Progressive Democratic activist Lisa McCormick said that New Jersey election officials exceeded their constitutional authority when they rejected a slogan proposed by a Republican congressional candidate who wanted “Let’s Go Brand*n – FJB” printed with his name on the June primary ballot.
Attorney Robert Shapiro, who has often unsuccessfully run for office, filed nominating petitions on Monday that used two variations of a political slogan that has been widely used as a minced oath intended to mean “Fuck Joe Biden” for his GOP primary challenge to Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Manchester) in the 4th district.
“Shapiro is one of five Republican candidates that submitted petitions to run against incumbent Congressman Chris Smith in the June 7 primary, and while I am a Democrat and would not be likely to vote for any of them, I am an American who believes the government has no business restricting a contender’s rhetoric,” said McCormick. “As Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography of Voltaire, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’ so if a person’s ballot slogan is an illustration of one’s beliefs, the government must keep its hands off.”
Robert Giles, the director of the New Jersey Division of Elections, told Shapiro that state laws require a candidate using the name of any person on the ballot to provide written consent from that individual at the time petitions were submitted.
“Your proposed primary ballot slogan refers to the name of a person and you did not include the statutorily required written consent,” Giles wrote. “Therefore, your slogan cannot be approved at this time.”
McCormick is a litigant in a federal case that challenges the authority of government officials to regulate the content of political statements used by candidates.
McCormick said that her lawsuit is part of a larger “Abolish the Line” movement, whose aim is to stop the political establishment from rigging ballots in primary elections to create disadvantages for independent-minded citizens.
McCormick is one of two New Jersey candidates who asked a federal court to declare the state’s restrictions on campaign slogans unconstitutional.
The Institute for Free Speech is representing the candidates, Eugene Mazo and Lisa McCormick, in their First Amendment challenge.
“The slogan laws allow candidates to use a six-word slogan on the ballot, but the slogan cannot refer to the name of any person or any New Jersey association without their consent. This violates a candidate’s free speech rights,” said Ryan Morrison, the lawyer representing Mazo and McCormick in that case.
“In America, we do not have to ask permission to speak. And we do not give the government the power to decide what we can and cannot say,” said Morrison. “That is why the Institute for Free Speech filed a lawsuit on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates Eugene Mazo and Lisa McCormick to strike down the ballot slogan laws for violating the First Amendment.”
“There is no doubt that voters must rise up to the responsibility of citizenship by rejecting candidates who use infantile or irresponsible slogans, just residents need to vote smarter by rejecting corrupt politicians and stooges for power brokers, the onus for better behavior lies on the electorate,” said McCormick. “The First Amendment forbids government officials from deciding what we say and write. Freedom may not be convenient but it must be our lodestar.”