WASHINGTON — Justice Antonin Scalia professed his deep-seated belief that putting words in other people’s mouths is, and always has been, fundamental to the republic. In so doing, he may have tipped his hand on an upcoming Supreme Court case concerning an Ohio law that criminalizes lying in elections.
Speaking at George Washington University yesterday, Scalia interpreted the matter through his idiosyncratic belief in constitutional originalism.
“There can be no question that contemporaries of our founding fathers would see in the First Amendment a very specific intention to protect the fundamental liberty of white, landowning males to lie and buy their favored candidate into office,” Scalia told the gathering of law students.
He then rattled off a list of infamous fibs that “made the country what it is today.”
President Clinton’s “flimsy defense that he ‘did not have sexual relations with that woman’ were plainly rooted in Jeffersonian fibs related to his own unpaid intern, Sally Hemmings,” said Scalia. “I may not approve, but it’s not my place to judge.”
According to the Ohio law, anyone can file a complaint should they consider a statement to be knowingly or recklessly false and made with the intention to sway voters. Jail time and disenfranchisement are the respective penalties for first and second offenses.
As written, the ban is so sweeping that opponents fear it could be used to censor entertainers and pundits who use satire to inform and provoke public discussion, even if the law’s original intent was to scrub campaigns of dirty politics.
“As much as I’d love to send [Stephen] Colbert or [Bill] Maher to jail for ruthlessly satirizing my more extreme opinions,” Scalia claimed to recognize the danger of censoring such profitable speech.
“Anybody who tells you that deception has no place in politics is selling false hope of a type of democratic process that just does not exist,” Scalia contended while defending his belief that government limitations on political spending and false statements were unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court has already affirmed the framers’ implied belief that corporations are people. And just like people, they should be free to lie and spend money as they will. Drinking Budweiser won’t get you dates with supermodels, and voting for the politician with fairytale promises won’t magically transform your district into a utopia. But those lies keep the economy chugging.”
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $6 billion was spent in the 2012 election cycle.
“What should be a crime,” concluded Scalia, “are jokes as poorly considered and written as this law from Ohio.”