Should The Government Outlaw Lying In Politics?


Today the Supreme Court sided with the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List in a dispute over an election law in Ohio which makes it illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate…if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate. 

The SBA List ran a billboard in 2010 accusing incumbent Democrat congressman Steve Driehaus of voting for “taxpayer funded abortions,” a claim they based on his support of Obamacare. Driehaus complained to the Ohio Elections Commission which took his side against the group.

A lower court had dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that SBA List didn’t have standing. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, overturned that dismissal and will allow the lawsuit to go forward.

“Denying prompt judicial review would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the decision.

Previously P.J. O’Rourke wrote a hilarious amicus brief in support of SBA List defending  “lies, insults, and truthiness,” but all joking aside this is a serious matter.

While we all aspire to the truth, the problem at hand here is who gets to decide what the truth is.

Did Obamacare provide taxpayer subsidies for abortion? I think so, and could certainly make an argument that many would agree with. But many would also disagree, and therein lays the rub. Am I lying by stating that it is my opinion that Obamacare funds abortion? Or that Social Security is bankrupt? Or that Medicare is on an unsustainable fiscal trajectory?

Many would say no. Many would say yes.

The question is whether or not there should be a law which appoints a branch of the government to decide for us what political statements are and are not true in the context of a political campaign.

I don’t think there should be. As imperfect as it is, better that citizens be exposed to all sides of the debate (even those sides we may find less than honest) than to have the government picking and choosing what we are allowed to hear.

It’s not a question of whether or not we want to lie. It’s a question or whether or not the government gets to decide what the truth is.