Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson
has again sued to stop an onslaught of attack advertising by a shadowy group out of Washington. I’m forced to say, slimy as the attack is, it looks legally protected to me.

Goodson sued in the primary to stop advertising by a dark money group, the Judicial Crisis Network. She got an injunction in Pulaski County, failed to get one in Washington County.

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Now she’s suing the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Initiative. It’s effectively a dark money group, with no accounting in Arkansas of the sources of the $750,000 it spent against her in the primary and $1.1 million it’s committed in the runoff to elect David Sterling. He’s running for her nonpartisan seat as a declared conservative Republican whose thinking is in line with Donald Trump. (Some judicial fairness.)

The ads dredge up the same material used by dark money groups to beat her in her race for chief justice two years ago. She received and properly disclosed gifts from her then-boyfriend and now husband John Goodson. She got a yacht trip to Europe courtesy of a trial lawyer friend of her husband, also properly disclosed. And lawyers contributed to her campaign (as they do to all judicial campaigns, one of the many downsides of electing judges)

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In her previous suits, she sued TV stations to stop attack ads. This time she’s suing the RSLC itself.  She says their ads are false, misleading and defamatory. The RSLC says the ads are truthful.

The RSCL is right. They are an odious group of greedy special interests that pour millions (effectively anonymous to virtually all Arkansans) into electing stooges for their political agenda. Their ads are, at a minimum, unfair because they omit mitigating context. For example, there’s Goodson’s recusal from cases involving her lawyer benefactors.

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But the minute we prevent advertising — or publication of newspaper columns — because they use selective emphasis and omission of alibis, we have trampled the First Amendment.

The ads also hit Goodson for asking for a pay raise. Chief Justice Dan Kemp did indeed ask for a pay raise for the whole court and Goodson made no public expression then or since on whether she opposed that publicly expressed position on behalf of the entire court. Is the RSCL obligated to explain that fine point? I don’t think so.

That a volunteer good government watchdog group has blasted this advertising, as Goodson’s suit notes, is also true. It is also immaterial to the legal and constitutional issues. Just another opinion. Everybody has one.

I have to think Goodson knows this suit is a legal longshot, at best, and that it is mostly a way to get some attention to the immense disadvantage at which she’s placed by a group with unlimited darkish money resources and a willingness to bend the truth to its advantage.

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If only people read newspapers anymore. Or believed what they read in them.

The suit seems to suggest it may be time to revisit New York Times v. Sullivan, which in the 1960s set a higher standard for defamation actions involving public officials. A statement must be made with “actual malice,” a phrase that includes publication with the knowledge that a statement is untrue. The suit comments:

While inaccurate speech may further the exercise of the right of free speech, the United States Supreme Court has held that “it does not follow that the lie, knowingly and deliberately published about a public official, should enjoy a like immunity.” At the time the First Amendment was adopted, as today, “there were those unscrupulous enough and skillful enough to use the deliberate or reckless falsehood as an effective political tool to unseat the public servant or even topple an administration.” At that time in American history, there were not televisions in 575,000 households across Arkansas where an unscrupulous person or organization could reach a voter more than five times per day and seven days per week

That was also before groups like the RSLC got protection from the U.S. Supreme Court for the proposition that money was speech and corporations were people.

Goodson argues that the ads constitute “reckless disregard for the truth” and thus can be squelched. Pains me though it does to say it given her opponent, I submit she is wrong. It is close enough for politics.

For the legal eagles, here’s Goodson’s suit.

It’s currently assigned to Judge Wendell Griffen, who is suing the Arkansas Supreme Court, including Goodson, over an ethics/free speech dispute. He thinks, in short, that the court has infringed on his First Amendment rights. UPDATE: The suit was transferred later Friday to federal court before Judge Billy Roy Wilson.