Truth In Advertising? Maybe. Truth In Politics? Not So Much.
I was on WLW radio this morning with Scott Sloan talking about the First Amendment implications of the Susan B. Anthony List case. It was argued Tuesday in the U.S. Supreme Court and it’s of interest to folks in the Cincinnati area because it involves former Congressman Steve Driehaus and his complaint that the Susan B. Anthony List group made a statement about his voting record that the group knew was false. Here’s a good analysis of the case from the SCOTUS Blog.
In short, the SBA List group is a pro-life organization. When Congressman Driehaus was running for re-election in 2012 it ran radio ads and tried to put billboards saying that Driehaus had voted in favor of government funded abortions, by voting in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Given that the act specifically excludes abortion funding, the ads were false. The Congressman filed a claim with the Ohio Elections Commission, claiming that SBA List violated ORC 3517.21(B)(9) and (10). Those provisions make it a crime to make knowingly false statements in an effort to influence an election.
The billboard company, after a call from the Congressman’s lawyer, chose not to put up the billboards. Driehaus lost, took a government position in Africa, and dropped the case. Which left the SBA List people in the lurch. They wanted to continue their case seeking to have the law declared unconstitutional. But the federal court in Cincinnati ruled that their case was moot once Driehaus dropped his complaint. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. SBA List took the case to the United States Supreme Court. The court heard oral argument this week.
The Supreme Court justices, all (except for Justice Thomas, who NEVER talks during oral argument) expressed concern about the constitutionality of the Ohio law.But that may not have a lot to do with the case. Technically, the only issue before the court is whether the SBA List case is moot. The merits of the law is for another day. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of SBA List, the case will have to start up again in federal district court. And the constitutionality of the statute may not be finally decided until our next president (whoever that is) is running for re-election!