RESPONDENT: Steven Driehaus
LOCATION: Susan B. Anthony List-Sponsored Billboard Targeting Congressman Steven Driehaus
DOCKET NO.: 13-193
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
CITATION: 573 US (2014)
GRANTED: Jan 10, 2014
ARGUED: Apr 22, 2014
DECIDED: Jun 16, 2014
Facts of the case
Prior to the 2010 general election, Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a nonprofit, pro-life organization, announced that it intended to put up a billboard in the district of then-Congressman Steven Driehaus. The planned billboard would have asserted that Driehaus's vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act amounted to a vote in favor of taxpayer-funded abortion. Citing threats of legal action by Driehaus's counsel, the company that owned the billboard space refused to put up the ad. Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging that SBA List violated Ohio's campaign laws by making false statements about his voting record. SBA List filed an action in federal district court arguing that the Ohio statutes infringed upon its rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment. Driehaus withdrew his complaint upon losing his bid for re-election and subsequently moved to Swaziland for an assignment with the Peace Corps. The district court dismissed the suit by SBA List for lack of standing and ripeness. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed.
(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?
Media for Susan B. Anthony List v. DriehausAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 2014 in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 16, 2014 in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus
Justice Thomas has our opinion in Case 13-193, Susan B. Anthony List versus Driehaus.
This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Ohio law prohibits certain false statements made during the course of a political campaign.
Any person may report an alleged violation of the law by filing a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.
After a complaint is filed, a three-member panel of the Commission holds a probable cause herein.
Upon a finding of probable cause, the panel refers the matter to the full Commission.
If the Commission finds a violation, it refers the matter to a prosecutor.
Petitioner, Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group criticized then Congressman Steve Driehaus by stating that his vote for the Affordable Care Act was a vote for “taxpayer-funded abortion.”
Driehaus filed a complaint with the Commission and the three-member panel found probable cause that Susan B. Anthony List had violated the false statement law.
The complaint was eventually dismissed, but Susan B. Anthony List and coalition opposed to additional spending and taxes.
The other petitioner in this case filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court challenging the false statement law on the First Amendment grounds.
The District Court dismissed the suit as nonjusticiable and the Sixth Circuit affirmed on the grounds that petitioner's claims were not ripe for review.
In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we reverse the judgment of the Sixth Circuit.
The question in this case is whether petitioners may bring a preenforcement suit to challenge the Ohio false statement law and specifically whether petitioners have alleged an injury in fact as required by Article III of the Constitution.
We conclude that they have.
Our preenforcement review cases have not required that a plaintiff expose himself to actual arrest or prosecution before challenging a statute.
Instead, we look to whether a plaintiff faces a credible threat of enforcement.
Petitioners have alleged a credible threat here.They have identified specific statements that they intend to make in future election cycles.
Their speeches also arguable prescribed by the Ohio false statement law as illustrated by the fact that our Commission panel already -- has already found probable cause to believe that their prior speech violated the law.
Finally, the statute is routinely invoked and the State of Ohio has not disavowed its enforcement.
Under these circumstances, we find that petitioners have satisfied the Article III injury-in-fact requirement.
For these reasons and other set forth -- set forth in our opinion, we reverse the judgment of the Sixth Circuit.
The opinion of the Court is unanimous.