Michigan Legislator With No Understanding Of The 1st Amendment Wants To Fine Fact Checkers For Pointing Out His Lies
from the incredible dept
Michigan State Rep. Matt Maddock has quite a reputation for lying:
Michigan state Rep. Matt Maddock, who has repeatedly spread lies about election fraud and falsely said COVID-19 ?is less lethal than the flu,? wants to make it harder for fact-checkers to challenge unsubstantiated claims by politicians.
That’s really only the start of a much longer list of problematic statements by the elected official:
Maddock made several attempts to overturn the election. In late December, he and Daire Rendon, R-Lake City, joined a federal lawsuit filed by Trump supporters to challenge the results of the election. The suit asked a judge to allow lawmakers to certify states’ election results, a move that would enable the Republican-led Michigan Legislature to reject Biden’s victory. But a judge turned down the suit, calling their arguments “flat-out wrong” and “a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution.”
It appears that Maddock’s “fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution” extends to the 1st Amendment as well. He’s now introduced an astoundingly unconstitutional bill that seeks to “register” and then fine fact checkers who fact check his lies. You can read his Fact Checker Registration Act (which somehow has eight other unserious co-sponsors) and just marvel at the blatant unconstitutionality of it all. I mean beyond all of the big problems with it, there’s the fact that it literally calls out the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network as requiring registration into his scheme.
Under the bill, any “fact checker” has to put up a $1 million bond, and then any “affected party” can sue any fact checker for the money put up in the bond, if they can show the fact checker engaged in “wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state.”
What does that even mean? Well, Maddock made the unconstitutional intent of his bill abundantly clear in a Facebook post about it:
Social Media companies deplatform people, politicians, and businesses on the basis of ?Fact Checkers? who relish their role punishing those whom they deem ‘false?. Many believe this enormous economic and social power is being abused. Who are these Fact Checkers? We?re going to find out. My legislation will put Fact Checkers on notice: don’t be wrong, don’t be sloppy, and you better be right.
I mean, if we applied the same rules to him, he’d be paying out a ton of money, since he’s so often wrong about things. But, also this is pretty obviously unconstitutional in multiple ways. Forcing fact checkers to register with the state is already highly questionable because the setup is designed to intimidate fact checking, which is a core form of protected speech, and some of the most important kinds of speech protected by the 1st Amendment. If, as is obviously the fact, the registration (and bond) requirement is designed to intimidate fact checkers, then it’s clearly unconstitutional.
Second, courts have ruled over and over again that merely being “sloppy” and even making mistakes is not grounds for the speech to be deemed a violation of the law. This is why cases like NY Times v. Sullivan and United States v. Alvarez are so important. They recognize that the 1st Amendment means that the government can’t willy nilly try to shut down speech, even if it’s false.
Finally, the structure of the bill is just… weird. It says that a fact checking organization can get fined for “wrongful conduct that is a violation of the laws of this state.” And while he claims that this includes being “sloppy,” any such law that says being sloppy with your fact check is illegal in Michigan would, separately, violate the 1st Amendment.
This whole thing is just more victim playing by the modern GOP, who seems to feel that anyone calling them on their bullshit, disinformation, and lies, is somehow violating their rights, while having no qualms at all about stamping out the rights of those who actually tell the truth.
Of course, after lots of people started pointing out what an attack on free speech and a free press this bill was, Maddock tried to defend the bill, but only ended up producing a word salad of nonsense.
?This isn?t about journalists or free speech,? he said. ?It?s about the fact checkers who have been injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong if we want to. If a fact-check entity is bankrupting businesses and cancelling people with lies, they should be held accountable. If they have high standards and are doing good fact checking, they have nothing to worry about.?
Fact checkers are journalists, dude. And what does “injected into our First Amendment right to be wrong” mean here — especially given that he’s trying to fine them if they’re wrong?
Elect better people, Michigan voters.