SPLC files brief in support of anti-abortion group’s free speech case

Student Press Law Center


On Monday, Student Press Law Center filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court urging the court to “overturn a lower-court ruling that makes it almost impossible to challenge the constitutionality of a law restricting speech without first violating the law and suffering punishment,” according to a press release Tuesday from SPLC.

The SPLC is asking the Court to overturn a May 2013 decision by the Nashville-based Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Susan B. Anthony Fund v. Dreihaus. In the Dreihaus case, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit threw out a First Amendment challenge by an anti-abortion group questioning the constitutionality of an Ohio law regulating speech in political campaigns.

In that case, the press release states, Ohio’s Sixth Circuit declined to hear a challenge from the Susan B. Anthony Fund requesting the invalidation of a state statute that “imposes state financial penalties on factually false statements made in connection with campaigns, including speech by third parties such as the Fund.”

What does this mean for student journalists?

SPLC explained that in the brief:

These special justiciability rules are necessary in First Amendment cases because the government can use the fear of enforcement to chill speech and compel citizens to “self-censor” otherwise protected speech and expression. As a result, unless the government disavows a speech-restrictive law, any person whose speech is subject to that law has standing to assert a facial First Amendment challenge.

These standing and ripeness principles are vital to protecting student speech. The potential chilling effect of speech-restrictive laws and rules is especially powerful in the school setting because students are surrounded by authority figures and can be disciplined for their speech without the robust legal process available to ordinary citizens. As a result, students are particularly susceptible to the chilling effect of laws and school rules that burden their right to speak and express themselves.

You can find the full brief [PDF] here.

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  • JTFloore

    wouldn’t it be interesting to know how each of the three federal judges ruled — was it 3-0 or 2-1? — in this case and which president appointed them?