ABA Creates Fact Checker Website For Legal Issues in the News

The American Bar Association is launching a new website in the hopes of becoming the authoritative source on legal facts in the news.

The site, ABALegalFactCheck.com, aims to be a source for journalists and the general public whenever misrepresentations about existing laws are made in the public discourse.

Hilarie Bass, who took over as ABA president this week, said she has been developing the idea over the past several years “as the public discourse has gotten less and less fact based.”

“We want to make sure the American public knows there is a reliable source which is beyond dispute,” she told Big Law Business. “Who better than the ABA to be out there and say, ‘From now on we’re going to tell you what the Supreme Court really said,’ and do it in a nonpartisan and objective way? Many of these issues are not subject to debate, they’ve been resolved.”

Flag burning will be among the first topics addressed by the site, according to Bass, who serves as co-president and a member of the executive committee for Greenberg Traurig.

Shortly after the election, then-President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” The tweet prompted a public outcry, but Bass said the public discussion around the issue of flag-burning could have been avoided with a simple reminder of the legal facts.

Bass said the question was resolved in 1989 when the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson invalidated state law prohibitions on desecrating the flag. Congress passed a federal law against flag burning later that year, but the Supreme Court struck that down in 1990.

The launch version of Legal Fact Check will also include summaries of the law around affirmative action, hate speech, and presidential pardons.

“The ABA is a nonpartisan organization, but these are not partisan issues,” said Bass.

The ABA plans to update the website with legal summaries any time the organization believes an issue in the public discourse needs to be addressed. The information will come from a network of experts, and the posts will be written by the ABA’s communications staff.

Bass said she anticipates updates to the site will come at least once a week. When a legal topic does pop up in the news, the ABA understands that time is of the essence.

“Our goal is to respond very expeditiously,” said Bass. “Whether that’s two hours or twelve hours will depend on the depth of the issue. We recognize that if we want to respond to the news cycle, we’ve got to get that information up immediately.”

Write to the reporter at srussellkraft@gmail.com. 

Write to the editor at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com.