And we thought that it couldn’t possibly get dumber than “abolish ICE.” According to the Huffington Post, Democrats on Capitol Hill will propose five-year jail terms for people who knowingly publish false information about elections, turning what has long been considered a dirty trick into political-speech felonies:
Several congressional Democrats plan to introduce legislation Thursday that would make it a federal crime to knowingly and intentionally publish false information about elections.
The legislation would criminalize knowingly spreading wrong information related to the time and place of elections as well as voter qualifications and registration status. The bill would also make it illegal to knowingly claim an endorsement from someone within 60 days of a federal election. Anyone who spread such misinformation would be subject to up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The measure is being introduced by Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Doug Jones (Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (Vt.). Democratic Reps. A. Donald McEachin (Va.) and Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) plan to introduce companion legislation in the House.
While dirty tricks such as fliers telling people to vote on the wrong day have a long tradition in American politics, the legislation comes amid increased attention to the spread of misinformation amid Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
So let’s get this straight. Democrats have been pushing for criminal-justice reform to keep non-violent criminals out of prison, especially for drug-related crimes for the past few years. Instead, they want to imprison people for using plastic straws and easily debunkable claims in political speech. Call it “Democratic socialism by other means.”
One HuffPo source can’t believe it’s not illegal already:
“That’s not currently illegal under most circumstances,” said Levitt, now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Most people say that it seems crazy that it’s not illegal to tell somebody they can vote on Wednesday when actually they can’t. And I agree with that.”
There are federal laws against depriving people of civil rights, he said, but “there aren’t good, tailored targeted provisions that deal with one-off lies that cause people to not be able to exercise their right to vote.”
Ahem. Having state governments block access to precincts and demand usurious poll taxes “cause” people not to vote. Allowing thugs to physically intimidate people outside of polling booths “cause” people not to vote. Those are already against the law; perhaps these same Democrats should be asked why a Democratic administration dropped the charges in the 2008 incident. Can’t we start by enforcing the laws already on the books?
Hearing false information doesn’t “cause” anything other than slight headaches to anyone who pays the slightest attention to their own civic responsibilities. We live in a time of unprecedented access to accurate information, and yet we’re treated to a never-ending series of Chicken Little hysterics over stupid memes on Facebook. And the answer provided by the same hysterics fits the same pattern — to criminalize speech and stick the people they don’t like in prison.
This is the equivalent of destroying the free-speech village in order to save it. If passed, this law would quickly become a tool to silence the opposition in the hands of an unprincipled administration. (And as we saw in 2008, to choose not to enforce it against its allies.) It would necessarily cause political activists to shy away from debate and political speech in fear that overzealous or biased prosecutors could charge them for crimes. That’s what is so ironic about the timing. Democrats are currently arguing simultaneously that Donald Trump is corrupt and won election through lies, which was the reason they demanded a special-counsel investigation into Russiagate rather than let the DoJ do its job. And yet they will somehow trust corrupt Trump’s DoJ to prosecute dirty rotten conservatives rather than progressives. Say what?
At best, this is a civil tort, not a criminal issue, in which those harmed by the speech can seek recompense for any injury through lawsuits. Outside an overt and explicit incitement to violence, which is already illegal, the best remedy for bad speech is more speech. If someone lies about anything, it becomes incumbent on others to proclaim the truth more loudly. The founders knew what they were doing when they prohibited Congress from making any law “abridging the freedom of speech.” Clearly, at least a few of their political descendants don’t.