Constitutional Law

Scalia uses 'Ministry of Truth' example from Orwell book as SCOTUS mulls Ohio law on political lies


The U.S. Supreme Court is only being asked to decide whether an anti-abortion group has standing in federal district court to challenge an Ohio law that criminalizes political lies.

But members of the nation’s top court on Tuesday couldn’t resist offering a preview of what they think about the constitutionality of the law, which provides for the Ohio Elections Commission to determine whether political advertising has included knowing or reckless false statements about a political candidate or ballot initiative.

Adopting an analogy made by the Susan B. Anthony List’s legal counsel to George Orwell’s famous book 1984, Justice Antonin Scalia told Ohio ‘s state solicitor, “The mere fact that a private individual can chill somebody’s speech does not say, ‘Well, since a private individual can do it, you know, the Ministry of Truth can do it,’ ” reports MSNBC.

Other members of the court also expressed concern about the constitutionality of the law, which, some pointed out, could have a chilling effect on free speech rights even if it is not invoked, according to the Columbus Dispatch, SCOTUSblog and the Washington Post (reg. req.).

The case revolves around a billboard ad the Susan B. Anthony List tried to put up in 2010 criticizing a federal lawmaker. When he threatened to sue and filed a complaint with the elections commission over the accuracy of the ad, the owner of the billboard refused to run the ad. After he failed to win reelection, the lawmaker dropped his complaint.

The Susan B. Anthony List and another group sued, alleging a violation of their constitutional rights. However, a federal district judge and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nixed the litigation, saying the plaintiffs weren’t harmed because they were never prosecuted.

If the Susan B. Anthony List prevails in the high court case, the group will be able to revive its lawsuit in federal district court.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “SCOTUS to consider right to challenge Ohio’s law barring political lies”

ABAJournal.com: “‘Truthiness’ is vital to political speech, according to humorist’s amicus brief”

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