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First Amendment

Military Medals Case Could Affect False Statement Law That Ensnared a Tweeting Activist

Posted Mar 6, 2012 12:16 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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At least 17 states have laws that forbid false campaign speech, and one of them ensnared 46-year-old mechanical engineer Mark Miller.

Miller had urged a "no" vote on a Cincinnati streetcar project on Twitter, claiming the “streetcar boondoggle” had affected the fire department budget, the New York Times reports. The tweet resulted in legal action, filed by streetcar supporters.

Voters allowed the project, and the election commission dismissed the complaint against Miller, who has now filed his own suit contending the Ohio law violates the First Amendment, the story says.

The issue arose in a pending U.S. Supreme Court case on the constitutionality of a law that bans lies about military medals. During oral arguments last month, Justice Elena Kagan asked about laws forbidding false campaign speech. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli, who defended the military medal law, said the state laws were suspect because they “are going to pose a particular risk of chill.”

Miller agrees with that assessment. “I’ve got to second-guess myself every time I sit down in front of a computer,” he told the Times.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Chemerinsky: Supreme Court Weighs First Amendment, the Stolen Valor Act and the Protection of Lies”

Updated on March 7 to add quotation marks.

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