Josh Stein: 2020 campaign investigation unconstitutional
Attorney General Josh Stein’s 2020 campaign is under criminal investigation – but the law it is based on is outdated and unconstitutional, he argued in court filings on Thursday as well as in an interview with The News & Observe.
Stein said the law in question, which governs the content of political ads, dates back nearly a century and yet had never been prosecuted — until his 2020 opponent for the attorney general’s office, the Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill subpoenaed her to request the investigation.
The criminal investigation has not previously been made public; The N&O had reported that O’Neill had called for an investigation. Stein said he was releasing it on Thursday and taking legal action because he believes the investigation is based on unconstitutional law but O’Neill “refuses to waive it.”
The lawsuit seeks a ruling, Stein said, “that this outdated, antiquated and unconstitutional law is in fact unconstitutional.”
The law in question criminalizes “the publication or dissemination of derogatory information” about a politician if it is false or likely to be false.
Stein said he supports the truthfulness of his announcement, but that regardless, the First Amendment protections for political speech are so strong that the law is clearly unconstitutional in his view. State and federal courts in several other states have declared similar laws unconstitutional, according to his lawsuit.
“The fact that the specter of the law has forced (Stein’s campaign and those involved in the ad) to engage in an invasive and costly investigation for nearly two years shows that the law serves primarily to chill political speech. protected,” the lawsuit states. .
What is the investigation about?
It all goes back to a war of words between Democrat Stein and Republican O’Neill in their hotly contested 2020 race – which Stein won with 50.1% of the vote.
The two ran ads attacking the other over evidence gathered from sexual assault allegations, often referred to as “rape kits”, which had never been tested.
There were approximately 15,000 untested rape kits statewide. O’Neill said it was Stein’s fault, but Stein pointed to local law enforcement – and said Forsyth County, where O’Neill is the lead prosecutor, was one of the worst North Carolina counties for untested kits, with about 10% of the statewide total.
O’Neill claimed that one of Stein’s advertisements went too far in assigning blame to him and called for an investigation. Such investigations are not usually public, but Stein confirmed Thursday that the North Carolina State Board of Elections conducted its own investigation and then sent its information to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, who had launched its own investigation. Freeman is a Democrat, as is the majority of the Board of Elections.
For more on North Carolina government and politics, listen to the Under the Dome political podcast from The News & Observer and NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.