• February 22, 2010

In 281 Care v. Arneson, decided against plaintiffs by U.S. District Court Judge James Rosenbaum (D. Minn.) on Friday, plaintiff political action groups challenge Minn. Stat. 211B.06, which essentially criminalizes knowingly lying about people running for office or ballot measures being considered by the electorate, based on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — that is, the making of false statements with “malice.”

Of course, plaintiffs do not argue that they intend to knowingly lie about a particular candidate or ballot measure. Instead, they generally claim an intent to make statements “including but not limited to exaggerated statements of fact, policy, or position, to emphasize [their] political beliefs and to agitate political discussions,” which, they argue, they’re “chilled” from making due to the Minnesota statute.

Judge Rosenbaum agreed that such speech would clearly fall within the protections of the First Amendment. The statute, however, only criminalizes “the evil of making false statements of fact,” not “criticism of a candidate or unfavorable deductions derived from a candidate’s conduct.” He also questioned whether plaintiffs’ concern regarding prosecution under the statute were well-founded, pointing to plaintiffs’ failure to identify a single prosecution under the statute. Moreover, the Judge pointed out that it is not only unclear whether any such prosecutions ever happened or are imminent but plaintiffs have not even identified any scenario when they thing the statute might come in to play.

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