The Judicial Discourse in the Handling of Political Misinformation (and Disinformation)

  • Robert N. Spicer


This chapter looks at how the courts have handled political deception. This is a judicial discourse analysis, looking at how the courts have framed their arguments. An important part of this is looking at what the courts have said when finding a statute unconstitutional as opposed to the arguments made when a statute is upheld. This chapter will go through an historical exploration of the issue, looking at key cases arising from the precedent that the Sullivan case set. The chapter will begin with a section on the courts’ handling of advertising, specifically false advertising, in a more general, non-political context. This will be followed by a discussion of some significant court cases on political deception. That section will also discuss some lesser-known, lower court cases, especially those that conflict with the higher court consensus about First Amendment protection for political deception. The chapter will conclude with a transition into a discussion of the three more contemporary cases of 281 CARE Committee v. Arneson, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, and what is probably the most important court case on this issue: U.S. v. Alvarez.


U.S. courts U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence Marketplace of ideas New York Times v. Sullivan 


  1. 281 CARE Committee v. Arneson, Civil No. 08-5215 ADM/FLN (2013)Google Scholar
  2. Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616 (1919)Google Scholar
  3. Badeaux v. Southwest Computer Bureau, 929 So.2d 1211 (2006)Google Scholar
  4. Balleisen, E. (2017). American better business bureaus, the truth-in-advertising movement, and the complexities of legitimizing business self-regulation over the long term. Politics and Governance, 5(1), 42–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnum, J. (2013). Encouraging Congress to encourage speech: Reflections on United States v. Alvarez. Albany Law Review, 76(1), 527–559.Google Scholar
  6. Barron, J. (1967). Access to the press: A new First Amendment right. Harvard Law Review, 80(8), 1641–1678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977)Google Scholar
  8. Brietzke, P. (1997). How and why the marketplace of ideas fails. Valparaiso University Law Review, 31(3), 951–969.Google Scholar
  9. Brown v. Florida, 969 So.2d 553 (2007)Google Scholar
  10. Carey v. Brown, 447 U.S. 455 (1980)Google Scholar
  11. Collins, R. (2013). Exceptional freedom – The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the new absolutism. Albany Law Review, 76(1), 409–466.Google Scholar
  12. Drumwright, M., & Murphy, P. (2009). The current state of advertising ethics: Industry and academic perspectives. Journal of Advertising, 38(1), 83–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. False or malicious charges against, or false statements about, opposing candidates, Florida § 112.317 (2011)Google Scholar
  14. First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978)Google Scholar
  15. Franks, J. (1977). The commercial speech doctrine and the First Amendment. Tulsa Law Journal, 12(4), 699–730.Google Scholar
  16. Gertz v. Welch, 418 U.S. 323 (1974)Google Scholar
  17. Goddard, T. (n.d.). Politics ain’t beanbag. Taegan Goddard’s Political Dictionary. Retrieved from
  18. Greenbelt v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6 (1970)Google Scholar
  19. Johnson-Cartee, K., & Copeland, G. (1997). Inside political campaigns: Theory and practice. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  20. Kozinski, A., & Banner, S. (1990). Who’s afraid of commercial speech? Virginia Law Review, 76, 627–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lamz v. Wells, 938 So.2d 792 (2006)Google Scholar
  22. Lewis, A. (1992). Make no law: The Sullivan case and the First Amendment. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  23. Lewis, C. (2014). 935 lies: The future of truth and the decline of America’s moral integrity. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
  24. Lively, D. (1986). The Supreme Court’s emerging vision of false speech: A First Amendment blind spot. Rutgers Law Review, 38(3), 479–499.Google Scholar
  25. McChesney, R. (2000). Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  26. McNally, L. (2013). Vice advertising and the commercial speech doctrine. Law School Student Scholarship. Paper 394.Google Scholar
  27. Meiklejohn, A. (1961). The First Amendment is an absolute. Supreme Court Review, 1961, 245–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Michigan v. Reigle, 566 N.W.2d 21 (1997)Google Scholar
  29. Minnesota v. Thaddeus Victor Jude. 554 N.W.2d 750 (1996)Google Scholar
  30. Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy, 401 U.S. 265 (1971)Google Scholar
  31. NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963)Google Scholar
  32. National Commission on Egg Nutrition v. FTC, 570 F.2d 157 (1977)Google Scholar
  33. New York Times Co. v. L.B. Sullivan, 144 So.2d 25 (1962)Google Scholar
  34. New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)Google Scholar
  35. Norton, H. (2012). Secrets, lies, and disclosure. Journal of Law and Politics, 27, 641–654.Google Scholar
  36. Pember, D., & Calvert, C. (2011). Mass media law. New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  37. People v. Wogaman, 133 Mich. App. 823 (1984)Google Scholar
  38. Pittenger, J. (2005). Politics ain’t beanbag. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.Google Scholar
  39. Post, R. (2000). The constitutional status of commercial speech. UCLA Law Review, 48, 1–57.Google Scholar
  40. Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75 (1966)Google Scholar
  41. Schauer, F. (2010). Facts and the First Amendment. UCLA Law Review, 57(4), 897–919.Google Scholar
  42. Southwest Computer Bureau Incorporated. (n.d.). Services provided. Retrieved from
  43. St. Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727 (1968)Google Scholar
  44. Stein, L. (2006). Speech rights in America: The First Amendment, democracy, and the media. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  45. Strauss, D. (1991). Persuasion, autonomy, and freedom of expression. Columbia Law Review, 91, 334–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tomei v. Finley, 512 F. Supp. 695 (1981)Google Scholar
  47. United States v. Alvarez, 132 U.S. 2537 (2012)Google Scholar
  48. Valentine v. Chrestensen, 316 U.S. 52 (1942)Google Scholar
  49. Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976)Google Scholar
  50. Washington v. 119 Vote No! Committee, 957 P. 2d 691 (1998)Google Scholar
  51. White, C. (2009). The straight talk express: Yes we can have a false political advertising statute. UCLA Journal of Law & Technology, 13(1), 1–55.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert N. Spicer
    • 1
  1. 1.Millersville UniversityMillersvilleUSA

Personalised recommendations