Today, a Pennsylvania court denied motions seeking dismissal of an Erie postmaster’s defamation lawsuit against defendants Project Veritas, James O’Keefe, and Richard Hopkins. The lawsuit concerns lies that the defendants spread in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, accusing plaintiff Robert Weisenbach of illegally backdating ballots in order to help then-candidate Joe Biden. In their preliminary objections, the defendants invoked the First Amendment, as though it were an absolute shield to lying about anything remotely political. But, as the Court today rightly held, “[t]he constitutional deck is not all stacked to one side.” Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases “strike a careful balance between the standards of journalistic integrity that a pluralistic society dedicated to the free exchange of ideas must tolerate, and that which it need not. Weisenbach sufficiently avers that this case falls within the latter category.”
A copy of the decision may be found here.
The court’s decision is a victory for Mr. Weisenbach, our system of government, and, more broadly, democracy itself. Deliberate lies—and especially lies about elections—undermine government and the functioning of our democracy. They also often inflict grievous harm on victims who’ve done nothing wrong.
Protect Democracy, through its Law for Truth project, along with lead counsel David Houck, look forward to ensuring that Mr. Weisenbach and his family are made whole for the harm and suffering caused by defendants’ lies.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential election—and following months of statements from former President Trump and others attempting to delegitimize mail-in voting—Project Veritas, its founder O’Keefe, and now-former mail carrier Hopkins published three articles and an affidavit that falsely and maliciously accused Mr. Weisenbach of backdating mail-in ballots in order to help Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. The third story was published after Hopkins expressly recanted his accusations in an interview with U.S. Post Office Inspectors. Even after the U.S. Post Office published its final report finding “no evidence” of any fraud, Project Veritas refused to retract its stories.
As a result of defendants’ smear campaign, Mr. Weisenbach and his family were forced to leave their home and seek shelter. Moreover, their false stories did grave damage to our democracy. Prominent political figures and major news outlets amplified Hopkins’s claims and cited them as evidence of widespread voter fraud, undermining public faith in the results of the 2020 presidential election.
What Hopkins, Project Veritas, and O’Keefe engaged in after the 2020 presidential election was not investigative journalism. Instead, their stories appear to have been calculated efforts to sensationalize a series of false statements and videos aimed at undermining public faith in the results of the 2020 presidential election.
It is a strategy that has gone unchecked for far too long.
Protect Democracy represents Plaintiff Robert Weisenbach, along with David Houck of Ogg, Murphy & Perkosky, P.C., and an additional pro bono counsel team, led by Lea Haber Kuck. For more information about our work fighting defamation aimed at our democracy, click here.