The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two pro-life groups' challenge to an Ohio law that prohibits candidates and issue groups from making false campaign statements and deters the groups from erecting billboards on taxpayer funding of abortion through "Obamacare."
The groups, Susan B. Anthony List and Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, say former Democrat Rep. Steve Driehaus from Ohio sought to use the law to prevent them from erecting billboards in his district during the 2010 election cycle to educate constituents about his vote in support of taxpayer funding abortion by voting for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
The SBA List was threatened with prosecution if it engaged in similar speech about Driehaus or other candidates, the group said in a statement Friday.
"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 SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. "The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the Constitutional right of citizens to criticize their elected officials."
A federal judge in Ohio dismissed the groups' challenge in August 2011, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in May 2013. "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," SBA List said at the time.
"Americans deserve to know and speak the truth about their elected officials. The Ohio law unconstitutionally places a muzzle on citizens in complete contrast to the First Amendment's free speech protections," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Brett Harvey in a statement Friday. "We now trust that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionally protected freedom of all Americans to engage freely in public dialogue about our elected officials and their positions."
ADF provided support for the SBA List's case.
"This lawsuit originated with the now ongoing problem of taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare," Dannenfelser said. Driehaus was originally opposed to the Affordable Care Act because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion, Dannenfelser added. "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."
The Supreme Court will need to look at whether the groups had grounds to challenge the law. Lawyers of Ohio State say the two groups couldn't prove that the statute threatened their free speech rights or that they were likely to be prosecuted, according to Reuters.
The case will likely be argued in April, and a ruling is due by the end of June.