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Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Republican Attack On First Amendment Political Speech

Nothing degrades the political process and imperils the core constitutional right of free political speech more than lawsuits which seek to punish (not merely chill) speech with which one disagrees. This is usually the province and practice of hard-core totalitarian radical leftists whose actual idea (not their stated position) of free speech is a monopoly for them on speech and coerced faux enthusiasm for their speech by you and I. It is with those thoughts in mind that I view a new defamation lawsuit by candidate Thomas MacArthur against opponent Steve Lonegan as the centerpiece of a contested Republican primary for the New Jersey 3rd District open House seat being vacated by Jon Runyan (the primary is June 5th).  

The defamation lawsuit arises from allegations contained in recent press coverage of the establishment-favored candidate MacArthur's ties to the insurance industry. It's captioned MacArthur v. Lonegan and was filed last Thursday in State Superior Court, Ocean County, Docket L-1314-14.  However, the lawsuit also names, for good measure, the Lonegan campaign, Lonegan's pollster Arthur Finkelstein and campaign manager Chris Santora, and even journalist Charles C. Johnson.

This lawsuit is not a waste of time, not if you intend to fight it. The ramifications of political lawsuits are serious.  These lawsuits are not just an abuse of the legal process. They threaten to narrow actual constitutional rights. Such lawsuits weaken the political process -- hell, they degrade the legal profession, too -- but also threaten to narrow our ability to enjoy the constitutional rights we still have.  

As for the actual relief sought by the plaintiff, consider that this case will not even get an initial hearing until after the primary, and a full hearing may not occur until after the November general election.  The negative ramifications of this case, however, may be far-reaching and long-lasting. This story bears watching.

It would be interesting if an independent expenditure group came in to help fight this lawsuit, if only to spare the defendants (the Lonegan campaign and individual staffers) the expense and hassle of defending themselves, or if other political groups were interested in filing amici (amicus curiae, or friend of the court) briefs to help settle the troubling legal issues here. 

Eric Dixon is a veteran corporate and election lawyer who practices primarily in New York but handles New Jersey cases as well. 

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