The Susan B. Anthony List has filed an appeal in the Sixth Circuit Court on the constitutionality of an obscure elections law a Democrat is using to try to silence the pro-life organization.
Meanwhile, the pro-life political group has filed a request for permission to appeal former Representative Steve Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit in the Sixth Circuit Court on the grounds that there are still questions about the legality of the case.
Earlier this month, a pro-abortion-appointed judge ruled that Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit, alleging that the Susan B. Anthony List cost him his job and a “loss of livelihood” by educating constituents about his vote in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare, should be allowed to go to trial. The court also dismissed SBA’s challenge to Ohio’s False Statement law which empowers state officials to enforce stiff fines—even prison time—for candidate criticism they deem to be “false.”
U.S. District Judge Timothy Black dismissed the lawsuit saying there is no case since the billboards SBA List planned to run about Driehaus’ vote — which he successfully persuaded Lamar advertising to cancel before they ran — never actually 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.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the SBA List president, emailed LifeNews about the appeal.
“The idea that a judge would take it upon himself to police speech, specifically statements on a position taken by the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, The Congressional Research Service, the Catholic Church, and the entire pro-life movement, shakes our Constitutional foundation,” she said. “It is as if we woke up in the middle of Orwell’s 1984. The blatant disregard for the First Amendment and the Constitutional right of people to speak out against the actions of those elected to represent them is an outright assault on free speech.”
Dannenfelser is very concerned that a dangerous precedent will be set if a judge is allowed to determine if criticism of elected officials is acceptable and that candidates can sue their critics for defamation.
“Debate about the voting record of a member of Congress is commonplace during the course of a campaign and it is up to the voters to decide on which side of the issue they fall. The voters of Driehaus’ district deprived him of his livelihood. Penalizing the exercise of our members’ free speech here threatens free speech nationwide. We will not stand for it,” she said.
Since Driehaus filed his suit last year, SBA List’s arguments have gained widespread support — as the ACLU of Ohio, in an amicus brief filed last October, came to the group’s defense. The pro-abortion legal group wrote, “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.”
Dannenfelser maintains that Driehaus and other Democrats who opposed the bill on abortion funding eventually caved when the Senate version — which contained no limited on abortion funding — received House approval with a pro-life amendment to stop the funding. President Barack Obama eventually signed the pro-abortion Obamacare bill into law and issued an executive order that did not stop abortion funding but merely restated the phony limits in the bill.
“Driehaus was originally opposed to the health care bill because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion, and that has not changed,” Dannenfelser concluded. “The bill still lacks the necessary safeguards Driehaus said needed to be in place for him to support the legislation, and yet he voted for it. We made the voters in his district aware of his vote and there is nothing defaming about that.”
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.”
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.”