Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Idea I Can Get Behind

About time:

If you publish a blatant lie about a candidate during a political campaign, that candidate should be able to sue you for slander and defamation.

This should happen far more often:
A federal judge in Ohio said Monday that the Affordable Care Act does not provide for taxpayer funding for abortion. The statement was the cornerstone of the judge’s ruling to allow a defamation lawsuit brought against the Susan B. Anthony List by a former congressman to move forward.

Former Ohio Representative Steve Driehaus sued the SBA List for defamation of character during the 2010 election cycle, when the anti-abortion group ran an ad campaign on the premise that Driehaus had voted for a bill "that includes taxpayer funding for abortion," in reference to Driehaus’s vote in favor of the ACA.

Dreihaus, an anti-abortion Democrat, had initially filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission over a billboard that said he’d voted for "taxpayer funding for abortion." The OEC found probable cause that the statement was false, and the SBA List filed a complaint in federal court that its ads were based on the group's own interpretation of the law. The billboard was taken down but radio ads and flyers against Driehaus continued, according to court documents. Driehaus then countersued SBA List for defamation.

SBA List is ready to go to trial, stands by its statements and said the ruling "chills free speech."

Driehaus lost the election but Judge Timothy Black stated in a decision that the defamation lawsuit could move forward because "the express language of the PPACA does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion. That is a fact and it is clear on its face." SBA List’s request for summary judgment on the case was denied.

"It is a very big deal when a court says you can move forward against the 'malice' standard," said Paul DeMarco, Driehaus’s attoney. “This ruling allows us to go ahead with the next phase — discovery — where we believe we will find the SBA List either ignored the truth or purposely did not seek it out when making these claims."
"Free speech," my ass. The average person is not allowed to go around publishing blatant lies about other average people in this country; I hardly see how or why that rule should change when applied to political candidates.


tomm said...

How about these 2 candidates?

Jil Wrinkle said...

Great link Tomm. I've often heard that Thomas Jefferson was (for all the deification we've heaped on him, especially recently) a first rate social scoundrel and a political prick. (His pure mental genius seems to be the only aspect of his reputation that survives outside of the more advanced levels of historical knowledge.)

I think it would surprise many readers to hear that American politics and governmental machinations are no less vicious or acrimonious now than they were back in the genteel days in the infancy of this nation. Our rose colored retrospective glasses tend to make things "simpler and friendlier". Nope... not the case.

But I hope you're not trying to make an argument to tradition that "the Founding Fathers did it, so it must be okay". It was not okay then, and if the Founding Fathers had access to the modern legal system with its modern civil law, I doubt those men (especially the irascible Jefferson) would have hesitated an instant to drag their lying political foes before a judge to answer for their lies.

tomm said...

I think you are wrong about if they has access to modern civil law they would be suing everyone, (suing at the drop of a hat is a fairly recent development), may I remind you of the famous duel between Burr and Hamilton which is the way they dealt with affronts to honor.

2nd, I read the article and I don't think it was a "blatant lie" especially with the announcement this week of new guidelines in Washington Monday requiring health insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover several women's preventive services, including birth control and voluntary sterilization. If you look on HHS website the morning after pill is listed as a birth control method. Some people (like me) believe life begins at conception. Therefore, I consider the morning-after pill an abortion. I also believe abortion, aka killing a living human, is murder. In my opinion, if this law forces health insurance to cover the morning after pill, then as far as I’m concerned, this is government funded(mandated) abortion . And if you disagree, please don’t waste your time trying to change my mind on when life begins in the comments. It would be the ultimate exercise in futility.
Because certain people has different opinion on abortions that don't agree with your, does not mean they are blatant liars,
Beside what would be the damages? Do you think he LOST this election just because of this one issue? That would be almost impossible to prove.

Jil Wrinkle said...

Regardless of your opinion, the fact remains that people who print falsehoods (as a judge/jury/law defines them... not "political opinion") are now subject to civil penalties, even when committed in the act of political campaigning.

Complain if you need to about the details of this case not being to your own personal liking, but the fact that political campaigns will be more beholden to the truth than before this case is nothing but a good thing.

Jil Wrinkle said...

Actually, Tomm, your point really piqued my interest: Can a sincere belief (especially a religious one) that goes against established and/or accepted truths be enough to disprove libel?

The legal term I found was "protected opinion", and apparently as long as you offer an opinion "without malice" (whatever that means), the untruths therein can be protected.

Two links regarding this: One is the God Hates Fags most recent Supreme Court battle ( and then another page where several people have sued newspapers over opinion pieces (

What this boil will boil down to then is the specificity of language, as determined by the court (not by the defendant) as to whether the actual wording of the attack ads "taxpayer funding of abortion"... or whatever it was... was a malicious choice of wording designed to mislead readers about the truth regarding this candidate. Based on the judges ruling so far, I don't think that the legal defense, "but we really really believe what we said" is going to make much headway.

Jil Wrinkle said...

Oh... another term to check out is "actual malice", which I alluded to in the second paragraph of the comment above. (