FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 18, 2011
Contact: Ciara Matthews, (202) 223-8073
Suit Seeks to Squelch Right to Criticize Elected Officials
WASHINGTON, DC – The Susan B. Anthony List has filed an appeal in the Sixth Circuit Court on the constitutionality of the Ohio False Statement Law. Additionally, the organization has filed a request for permission to appeal former Representative Steve Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit in the Sixth Circuit Court on the grounds that there are still questions about the legality of the case.
On Monday, August 1, an Ohio federal court judge ruled that Driehaus’ defamation lawsuit, alleging that the Susan B. Anthony List cost him his job and a “loss of livelihood” by educating constituents about his vote in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion in the health care bill, should go to trial. The court also dismissed a challenge to Ohio’s False Statement law which empowers state officials to enforce stiff fines—even prison time—for candidate criticism they deem to be “false.”
“The idea that a judge would take it upon himself to police speech, specifically statements on a position taken by the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, The Congressional Research Service, the Catholic Church, and the entire pro-life movement, shakes our Constitutional foundation. It is as if we woke up in the middle of Orwell’s 1984,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of SBA List. “The blatant disregard for the First Amendment and the Constitutional right of people to speak out against the actions of those elected to represent them is an outright assault on free speech.”
Dannenfelser went on to explain that a dangerous precedent will be set if a judge is allowed to determine if criticism of elected officials is acceptable and that candidates can sue their critics for defamation.
“Debate about the voting record of a member of Congress is commonplace during the course of a campaign and it is up to the voters to decide on which side of the issue they fall. The voters of Driehaus’ district deprived him of his livelihood. Penalizing the exercise of our members’ free speech here threatens free speech nationwide. We will not stand for it.”
Since Driehaus filed his suit last year, SBA List’s arguments have gained widespread support. The ACLU of Ohio, in an amicus brief filed last October, came to the group’s defense, declaring unequivocally, “The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials, the government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech, and the best answer for bad speech is more speech.” The lawyer who wrote the brief is an abortion rights advocate.
Dannenfelser concluded with a reminder of where Driehaus once stood on the issue saying, “Driehaus was originally opposed to the health care bill because it did not contain specific language preventing the funding of abortion, and that has not changed. The bill still lacks the necessary safeguards Driehaus said needed to be in place for him to support the legislation, and yet he voted for it. We made the voters in his district aware of his vote and there is nothing defaming about that.”
The Susan B. Anthony List is a nationwide network of more than 330,000 Americans dedicated to mobilizing, advancing, and representing pro-life women in politics. Its connected Candidate Fund increases the percentage of pro-life women in the political process.