SCOTUS Allows Anti-Choice Group to Challenge Ohio False Speech Law

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that the anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List may continue to challenge an Ohio state law forbidding false statements about a candidate during an election campaign. Ohio is one of 16 states with these types of false speech bans, but most aren’t enforced.

The lawsuit originated in 2010 when SBA List attempted to rent a billboard accusing Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus of voting for taxpayer-funded abortions based on his support of the 2010 health care reform law. The anti-choice group maintains that the assertion was factual. In response, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission challenging the veracity of the statement. Although the full commission did not evaluate the dispute before Driehaus lost the race and withdrew his complaint, the company did not run SBA List’s billboard amidst the controversy.

On Monday, the Supreme Court made a narrow ruling in favor of SBA List. SCOTUS asserted that SBA List had the right to challenge the law after a lower court had previously dismissed the case, citing “lack of proof of future enforcement”. The Supreme Court’s opinion did not allude to the ban’s constitutionality or the truthfulness of SBA List’s assertion. The justices did, however, hint at concern over the burdens a government’s right to police falsehoods in political advertising could pose to electoral speech. Justice Antonin Scalia compared the ban to the “Ministry of Truth”, a government misinformation bureau from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

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