In Ohio, it’s a crime to make a knowingly or recklessly false statement about a political candidate or ballot initiative. The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), a national pro-life group, criticized Rep. Steve Driehaus for voting for Obamacare, and by implication, taxpayer-funded abortions. The so-called health care reform law allows taxpayer-funded abortions. If someone votes for the law, he has, in essence, voted for taxpayer-funded abortions.
Rep. Driehaus didn’t agree. He filed a complaint with the state’s elections commission, which found probable cause that the group violated the false-statement law. The proceeding had a chilling effect on speech. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes also wanted to criticize the congressman but decided not to after what happened to the SBA.
After the congressman lost, the commission dropped the matter, but the SBA pursued litigation on First Amendment grounds. The Coalition also sued. A lower court consolidated the suits and dismissed them, ruling that they didn’t present a concrete injury for standing or ripeness. In other words, the groups hadn’t been prosecuted, so there was no injury. Despite the pressing First Amendment issue, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court took on the case. With Justice Clarence Thomas writing the majority opinion, the court ruled today that the SBA and the Coalition have standing to bring the suit. Justice Thomas contended the groups face “a credible threat of enforcement” that chills speech.
SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser told Life News that whether political speech is true or false “should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats…It is beyond dispute that Obamacare contains multiple abortion-funding provisions.”
David Cortman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said, “The First Amendment forbids government from acting as a ‘truth commission’ on matters of public debate. The U.S. Supreme Court has rightfully upheld the freedom of Americans to speak in accordance with their views by allowing them to challenge laws that silence them. The Susan B. Anthony List’s warnings about abortion funding in Obamacare were objectively true. If that fact was part of what cost this congressman his job, that’s because his constituents, like most Americans, reject taxpayer-funded abortion.”
Giving Ohio lawmakers the benefit of the doubt, they probably intended to curb the worst of negative campaigning; however, violating the First Amendment rights of citizens with legitimate complaints against their government, which these citizens fund, should have been a foreseen consequence. Regardless, the SBA will have its day in court.