- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2019

A law that required newspapers and online platforms to post information online about purchasers of political ads cannot be squared with the First Amendment, says a unanimous three-judge panel with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While acknowledging the state’s intent to build trust in reporting, Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III said the law would subvert the historic approach to government regulation of speech, in which political expression is afforded the widest latitude.

“The changing nature of elections and the novel technological challenges accompanying them have made the states’ managerial tasks more difficult,” wrote Judge Wilkinson III, in the opinion issued Friday. “How states choose to carry out their responsibilities has long merited our respect. But that respect has bounds — and here, Maryland has crossed them.”

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The law would have required platforms to disclose the identity of online political ad purchasers and how much money was spent. Maryland’s legislature passed the political ads law after the revelation of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, when the U.S. intelligence community said agents under the direction of the Kremlin created online ads for social media to sway the U.S. presidential vote. The bill became law without the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit represented a range of publications, from The Washington Post to community newspapers. Briefs supporting them were filed by the Society for Professional Journalists and the Institute for Free Speech.

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