Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire is appealing a federal court judge’s decision to dismiss its lawsuit seeking to strike down the state’s criminal defamation law as unconstitutional.

The ACLU filed the appeal last week in the U.S. First Court of Appeals in Boston, Massachusetts on behalf of Robert Frese, an Exeter man who was arrested on the charge after criticizing the town’s police chief. 

The ACLU is requesting a federal appellate court to remand its lawsuit against the New Hampshire attorney general’s office back to New Hampshire District Court. The lawsuit lists current state Attorney General John Formella as the defendant.  

The ACLU has argued New Hampshire’s criminal defamation law is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. 

“Criminal defamation is a relic from the days of the Star Chamber and the Sedition Act,”  said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of ACLU-NH. “New Hampshire’s law, and those like it, have no place in a 21st century American democracy. We are hopeful that the First Circuit will reverse so we can continue this case challenging this statute – a statute that should be tossed into the dustbin of history, where it belongs.”

The Court of Appeals is not obligated to take the case. 

Why was the case dismissed? 

New Hampshire District Court Judge Joseph Laplante dismissed the case against the state attorney general in January because he said overturning the law would have gone against U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which upheld criminal libel penalties under the Garrison v. Louisiana case.