U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeal of defamation case based on Iowa political ad

Hot off the press: the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear Republican State Senator Rick Bertrand’s appeal of a Iowa Supreme Court ruling rejecting his defamation case. Bertrand’s lawsuit stemmed from a negative ad the Iowa Democratic Party ran against him during his 2010 campaign against Rick Mullin. To my surprise, Bertrand won significant damages in a jury trial, and a partial victory at the Iowa District Court level. The district court judge reduced the damages awarded to Bertrand but determined that the controversial television spot constituted “implied libel.”

Both Bertrand and the defendants in the defamation case (Mullin and the Iowa Democratic Party) appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, which heard the case in January. In May, justices unanimously dismissed the case. Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts from that unanimous ruling here. You can read the full decision here (pdf).

Bertrand’s only option left was a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. I never thought he would get far with this lawsuit, because of extensive case law supporting strong protections for political campaign speech, as well as a high bar for any public figure claiming defamation (libel or slander).

Today, Bertrand v. Mullin et al appeared on a long list of cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari.

UPDATE: Bertrand reacted to today’s news on his twitter feed. I’ve added those comments below. He still doesn’t have a grasp of the First Amendment issues.

From State Senator Rick Bertrand’s twitter feed, October 14:

Of course it is disappointing, but this is the process.

What this decision says is that a political candidate has no legal protection against blatant lies that are intended to mislead voters.

Hey, I tried. I stood in front of a jury of my Sioux City piers [sic] 3 years ago and won… they recognized that a lie is a lie and that it should have consequences.

I am proud of my team and I will always stand up for the truth and for honesty within the political process.

This case would have provided the opportunity to eliminate false ads that swamp our TVs and radios during this election season.

Hey I’m positive, and I am running a positive re-election campaign and I will continue to fight for the people of Sioux City…Unfotunately the real loser today is we the voter…what can [we] believe?

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