Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is one versatile individual. He proved his mastery of psychoanalysis when he diagnosed TEA Partiers as products of dysfunctional families. He’s now issuing free legal advice to Sandra Fluke, urging her to sue Rush Limbaugh for “slander, libel, and whatever else might be involved.”

A dangerous precedent is established when politicians openly promote lawsuits between citizens. Such use of governmental influence belies a nation where everyone is equal before the law and drives an unnecessary wedge between the populace. Legally, Hoyer isn’t prohibited from supporting Fluke. But ethically he should refrain from encouraging civil litigation. He violated the public’s trust, compromised a potential lawsuit’s integrity, and possibly led Sandra Fluke astray.

Hoyer’s open hubris doesn’t mean a defamation suit has no merit. Libel attorneys have outlined two reasons why Sandra is on solid legal ground. She’s a private citizen victimized publicly by a powerful figure. Also, Limbaugh’s disparaging remarks about her sex life “embedded false statements of fact.” But there are also flaws in this reasoning that could make litigation a risky path for Ms. Fluke.

Is Sandra indeed a private citizen? When an activist publicly presents their opinions as expert testimony before Congress in the attempt to influence a legislative outcome, they become part of the debate. Sandra isn’t a public figure in the same sense as Hoyer, or famous like Limbaugh. Yet her public activism makes her a public figure. Therefore, she cannot hide from criticism.

What about the insults? Being a public figure doesn’t mean it’s open season for character assassination. However, a libel suit could be Sandra Fluke’s undoing. Instigating legal action entails the possibility of actually litigating. Settling for a cool million from the well-heeled Limbaugh would be a smart move. But taking her case to civil court where sworn testimony is presented opens a can of worms. Sandra Fluke’s background becomes fair game in court, including her sex life. Don’t think the Limbaugh defense team wouldn’t try to prove Sandra the biggest tramp since Mata Hari.

Limbaugh can afford the highest flying legal eagles money can buy. They’ll peek in every closet; look under every rock. Fluke’s classmates, friends, and lovers — from high school until now — will be interviewed. The most damaging will be called as witnesses for the defense. If Sandra Fluke is the least bit promiscuous we’ll learn every intimate detail, right down to her favorite acts and positions.

Public opinion favors Sandra today. But that goodwill disappears if court testimony proves her everything Limbaugh said she was. Her lawsuit will be lost, the potential windfall of an out-of-court settlement gone, and her public reputation legitimately besmirched. 

That’s the risk Sandra Fluke runs if she takes Hoyer’s legal advice. Suing Limbaugh for libel and losing makes her appear even worse than Rush portrayed her. Maybe she should then sue Hoyer for bad legal advice, and for attempting to build his political capitol at her expense.

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