Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Case Regarding Right to Lie in Political Ads

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two conservative groups have convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to an Ohio law that penalizes anyone who knowingly lies in political advertisements.


The Susan B. Anthony List and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes claim the Ohio False Statements Law, which can lead to fines and imprisonment for lying in campaign commercials, violates the First Amendment and the right to free speech.


Their case goes back to 2010, when the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up a billboard criticizing Democratic U.S. Representative Steven Driehaus for supporting the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare).


They wanted to “shame” Driehaus for his decision, contending that a vote for Obamacare amounted to a vote for taxpayer-funded abortions.


However, the ACA states abortions must be paid for through non-ACA accounts. In addition, previously passed federal law prohibits taxpayer money from funding abortions.


Driehaus, who ultimately lost his reelection bid, complained to the Ohio state election commission, alleging that the proposed billboard campaign was false and violated state law.


Because the group faced the possibility of a $5,000 fine and six months in prison if found guilty of violating the law, the Susan B. Anthony List decided to drop its billboard plan, which is why its lawyers say the statute discourages free speech.


The two plaintiffs first filed their lawsuit challenging the law in a federal Ohio court. The presiding judge dismissed the complaint in August 2011, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld (pdf) that decision last year after the groups appealed.


The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in the coming months and render a decision by June.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Justices Agree to Hear Challenge to Ohio Speech Law (by Lawrence Hurley, Reuters)

Supreme Court Takes Political Ads Case (by Byron Tau, Politico)

Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus (SCOTUS Blog)

Anti-Abortion Group, Supported by ACLU, Fights for Right to Make False Statements (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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