Saturday, January 26, 2013

Judge Black tosses Steve Driehaus defamation suit against SBA list

Another solid victory for the First Amendment

Late yesterday, Judge Timothy Black issued an important ruling vindicating First Amendment rights in political campaigns in the case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Rep. Steve Driehaus.  That decision is here.

Both SBA List and COAST are parties to a separate part of that litigation in which the Ohio False claims statute, and the ability of the Ohio Elections Commission to stand in judgment of the truth or falsity of political statements, is being challenged.  That portion of the litigation presently is still pending before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

During the heated 2010 Congressional election between democrat Steve Driehaus and republican Steve Chabot for the 1st Congressional District of Ohio, the pro-life group, SBA List wanted to erect billboards that highlighted Steve Driehaus' vote for ObamaCare as having been a vote supporting taxpayer funding for abortions.

Driehaus contacted the billboard company and threatened to sue them if they went forward with the displays.  They capitulated and refused to sell the ads to the SBA List.  SBA List then issued a series of press releases about Driehaus' support for taxpayer-funded abortions and the intimidation of the billboard company.

During the election, Driehaus brought a "false claims" challenge of SBA List's statements before the Ohio Elections Commission.  This is so despite the fact that ObamaCare unquestionably causes taxpayer funds to be used for abortions (see link here), notwithstanding the gymnastics of certain Congressional democrats (including Driehaus) to claim otherwise.  SBA List brought suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the False Claims Statute.  COAST intervened because it wanted to make similar statements, but was chilled in doing so because of the OEC enforcement threat hanging over its head. 

Driehaus lost the election, and ultimately dismissed the OEC Complaint.  He then brought a bizarre defamation counterclaim against the SBA List in the federal proceeding claiming he was defamed by their statements and that that defamation resulted in his loss of the election.  That suit, brought in the federal district court, was assigned to Judge Timothy Black.

Interestingly, Black initially saw merit in the Driehaus arguments and denied summary judgment to the SBA List.  That decision is here.  But in the meantime, the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in U.S. v. Alvarez in which the notion that government can stand in judgment of the truth or falsity of statements, and punish false statements was rejected under the First Amendment:
The law steers far clear of requiring judicial determination of political “truth,” and does so because of the serious dangers to democracy and the political process that would result from turning the courts into “truth squads” with respect to core political speech on matters of public concern. 
This Alvarez decision apparently was enough to convince Black that Driehaus defamation counterclaim was not well founded under First Amendment principles.Thus, the Black decision is one in a series of recent decisions that have vindicated First Amendment liberties against a government, federal, state and local, that constantly seeks to overstep its bounds in regulating political and other speech.
COAST has two cases pending before the 6th Circuit challenging the constitutionality of the Ohio False Claims statute, its challenge in the Driehaus case, and the "Tweets case" about which we have written extensively.  COAST believes that knocking down these encroachments on First Amendment liberties are core to its mission of preventing the abuse of governmental powers.

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