16 June 2014

Law in Plain English: Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogSusan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

Argument: Apr 22 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Shortly before the 2010 general election, then-Congressman Steven Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission against Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a pro-life advocacy organization that planned to run advertisements against him. SBA List then initiated a lawsuit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Driehaus, the Commission's members, and the Ohio Secretary of State. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), an anti-tax advocacy organization, filed a similar federal action, although no state proceedings had been brought against it. When Driehaus lost his bid for reelection, he filed a motion to withdraw his Commission complaint. SBA List consented to this and the Commission proceedings ceased. SBA List then amended its complaint to allege that the Commission proceedings following Driehaus's complaint chilled its speech and associational rights. This could happen again, SBA List alleged, if any complainant decided to hale the organization before the Commission. SBA List stated its intent to engage in "substantially similar activity in the future" and offered that Driehaus "may run for Congress again." COAST also filed suit against only the Commission. It claimed that it did not publish its own messages because its knowledge of the Commission proceedings against SBA List chilled its ability to speak. The district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss on standing, ripeness, and mootness grounds. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, ruling that neither SBA List nor COAST's allegations were ripe.

Issue: The questions before the Court are (1) whether, to challenge a speech-suppressive law, a party whose speech is arguably proscribed must prove that authorities would certainly and successfully prosecute him, as the Sixth Circuit holds, or should the court presume that a credible threat of prosecution exists absent desuetude or a firm commitment by prosecutors not to enforce the law, as seven other Circuits hold; and (2) whether the Sixth Circuit erred by holding, in direct conflict with the Eighth Circuit, that state laws proscribing “false” political speech are not subject to pre-enforcement First Amendment review so long as the speaker maintains that its speech is true, even if others who enforce the law manifestly disagree.

Holding: In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that that petitioners have alleged a sufficiently imminent injury under Article III to enable them to challenge the constitutionality of the false statement law.
Post a Comment