Property Rights

Criticism of Politicians Is Not Defamation, Even If You Use the D-Word

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Last week a Tennessee judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by Clarksville officials against local property rights activists who portrayed them as cozy with developers. Richard Swift, a developer who at the time was on the Clarksville City Council, and Wayne Wilkinson, a member of Clarksville's Downtown District Partnership, sued members of the Clarksville Property Rights Coalition over a newspaper ad that said a redevelopment plan involving the use of eminent domain was "of the developers, by the developers, and for the developers." You've got to be kidding me, Sumner County Circuit Judge C.L. "Buck" Rogers said:

Debate on public issues shall be uninhibited [and] wide open and generally [does] include vehement, caustic and unpleasant attacks on the character and bias of public officials….Accusing a public official or public figure of using their political influence to obtain a benefit for others or themselves or favoring their supporters is not defamation.

Bert Gall, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the activists, called the decision "a tremendous victory for everyone who speaks out against the abuse of eminent domain"  and a warning to "thin-skinned politicians and developers." Rogers' ruling is here (PDF). I discussed the Clarksville case last year. For more on thin-skinned developers, see here and here.

NEXT: Webb: 'We Are Locking Up Too Many People Who Do Not Belong in Jail'

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  1. It’s nice to have small victories every now and then.

  2. But if the government needs the land they should be allowed to take it.

    Speaking out against Republicans in bed with developers should always be allowed.

  3. I was really hoping the “D-Word” at issue was “douchebag” (or, alternatively, “douchenozzle”). Oh well… maybe next time.

  4. ….Accusing a public official or public figure of using their political influence to obtain a benefit for others or themselves or favoring their supporters is not defamation.

    Heck, it’s not even news.

  5. Holy shit, we won two battles at once! I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.

  6. Today’s been a good day so far:

    This story.
    Jim Webb.
    Maryland’s SWAT bill.

    Either today is an actually good news day or something terrible is goign to happen by close of business…

    *whistles*

  7. Also, if I were being sued, I’d want Buck Rodgers as my judge!

  8. “Speaking out against Republicans in bed with developers should always be allowed.”

    Like that well known “Republican,” Jim McGreevey, being in bed with developers here in NJ.

  9. Criticism of Politicians Is Not Defamation, Even If You Use the D-Word

    How about the A-H, M-F, S-S and others that routinely permeate my comments?

    That’s for the ass-hole mother-fucking stupid-shit morons who brought the frivolous lawsuit.

    Good job Judge Rogers.

  10. ….Accusing a public official or public figure of using their political influence to obtain a benefit for others or themselves or favoring their supporters is not defamation.
    It is, in fact, the definition of a ‘public official.’

  11. This just in!

    Politicians are thin-skinned egomaniacs.

  12. Since defamation, by definition, has to be a false statement about someone intended to put them in a negative light,

    Is it even theoretically possible to defame a politician?

  13. “Is it even theoretically possible to defame a politician?”

    If you say “that official is working for the greater good” or “my congressman is an honest guy” then that may be defamation of character.

    Woot! Sign that judge up for the supreme court! (or, at least could we have him give some of the current justices a good lesson about civil liberties?)

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