ATLANTA – Today, the ACLU of Georgia sent a letter to the Peachtree City Council regarding its proposed “Revised Indemnification Resolution,” which would allow politicians to spend precious taxpayer dollars on potentially frivolous defamation lawsuits against ordinary citizens who dare to criticize them. The city council is slated to discuss and vote on its proposal at its meeting tonight.
In its letter, the ACLU of Georgia reminded the mayor and city council that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution zealously protects the freedom of speech, especially the freedom to criticize public officials. City resolutions cannot unilaterally rewrite the United States Constitution or otherwise change this strict legal standard.
The U.S. Supreme Court explained decades ago, ample “breathing space” in the marketplace of ideas is “essential” to the “fruitful exercise” of First Amendment rights. For that reason, politicians can only win defamation lawsuits against ordinary citizens on “clear and convincing proof” that a false statement was “made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.”
“All of us agree that the freedom to criticize elected officials is at the heart of the First Amendment,” stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “In that spirit, we trust that the City Council of Peachtree City will reject the Revised Indemnification Resolution.”
The ACLU of Georgia reminded the city council that the First Amendment makes it exceedingly difficult for politicians to bring successful defamation lawsuits against constituents who criticize them. Additionally, “threatening to sue constituents who criticize public officials is no way to run a democracy and is inconsistent with the spirit of the First Amendment,” the letter stated.