Suit challenges constitutionality of Nevada’s campaign-speech restrictions |

Suit challenges constitutionality of Nevada’s campaign-speech restrictions

Geoff Dornan, Appeal Capitol Bureau

The American Civil Liberties Union and Nevada Press Association on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a so-called “truth squad” policing campaign speech in Nevada.

The law passed in 1997 allows anyone who believes a malicious, false statement was made against them “with the intent to impede the success of a campaign” to file a Nevada Ethics Commission complaint. It allows the Ethics Commission to fine up to $5,000 for doing so.

“The idea that a group of political appointees can act as a truth squad is clearly an affront to the Constitution,” said ACLU Executive Director Gary Peck.

He said all campaign speech, in essence, is designed to “impede the success” of the other candidate’s campaign.

Among those joining the lawsuit is Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, who was fined for a mailer he sent out about an opponent, Dennis Silvers. The commission ruled the mailer misled voters by implying that Silvers committed arson, even though the commission also found “every factual statement made in this portion of the mailer is true.”

He was joined by Assembly members Chris Giunchigliani and Wendell Williams, Las Vegas Democrats, who say the law has a chilling effect on their ability to campaign.

“This law rides roughshod over the First Amendment rights of any person who communicates about a candidate,” said press association Executive Director Kent Lauer. He said it could be applied to anyone raising a question during a rally or debate and even to a letter to the editor or a newspaper editorial.

The suit says the law violates both the First and 14th Amendments as “an impermissible prior restraint on protected political speech.” It also says the law could permit the commission to punish protected speech that isn’t defamatory and that it gives no opportunity for the accused to prepare a defense.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas

It is the second such challenge. The first was thrown out in June 1999 after District Judge Philip Pro ruled the commission is immune from litigation by private individuals.