ACLU of New Jersey Successfully Defends Republican Candidates' Right to Political Speech
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced today that it successfully obtained a court order dismissing a libel suit filed against the Piscataway Republican Organization and its recent slate of candidates for township offices. The lawsuit against the Republicans was filed by the Piscataway Democratic Organization and centered on language used on campaign billboards and fliers.
“Free political speech is a founding American belief,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “The way to fight speech that you don’t like or don’t think is accurate is to speak out yourself, not to silence or suppress what others say.”
During the November 2004 elections, the Piscataway Republican Organization erected a billboard stating: “Bribery. Corruption. Indictment. Had Enough?” with a picture of a broom. The sign then urged viewers to vote for the Republican slate for township mayor and council.
The Democratic incumbents asked that the signs be removed. The Republicans refused. The Democrats then filed suit for libel, claiming that the sign implied that they, as individuals, were guilty of bribery and corruption. Although the entire Piscataway Democratic slate of candidates won in the November elections, they refused to dismiss the lawsuit.
On Wednesday, February 9, 2005, Judge Yolanda Ciccone granted the ACLU of New Jersey’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the fact that the ad contained protected, non-libelous speech. The ACLU of New Jersey’s brief explained that the ad was political rhetoric, and did not direct allegations at a particular individual; rather, it was impersonal criticism of a government administration.
“Political discourse should be uninhibited and this was political speech in its most basic form,” said Frank Corrado of Barry Corrado Grassi & Gibson, the ACLU of New Jersey’s cooperating attorney in the case. “The candidates had the right to comment on the political climate as they saw it and to ask voters to remove the incumbents to change the status quo.”
The case is Piscataway Democratic Organization, et al. v. Piscataway Republican Organization, et al. It was filed in New Jersey Superior Court, Middlesex County.
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