Washington State Bill Causes First Amendment Concerns With Threats of Jail Time

A Washington state bill has been updated. Some worry that political speech could land candidates in jail.

Based on The Seattle Times, the bill specifically limited the speech of candidates for public office to make it a crime to “knowingly, recklessly or maliciously” lie about election results when the lies led to violence. Washington’s gross misdemeanor charges can result in a $5,000 fine and a 364-day sentence in jail.

“The horrific insurrection we witnessed at the U.S. Capitol — and the mob that broke through the barriers here in the Capitol — they represent the here-and-now,” Washington State Governor Jay Inslee said in his testimony to Congress, referring to the Jan. 6 riot at Capitol. “And they are harbingers of what will come forward if we do not act.”

In an attempt to ease free speech concerns the bill was revised. Experts however stated that the bill targeted speech in ways which would be difficult to defend in court.

“I think this bill is really pro-democracy,” Inslee added later. “Because it is neutral, it applies to every politician — regardless of your party — and it is very carefully written to protect the First Amendment as well.” 

However, some scholars expressed concern about the implications of the bill for free speech.

“By ‘neutral,’ I hope that he doesn’t mean content neutral for 1A scrutiny purposes,” professor Jeff Kosseff, an expert on cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy, tweeted. “Because it is not. It is content based and will receive more rigorous scrutiny, particularly bc it applies to political speech and threatens politicians with jail.”

“It’s also concerning that he is using ‘clear and present danger,’ as that is not the constitutional standard under which this will be evaluated,” he added.

Kosseff sums it all said the bill would have what is known as a “chilling effect” on political speech.

“Will politicians risk jail time or refrain from criticizing elections?” he asked.

Paul Guppy is vice president at the Washington Policy Center. He also stated that the bill will cause more harm then good.

“It doesn’t increase the confidence in the outcome of the election, it actually creates more suspicion when people are not allowed to debate the outcome of the election honestly,” Guppy told It Times.

Conservatives under attackReach out to your senators, representatives, and ask them to protect conservative speech. The First Amendment should be respected by tech giants. It must also allow users to express themselves freely as interpreted and enforced by the U.S. Supreme Court. If you have been censored, contact us using CensorTrack’s Contact formHelp us to hold Big Tech responsible.

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