Some politicians lie. Some bend the truth. And some tell it like it is.
We all know that. And, frankly, it is tough to determine who is speaking the truth and who is not.
Some folks want the government to make that call for us — to be the speech police.
That is a dangerous road to go down. Allowing the government to decide what is a lie — or an opinion — and have the power to punish the alleged liar will have a chilling effect on free speech for political candidates or activists.
Yet, efforts to enact laws that do just that continue to be proposed, even approved, across the nation. It was tried in Washington state, but the proposal was eventually cast aside.
But Ohio has imposed such a law. And that law, which has been challenged as an abridgment of the First Amendment, is now being scrutinized by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court heard arguments in the case on Tuesday and, based on its questions and comments, appears to see flaws in Ohio’s law filtering political speech.
The Ohio law calls for those determined to be fibbers to serve jail time or pay a fine for the first offense. A second conviction could result in the loss of the right to vote.
“They (the accused) have to answer this charge that they lied, and just that alone is going to diminish the effect of their speech,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.
Justice Stephen Breyer wondered how the Ohio Election Commission would decide whether a particular statement qualified as false enough for prosecution. If someone charged a candidate with voting to murder cats, he said, how would the commission handle a statement like that?
“Do you prosecute that or not?”
The Ohio Election Commission — the government — has no businesses serving as a de facto judge or referee in political debate.
It is up to the voters through their ballots to make the ultimate decision on a politician’s veracity and integrity. If voters are wrong, which does happen, they would pay the price for electing a person who bends, shades or shatters the truth.
The Supreme Court needs to reject this law to make it clear government has no role as the speech police.