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Law360: 4th Circ. Probes Boundaries Of NC Political Speech Law

December 6, 2022

A three-judge US Appeals Court panel heard arguments over the constitutionality of a North Carolina criminal libel law in Grimmett v. Freeman. The dispute stems from NC Attorney General Josh Stein’s 2020 re-election campaign, where he defeated opponent Jim O’Neill. The Wake County district attorney claims that Stein violated the state law, which criminalizes certain comments made about political candidates, through an advertisement Stein’s campaign aired. The state law allows the government to become “arbiters of truth in a political campaign,” said Michael Dreeben of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who represents Stein. “That kind of a blunderbuss approach of bringing the state’s machinery and putting a thumb on the scales of candidate debates in a political campaign is likely to do far more damage to the political process than any minor deterrent effect, which I think actually translates to a First Amendment chill rather than a benefit.”

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