Ben Winters, Staff Writer
On April 22, an Ohio law that criminalizes misinformation in political campaigns was brought to the Supreme Court. In 2010, Democrat Steve Driehaus ran for re-election in Ohio for a seat in the House of Representatives. During the campaign, the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, sought to erect a billboard accusing Driehaus of supporting taxpayer-funded abortions since he supported Obamacare. Although the billboard was never utilized and Driehaus lost the election regardless, the former Ohio representative filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission. According to Driehaus, the Susan B. Anthony List had intent to knowingly publish false information, since Obamacare doesn’t allow federal money to be used for abortions. In fact, Driehaus did not vote for Obamacare until he was ensured that the act would not use taxpayer money to fund abortions, except in cases of rape or extreme danger to the mother.
The real question at the center of this case is whether the Susan B. Anthony List can challenge the Ohio law right away or if they have to wait to see if they are found guilty. During the hearing the Supreme Court appeared extremely skeptical of the law, which is currently upheld in more than fifteen states. The verdict is not expected until June, but it’s unlikely that the question of misinformation in politics will be answered so simply or swiftly.
The problem is that voters can be easily misled and in turn, might cast their votes for a candidate who doesn’t actually represent their best interests. Some, however, argue that campaign ads including Susan B. Anthony List’s billboard fall under “political speech,” which is protected under the First Amendment. The issue at hand is that it is almost impossible to make political speech objective. Another point that Chief Justice Roberts pointed out was that those selling ad spaces might be intimidated by the law and could in turn prevent a group from getting its message out. Roberts notes, “The slightest whiff of this is going to be legal trouble,” showing that more than anything else, the real fear associated is that it will create a political climate reminiscent of George Orwell’s “1984.”