OLYMPIA, Washington, January 17, 2022 — Gov. Jay Inslee’s new Political Speech Bill, SB 5843, which makes it a serious offense for elected officials or candidates to “willfully lie” about the election process and results, passed its first reading on Thursday, January 13 at the level of the Senate.
Inslee first announced he would support this legislation during a virtual legislative preview hosted by The Associate Press on Thursday, Jan. 6, the anniversary of the US Capitol Breach, in which he called “threats to democracy ongoing as one of the biggest challenges. in our community.
“It should not be legal in Washington state for elected officials or candidates for office to willfully lie about these pro-democracy election results,” Inslee said.
At the preview, Inslee shared his personal experience when the governor’s residence was stormed by Trump supporters, some armed with assault rifles, causing him to evacuate to a safe room.
“I feel deep in my heart what it meant when the temple of democracy was attacked,” Inslee said. “This is more than just a case of violence. It is our democracy itself that has been attacked and continues to be attacked.
SB 5843 was read at the request of Governor Inslee’s office and supported by Senators Frockt, Kuderer, Hunt, Keiser, Lovelett, Nguyen, Nobles, Salomon, and C. Wilson.
The initial bill addresses public officials and candidates who knowingly make false statements and statements regarding the electoral process, adding a felony charge to Chapter 29A.84, which relates to penalties, which carry up to 364 days in jail and up to to $5,000 in fines. An amendment to RCW 42.12.010, which concerns vacancies, also adds that if an elected official is convicted, under this new amendment, he immediately loses the elected position.
“The United States Supreme Court has ruled that states have the power to restrict speech that incites or produces imminent lawless action. The intent of the Legislature is to hold accountable elected officials and those seeking elected office who have sworn oaths to uphold the constitutions of the United States and Washington State and to prohibit such persons from presenting misrepresentation to the for the purpose of casting doubt on one of our most sacred institutions,” the bill states.
The Supreme Court decision referenced in the bill refers to Brandenburg v. Ohio of 1969, in which Ku Klux Klan leader Clarence Brandenburg was charged with advocating violence under the state of Ohio’s criminal labor union law. The court ruled that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is “directed to incite or produce imminent unlawful action and is likely to incite or produce such action”.
Earlier this month, Inslee noted that Trump’s “big lie” and continued “coup” is a “threat to democracy” that is “just as prevalent today as there is a year,” referring to the claim by former President Donald J Trump, and his supporters, that the 2020 election was stolen.
“The Democrats want to own this day of January 6th so they can stoke fears and divide America. I say, let them have it because America sees through their lies and their polarizations,” said the President Trump in a statement on Jan. 6, the day Inslee announced his support for the new legislation.
Trump added, “They want all conversations about the election ‘cancelled.’ Look at the numbers, they speak for themselves. They’re not justifiable, so the complicit media just calls it the big lie, when in reality the big lie was the election itself.
Inslee called out three Republican lawmakers, Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick), Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver) and Rep. Robert Sutherland (R-Monroe), who he says have contributed to the ongoing insurgency participating in organizing efforts and doubting the electoral process.
“This is a cancer in our society and I believe we all, both sides, need to respond to speak out not only against the violence but also against this great continuing lie that the defeated president and his allies are continuing this effort. ,” Inslee said.
The three-term Democratic governor hoped more elected leaders would speak out against Trump’s efforts, confront him and not allow their colleagues to side with him, expecting Republicans to ‘forcefully’ denounce the three lawmakers from Washington who allegedly “were part of this plot.
Kraft and Sutherland defended their attendance at the Mike Lindell-sponsored Cyber Symposium to a Seattle Times reporter as important to their work on election-related legislation.
Even if SB 5843 becomes law, The Washington Post wrote that it could be an “uphill battle” in court, as evidenced by Washington’s recent history in its attempt to criminalize false political speech.
In 2007, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down a 1999 law, in a 5-4 decision, that prohibited political candidates from intentionally lying about their opponents.
“The idea that the government, rather than the people, can be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment,” Jim Johnson wrote in the majority opinion.
Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor and expert on the state Constitution, told My News Network that it would be difficult to bring criminal charges in a case against a state official or a candidate for making false statements about an election.
“It’s not easy to criminally convict people based on their speech, it’s always quite difficult,” Spitzer said.
Republican State Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn)
taken for twitter, on Jan. 6, to share his thoughts on Inslee’s support for the legislation.
You fight bad speech with better speech, not criminal penalties. Threatening to jail people for political statements is as dangerous to our democracy as questioning election results. https://t.co/AdphOvUhod
— Drew Stokesbary (@stokesbary) January 6, 2022
“You fight bad speech with better speech, not criminal penalties. Threatening to jail people for political speech is as dangerous to our democracy as questioning election results,” Stokesbary wrote.
In a press release issued by Jay Inslee’s office, the Governor issued the following statement regarding a government’s role in interpreting the First Amendment:
“We can prohibit actions that provoke political violence and in doing so also protect our democracy. States and Congress can do more to protect our democracy. I am open to any proposal that will protect the will of voters and the institutions they use to decide who governs them.