Reason: Former Ohio Congressman's Lawsuit Will Proceed in Federal Court — in Spite of the First Amendment

Former Ohio Congressman’s Lawsuit Will Proceed in Federal Court — in Spite of the First Amendment
by Seth McKelvey

Former Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) lost his re-election campaign last year and he knows who to blame. Not voters, but the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a pro-life political action committee that Driehaus is suing for defamation. He claims their criticism of him as insufficiently pro-life was a malicious lie that contributed to his defeat and thus his “loss of livelihood.”

The SBA List’s purported defamation? Since Driehaus voted for ObamaCare, which contained no anti-abortion provisions, he betrayed his pro-life beliefs. Driehaus claims he betrayed nothing. A difference in opinion at most. Driehaus did promise not to vote for ObamaCare unless it banned federal funding of abortions and that he did not keep.

In an editorial for U.S. News & World Report, Peter Roff writes:

Amazingly, rather than laugh the suit out of court U.S. District Court judge Timothy S. Black, an Obama appointee, is allowing it to go forward.

Black was also once the president and director of the Planned Parenthood Association of Cincinnati, which Roff sees as a direct conflict of interest since the SBA List have been fighting to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

But that’s not Roff’s only problem with the suit:

Driehaus’s suit is breaking new legal ground and may already be having a very chilling effect on political speech. It goes directly at the heart of our First Amendment protections and criminalizes what is at least a difference of opinion.

The current civil suit comes after a criminal complaint which did seem to have a chilling effect on speech from the start. Driehaus’s initial suit, based on an Ohio law which criminalizes lying about public officials, prompted the SBA List to ax plans to put up billboards criticizing the congressman. Driehaus dropped the case the day after he lost his re-election bid. But Judge Black recently allowed the civil defamation case to go forward.

The Washington Examiner opines:

Of course, one person’s “malicious lies” are another’s political speech. Fines and even prison sentences allowed under Ohio’s False Statement Law are tantamount to muzzling any speech that someone disagrees with, which is basically all political speech.

The SBA List, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, unsuccessfully sought an injunction against the law in 2010, and is now attempting to appeal in federal court based on First Amendment grounds.

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