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After revelations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Maryland legislators passed a law that many believe has a laudable purpose: preventing foreign interference in local elections.

But its sweeping scope sparked a First Amendment outcry from more than a half dozen newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun.

Now, a federal appeals court is being asked to decide whether the law goes too far. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear arguments in the case Wednesday.

The newspapers and the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association argue in a lawsuit that the statute violates the First Amendment because it requires them to collect and self-publish information about the sponsors of online political ads. It also requires them to keep records of the ads for inspection by the state Board of Elections.

U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm ruled in January that parts of the law appear to encroach on the First Amendment and granted a preliminary injunction to prevent the state from enforcing those provisions.

At issue is a requirement for online platforms to create a database identifying the purchasers of online political ads and how much they spend. The law, written to catch ads in smaller state and local elections, applies to digital platforms with 100,000 or more monthly U.S. visitors.


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