Supreme Court Takes Case of Pro-Life Group Defending Its Free Speech Rights

National   Mallory Quigley   Jan 10, 2014   |   5:37PM    Washington, DC

Today the Supreme Court of the United States announced it will consider the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) petition involving a First Amendment challenge to Ohio’s “false statement” law, which criminalizes “false” political speech and empowers a state agency to determine what constitutes true and false political speech.

Since 2010, now former Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) has sought to use the statute against the SBA List. The group attempted to erect billboards in his district during the 2010 election cycle to educate constituents about his vote in support of taxpayer funding abortion by voting for the Affordable Care Act but was prevented from doing so because of the Ohio law.  The SBA List was also threatened with prosecution if it engaged in similar speech about Driehaus or other candidates.  Nevertheless, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the SBA List could not challenge the Ohio law under the First Amendment.

The SBA List submitted the petition in August asserting that: “In this case, application of the Sixth Circuit’s restrictive rulings has assured perpetuation of a blatantly unlawful regime under which bureaucrats are the supreme fact-checkers for every political campaign – a regime that has, predictably, been routinely abused and will continue to be, absent this Court’s intervention.”

“We are thrilled at the opportunity to have our arguments heard at the Supreme Court and hope that not only will SBA List’s First Amendment rights be affirmed, but those of all Americans,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of SBA List. “The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the Constitutional right of citizens to criticize their elected officials.”

“This lawsuit originated with the now ongoing problem of taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare. Driehaus was originally opposed to the Affordable Care Act because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion. That never changed and to this very day, Americans are still fighting the expansion of taxpayer funding of abortion brought about by the overhaul. After Driehaus and other naïve ‘pro-life’ Democrats caved, SBA List sought to inform constituents of their votes for taxpayer funding of abortion,” said Dannenfelser.

In January 2013, the SBA List won its related two year court battle with Driehaus, who had also filed a defamation suit alleging that SBA List cost him his job and a “loss of livelihood,” when the district court held that SBA List’s statements about Driehaus’ vote in favor of Obamacare were not defamatory. Driehaus filed an appeal from the dismissal in February, which remains pending.

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SBA List’s arguments have gained widespread support.  The ACLU of Ohio, in an amicus brief filed in the case, came to the group’s defense, declaring, “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.”