Maryland Law Violates the First Amendment

Maryland Law Violates the First Amendment

A federal appeals court confirmed a lower-court ruling on December 10, 2019, that a law regarding political advertising passed last year violates the First Amendment.

Political Ads

In 2018, Maryland passed a law called the Online Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act. It was inspired by the fear that the Kremlin would use social media to influence political discussions in the next round of elections. The video below is a brief summary of this legislation.

The law required Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and even local newspapers to collect an insane amount of information about the political ads they run. Some of that information included plans for actual target audiences, when the ads would run and how many people would have seen the ad. All this information had to be published within 48 hours on a site that was set up to determine who purchased ads and how much they paid.

Ruled as Unconstitutional

So, what is it about the Online Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act that’s unconstitutional? Due to the vagueness of how the bill was written, many people were worried that it could prevent the citizens of Maryland from expressing their political views online. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Governor Lawrence Hogan were among those concerned.

In a letter written by Gov. Hogan where he informed the Senate that he would allow the bill to pass without his signature, he wrote:

“I am concerned that the legislation contains vague and overbroad language that could have the unintended consequence of stifling the free speech of citizens who are mobilizing on social media platforms. Stipulating that online materials that ‘relate’ to any candidate or prospective candidate are subject to disclosure and regulation by the State Board of Elections casts a very wide net and I am concerned that groups that are simply exercising their constitutional rights of free speech will unsuspectingly be subject to regulation and possible criminal penalties for merely expressing a political opinion.”

So far, the legislators who voted to pass the accountability act have not announced any plans to introduce a new bill dealing with political ads.

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