Amicus Curiae Brief Urges High Court to Hear and Ultimately Reverse Lower Court Decisions in Rongstad v. Lassa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 15, 2006
Contact: Renee Giachino or Timothy Lee
703-535-5836

CFIF Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Preserve the Right of Anonymous Free Speech and Association

Amicus Curiae Brief Urges High Court to Hear and Ultimately Reverse Lower Court Decisions in Rongstad v. Lassa

ALEXANDRIA, VA – In its ongoing efforts to prevent governmental encroachments on free speech and association rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) last week joined with a half dozen public policy organizations in filing an Amicus Curiae brief before the United States Supreme Court in the case of Rongstad v. Lassa.

In the days leading up to the 2002 Wisconsin state elections, a non-profit political advocacy group run by Mr. Rongstad published and distributed campaign fliers criticizing Wisconsin State Senator Julie M. Lassa.  Senator Lassa sued Rongstad's organization for defamation and sought the release of the organization's contributors. 

Last year, a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's decision ordering Mr. Rongstad to identify individuals who had contributed to his organization prior to the publication of the flier.  CFIF and fellow amici – The Goldwater Institute, Rio Grande Foundation, Independence Institute, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, John Locke Foundation and Evergreen Freedom Foundation – are urging the Supreme Court to hear the case and reverse the Wisconsin high court's decision.

"The rights to anonymous political speech and association are fundamental rights afforded to us by First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," said Renee Giachino, CFIF's Corporate Counsel and Senior Vice President.   "The Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision is legally flawed and cannot stand as it will chill free debate on matters of vital public concern." 

In the brief, authored by attorneys for the Institute for Justice, the parties present three main arguments for granting U.S. Supreme Court review: 

1) Because the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision is inconsistent with the principles underlying the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which established standards for defamation suits brought by public officials, and because the approach taken by the Wisconsin Supreme Court will chill free speech and association by subjecting policy organizations' donors to defamation suits whether they are aware of the alleged defamatory speech or not;

2) Because, since NAACP v. Alabama in 1958, this Court has recognized that the right of anonymous association necessitates an evidentiary privilege that prevents the disclosure of the names of contributors to or members of political organizations unless the plaintiff can demonstrate a sufficiently important interest in obtaining that information; and

3) In order to clarify the limited instances and scope justifying the disclosure of anonymous speakers in public-figure defamation cases. 

"If allowed to stand, the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision will encourage powerful political figures to bring meritless defamation suits against their anonymous critics merely to retaliate against them or to discourage them from speaking," said Giachino.  "We urge the U.S. Supreme Court to hear and ultimately reverse the Wisconsin high court's decision," Giachino concluded.

The Center for Individual Freedom (www.cfif.org) is a constitutional and free-market advocacy organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.  With more than 250,000 supporters and activists nationwide, CFIF has been a consistent advocate for preserving the free speech and association rights of all Americans. 

CFIF was a plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case McConnell v. FEC, which challenged the constitutionality of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly referred to as "McCain-Feingold."   More recently, CFIF won an important First Amendment victory before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ruled that Louisiana's campaign finance does not require the disclosure of organizations' members and/or donors to air  independent political issue advertising.



[Posted March 15, 2007]


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