June 16, 2014

Supreme Court allows challenge to Ohio law that penalizes political lies

Guess what? People lie in politics.

Guess what? People lie in politics.

Should that be against the law? (Insert, here, mandatory reference to gambling in Casablanca.)

On Monday, in a closely watched free speech case, a unanimous Supreme Court agreed to let a challenge proceed against an Ohio law that prohibits certain “false statements” during a campaign.

Note: The high court did not strike down the Ohio law itself. The decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas, though, does permit the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List to challenge the law.

The pro-life group, during the 2010 election campaign, planned a billboard that would have read: “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.” Driehaus had voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The advertising company that owned the billboard space refused to display that message, however, after Driehaus’ counsel threatened legal action.

Driehaus subsequently filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. He subsequently lost his reelection bid in November 2010.

The pretty technical legal question before the Supreme Court was whether the threat of enforcement amounted to the kind of injury needed to come to court. The answer, it turns out, is yes.

“The threat of future enforcement of the false statement statute is substantial,” Thomas wrote. “Most obviously, there is a history of past enforcement here: SBA was the subject of a complaint in a recent election cycle...The credibility of that threat is bolstered by the fact that authority to file a complaint with the Commission is not limited to a prosecutor or an agency.”

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