On Tuesday morning, April 22nd, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments concerning whether or not the Ohio Elections Commission violates the free speech of Ohioans. On the surface, the OEC often acts on behalf of political incumbents and well-financed campaigns to shut down political rivals and dissenters.

On behalf of Ohio’s citizens, The 1851 Center For Constitutional Law has filed an amicus brief maintaining that the Ohio political class uses the electoral commission and it’s regulations to attack citizens who challenge politicians.

The 1851 Center Brief explains and argues as follows:

“Ohio’s Statute allows a politically-interested party to file a complaint against another, no matter whether the respondent’s speech is true or not,” meaning that “Ohioans have consistently faced commission hearings and even potential fines and criminal penalties in response to clearly-protected core political speech.”

“Ohio maintains an administrative scheme that, on the premise of policing only intentionally false speech, subjects political speech to harassment.”

The brief recounts multiple occasions where the political elite and wealthy have used the OEC to silence their opponents. Cases include:

  • Congressman Pat Tiberi’s affiliates filed an action to silence a primary opponent who was mocking his voting record
  • Congressman Latta filed an action to silence those indicating that he “has a record of supporting higher taxes”
  • A favored candidate who lost a township trustee election sued those who chatted on Facebook about whether the candidate was a “pornographer”
  • A powerful ballot issue effort sued a citizen who criticized a government light rail plan as “one of the worst plans in the country”
  • A township trustee alleged that his opponent was not truly an “organic” farmer
  • Situations where upstart local candidates simply omitted the word “for” in their campaign literature (“John Smith, Treasurer” vs. “John Smith for Treasurer”)

When asked whether or not the 1851 Center is simply defending the “right to lie” the answer is no. 1851 Executive Director Maurice Thompson says “Our efforts here are aimed at defending Ohioans from a panel of state government bureaucrats empowered to arbitrate what is true and what is false, in the realm of political debate.” He continued to say that “Our view, based on our experience litigating these type of cases, is that a government Commission cannot be trusted to accurately distinguish true political speech from false speech; and further, citizens need breathing space to criticize public officials, without concern that those officials will turn around and sue them for cavalier statements.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that “in the free society ordained by our Constitution, it is not the government, but the people individually as citizens and candidates who must retain control over the quantity and range of debate on public issues.”

Tune in for the oral argument live, at 10:00am on Tuesday April 22, or listen to the archived oral argument later, HERE.

Read the 1851 Center’s Amicus Brief HERE.