ADF to Supreme Court: Americans have right to speak up for free speech

Brief explains need to reverse ruling that prevented pro-life group from challenging Ohio anti-speech law
Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  David Cortman

WASHINGTON — Alliance Defending Freedom filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court Monday that supports a pro-life organization’s right to challenge an Ohio law that silenced the group’s ability to speak out about an elected official’s position on Obamacare. In January, the high court agreed to hear the case.

The brief encourages the court to reverse the ruling of an appeals court that said the Susan B. Anthony List cannot sue against the Ohio law. The brief specifically points out the ramifications of the court’s decision upon the ability of students in separate situations to challenge speech restrictions that public universities and colleges frequently thrust upon them.

“All Americans should be free to speak in accordance with their views,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Heather Gebelin Hacker. “The Supreme Court should make clear that citizens should not be forced to sit idle while the government threatens to enforce a law that muzzles speech unpopular with certain government officials.”

The Ohio law criminalizes political speech that a state agency determines to be “false.” Former U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus sought to use the statute against the SBA List because the group attempted to erect billboards in his district during the 2010 election cycle. The billboards truthfully educated his constituents about his vote in support of the taxpayer funding of abortion by his vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

A state commission nonetheless threatened the group with prosecution if it erected the billboards or engaged in similar speech about Driehaus or other candidates. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit later upheld a lower court’s decision that said the SBA List could not challenge the Ohio law under the First Amendment because the group had not yet been prosecuted under the law and because the group was planning to speak truthfully and not falsely.

“Of course SBA List is planning to speak truthfully; the point is that government officials used this law to silence the group’s speech anyway,” explained Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman. “All it took was the threat of prosecution to silence SBA List’s constitutionally protected speech. As other federal circuit courts have found, it makes no sense to say that people have to wait until they are prosecuted before they can challenge a law or policy that is already being used to stifle them.”

“The present case contains reasoning which, if not carefully cabined by the Court, could further erode students’ abilities to protect their free speech rights on campus,” the Alliance Defending Freedom brief notes. “The Court should therefore specifically clarify…that students are not required to risk punishment in order to challenge policies that chill their speech on campus.”

Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorneys David R. Langdon and Robert A. Destro are co-counsel representing Susan B. Anthony List in the case, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus.

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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