An Ohio federal judge landed a blow for free-speech advocates on Thursday, striking down a law that gave the state government the right to regulate political speech it deemed false.
Under the law, it was illegal to “post, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.” According to U.S. District Court judge Timothy Black’s decision: “We do not want the government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth – for fear that the government might persecute those who criticize it. Instead, in a democracy, the voters should decide.” Quoting Frank Underwood, of the hit Netflix show House of Cards, Black added: “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.”
Politico reports the details of the suit:
The case arises out of a dispute during the 2010 election where [pro-life organization] Susan B. Anthony List wanted to run political ads against then-Rep. Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio) accusing him of voting in favor of taxpayer-funded abortions by supporting Obama’s health care law, now commonly called Obamacare.
Driehaus filed a complaint over the ad campaign with the Ohio Elections Commission, arguing that SBA List’s billboard ad was in violation of the Ohio false political statement law.
SBA List strongly denied that its ads were false but filed a constitutional challenge on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the government had no right to determine the truth or falsehood of political ads and that Ohio’s law had a chilling effect on speech.
Black had tossed out the case in 2011, ruling that Susan B. Anthony List did not have standing to sue, but he was overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed two lower court decisions and returned the case to Black’s court.
The state of Ohio has the option to appeal Thursday’s decision.