SJC quickly dismisses lawsuit over dental ballot question

Court says ballot summary is ‘unquestionably political speech’

THE SUPREME JUDICIAL Court quickly dismissed a lawsuit brought by opponents of a ballot question regulating dental insurance that sought to change the ballot question summary submitted by proponents. 

With a deadline looming this week for Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin to begin printing the information book that is sent to voters, the court dismissed the case Tuesday and issued an order with a full explanation on Thursday.  

The information book includes short statements about each ballot question, one written by the proponents and one written by the opponents. One of the questions on the November 2022 ballot would require dental insurers to spend at least 83 percent of premiums on clinical costs and quality improvements, rather than administrative costs. Opponents of the question, including the insurer Delta Dental, sued Galvin asking him to change the wording of the proponents’ summary because they said it included a false statement about Delta Dental’s finances. Galvin said he had no authority to change the summary. 

The court, in an unsigned opinion, found entirely in favor of Galvin. 

It wrote that the state Constitution requires Galvin to solicit the statements. While the summary written by the secretary and attorney general must be “fair and neutral,” the only requirement placed on the statements written by both sides is that they be no more than 150 words.  

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Shira Schoenberg

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About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The proponents’ argument “unquestionably is political speech,” the court said. “It would take the strongest of government interests to permit a prior restraint on such speech. Such interests are not presented here.” 

While the opponents tried to argue that the statements were libelous, the court found that Galvin cannot be sued for libel when he is publishing something that is required by law.