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‘False statement’ ban lets bureaucrats decide on truth of political ads

130710mosessupremecourtThe Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review a challenge to a “false statement” law in Ohio that lets bureaucrats decide on the truthfulness of political ads, according to a group that had been targeted under the law.

“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,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List.

The organization had fought for the right to post its messages on billboards but was denied the opportunity because of the state law. Lower courts then decided that the law could not be challenged under the First Amendment.

“The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the constitutional right of citizens to criticize their elected officials,” Dannenfelser said.

She explained that the genesis of the fight was the problem of taxpayer funding of abortion under Obamacare and the support for the health-care takeover from then-U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, D-Ohio.

“Driehaus was originally opposed to the Affordable Care Act because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion. That never changed and to this very day, Americans are still fighting the expansion of taxpayer funding of abortion brought about by the overhaul. After Driehaus and other naïve ‘pro-life’ Democrats caved, SBA List sought to inform constituents of their votes for taxpayer funding of abortion,” said Dannenfelser.

But Driehaus sought to use the Ohio law against SBA List, which tried to put up billboards in his district during the 2010 election cycle to educate voters about his position in support of taxpayer funding abortion by voting for the Affordable Care Act.

State officials, citing the law, refused to allow the billboards.

But the problem is, the law “criminalizes ‘false’ political speech” and lets state bureaucrats decide what is true and what is false.

The SBA List then was threatened with prosecution if it engaged in similar speech about Driehaus or other candidates.

Nevertheless, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that SBA List could not challenge the Ohio law under the First Amendment.

The organization last summer asked the high court for review, explaining: “In this case, application of the Sixth Circuit’s restrictive rulings has assured perpetuation of a blatantly unlawful regime under which bureaucrats are the supreme fact-checkers for every political campaign – a regime that has, predictably, been routinely abused and will continue to be, absent this court’s intervention.”

It was only a year ago that the SBA List won its other battle with Driehaus. He had filed a defamation lawsuit alleging SBA List cost him his job and a “loss of livelihood” when the district court held that SBA List’s statements about Driehaus’ vote on Obamacare actually were not defamatory.

But Driehaus has appealed the decision.

There has been widespread support for SBA List’s concern, including from the ACLU of Ohio, which said, “The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech and, in any event, the best answer for bad speech is more speech.”

When the petition was filed last summer, Dannenfelser said: “We hope to see the Supreme Court affirm the First Amendment rights of the SBA List and of all Americans. The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the constitutional right of people to criticize their elected officials. Driehaus’ original complaint should have never been enabled in the first place. The law must go.”

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