Judge Tosses Suit Over Dem Congressman Silencing Pro-Life Group

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 1, 2011   |   3:34PM   |   Cincinnati, OH

A judge has tossed the lawsuit a pro-life organization filed against a former Democratic member of Congress who to shut down the pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List over its ads about his support for pro-abortion Obamacare.

The defeated “pro-life” Democratic congressman looked to shut down the SBA List because he claimed it lied about his voting record in terms of supporting abortion funding via Obamacare. The SBA List filed suit against an obscure law he used to persuade a billboard company not to run its billboards on his voting record, but U.S. District Judge Timothy Black dismissed the lawsuit today saying there is no case since the billboards never ran.

“Without enforcement action,” Black wrote, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “a case or controversy does not exist.” The billboards would have said, “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion,” had they been allowed to run. The congressman claimed that is false and that the health care reform bill did not contain abortion funding.

Judge Black did not rule on another case — filed by Driehaus against the SBA List and he said that the defamation case could proceed to trial.  Driehaus’ claims against SBA for damages will proceed and those damages could hurt the pro-life organization financially.

Driehaus of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Susan B. Anthony List after also filing a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission during the waning days of the 2010 elections. Driehaus also complained to Lamar Advertising and successfully persuaded the company to not allow the billboard purchase. But SBA came back with its own advertising and supported pro-life Republican Steve Chabot, the sponsor of the national partial-birth abortion ban who defeated Driehaus in November for re-election to his old seat.

Driehaus withdrew the election complaint that could have resulted in fines or jail time for the pro-life group, although the state may still issue a ruling, but he moved forward with the lawsuit.

“A lie is a lie,” Driehaus’ lawyers wrote in his federal defamation lawsuit, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood.”

Previously, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List, commented on the decision in comments to LifeNews.

“No politician, bureaucracy, or court should have the power to silence the right of citizens to criticize elected officials,” she said. “Ohio’s False Statement Law allows candidates like Steve Driehaus to silence any speech critical of them by simply filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. Then, when the election is over, the candidates can dismiss their complaint so the law cannot be reviewed by the federal courts.  An unelected commission should not have the ability to decide what is true and false speech, nor tell us what speech we can and cannot hear.”

Since Driehaus filed his suit last year, SBA List’s arguments have gained widespread acceptance.  The ACLU of Ohio, in an amicus brief filed last October, came to the group’s defense, declaring unequivocally, “The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech, and the best answer for bad speech is more speech.”  The lawyer who wrote the brief is an abortion backer.

“Steve Driehaus’ constituents saw the truth about his pro-abortion record and made their voices heard on Election Day,” said Dannenfelser.  “Their conclusion – that Steve Driehaus voted for a bill allowing taxpayer funding of abortion – is backed by every major pro-life organization in the country along with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Congressional Research Service and other nonpartisan organizations.  The SBA List will continue to defend its actions, the voters and the right to criticize our elected officials.”

James Bopp, a prominent pro-life attorney who is representing the SBA List, also commented on the ruling.

“The SBA List’s speech was true, or at the very least it was its protected opinion about the meaning of Obamacare,” he said. “Yet the court found that the SBA List’s speech about Driehaus might be defamatory and ordered a trial to determine whether it is or not.”

“In a Supreme Court case called NY Times v. Sullivan, the Court established special rules for the type of speech that can be considered defamatory of public figures like elected officials. In order to be defamatory, the speech must obviously be false and cause injury, but it must also be made with actual malice,” he explained. “That’s a legal term that means that the speaker either knew the speech was false and said it anyway, or the speaker recklessly disregarded finding out whether the speech was true or false. That plainly was not the case with the SBA List. They researched Obamacare themselves, and they also read the opinions of other groups that also concluded that Obamacare provided taxpayer funds for abortion services. Yet this court found, in spite of that, and in spite of the fact that their speech is true or at least their protected opinion, that their speech might be defamatory. This ruling means that anybody criticizing a candidate is in danger of a defamation claim.”

Previously, Danenfelser said Driehaus’ lawsuit was zapping the organization’s funds.

“Former Congressman Steve Driehaus is burying us in legal bills in an effort to shut us down,” she said. “During his re-election race, Rep. Driehaus did everything he could to muzzle the truth we were trying to share– even using criminal statute against us with the threat of stiff fines and jail time. [We] fought back every step of the way. We refused to be intimidated and continued our efforts to share the truth about his vote for taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare. After we defeated him, Rep. Steve Driehaus responded by filing a federal lawsuit charging us with “depriving a person of their livelihood.’”

Dannenfelser said Driehaus is jeopardizing the livelihood of staff at the pro-life group, saying SBA has already received a bill for $76,000 in legal fees for just the past two months alone and SBA has been forced to increase its fundraising efforts to pay nearly $164,000 in legal fees since the beginning in fund that could have gone to pro-life efforts.

“This outrageous lawsuit is bleeding us dry,” Dannenfelser said. “This court battle has been draining us for months. We absolutely cannot let Steve Driehaus achieve his ultimate goal: to shut us down.”

“In order to continue our work, we can’t let a disgruntled, defeated politician shut us down,” Dannenfelser continued. “That’s his goal. He wants to shut us down by burying us in court filings and suffocating us with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills. We refuse to be bullied. We must continue to be voices for those voiceless unborn babies who will never experience the joys of Life because of politicians like Rep. Driehaus who turned his back on them.”

The SBA president believes her group will win the legal case, saying, “Even the liberal ACLU has backed up our right to free speech, writing in an Amicus Brief in our support.”