The case stems from the 2010 campaign for Congress from the 1st Ohio Congressional District, when incumbent Rep. Stephen Dreihaus, a Democrat, was running for re-election. An anti-abortion group called the Susan B. Anthony List attempted to mount a billboard campaign claiming that Dreihaus supported taxpayer-funded abortions because of his support for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Dreihaus complained to the Ohio Elections Commission, citing the law that barred false statements. The commission never actually ruled on the complaint since the advertising agency that owned the billboards refused to put them up, according to an article on the MSNBC website
Nevertheless, the organization challenged the law in federal district court in 2011, but the judge threw out the challenge because the Elections Commission had never made a ruling based on the law.
Then last August the SBA decided to take the case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Ohio law violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.
“We hope to see the Supreme Court affirm the First Amendment rights of the SBA List and all Americans,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser
, president of the SBA List in a press release. “The Ohio Election Commission statute demonstrates complete disregard for the constitutional right of people to criticize their elected officials.”
In a telephone interview with Associated Press
, Dreihaus said the law is needed “to call people into account when they spread malicious lies.”
Dreihaus lost his 2010 bid for re-election and is now a Peace Corps director in Swaziland.
The case is attracting considerable national attention. Seventeen states have similar statutes, and have faced similar challenges. Those opposing such laws say the mere threat of legal action has a chilling effect on free speech.
The justices are expected to deliver a ruling in June. They could decide only the narrower question of whether the law can be challenged, since no official ruling was made or the broader constitutional question.