Having served as a paralegal for a couple decades, and later as a writer who follows Supreme Court decisions on food and other matters, like most of the public, I’ve found their decisions inordinately dry, even amid their life-changing effects. So, when a friend passed on a link to a Friend-of-the-Court (amicus) brief in a recent First Amendment case against an Ohio law that criminalizes political speech, I expected more snooze material.
I was delightedly wrong. The brief was co-written by political satirist, P. J. O’Rourke who’s often a guest on NPR’s Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me.
The question discussed is, Can a state government criminalize political statements that are less than 100% truthful?
Leading O’Rourke in the filing is the CATO Institute, which promotes “individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.” The brief opens its argument against the Ohio law with these infamous presidential lies:
- I am not a crook.
- Read my lips: no new taxes!
- I did not have sexual relations with that woman.
- Mission accomplished.
- If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.
(I’d have included Obama’s GMO-label promise, “We’ll let folks know if their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying.” But since he delivered on none of his campaign promises, I guess they could only pick one. Levity is easier with brevity.)
Passed in 1995, Ohio Revised Code §3517.21 ran into a snag in 2011 when US Representative Steve Driehaus used it to sue the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports pro-life candidates. According to the Ohio ACLU, another amicus in the case, the facts are as follows:
Most of the argument in the amicus brief filed by CATO and O’Rourke rests on a 2012 case: United States v. Alvarez, 132 S. Ct. 2537, wherein the US Supreme Court held that outright lies are as protected by the First Amendment as is the truth.
A driving point and source of continued levity throughout the brief is its discussion of “truthiness.” Citing comedian Stephen Colbert, we learn this is “a ‘truth’ asserted ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right,’ without regard to evidence or logic.”
Truthiness, we’d all agree, “is also a key part of political discourse,” the brief continues. “It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.”
They go on:
And, surely to amuse the High Court as well as any other readers, the brief mentions political scandals relating to premarital sex, extramarital affairs, place of birth, and mudslinging – from the birth of the nation to the present. It pokes fun at both Dems and Repubs, and cites as its authority rags like Mother Jones, Politifact.com and Wikipedia.
No matter what your political bent, most would agree with the brief’s conclusion:
You can read the 24-page brief here.
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Rady Ananda is the creator of Food Freedom News and COTO Report, Rady Ananda’s work has appeared in several online and print publications, including four books. With a B.S. in Natural Resources from Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture, Rady tweets @geobear7 and @RadysRant.