The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 101-year-old law Tuesday that makes it a crime to make false political statements about a ballot question. The court overturned a decision by U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, who dismissed the case, and the ruling could have wide implications. “It is a huge victory because ordinary citizens can now support or oppose ballot questions, including school bond levies, without fear of being subjected to expensive litigation regarding their campaign speech,” said Bill Mohrman, a Minneapolis attorney who brought the appeals court case.
The appeals court did not rule on an even older section of the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act that prohibits false statements against candidates. Under Tuesday’s ruling, that portion probably wouldn’t survive a constitutional challenge, said Mohrman.
But Dan Rogan, an assistant Hennepin County attorney, said it was premature to conclude that the law as it deals with candidates will also be struck down. “The implications beyond the ballot initiative are yet to be determined,” he said, while also expressing dismay at the ruling.
“We are disappointed in today’s decision which strikes down a Minnesota law that has been in place for more than 100 years,” he said. “This law has been effective in ensuring that Minnesota has fair and honest elections and prevents fraud on citizens by prohibiting intentional lies in paid campaign material.”