The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a case challenging an Ohio law that bars candidates and issue groups from lying in their campaigns. The nine Justices are interested in whether two groups who claim harm, were harmed and can therefore sue, not in whether the Ohio law inhibits free speech or is unconstitutional.
While the case involves political speech, it centers on a 2010 legal wrangle between then Democratic Congressman Steve Driehaus, who ran for re-election to Congress but lost that race, and the Susan B. Anthony List, a political group devoted to electing pro-life candidates.
During the congressional campaign of 2010, when the rise of the Tea Party became a factor in the so-called "shellacking" Democrats took that year at the ballot box, the Susan B. Anthony [SBA] List, a pro-life advocacy group, was preparing a billboard ad campaign charging that by voting for the federal health care reform law, Congressman Driehaus was supporting taxpayer-funded abortions.
Congressman Driehaus, first elected in 2008, sought a ruling from the Ohio Elections Commission to block the ads. He said the claim was false, damaged his reputation and hurt his re-election bid, according to The Hill. Republican Steve Chabot, who had previously held Ohio's 1st Congressional District, won.
Following involvement by the Ohio Elections Commission, SBA List sued in federal court on First Amendment grounds. COAST, a Cincinnati-based anti-tax group best known for opposing a proposed streetcar project in the Queen City, located on the Ohio River, jumped in by suing the OEC over the law, arguing it violated free speech.
The COAST and SBA List cases were combined. The court will rule on whether two groups have been harmed by the law and if so, whether they have a r right to sue.
"We think it's an extremely important case," said Chris Finney, a cofounder of COAST, to USA Today reporter Deirdre Shesgreen. "We're very excited the Supreme Court has recognized that it's worthy of their attention."
The OEC never reached a final determination on whether the SBA List's speech was unlawful, but the billboards never went up because the company that owned the space didn't proceed after Congressman Driehaus's lawyer threatened legal action under the Ohio law, Shesgreen wrote.
COAST and SBA List appealed the 6th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court last summer, arguing that to be able to challenge a law that suppresses free speech, they should not have to be prosecuted because a "credible threat of prosecution should be enough."
"The Sixth Circuit's approach is to prevent even meritorious challenges to laws that suppress speech, resulting in self-censorship, chill, and degradation of political discourse -- the very evils that the First Amendment is designed to combat," the groups argued.
Up for reelection this year, Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine defended the OEC by asking the court to not to take the case. DeWine's office said SBA List and COAST only alleged "a generalized and subjective chill of their speech" and never showed that they faced any threat of actual criminal prosecution
"SBA List never specified how its speech was chilled, and, to the contrary, kept speaking despite the Commission's preliminary proceedings," the AG's brief said.
While the Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter, its order made no comment on the case and the justices will schedule oral arguments later this year.
"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," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List, said. "The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the constitutional right of citizens to criticize their elected officials."
According to its Website, the Susan B. Anthony List, and its connected Political Action Committee, the SBA List Candidate Fund, "are dedicated to electing candidates and pursuing policies that will reduce and ultimately end abortion. To that end, the SBA List will emphasize the election, education, promotion, and mobilization of pro-life women."
COAST "exists to limit the rate of taxes and spending at the federal, state, and local level to within the rate of inflation and to stop the abuse of power by government officials," its Website proclaims.
Driehaus didn't comment to USA Today because he couldn't be reached and the OEC did not return a call.
The news article Supreme Court takes case challenging Ohio law banning lying in political ads appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.
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