Maine Law Court Strikes Down Political Endorsement Statute

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
October 21, 2008 12:00 am

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Upholds Free Speech in Cape Elizabeth Election Case

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CONTACT: info@mclu.org

PORTLAND – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court today struck down a Maine election statute as an unconstitutional restriction of political speech and a violation of the First Amendment. The court sided with a Cape Elizabeth man who challenged the law after he received a rebuke from the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices in the closing hours of his Republican primary campaign for election to the Maine House of Representatives.

“This ruling is a victory for all the people in Maine,” said MCLU Legal Director Zachary Heiden, who argued Michael Mowles’ case before the Law Court. “The First Amendment gives voters, not the government, the right to approve or disapprove of candidate speech.”

Under the authority from Maine’s endorsement statute, the commission had censured Mowles for his use of quotes from Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins which had been made two years earlier. In a unanimous ruling, the Law Court today said that statute imposes too much of a burden on political speech. The Law Court’s decision declared that the statute was unconstitutional on its face, preventing its enforcement against any candidate.

In addition to Heiden, Michael Mowles was represented by MCLU Cooperating Attorney David Lourie. “The Constitution dictates that the people decide the truth of political statements, not the government,” said Lourie.

In her opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Saufley wrote, “American history cautions against governmental regulation of political speech. Absent that caution, in the guise of the most benevolent purposes, an incumbent government could restrict the free flow of information and debate in the public marketplace of ideas.”

“The First Amendment states clearly that the government cannot make laws abridging the freedom of speech, and the most crucial part of that freedom is political speech,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “The MCLU will continue to do whatever is necessary to defend freedom of speech.”

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