Ohio’s Ban on Political Lies Struck Down, Supreme Court Talks Gay Marriage, Joan Rivers Wrongful Death Lawsuit Coming

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 13, 2014

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This week a federal judge strikes down Ohio’s law against political lies during campaigns, the Supreme Court agrees to discuss gay marriage in a private conference, and family members of the recently deceased Joan Rivers consider a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit.

Federal Judge Strikes down Ohio’s Ban on Campaign Lies

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black struck down an Ohio law making it illegal to lie about political candidates that was challenged by two conservative groups on First Amendment grounds.  The case was brought by Susan B. Anthony List, which was accused of violating the law against political lies when it paid for a billboard accusing a Cincinnati Democrat who backed healthcare overall for voting for “taxpayer-funded abortion.”  After an elections commission panel agreed that Susan B. Anthony List had issued politically false statements, the organization appealed to the federal court system.  In June, the Supreme Court determined that Susan B. Anthony List could proceed with its First Amendment challenge because the “credible threat of enforcement” could hinder free-speech rights.

Judge Black agreed with the concerns articulated by the High Court in his opinion, and determined that Ohio’s law, which was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal, unconstitutionally discouraged free-speech.  Writing that the law placed an unconstitutional burden on free speech, Judge Black said, “In short, the answer to false statements in politics is not to force silence, but to encourage truthful speech in response, and to let the voters, not the Government, decide what the political truth is. Ohio’s false-statements laws do not accomplish this, and the Court is not empowered to re-write the statutes; that is the job of the Legislature.”

Judge Black’s decision comes after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a century-old Minnesota law that banned false statements on ballot proposals on similar grounds.  The theme across both decisions is that political speakers should not be worried about government enforcement, leaving the matter of truthfulness to be decided by voters who can now be exposed to a wider array of information during political campaigns.

Supreme Court Justices will Discuss Gay Marriage Cases

When the Supreme Court Justices return from their summer-long break, one of their first orders of business will be to discuss gay marriage petitions from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  The Court will talk about adding the cases to its calendar when it meets for private discussion on September, 29th, and many legal experts expect that some, if not all, of the cases will be added to this fall’s docket which is scheduled to open on October 6th.  All five states are filing appeals of lower court rulings that overturned same-sex marriage bans.

Although many expect the Court to take on the issue sooner rather than later, it is possible the Justices wait on pending lower court challenges in other federal circuits before taking on the issue directly.  Most ready to be decided is a case in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently listened to arguments from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee and seems the most likely circuit to slip from other federal decisions by upholding same-sex bans. 

The Court’s decision to discuss the issue comes on the heels of last week’s opinion from Judge Posner’s 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that shot down gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, which gave further need for the Justices to clarify the American legal system’s view of same-sex unions.  States with gay marriage bans that have been overturned are pushing for the Court to listen to their appeals, and this week’s announcement that the Justices will discuss the issue privately is an encouraging sign that the gay marriage issue will be resolved within the next Supreme Court term.

Joan River’s Family Members Consider $100 Million Lawsuit

In the wake of 81-year old comedian Joan Rivers’ death during a routine vocal cord procedure, family members are considering filing a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit against the clinic where she received medical care.  The Yorkville Endoscopy clinic, where Rivers died after experiencing an unexpected breathing problem during a routine throat procedure, is the target of police investigation for the circumstances that led to the comedian’s death.  With the lead doctor in Rivers’ procedure recently stepping down in the wake of the incident, questions continue to mount about who was responsible for the unusual, and unfortunate, circumstances.

Experts say that $100 million is not an unreasonably large sum given Rivers’ ongoing earning power.  Despite being 81-years old, Rivers maintained a constant media presence and was able to get consistent work as a comedian and television personality.  The lawsuit is still in its early stages of development, but will likely be based on a theory of medical negligence on the part of the clinic and its physicians.  Details of the case will continue to emerge as the investigation into Rivers’ death continues, and the family moves forward with its plan to litigate.

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