WASHINGTON, D.C., April 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) — One of the nation's largest pro-life groups has defended free speech before America's highest court, arguing that their liberty was inhibited in the 2010 race by an Ohio law restricting speech in election ads.
In 2010, the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List put together an ad it intended to run against then-Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-OH. The ad said Driehaus, who ran as a pro-life Democrat, had voted to fund abortions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by supporting the law. Driehaus defended his vote, saying that President Obama's Executive Order limiting federal funding for abortion to that which is allowed in the Hyde Amendment — rape, incest, and life of the mother — gave him the ability to support the ACA and still be a pro-life politician.
The ad never ran because Driehaus threatened SBA List under an Ohio law that does not allow false statements about candidates for political office. The billboard owner SBA List was working with decided not to run the ad because of liability reasons, and Driehaus declined to continue his complaint. Driehaus lost his re-election campaign later that year.
The board Driehaus complained to is the Ohio Elections Commission, a seven-member body that independently determines whether the state law was broken. If it believes the law was violated, the charges go on to the county prosecutor. After the complaint was withdrawn, SBA sued the state, declaring the incident had a “chilling” effect on free speech.
SBA has lost its argument twice, as lower courts have said it does not have standing to bring the lawsuit as it was not actually prosecuted. However, SBA argues the law prevented its ad from running, and so its lawsuit is valid. This is the question the Supreme Court will attempt to answer.
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According to Cleveland.com, the eight justices who spoke during the hearing expressed some level of skepticism about the law. (See the 67-page transcript of the hearing here.) SBA's lawsuit has been supported by the ACLU, the Republican National Committee, and the Obama administration, says Al Jazeera America.
Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine, a Republican, has defended the state law — as is his legal responsibility — but has also submitted a personal brief to the Court stating his personal opposition to it.
Al Jazeera reports that approximately 12 states have laws similar to Ohio's — Politico says the number is over 15 — but even that state's law has not been heavily enforced. While “20 to 90 complaints every year” are brought, a staff attorney noted that only five cases in 17 years have been sent to the county prosecutor.
SBA List is planning to run similar ads to its 2010 version against several vulnerable Democrats.