Ohio Election Commission v. Susan B. Anthony List — Amicus Brief Filed Opposing Ohio’s “Ministry of Truth”

Michael Harless Election Law, Nonprofit Law, U. S. Supreme Court

Taking a page out of Orwell’s novel 1984, the Ohio Elections Commission operates as a modern “Ministry of Truth’ — with the power to “determine” and “proclaim” the truth or falsity of every statement made during an Ohio political campaign. Our firm filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court, contending that the government has no legitimate role whatsoever to play in guiding Americans as to how to vote.

Here is what happened. Two political committees sought to defeat Congressman Steve Driehaus during the 2012 election cycle by claiming he supported taxpayer-funded abortion when he voted in favor of Obamacare.

Driehaus complained that the claim was false, and filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission. A committee of Commission members agreed, finding probable cause that the SBA List knew the charge was false. Because of this, the billboard company refused to erect their billboards containing the anti-Driehaus message. Before the full Commission could act, Driehaus lost the election, and withdrew his charge.

The political committees, however, took the matter to federal court, contending that the action taken by the Commission “chilled” their political speech protected by the First Amendment. The district court dismissed the case, not on the merits, but on the ground that the First Amendment claim was not yet “ripe” for decision. The Sixth Circuit agreed, as both courts opined that since neither organization had been prosecuted, and neither organization could produce any evidence that they would be chilled in any future campaign, their First Amendment complaint had not yet matured into a an actual case or controversy.

We urged the Supreme Court to find that the groups had, in fact, presented a First Amendment claim that is ready for judicial decision on the merits. We point out that the claim was not based upon whether the Ohio law, in fact, keeps protected speech out of the political marketplace of ideas, but whether, as a matter of law, Ohio has any jurisdiction whatsoever to enter the political marketplace of ideas to ferret out truth from alleged falsehood.

In America — where the people, not the government, are sovereign — it is for the people, not bureaucrats, to decide who, in the heat of a political campaign, is telling the truth and who is allegedly telling lies. As Thomas Jefferson proclaimed in 1779, “the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction,” therefore leaving no room for a government Ministry of Truth.

Link to brief