TODAY   |  April 22, 2014

Supreme Court takes up ban on campaign falsehoods

Justices are taking up a challenge to state laws that ban spreading patently false claims in political ads. NBC’s justice correspondent Pete Williams reports.

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>>> the u.s. supreme court takes up a challenge today to state laws that ban spreading falsehoods in political ads. pete williams is in washington with more on this. pete, good morning.

>> reporter: natalie, good morning. at the heart of this case is a fundamental question about free speech and making tough claims about a political opponent , is there a right to lie?

>> corrupt claim. the moment her hand came off the bible, it went into our pockets.

>> reporter: bare-knuckled attacks have always been part of american politics .

>> for six years, ruiz led protests attacking thanksgiving and our american values .

>> reporter: the actual words of thomas jefferson attacking john adams were used to imagine what a tv ad back then would have looked like.

>> he's trying to marry one of his sons to a daughter of king george . haven't we had enough monarchy in america?

>> mr. boehner's comments are outrageous.

>> reporter: but in 2010 when congressman steve drehouse was running for re-election, he struck back when an anti-abortion group prepared to put up billboards like these from other states and ran radio ads attacking him.

>> steve drehouse voted for taxpayer funding of abortion when he cast his vote for the health care reform bill.

>> reporter: he complained under an ohio law that bans false statements about political candidates. 15 other states have similar laws. opponents say they violate free speech .

>> if someone tells a real whopper, some exaggeration, some spin that just doesn't pass the smell test, you know that stephen colbert and jon stewart will do more with that than any ohio election commissioner ever could.

>> reporter: ohio 's attorney general is mike dewine . his office is defending the law even though he says he's against it.

>> it's used as a tool to really inhibit free speech and to try and intimidate your opponent and to try to gain publicity before an election.

>> reporter: today's case is about who gets to sue, and later today , the court hears a challenge brought by the networks, including nbc, to aerio, the software that allows watching broadcast television live on mobile devices . natalie?

>> pete williams at the supreme court this morning, thank you.