Garret Epps responds.
Imagine if you will, the following impossible scenario: Candidate X says of Candidate Y, “His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald’s being—you know—shot. … That was reported, and nobody talks about it.”
Shouldn’t this ridiculous, petty, cruel, and destructive lie be punished?
The answer, under First Amendment law, is probably not. The strictly imaginary comment above, however crude and stupid, is nonetheless a statement about an important political issue: determining the presidential nominee of a major party. So, if there is a “hierarchy” of speech under the First Amendment, this allegation starts out at the top. Candidates for president sling all sorts of mud at each other—one candidate, for example, may claim another is planning to “rig the election”; was involved in the “murder” of a government official even though an investigation had found suicide; or was the co-creator, with a sitting president, of a terrorist conspiracy against the United States.
The man with the biggest platform in American politics can get his message across. It’s called focusing on the message. Not getting distracted. Staying on point. Avoiding stupid comments.
[This is all a few days old, so The Donald has gone onto other, stupider things.]
So, basically, the United States protects false statements because, unless needed leeway is given to people who are trying to speak the truth, government will begin to silence people for speech it does not agree with. And to prove that falsehood is protected, I will engage here in the most reckless and conscious lie I can think of:
Donald Trump is fit to be president.
Hey, sue me.