- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2014

A pro-life group is heading back to federal court to challenge an Ohio political speech law banning campaign “lies” after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the group had the right to bring their lawsuit.

The high court’s Monday ruling is “a vote for the voter,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA). “We must be able to speak, without fear … in the public square.”

The closely watched case involves an Ohio statute that makes it illegal to make “false statements” about candidates during an election campaign. First Amendment activists have attacked the law as a threat to open political debate.

Ohio is one of 17 states with laws against false campaign speech.

In Monday’s ruling in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the SBA and its fellow plaintiffs have grounds for “sufficiently imminent injury” and can pursue a lawsuit against the Ohio law.

The case should receive prompt judicial review, the unanimous opinion added, since denying that review “would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly … proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other.”

The case stemmed from a 2010 effort by the pro-life group to run ads contending that candidates who voted for the Affordable Care Act were supporting taxpayer-funded abortion.

In Ohio, SBA planned to buy billboard space targeting then-Rep. Steve Driehaus, Ohio Democrat, for his vote for Obamacare. But Mr. Driehaus effectively squelched the ad by filing a complaint with the watchdog Ohio Elections Commission, saying the SBA had misrepresented his vote.

A panel from the commission decided there was “probable cause” that SBA had violated Ohio’s law by making false statements about political records during a campaign.

Violators face fines and jail time, so the SBA backed off on its ad blitz. A second organization, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), said it too curtailed its electoral activities because of what happened to the SBA.

A lower court and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the plaintiffs couldn’t bring a case as they had not been sufficiently injured and couldn’t prove the law would be used against them.

Justice Thomas reversed the appellate ruling, saying the advocacy groups had sustained injury due to the threats of sanction and sent the case back to the lower court to be heard.

“Today’s decision by the court is a step toward victory for the freedom of speech and the broad coalition of groups who have supported SBA List throughout this case. The truth or falsity of political speech should be judged by voters, not government bureaucrats,” Ms. Dannenfelser said Monday.

SBA attorney Michael A. Carvin said the group would quickly return to federal court and ask for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the Ohio law in time for this year’s election cycle.

On Monday, spokesman Daniel Tierney said the Ohio attorney general’s office will continue to defend the statute, even though state Attorney General Mike DeWine has expressed his own reservations about the law.

Ms. Dannenfelser said Monday the SBA will make its abortion-related claims against Democratic senators on the ballot this year in North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas. “It is beyond dispute that Obamacare contains multiple abortion-funding provisions,” she said.

But NARAL Pro-Choice — a staunch opponent of SBA — decried what it called efforts to “sanction lying” in political campaigns.

“Groups who can’t win based off of the facts or the merit of their argument often resort to lying and deceiving the public,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice. “This now appears to be the primary strategy of the SBA List.”

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