The end of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term nears as June draws to a close, and on Monday, the court issued an opinion on a free speech case as well as an order regarding a challenge to a public school graduation held in a church.
The court ruled unanimously in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that the pro-life organization could challenge an Ohio law prohibiting false statements in political campaigns. During the 2010 election, Susan B. Anthony List had planned to post billboards in Ohio that said former Rep. Steve Driehaus voted for “taxpayer-funded abortion” based on his vote for Obamacare. Under threat of legal prosecution, the billboard company refused to display the sign. Driehaus filed a complaint about the group’s statements about him, which the Ohio Elections Commission dismissed after he lost his reelection. But Susan B. Anthony List pursued the case against the law itself in federal court. Both the federal district court and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case on the grounds that since the law hadn’t been enforced against the pro-life group, it hadn’t caused them injury. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling 9-0, saying the organization did indeed suffer injury from the law because the mere threat of litigation meant it couldn’t display the billboards. The decision has no direct effect on the Ohio law itself but clears the way for Susan B. Anthony List’s constitutional challenge.
Without such unanimity, the court rejected a case concerning a public high school that held its graduation ceremony in a church. (The school’s graduation venue wasn’t air conditioned, and the church was.) The denial of a hearing allows to stand a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which held that the graduation was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote a dissent from the denial, arguing that because of the court’s decision this term upholding the practice of legislative prayer, the court should have at least heard the case. He argued that public displays of religion shouldn’t be banned just because they might be offensive. The Town of Greece v. Galloway legislative prayer decision, however, was very specific to the nation’s tradition of legislative prayer and did not necessarily reflect a wider openness among the justices to displays of religion in government settings.
The court will make several major religious liberty and free speech decisions during the next two weeks: the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case challenging the federal contraceptive mandate; the case concerning a Massachusetts abortion center buffer zone law; and the case challenging the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's recess appointments.