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A class action lawsuit has just been filed in New York against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.” The suit, captioned Unterberg et al. v. Jimmy Carter et al., is the latest salvo from the right-wing activist Israel Law Center, which claims to be an “Israeli based civil right organization”.

According to the five individuals named in the complaint, Carter’s book is, “in fact demonstrably false, misleading, and deceptive,” and because they felt they were “sold” on Carter’s book being truthful, well, they felt they’ve been harmed, and in as much, have now sued the publisher Simon & Schuster, and the author, Jimmy Carter for $5 million dollars.

The fantastical nature of this lawsuit reminds me of the “birther” lawsuits, claiming President Obama wasn’t born in America and therefore disqualified to serve as her President.

This case, attempting to gag a Nobel Peace Prize winning former President, is just as absurd–however, the litigants do graciously offer an alternative where there wouldn’t be cause–if President Carter and Simon & Schuster only had promoted and sold the book as “the anti-Israel screed that it is.”

This misplaced pro-Israeli patriotism is a ridiculous waste of the court’s time and probably qualifies as a harassment lawsuit, which may result in the overly zealous parties having to pay Carter’s and Simon & Schuster’s legal fees. You cannot justify use of a state consumer protection statute to attack the US Constitution’s First Amendment protections for the mere publishing and sale of a book. That’s like trying to say a tugboat’s as big as an Aircraft Carrier. You can say it, but it isn’t.

Now, the people suing “wish to be clear” that they’re not suing to challenge President Carter’s right to publish a book, nor his right to “forward his virulently anti-Israeli bias”, but rather, they’re suing because he wrote a non-fiction book and claimed it to be so.

The suit was announced as, “…the first time a former President and a publishing house have been sued for violating consumer protection laws by knowingly publishing inaccurate information while promoting a book as factual.”  That puts them out on a limb, for sure.  

One of the plaintiff’s attorneys, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, said,

“The lawsuit will expose all the falsehoods and misrepresentations in Carter’s book and prove that his hatred of Israel has led him to commit this fraud on the public. He is entitled to his opinions but deceptions and lies have no place in works of history.”

The Washington Post reported a response from a spokesman from Simon & Schuster, Adam Rothberg:

“This lawsuit is frivolous, without merit, and is a transparent attempt by the plaintiffs, despite their contentions, to punish the author, a Nobel Peace prize winner and world-renowned statesmen, and his publisher, for writing and publishing a book with which the plaintiffs simply disagree. It is a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.”

In reading through the complaint, a few things come to mind.

The plaintiffs are claiming harm to the “reading public” due to the fact that:

• Carter and publisher claim his non-fiction work as truthful and accurate while marketing the book, then,

• Carter and Simon & Schuster benefitted financially from selling a supposedly “inaccurate and deceptive” book,

• Because the reading public was “deceived” with the marketing of the book, they were harmed,

• Hence, the lawsuit under New York state consumer protection statute, ala “truth in advertising”.

Problem is, satisfying this complaint would set a precedent undermining a fundamental legal pillar upon which the entire nation rests.  It’s called the First Amendment.

Two problems going after the First Amendment.

#1 Federal Supremacy – New York state business statute cannot trump Federal law, let alone the US Constitution.

#2 Greater Harm – Satisfying the complaint would mean that books and publications of all different stripes would be called into question, most likely by those who didn’t like them, creating the greater harm of damaging the fundamental Freedoms of Speech and Freedoms of the Press enshrined in the US Constitution’s First Amendment protections. This, in turn, would negatively impact an important sector within the “prize of the American economy”, namely, intellectual property (e.g. the publishing industry).

This is clearly a harassment suit, and needs to be thrown out as such.

The presiding judge in one of the birther cases (Hollister vs. Soetoro) said, “the case was a waste of the court’s time”, calling the lawyers “agents provocateurs” and ordered their local counsel, John Hemenway, to show cause why he should not pay the legal fees for Obama’s attorney as a penalty for filing a complaint “for an improper purpose such as to harass”.

Another judge concluded an Orly Taitz birther case,

“The Court is not willing to go tilting at windmills with her.”

With this attempt to gag a former U.S. President–or squeeze $5 million dollars out of him because someone didn’t like what he said–methinks, the “Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha” has, lately, been making the book club reading list at the Israel Law Center.

For more info:

The complaint filed on February 1st, 2011 as Unterberg et al. v. Jimmy Carter et al. can be found here:

http://israellawcenter.org//uploadimages/image/Jimmy%20Carter%20Complaint.pdf

The plaintiffs listed are Stephen Unterberg (Israel / New York), Susan Echman (Elizabeth, New Jersey), Ryan Shuman (Orono, Minnesota), Danica Bernard (Marina Del Rey, California), and Steven Tabak (Israel / New York).

The defendants are President Jimmy Carter, and his publisher, Simon & Schuster.

The attorneys listed on the complaint are David I. Schoen, as counsel for the plaintiffs, from Montgomery, Alabama, and the Israeli co-counsel, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, from Ramat Gan, Israel.