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The Supreme Court’s Decision in Susan B Anthony List v Driehaus -a victory for Civil Rights Plaintiffs

Say that you need a permit to pursue your chosen occupation, but you believe that the costly administrative procedure to acquire said permit is unconstitutional. You have been ticketed for operating without a permit, and have every reason to believe that you will be ticketed again, but you have yet to be arrested and thrown in jail. Can you bring a suit alleging the law to be unconstitutional, or do you first have to be arrested or submit to the costly permit procedure before you can sue?

For civil rights plaintiffs across the county, the Court’s recent decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus seems to shed some more light on the answer to that question.  At issue was an Ohio law that banned making false statements in election campaigns. Under the law, any member of the public could file a complaint alleging that an individual or group had made a false claim about a candidate. Once the complaint was filed the individual who made the allegedly false claim was enjoined from making further claims and was required to appear before an administrative hearing to determine whether or not probable cause existed to believe that the statement was false. If probable cause was found, the person could be prosecuted.

As a practical matter few of these cases made it to trial. By the time the administrative process was over the election had passed, and the person making the complaint had achieved his purpose (silencing the opposition). Thus, more often than not the offended person would drop the complaint after the election.  As a result, the question of the constitutionality of the law at issue or the administrative hearing it created never had the opportunity to be argued in court.

This was the precisely the predicament faced by Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL) — a pro-life group that ran election ads targeted at politicians who had voted for the Affordable Care Act. According to the ads, politicians who voted for the ACA voted in favor of tax-payer funded abortions (a claim Susan B. Anthony List and others whole heartedly profess is supported by the language of the ACA).

The target of one such ad filed a complaint under the Ohio law mentioned above. As a result SBAL was forced to submit to an administrative hearing on the matter. However, before the courts could get involved, the election ended and the candidate dropped his complaint.

Fast forward to the next election cycle and SBAL plans on running the same ads. This time however, rather than submit to hearing that they think violates the First Amendment they sued in federal court for declaratory relief  that the law and the hearing procedure the law creates are unconstitutional. The lower courts dismissed the suit saying that SBAL had to wait until they were injured in order to sue. In other words, SBAL had to either forgo their constitutional right to free speech, or risk being brought before the administrative hearing again before it could assert its constitutional claims.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In an appeal opinion authored by Clarence Thomas the Court found that the clear risk of being forced to submit to a hearing once again was sufficient injury for SBAL to have standing. In other words, you don’t have to give up your rights or risk being thrown into jail before you get your day in court. SBAL is a huge victory for civil rights plaintiffs everywhere.

The Los Angeles and Sacramento appeal lawyers at Kassouni Law have a reputation in the industry for honesty and they will be happy to assist you in objectively evaluating the merit of an appeal for a flat fee. They can be reached by calling 877-770-7379.


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