Add another wrinkle to the insanity that is the 2014 midterms: Courts will still be deciding whether states have the right to restrict “false” campaign ads.
The Supreme Court on Monday ducked the biggest questions in a potentially significant First Amendment case about political attack ads and how state governments can regulate them. But it said those issues should continue to play out in lower courts.
This all started with an anti-Obamacare billboard in 2010. The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion-rights group, wanted to put up a billboard attacking then-Rep. Steve Driehaus over his vote for the Affordable Care Act. “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion,” the billboard read.
Driehaus said the attack was false, and his state — Ohio — bans false ads.
SBA List never put up the billboard in question, but it challenged the Ohio law as unconstitutional. State governments have no business deciding what can be said in a political campaign, or serving as the arbiters of what’s true or false, SBA List argued.
A federal appeals court tossed out SBA List’s suit on procedural grounds. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in a unanimous ruling Monday, saying the suit can proceed.
Fifteen states have laws similar to Ohio’s, all of which could hang in the balance as courts continue to question whether such laws are constitutional.
In 2010, Driehaus filed a complaint with Ohio’s election commission and also pressured the billboard owner not to accept SBA List’s ad. Because the ad never went up, the election commission never ruled. And that means SBA List’s attack was never actually deemed true or false.
So, to challenge Ohio’s law, SBA List had to argue that the whole mess with Driehaus was chilling its future speech — that it wants to run similar ads in the future and could face enforcement from Ohio’s ban on “false” attacks. And of course, SBA List believes its attack is entirely true, citing the structure of the health care law’s insurance subsidies, which calls into question whether an attack like this one could ever be ruled definitively true or false.
The lower court said SBA List’s argument was too hypothetical — without an actual ruling from the election commission, SBA List hadn’t been injured, the court said. And if it hadn’t been injured, it couldn’t sue.
The Supreme Court rejected that reasoning. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the unanimous opinion, cited past cases in which the Court allowed “pre-enforcement” challenges.
When a state law restricts activity protected by the Constitution, the Court has said that the threat of prosecution is enough of an injury to support a lawsuit, Thomas wrote.
What We're Following See More »
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."
Conrad Burns, the colorful livestock auctioneer and radio executive from Montana who served three terms as a senator, died on Thursday at age 81. Burns "was ousted from office in 2006 under the specter of scandal after developing close ties to "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff," although no charges were ever filed.
In an exchange not ripped from the page of The Onion, Vice President Biden revealed to a Vatican cardinal that he's been betting reporters on which cars are faster. After meeting privately with Pope Francis, Biden met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State. Within moments of greeting one another, Biden said that he'd met with the pope and, gesturing to the press pool, "I've met with these guys too." Singling out reporter Gardiner Harris, who recounted the exchange, he said, "I had to pay this man $10. He's from the New York Times. We had a bet: which is the faster car, the newer Cadillac or the new [Tesla]. ... The Tesla's two tenths of a second faster. But I lost. I paid my $10." He joked that he's "seeking absolution."