The First Amendment protects free speech (as well as the press, assembly, and worship provided that the subject isn’t contraception).
But it has limits.
Fraud is not free speech. You need to speak to commit fraud – “Hey, you have money in Nigeria, and we need $1,000 in legal fees to get it for you!”, right? But it’s illegal.
It’s not illegal, in most cases, to lie. There is the odd exception – the Stolen Valor Act which, by the way, makes me uncomfortable; I’d rather have a group of Green Berets set an impersonator straight than some federal prosecutor. In most other cases, it’s not illegal.
Indeed, in some cases it’s encouraged, even among public servants. The Supreme Court has said it’s OK for cops and prosecutors to lie to suspects to get information out of them. That’s acceptable, generally, although it’s led to the odd miscarriage of justice.
But I think there should be a great, shining exception to “freedom of speech”. Officers of the court should not be able to lie about the law, to their constituents.
There are only two explanations for Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom so grossly misstated the potential effects of the “Stand Your Ground” bill, vetoed yesterday by Governor Dayton.
He Doesn’t Know Any Better And, Like The Strib “Editorial Board”, Just Wrote What He Was Told. If he’s that ignorant of the laws he’s supposed to enforce, he should not be a County Attorney.
He Actively Misrepresented The Law To An Audience Including His Constituents. With the goal of influencing public policy (the bill was then in committee), Backstrom wrote an op-ed (not for the first time, mind you) that actively and knowingly tried to mislead the public by lying about the consequences of a law.
I don’t know the legal definition of fraud – and I don’t have to, to still be able to say “this sort of behavior on the part of a court official defrauds and actively disinforms the public, toward a political end”.
And while there never will be, there oughtta be a law.