Stein Not Above the Law

NC Attorney General Josh Stein

NC Attorney General Josh Stein

Lawyers and police officers are supposed to know, enforce, and obey the laws. Here in North Carolina, Attorney General Josh Stein is both the state’s top cop and top lawyer, therefore, he, more than anyone, should be held accountable if he breaks the law. Instead, Stein is now trying to slither out of prosecution by arguing that the law he broke is unconstitutional. And it’s not a brand new law that he was unaware of. It is a state law that dates back to 1931. So why is Stein just now trying to get it changed? BECAUSE HE BROKE IT! That’s why.

The saga began in 2020 when Stein was running against long-time Forsyth County district attorney Jim O’Neill. That year, one of the hot campaign issues was the backlog of unprocessed rape kits on the local and state levels. Both sides exploited the issue for political purposes, but Stein crossed the line with a TV ad that accused O’Neill’s office of having “left 1,500 rape kits sitting on the shelf,” the implication being that O’Neill’s failure to test those rape kits in a timely manner allowed rapists to roam free and rape more victims. O’Neill claimed that Stein broke a 1931 law that “makes it a misdemeanor to knowingly circulate false, derogatory reports about a candidate with the intent of hurting that candidate’s chances in the election” (source AP). Violators of the law would pay a fine and could spend up to 60 days in jail. 

Not surprisingly, a Wake County grand jury recently found that Stein should be indicted. But the very next day, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1, to override the grand jury, essentially preventing the law from being enforced until Stein’s team had time to try and prove that the law as written is unconstitutional. The panel is comprised of two Democratic judges and one Republican judge. The two Democrats sided with Stein, who is also a Democrat. So much for justice being blind. In their ruling, the two Democrat judges said that Stein’s TV ad was protected as free speech, thus his challenge to the 1931 law would likely succeed. Their decision will have the effect of running out the clock on O’Neill’s team because the statute of limitations expires next year.

In her dissenting opinion, the lone Republican judge on the panel wrote, “Stein’s campaign, the ad production company, and the woman who appeared in the ad, haven’t shown they are entitled to this extraordinary relief…the State will forever lose its opportunity to enforce the law if the grand jury proceedings are stopped.”

Clearly the dissenting judge doesn’t believe that free speech under the First Amendment protects lying and defaming, and I agree. But the sad truth is if we start enforcing the 1931 law every time a candidate lies in an ad, then the jails would be overflowing with politicians.

And so, boys and girls, the civics lesson we can all take from this story is very clear. The next time the police stop you for driving 80 mph in a 35 mph zone, just tell the judge he can’t fine you or take away your license because you and your attorneys are working to have the speed limit changed to 85 mph. Tell him Josh Stein said it’s OK.


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