The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a case involving the time-honored American tradition of lying during political campaigns, and it all started with an attack ad against an Ohio Democrat.
The case, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, will determine whether states can make it a crime to lie deliberately about candidates in the course of a political campaign. Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), a pro-life group, is challenging an Ohio law that does just that.
SBA ran afoul of that law during the 2010 Congressional elections, when it made plans to post the following attack billboard against Steven Driehaus, a former U.S. Representative of Ohio and a Democrat: “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion.” SBA also ran radio broadcasts with that message, according to SCOTUSBlog.
The ad was a reference to Driehaus’ vote for Obamacare, which does not allot federal money for abortions. While the billboard never went up because the company that owned the space backed out, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission claiming SBA had violated Ohio’s truth-in-politics statute.
After that, SBA filed a complaint in federal court seeking to strike down the Ohio law on the ground that it violated the First Amendement’s guarantee of free speech. A federal judge dismissed the suit, and the case eventually made its way to America’s highest court.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, the SBA argued that laws like Ohio’s truth-in-politics law “suppress speech, resulting in self-censorship … and degradation of political discourse — the very evils that the First Amendment is designed to combat.”
The satirist P.J. O’Rourke filed an amazing amicus brief that agreed with SBA’s point that so-called truth-in-politics laws disrupt the political process. From his brief:
In modern times, “truthiness” — a “truth” asserted “from the gut” or because it “feels right,” without regard to evidence or logic — is also a key part of political discourse. It is difficult to imagine life without it, and our political discourse is weakened by Orwellian laws that try to prohibit it.
After all, where would we be without the knowledge that Democrats are pinko-communist flag-burners who want to tax churches and use the money to fund abortions so they can use the fetal stem cells to create pot-smoking lesbian ATF agents who will steal all the guns and invite the UN to take over America?
In defending the law, Ohio filed a brief arguing that it “has an interest in prohibiting campaign falsehoods.” The brief went on to say, “Ohio’s false-statement laws reflect its elected representatives’ view that ‘the use of the known lie as a [political] tool is . . . at odds with the premises of democratic government.’ “
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