June 16, 2014 — The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously ruled that an antiabortion-rights group has the legal standing to sue Ohio over a state law that prohibits false statements in political advertisements, USA Today reports (Wolf, USA Today, 6/16).
In August, the Susan B. Anthony List asked the Supreme Court to review the law, which was invoked by former Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) to block SBA List from erecting billboards that accused him of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions because he voted for the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). Driehaus said the group's claim was false because federal law prohibits the use of public funding for most abortions.
SBA List argued that the Ohio law violates its First Amendment right to free speech, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the group's attempt to challenge the statute because the group was never prosecuted.
During Supreme Court oral arguments in April, SBA List said that requiring individuals or groups accused of violating the law to go through an adjudication process during the limited time frame of an election cycle restricts its free speech. Meanwhile, the state argued that SBA List did not have the standing to sue because it was never prosecuted under the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/23).
Justice Clarence Thomas in the unanimous opinion said that SBA List has the legal standing to challenge the law because it and others like it can chill free speech, even if the statutes were never enforced against the groups or individuals involved (USA Today, 6/16).
Thomas wrote, "Denying prompt judicial review would impose a substantial hardship on petitioners, forcing them to choose between refraining from core political speech on the one hand, or engaging in that speech and risking costly [Ohio Elections] Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution on the other" (Tau/Gerstein, Politico, 6/16).
According to USA Today, the justices did not comment on whether SBA List should win its case against the law, but most of them "made clear" that they sided with SBA List in the ruling and during oral arguments, USA Today reports (USA Today, 6/16). The case now returns to the lower courts (Politico, 6/16).