U.S. Supreme Court justices of all ideological stripes expressed free speech concerns about an Ohio law that makes it a crime to lie about politicians during an election, making it appear likely they will back a challenge to the law launched by an anti-abortion group. The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List told the court Tuesday that the law – which allows citizens to file complaints about untruthful statements with Ohio’s Elections Commission – chills free speech when it’s most needed – immediately before an election. Attorney Michael A. Carvin said complaints filed before the commission typically can’t be resolved before an election because of the time it takes to process them. He urged the Supreme Court to reject a lower court’s decision that his group lacks standing to challenge the law because it was never found guilty of a violation. “We’re facing a credible threat,” said Carvin. “We ask the Court to lift this yoke so that we can become full participants in the next election cycle.”
The case stemmed from the group’s desire to place 2010 campaign ads that accused former congressman Steve Driehaus – an anti-abortion Democrat who represented the Cincinnati area for a single term – of voting for “taxpayer-funded abortion” by supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Driehaus told the Ohio Elections Commission the claim was false, since President Obama issued an executive order that stipulated insurance plans in the health exchanges would ensure tax dollars wouldn’t pay for abortions save for cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life. Driehaus withdrew his complaint after losing his re-election battle to Cincinnati-area GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, so the commission never ruled on its truth.
The anti-abortion group filed a federal lawsuit that challenged Ohio’s law on free speech grounds. It likened Ohio’s criminalization of false political speech to the Stolen Valor Act – a federal law invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court that made it illegal to lie about receiving military honors or decorations.