nese also notes that Montana’s statute regulating the truth of campaign speech is unnecessary, as state law has an existing anti-defamation provision that can be used to provide a civil remedy for any damaging false speech that H.B. 129 seeks to prohibit.

A copy of the comments can be found here. For more information, contact Sarah Lee, Center for Competitive Politics’ Communications Director, at 770.598.7961.

The Center for Competitive Politics promotes and defends the First Amendment’s protection of the political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. It is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.


Sarah Lee

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