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Supreme Court Opens the Floodgates to Striking Down Certain Statutes that Regulate Speech

It all started with a little law that discriminated against signs for church services in favor of signs promoting political candidates. It’s clear why citizens would take exception to such a law. What’s less clear is how the Supreme Court, in its ruling on the matter, managed to wreak havoc on all laws regulating signs, labels, and even automated phone calls.

Not only did the Supreme Court invalidate the law in question, but it has forced lower courts to invalidate on issues as unrelated as panhandling.

The Court managed to do this by substantially broadening the definition of content-based laws. Originally, laws were considered to be content based if they were intended to suppress speech with which the government did not agree.

Now the definition has been broadened to include any law that singles out a topic for regulation. This includes securities regulations, drug labeling, false advertising, etc.

The Supreme Court’s decision has been both praised and condemned by various parties, but there’s no denying it has had long-reaching effects all over the country. One authority on free speech has said the ruling has endangered a variety of laws, including those regulating malpractice.

Others have lauded the decision as an expansion of the rights granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in writing for the six justices who voted in favor of the ruling, wrote that, from now on, all laws related to the First Amendment will be subject to strict scrutiny. When a law placed under “strict scrutiny”, it means the government has to prove the challenged law is “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests,” which is nearly impossible to prove.

In its two months of existence, the Supreme Court’s ruling has already forced lower courts to abolish a law regulating panhandling, a law prohibiting automated calls on political and commercial topics, and a law against taking pictures of a completed election ballot and showing it to others.

The “ballot selfie” law was put in place after voters took pictures of themselves in their voting booths, often including their completed ballot in the picture, and posting it on the Internet. People who value the private nature of voting (for example, the requirement to have booths that block the ballot from the view of others) were deeply disturbed by these selfies. The law was passed as a result of the negative reaction to these selfies, but abolishing the law means a stranger (for example, someone volunteering at a voting location) can now legally take a picture of anyone’s completed ballot and publish it.

This is just the beginning. Unless something changes, laws regarding exceptions to the confidentiality of medical forms and disclosures on tax returns could also be in danger in the very near future.

An authority on free speech has said the new ruling, if taken literally, will disrupt the First Amendment law so much that courts will have to start looking for alternative approaches. They will either rethink what counts as speech or limit the definition of “strict scrutiny.” Either way, something will have to give.

Our Chicago libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.

Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Elmhurst and Glen Elyn, who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and off line media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.

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DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle’s Naperville and Wheaton defamation and slander lawyers have more than two and half decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Elgin, Joliet and Bollingbrook, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.

If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business on line at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at (877) 990-4990 or online by filling out our contact us form.