ACLU: Congressman Can’t Shut Down Pro-Life Group on Abortion, ObamaCare

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 23, 2010   |   4:13PM   |   Columbus, OH

The Ohio chapter of the ACLU has filed an amicus brief supporting the Susan B. Anthony List against a criminal complaint a “pro-life Democrat” filed. The complaint attempted to shut down the group’s efforts to inform voters in the state that Congressman Steve Driehaus voted for the ObamaCare bill that funds abortions.

As has reported, Driehaus filed a criminal complaint with the Ohio Election Commission alleging the SBA List intended to deceive voters in his Cincinnati district by purchasing billboard space saying he voted for abortion funding.

The complaint would have SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser serve jail time and pay a fine for supposedly lying about Driehaus.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sided with the SBA List in asking a federal court to order the Commission and Rep. Driehaus to stop their investigation until the court decides whether Ohio’s “false statement” laws are constitutional.

The Ohio Elections Commission last week ruled that the SBA billboards accusing Driehaus of having “voted for taxpayer-funded abortion” ran afoul of the law and had “probable cause” to hold a further hearing on the matter.

But the law is “vague and overbroad, and it cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny,” the ACLU brief states.

“The statute fails for the same reasons that the Sedition Act has been condemned by history. The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech and, in any event, the best answer for bad speech is more speech,” the ACLU added. “It is not the government’s place to pass judgment on what political speech is acceptable, and certainly not in the context of criticizing a public official.”

“The right to dissent is foundational to our democracy,” said ACLU of Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “By allowing the government to be the final arbitrator of what speech is acceptable, we open the door for those who are critical of elected officials to be silenced.

“Speech is rarely black and white — oftentimes whether a statement is true or false may be a matter of opinion,” Hardiman added. “If the government silences one side of the debate, the public is less informed and others may be fearful of criticizing elected officials. The answer to unpopular speech is not less, but more speech.”

Judge Timothy Black of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio is expected to issue a ruling today on a request for a temporary restraining order stopping Ohio from enforcing the law against campaign free speech.

The case has risen to a level of national interest because it brings to mind the debate about whether the ObamaCare bill funds abortions.

Democrats for Life of America is the only pro-life group to say the legislation does not allow abortion funding — and went as far as saying the SBA List is lying about it. [related]

However, emails received that contained communication between the director of DFLA and the director of the SBA List have DFLA admitting the bill funds abortions, thanking SBA for its work on lobbying members against the bill, and providing advice on taking out ads alerting voters.