Negative campaigning and mudslinging may be a fact of life in American politics, but can false accusations made in the heat of an election be punished as a crime?
That debate makes its way to the Supreme Court next week as the justices consider a challenge to an Ohio law that bars false statements about political candidates during a campaign. The case has attracted national attention, with groups across the political spectrum criticizing the law as a restriction on the First Amendment right to free speech.
Even Ohio's attorney general, Republican Mike DeWine, says he has serious concerns about the law. His office filed two briefs in the case, one from staff lawyers obligated to defend the state and another expressing DeWine's personal view that the law "may chill constitutionally protected political speech."
"The thing we see time and time again in political campaigns is that candidates use the law to game the system by filing a complaint," DeWine said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The Ohio law makes it illegal to knowingly or recklessly make false statements about a candidate during an election. The high court is not expected to rule directly on the constitutional issue, instead focusing on the narrower question of whether the law can be challenged before it is actually enforced. The outcome could affect similar laws in at least 15 states.
The case is Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, No. 13-193.
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