Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

Facts of the Case

Petitioner Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) was a pro-life advocacy organization. During the course of a political campaign, SBA publicly criticized various Members of Congress who voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). In particular, it issued a press release announcing its plan to educate voters that their representative voted for a health care bill that includes taxpayer-funded abortion. The press release listed then-Congressman Steve Driehaus, respondent, who voted for the ACA. SBA also sought to display a billboard in Driehaus’ district condemning that vote. On October 4, 2010, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging that SBA violated

Question

(1) Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err in holding that the advertising company’s rejection of the proposed billboard and the Commission’s actions against SBA List do not demonstrate an imminent threat of future prosecution sufficient to establish ripeness under Article III?(2) Did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit err in holding that state laws prohibiting false political speech are not subject to pre-enforcement First Amendment review as long as the speaker maintains that the statements are factually true?

CONCLUSION

Yes. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court. The Court held that pre-enforcement challenges are justiciable when circumstances indicate that threatened enforcement of the statute is sufficiently imminent. If the threatened enforcement is sufficiently imminent, the petitioners have alleged sufficient injury for Article III standing and justiciability. In this case, the petitioners’ political speech focused on the issue of support for the Affordable Care Act, not simply on Driehaus, and thus was likely to continue despite Driehaus’ departure. The Court determined that there was a threat of future enforcement even though petitioners maintained their statements were true. Moreover, because the respondents did not disavow enforcement if petitioners carried out their speech in the future, the Court held that the prospect of enforcement was not imaginary or speculative and that petitioners had shown sufficient injury for pre-enforcement review. The Court also held that the petitioners’ suit was prudentially ripe because their challenge was purely legal, the issue would not be clarified by future factual development, and denying prompt judicial review would force them to choose between refraining from political speech or risking burdensome Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution.

Case Information

  • Citation: 573 US 149 (2014)
  • Granted: Jan 10, 2014
  • Argued: Apr 22, 2014
  • Decided Jun 16, 2014