Free speech case involving 2010 Steve Driehaus campaign goes to Supreme Court

CINCINNATI – A debate over what is truth and the nature of free speech born out of the 2010 campaign of former U.S. Representative Steve Driehaus will take center stage Tuesday when the United States Supreme Court hears arguments involving Ohio's false truth campaign law.

A group that ran a campaign advertisement accusing Driehaus of funding abortion with federal funds when he ran for re-election will argue their right to challenge an Ohio law banning false speech in election campaigns.

The anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony List, states their rights were violated in 2010 when a billboard company refused to erect their message citing campaign law , according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Attorneys for the group will argue for the right to take their case to federal court in Cincinnati after a federal circuit court judge dismissed their initial argument.

The Supreme Court case stems specifically from an advertisement by the group accusing Driehaus, a Democrat, of endorsing federal funds for abortions when he voted to pass President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Driehaus consistently stated he was against abortions in his campaign.

As national columnist Georg Will wrote in a recent column, the campaign law states "no person, during the course of any campaign ... shall ... make a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official."

In reaction to the advertisement, Driehaus threatened to sue the billboard company before that company rejected the ad. He also filed a complaint against the anti-abortion group with the Ohio Election Commission that found “probable cause” the advertisement violated the campaign law, according to the Dispatch.

Driehaus dropped that complaint after he lost the election to Republican Steve Chabot. Because he dropped the complaint, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Susan B Anthony List had no ground to challenge the law because no actual damage was done to the group.

The hearing before the Supreme Court is the anti-abortion group’s attempt to appeal that decision and possibly overturn Ohio's law.

Some conservative commentators such as George Will  sees Ohio's law as an over-extension of government power and regulation. About 15 other states have similar legislation regulating campaign speech.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case on Tuesday, April 22 beginning at 9:45 a.m.

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