CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — North Carolina’s Attorney General, Josh Stein, is trying to get rid of a nearly 100-year-old election law, that almost left him with a class two misdemeanor.
In his most recent brief filed with a Federal Court of Appeals, Stein is arguing that a 1930s election law “Threatens to chill speech at the heart of our democratic process.”
This general statute, 163-274 (a)(9) essentially says it’s a class two misdemeanor if someone knowingly publishes or circulates information about a candidate they know to be false. Khalif Rhodes, an attorney in Charlotte, weighed in on the purpose of the law.
“I think the purpose probably is still the same, to try to stop folks from making false statements. The only problem with that type of law is that it’s attacking your first amendment claim,” Rhodes said.
It hit particularly close to home for Stein because this law was used against him by his last opponent, Forsyth County District Attorney, Jim O’Neill. Stein, along with two of his campaign staffers, were investigated because of a campaign ad they put out in 2020 about O’Neill.
QCN asked Stein about the investigation a couple of months ago.
“I’m all for truthful ads. Like I fundamentally believe that ads that candidates run should be true, which is why I submitted my ad before it was ever aired to an independent truth-checking organization that confirmed that the ad was true. And as I told you, the State Board of Elections reviewed the ad and said it wasn’t false. So I’m all for truthful ads. But it is very troubling when one DA on behalf of a friend’s DA can bring a case against a candidate. It’s troubling.”
The ad blamed O’Neill for his County’s large number of untested rape kits, saying he hadn’t addressed them. O’Neill filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections and asked for an investigation but a federal appeals court later blocked the enforcement of the 1930s law due to first amendment concerns.
Now Stein is trying to erase the law off the books entirely, which Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at UNCC, says won’t make much of a difference in elections going forward.
“If the court were to agree with Stein and say no, this law is null and void, it’s ineffective. It really doesn’t change the status quo at all,” Heberlig said.
Stein and his attorneys filed their latest brief with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. The oral arguments for Stein’s case are scheduled to be heard on December 6 in Richmond, Virginia.
QCN reached out to both Stein and O’Neill for comment on this case but did not hear back.