Challenge to campaign lying

When is it OK to tell a lie? The U.S. Supreme Court cut a fine distinction this week about claims made during election campaigns.

An anti-abortion group in Ohio tried to use billboards in 2010 to accuse a congressman of supporting “taxpayer funded abortion” because he voted for the Affordable Care Act. But it was stopped by a state elections law that prohibits anyone from making false claims about a candidate, either knowingly or in reckless disregard for the truth.

In a unanimous vote, justices overturned lower court rulings that denied the anti-abortion group to challenge the Ohio law after the congressman lost his reelection bid and there was no imminent injury. People have wrongly assumed this means the high court condones the making any number of harmful and dishonest allegations about candidates.

No so. The court has only said the group is free to challenge the law. The ruling does make us suspicious, however, that justices question the constitutionality of the Ohio law.

The truth or falsity of claims made during heated political campaigns may not be so easy to prove, but the intent of the Ohio law certainly makes sense to people weary and disgusted by the plethora of negative ads that fill television screens and mailboxes during the fall campaigns.