Cases & Deals

Advocacy groups obtain Sixth Circuit decision striking down Ohio's political "false statement" law

Clients Susan B. Anthony List

On February 24, 2016, the Sixth Circuit agreed with Jones Day's client, the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), that Ohio's criminal prohibition on making "false statements" in election campaigns violates the First Amendment. The District Court had invalidated the statute, and the Court of Appeals affirmed that result, holding that the state law restricts core political speech and fails constitutional scrutiny. The Court of Appeals therefore barred the Ohio Elections Commission from enforcing the statute. This was a complete victory for SBA.

Jones Day first became involved in this case after SBA's constitutional challenge was dismissed as not "ripe" for review. SBA sought Supreme Court review of that justiciability question, and the Court in June of 2014 reversed the dismissal unanimously, reasoning that SBA faced a credible threat of being subjected to administrative enforcement proceedings or even criminal prosecution under Ohio's law. On remand, SBA moved for a preliminary injunction as well as summary judgment and permanent relief. The District Court resolved all of the pending motions by ruling that the First Amendment precludes the State from purporting to decide what constitutes political "truth" and punishing those who it deems to be lying. It is the voters who are entrusted by the Constitution to evaluate the truth of campaign statements, clarified the court, and allowing the government to become involved in those evaluations would chill truthful speech and distort the free market of political ideas. The Sixth Circuit's recent decision endorsed that reasoning and result.

Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, Case 10-cv-720 (S.D. Ohio); Susan B. Anthony List v. Ohio Elections Commission, Case 14-cv-4008 (6th Cir.)