Breaking news: the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed today that the First Amendment applies to speech. Seriously. And it all started when a Congressman lost his re-election bid and accused a pro-life group of denying him his livelihood. (Can’t make this stuff up.)
I’m only barely facetious here. What actually happened was that the Court ruled that the Susan B. Anthony List has standing to challenge an Ohio “false statement” law on First Amendment grounds. Former Ohio Congressman Steve Driehaus took exception to SBA List’s claim that his vote for Obamacare was a vote for abortion. He lost his election and blamed SBA List for it. He cited an Ohio law criminalizing “false statements” during a campaign.
SBA List is fighting the law, claiming that not only was their statement true, but that the First Amendment takes precedence over state law. The Supreme Court today agreed that the group may continue its challenge to the Ohio law in lower courts.
That’s reassuring. I hope it’s not the high-water mark for free speech and religious liberty, as we wait for buffer zone and Obamacare mandate decisions within the next couple of weeks.
Remarks after the decision: “We will continue to tell the truth”
SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser spoke to reporters during a conference call less than an hour after the decision was announced, saying that she did not go looking for this case. “We are a pro-life group, and our job is to win elections. We will continue to tell the truth even if an Ohio law says we have to stop speaking.” She called today’s decision “a resounding victory against fear in the public square. The threat of jail time, of fines that could put you out of business, that is a chill.” She added “it’s still the voters’ responsibility” to evaluate statements made in the course of a campaign.
Michael A. Carvin, one of the attorneys for SBA List in this case, said the group would move “very expeditiously” to an Ohio district court, seeking an injunction against Ohio’s so-called “false statement” law in time for the Fall 2014 elections. “There’s no excuse for delay.”
Carvin noted that the Ohio elections commission has independent litigating authority. What that tells me is that even if the Ohio attorney general declines to waste taxpayer resources on a dead-bang-loser of a free-speech case, the elections board could go ahead anyway. (We don’t know what Ohio officials will decide to do at this point.)
Obamacare and abortion
We already know about the HHS contraceptive mandate, which includes coverage for abortion-inducing drugs under the mistitled “Affordable Care Act.”. SBA List points out further issues:
“The law, known as Obamacare, permitted direct payments for abortion under risk pools and other clauses and included elective abortion plans in tax-preferred state exchanges. The law’s Preventative Services Mandate forces employers to provide coverage of abortion-inducing drugs and also includes a loophole allowing Congress and its staff to spent federal dollars on abortion-funding health care plans.”
The case: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus