Southeastern Legal Foundation and Institute for Justice protect political satire

December 23, 2021

Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) and the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a brief, asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to review a lower court’s ruling that a political campaign committee could not challenge a law that criminalized making a false statement about a candidate for office, even if the “false” statement was satirical, until a prosecution was clearly impending.

In this case, Tennesseans for Sensible Election Laws (TSEL) wished to disseminate a mailer stating that a candidate for office had “cauliflower for brains,” and was “literally Hitler.” But a Tennessee law makes it a crime to publish it is a false statement in opposition to a client. A false statement in favor of a candidate is not a crime. And anyone who republished the documents, even on social media, risked a similar prosecution. Even though a trial court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, a Tennessee appellate court found that TSEL couldn’t challenge the law until it risked an impending prosecution.

Braden H. Boucek, SLF Director of Litigation, said, “Satire is an important part of our political dialogue. Making fun of a candidate for office is an American pastime. No one should have to risk jail time in order to challenge a restriction on this critical means of political communications.”

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