Anyone who has been following the U.S. presidential election (and even many people who haven’t been following), knows that Donald Trump has taken center stage and has received most of the media focus throughout the process. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Mr. Trump seems to say outrageous things on a weekly basis. Many people in Japan are aware that Mr. Trump has recently stated that Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear weapons, though Japanese government officials have publicly reiterated the nation’s policy against nuclear weapons.
Though Mr. Trump’s statements are often outrageous and completely untrue, he is permitted to say them in the U.S. without repercussions from the government because of the freedom of speech guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. However, somewhat ironically Mr. Trump has often sought to use the U.S. judiciary (a branch of the government) to silence those who say negative things about him. Mr. Trump has often sued or at least threatened to sue individuals for “defamation.” In addition, he has gone so far as to say that when he becomes president, he will change defamation laws, presumably to make it easier to sue people for speaking negatively about you.
Mr. Trump’s statements and actions highlight an interesting and somewhat complicated and confusing legal issue. Because the U.S. was once a British colony, the U.S. adopted many old English common laws, including the law that prohibited defamatory speech. As a result, under U.S. law, a person can sue someone else and collect damages because of injurious false statements made by the offender. However, when the United States was created, the founders of the country drafted and ratified a constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” In other words, the government is not supposed to restrict people from speaking freely. These two principles are thus at odds. U.S. courts have been forced to try and address the relationship between defamation laws and the freedom of speech in the U.S. The results of the many court cases over the last two centuries are a bit confusing and complicated. However, one thing that is clear is that, even though the U.S.
Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, you can still be sued and ordered to pay monetary damages to someone else if you make false, injurious statements about them. It is important to understand this concept if you travel to or decide to move to the United States. While your speech is generally protected, leaving you free to say whatever you want, there are still potential repercussions that can result from the things you say. If you or someone you know is threatened with a defamation lawsuit in the United States, it is very important to talk to an attorney who understands this complex area of law.