Should Public Officials Be Held Liable for Violating Ohioans’ Rights?

Court considers whether Secretary of State Jon Husted should be required to compensate Ohioans whose First Amendment rights he violated

ohio supreme court judgesCincinnati, OH – On Thursday, December 10, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on whether government officials must reimburse the victims of their unconstitutional conduct for the costs and expenses imposed by that conduct.

In late 2013, federal judge Michael Watson sided with the 1851 Center in Citizens in Charge v. Husted, determining that a “residency requirement” reenacted through Senate Bill 47 violated Ohioans’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting them from working with out-of-state petition circulators on their initiative. Thereafter, the Ohio Attorney General insisted that the Secretary of State Husted was nevertheless “immune” from damages for the harm he imposed on a conservative pension reform effort in Cincinnati.

In March, Judge Watson denied the plea for immunity, explaining that Mr. Husted may indeed be liable for the harm he inflicted because the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights were “clearly established,” and any reasonable public official would have known that the residency requirement was unconstitutional (the same requirement had been held invalid in 2008).

The Attorney General appealed, even though Mr. Husted does not deny that he violated Ohioans’ rights. Instead he claims that, as a government official, he should be absolutely immune from personal liability when enforcing statutes enacted by the legislature, irrespective of their constitutionality.

The parties filed briefs, and on December 10, the 1851 Center argued that government officers should be personally liable, rather than “immune,” when they violate Ohioans’ clear constitutional rights.

“Public officials should be held accountable for the harm they inflict when violating Ohioans’ rights, not their innocent victims,” according to Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “If public officials from the governor down through the police know that they will be liable for enforcing an unconstitutional law, they are far more likely to take Ohioans’ constitutional rights seriously. We would like to end the ‘I don’t make the law; I just enforce it’ mentality that many public officials use to escape liability for the harm they cause.”

If the State prevails in its appeal, public officials – whether police, bureaucrats, or politicians – may well be authorized to violate Ohioans’ rights without consequence.

Capital elections law professor Mark Brown is supporting the 1851 Center’s position with an amicus brief, while Ohio State elections law professor Daniel P. Tokaji has called denial of immunity here “dead-on right,” explaining “[s]ome qualified-immunity cases are difficult. Not this one.”

 

The oral argument occurred at 9:30am on Thursday December 10. You can listen to the archived oral argument HERE

Read the 1851 Center’s Appellate Brief HERE

Read media reports on this case HERE

Ohio Mayor Sues Husband and Wife for $25,000 for Criticizing His Performance

Maple Heights Mayor sues to silence local bloggers for “defamation” and “emotional distress,” violating their right to free speech; 1851 files countersuit

bloggercolorColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Mayor of Maple Heights, Ohio, Jeffrey Lansky, against a husband and wife who questioned the Mayor’s policies through their blog, Maple Heights News.

The action, filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, comes in response to the Mayor’s September Complaint alleging “defamation” and “emotional distress,” and demanding $25,000 in damages from the Brownlees. This is the fourth defamation-type action that Mayor Lansky has filed against his political opponents.

This latest lawsuit attacks an editorial article Lynde Brownlee authored in July suggesting that the Mayor’s record had failed to live up to his 2011 campaign promises on a number of fronts. The article strictly addresses Mayor official conduct, and does not use insulting or harsh language.

The Brownlees are defending themselves with the First Amendment, while also relying on the additional free speech protections offered by the Ohio Constitution, guaranteeing “[e]very citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects,” and “no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press.”

The lawsuit stands for the following well-established constitutional principles:

  • Political speech regarding a public official’s policies is constitutionally protected, especially when those statements are opinions.
  • Even factually false criticisms of public officials are constitutionally protected, when honest mistakes, since political critiques cannot objectively impose damages or distress on a public official.

The 1851 Center’s defense of the Brownlees further counterclaims to declare Mayor Lansky a “vexatious litigator,” and seeks sanctions against both the Mayor and his legal counsel.

“When voicing their concerns over elected officials’ performance, Ohioans should not be bullied into silence for fear of an expensive lawsuit,” explained Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “The right to criticize an elected official’s poor performance is, as a necessary first step to those officials’ removal from office, the highest, best, and most constitutionally-protected form of free speech. It should be encouraged, rather than suppressed.”

The Brownlees write about community affairs in their small town, a suburb of Cleveland, at www.MapleHeightsNews.org. One prominent undercurrent to the case concerns whether political editorials on citizen websites are entitled to the same level of protection as mainstream newspaper, television, and radio media.

Read the Bloggers Motion to Dismiss HERE.

 


December 12, 2014: Ohio Watchdog: Group wants Ohio mayor labeled ‘vexatious litigator’ for suing adversaries

Legal Centers to U.S. Supreme Court: Declare Ohio Precious Metals Dealers Licensing Scheme Unconstitutional

Act regulates business in response to constitutionally-protected advertising, and prohibits legitimate purchases of gold and silver, but Sixth Circuit bungled ruling

libertycoinsColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law and the Pacific Legal Foundation today petitioned the United States Supreme Court to stop enforcement of the “Ohio Precious Metals Dealers Act” against Ohio businesses because the Act imposes onerous regulations in response to advertising protected by the First Amendment.

The legal action is filed on behalf of Liberty Coins, a Delaware, Ohio coin dealer ordered by the Ohio Department of Commerce to cease all advertising indicating that it purchases gold and silver and all actual purchases of gold and silver, and threatened with a $10,000 fine and jail time if it does not comply.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that First Amendment applies to “commercial speech,” which includes advertising. Nevertheless, the Ohio Department of Commerce in 2011 began vigorous enforcement of regulations prohibiting coin dealers from advertising without a license, and requiring a license if they do advertise (conditioned on a state finding of “good character and reputation”). Once licensed, state and local agents may search and seize any item or business record without a search warrant or finding of probable cause, and may do so on a daily basis.

In late 2012, Judge Michael Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio authored a 28-page decision enjoining the Act, explaining that “the Act only prohibits the unlicensed buying of precious metals when commercial speech is involved,” and emphasizing that “a broad injunction completely prohibiting enforcement of the licensing provision is warranted.”

The Court added that the Department of Commerce’s aggressive reading of the regulations was “nonsensical,” and that Ohio coin dealers and others “are unable to actually purchase precious metals without facing prosecution due to Defendants’ incorrect interpretation of the Act.”

However, a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel of Democrat-appointees cursorily dismissed the view a “licensing statute” could be unconstitutional on any grounds, even if it in effect punishes and is triggered by speech protected by the United States Constitution.

The Circuit brushed aside the First Amendment implications of a regulation triggered by speech instead of conduct, on the grounds that the “PMDA is, first and foremost, a licensing statute,” further holding that states may always promulgate “economic regulations,” so long as the legislative purpose behind the regulations is to regulate economic activity, even if the plain language and practical effect of the enacted statute is to single out only those who speak.

The novel legal issue presented by the case centers around how Ohio has chosen to regulate precious metal dealers – – by defining a precious metal dealer as only those who buy gold or silver and then broadcast to the public that they do so.

While the Act provides “no person shall act as a precious metals dealer without first having obtained a license,” the Act define a “Precious metals dealer” to be “a person who is engaged in the business of purchasing articles made of or containing . . . precious metals or jewels of any description if, in any manner, including any form of advertisement or solicitation of customers, the person holds himself, herself, or itself out to the public as willing to purchase such articles.

Analyzing this language, the District Court held the Department of Commerce failed to show “how holding one’s self out as willing to purchase precious metals contributed to the evils the State seeks to prevent. Moreover, Defendants have not shown how requiring a license only for purchasers of precious metals who engage in commercial speech directly and materially advance those interests.”

But the Sixth Circuit panel on the case disagreed.

Liberty Coins’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari argues that the High Court should now take up the case because:

  • This case squarely presents the question of whether an occupational licensing requirement that onlyapplies when a person communicates a message to the public is subject to little or no review – as the court below held – or to the higher First Amendment scrutiny that applies to other laws that impose burdens based on speech.
  • The Sixth Circuit’s decision conflicts with many prior Supreme Court and Circuit Court decisions by establishing a new rule that when the “primary purpose” of a law is to “regulate the conduct” of a business, courts should review that law only through low scrutiny, even though the law’s burdens only apply if a person speaks.

The Petition seeks to restore the right of Ohio retail gold and silver coin dealers to be free from a licensing regime that punishes them on the basis of their speech, and subject them to unconstitutionally sweeping searches and seizures.

“This Act and its aggressive enforcement treats the many Ohio small businesses who participate in gold and silver markets as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm,'” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“The state misguidedly seeks to advance its mission of ‘preventing theft and resale of precious metals’ through gag orders, warrantless searches, and criminalization of innocent small businesses. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect Ohioans’ rights to engage in truthful promotion of their businesses.”

“Speech alone is the trigger for Ohio’s licensing requirement,” explained Pacific Legal Foundation Principal Attorney Timothy Sandefur. “And that makes this regulatory scheme unconstitutional. Without a compelling interest that meets the highest standard of judicial scrutiny, government cannot restrict speech. It certainly can’t impose a licensing requirement on speech. And it can’t impose indirect limits, as the Ohio law does, by restricting speech in the guise of regulating business.”

The state’s heightened enforcement tactics, which effectively put many coin dealers out of business in response to political contributions from competing and better-organized pawnbrokers, come at a time of when an increasing number of Ohioans seek to use gold and silver to protect their savings against potential inflation due to federal government increases in the money supply.
 

Read Liberty Coins’ Petition for Writ of Certiorari HERE.

 


October 3, 2014: Morning Journal via Associated Press: Legal centers seek stop to Ohio metals dealers law

November 3, 2013: Columbus Dispatch: Gold shops await rule on fines, licensing

October 12, 2013: Cincinnati.com: Coin shop challenges Ohio law as free speech ban

December 7, 2012: Bloomberg Businessweek: Ohio gold, silver dealers’ law blocked by judge

December 7, 2012: Ohio Watchdog: OH: Judge blocks catch-22 in state law that threatened entire industry

November 16, 2012:WBNS-10TV: Scrap Metal Fight: A coin dealer is suing the state over scrap metal license requirements [VIDEO]

Supreme Court Argument: Are Ohio’s Political Speech Regulations Constitutional?

1851 Center amicus brief maintains that political class uses elections commission and its regulations to attack grass-roots citizen activity

supremecourtColumbus, OH – The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus – whether Ohioans can stop the enforcement actions of the Ohio Elections Commission, and further, whether regulations prohibiting “false statements” regarding “public officials” or “candidates” violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Elections Commissions actions are often filed by well-heeled political veterans such as incumbents and well-financed campaigns, to intimidate and squelch the speech of political rivals and dissenters. These legal actions are often effective, since political novices with little money are unable to travel to Columbus and hire a lawyer to defend themselves at multiple lengthy Commission hearings.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed an amicus curiae brief in this case on behalf of numerous Ohioans who have been frivolously forced to appear before the Commission to defend their political speech.

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

“A common question asked regarding this case is whether the 1851 Center and others are defending a ‘right to lie.’ The answer is ‘no.’ 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,” according to Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“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.”

In addition to the 1851 Center’s amicus brief, 1851 Center Chairman Bradley Smith has filed an amicus brief, and 1851 Center Board Member Christopher Finney is amongst the attorneys challenging the statute.

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.

 


April 22, 2014: WSPD AM 1370: Constitutionality of Ohio Campaign Law Heard By Supreme Court

April 22, 2014: WBNS-10TV: U.S. Supreme Court To Determine Whether Ohio Candidates Can Lie

Federal Court: SB 47 Restrictions on Petition Circulation Unconstitutional

Key features of Senate Bill 47 “reform” violate First Amendment speech and associational rights of Ohioans, restrict free trade

iandrColumbus, OH – A federal court late yesterday enjoined the state from enforcing Senate Bill 47’s new limits on Ohioans’ Initiative and Referendum rights. Specifically, the Court held that Ohio’s new ban on Ohioans contracting with non-Ohioans to circulate initiative petitions violates Ohioans’ First Amendment Rights.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for Ohioans advancing the Workplace Freedom Amendment and other freedom-oriented ballot issues to resume association and contracts with professional out-of-state signature gatherers.

The legal action was filed on behalf of Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and Cincinnati for Pension Reform. OWF is currently gathering signatures to place a right-to-work amendment before voters; and CPR incurred significant additional last-minute costs attempting to utilize only in-state petitioners.

In his 27 page decision, Judge Watson, explained that “petition circulation – whether for candidates or issues – constitutes core political speech protected by the First Amendment,” and “laws prohibiting nonresidents from acting as petition circulators significantly burden political speech because they substantially reduce the number of petition circulators and are therefore subject to strict scrutiny.”

The Order concluded as follows: “The Court holds that Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that R.C. 3503.06(C)(1)(a) violates the First Amendment because it substantially burdens core political speech and is not narrowly tailored to serve Ohio’s compelling interest in curbing fraud in the election process.”

The lawsuit sought to restore Ohioans freedom to contract or associate with any and all American citizens to convey their message and advance their issue to the ballot. The lawsuit further seeks to invalidate the prohibition, applicable only to those associated with the issue, on gathering signatures during certain critical periods.

“We’re grateful for the Court’s thorough ruling. This Act is a set of back-door tactics to effectively eliminate initiative and referendum in Ohio, by eliminating many of those who do the actual work of gathering signatures on important issues” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Initiative and referendum supply an important check on arbitrary government, and also supply citizens with the opportunity to act as civic adults – – taking the lawmaking power into their own hands rather than begging the legislature for change.”

The only attempt at using exclusively in-state circulators since the new statute’s enactment, a referendum effort on behalf of internet sweepstakes businesses, had failed dramatically, with less than 37 percent of submitted signatures found to be valid.

Read the Court’s Order Granting Ohioans for Workplace Freedom’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

 

March 16, 2015: Columbus Dispatch: Judge finds Husted liable for enforcing unconstitutional law

Sixth Circuit Oral Argument: Is Ohio’s “Precious Metals Dealer Act” Constitutional?

Court considers whether to protect Ohio business owners’ right to advertise and sustain invalidation of burdensome regulation of coin dealers

libertycoinsCincinnati, OH – The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Ohio Precious Metal Dealer Act, which imposes strict limits on precious metals purchasers and businesses in Ohio.

Through vigorous enforcement of the Act, the Ohio Department of Commerce had threatened to shut down many Ohio small businesses. However, the Act was enjoined in its entirety by a federal court in December of 2012.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, paved the way for Ohio businesses, most prominently coin dealers, to resume purchases of items containing gold and silver content, and in particular, to resume advertising their interest in purchasing inventory consisting of precious metals, free from concern over confiscatory prosecution, fines and regulations.

The legal action was brought by the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law on behalf of Liberty Coins, a Delaware, Ohio coin dealer ordered by Commerce to cease all advertising indicating that it purchases gold and silver and all actual purchases of gold and silver, and threatened with a $10,000 fine and jail time if it does not comply.

The 1851 Center continues to defend Liberty Coins’ right to do business against Attorney General Mike DeWine’s appeal. And the case has since gained national attention, with the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Justice and Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation weighing in with Amicus Briefs defending Liberty Coins and attacking the Act’s lawfulness.

“This Act and those enforcing it have treated small businesses who make gold and silver available as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm,” according to Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

Thompson added “the state misguidedly seeks to advance its mission of ‘preventing theft and resale of precious metals’ through gag orders, warrantless searches, and criminalization of innocent small businesses. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect Ohioans’ rights to engage in truthful promotion of their businesses, and this case demonstrates promise for a powerful new method of enforcing constitutional limits on onerous state and federal regulations.”

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that First Amendment applies to “commercial speech,” which includes advertising. Nevertheless, Commerce, after vigorous lobbying and political contributions made by the pawnbrokers industry, which is a direct competitor of those who are subject to the Act, had begun vigorous enforcement of regulations prohibiting coin dealers from advertising without a license, and requiring a license and payment of steep fine if they had previously advertised (licenses are conditioned on a state finding of “good character and reputation”). Once licensed, state and local agents were empowered to search and seize any item or business record without a search warrant or finding of probable cause.


Listen to the archived oral argument, HERE.

Read the Appellate Briefs HERE.

Read the Amicus Briefs on behalf of Liberty Coins from the Institute for Justice HERE and Pacific Legal Foundation HERE.


October 12, 2013: Cincinnati.com: Coin shop challenges Ohio law as free speech ban

Legal Center Moves to Protect Ohioans’ Initiative and Referendum Rights from Legislative Suppression

Key features of Senate Bill 47 “reform” violate Ohio Constitution and First Amendment speech and associational rights, restrict free trade

iandrColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today moved in federal court to immediately enjoin the state from enforcing Senate Bill 47’s new limits on Ohioans’ initiative and referendum rights.  The legislation, which became effective in June, restricts Ohioans from working with anyone other than an Ohio resident when gathering signatures to place a ballot issue before voters, and prohibits certain Ohioans from gathering signatures during critical periods.

Secretary of State Jon Husted indicated in July that he intended to fully enforce the new regulations, throwing numerous petitioning efforts into disarray.

The legal action is filed on behalf of Ohioans for Workplace Freedom and Cincinnati for Pension Reform.  OWF is currently gathering signatures to place a right-to-work amendment before voters; and CPR incurred significant additional last-minute costs attempting to utilize only in-state petitioners.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that the First Amendment applies to the gathering of signatures to place issues on the ballot, characterizing it as “core political speech.”  Nevertheless, Ohio legislators have vigorously sought to limit these rights, which circumvent the legislative and executive branch.

Senate Bill 47 establishes an absolute prohibition of signature-gathering by anyone not residing in Ohio.  This prohibits Ohioans from contracting with out-of-staters, even though there are virtually no Ohio businesses that offer petition circulation.  Ohioans are also prohibited from seeking assistance from volunteers who do not reside in Ohio.

Legislators exempted themselves from these restrictions, creating an exception to candidate-nominating petitions.

The lawsuit seeks to restore Ohioans freedom to contract or associate with any and all American citizens to convey their message and advance their issue to the ballot.  The lawsuit further seeks to invalidate the prohibition, applicable only to those associated with the issue, on gathering signatures during certain critical periods.

“SB 47 consists of a set of back-door mechanisms that have the effect of eliminating initiative and referendum in Ohio, expunging the average citizen from participating in the political process without the assistance of politicians, and strengthening politicians’ monopoly on lawmaking,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center.

“Initiative and referendum supply an important check on arbitrary government, and also supply citizens with the opportunity to act as civic adults – – taking the lawmaking power into their own hands, rather than begging the legislature for change, and debating the issues, rather than the merits of a candidate’s personality.  And as with all regulations, the politically-powerful will find a way to be heard, whether through paying the higher costs or simply lobbying legislators more – – it’s the average Ohioan that Senate Bill 47 leaves out in the cold.”

These heightened tactics, which dramatically drive up the cost of ballot drives by reducing the supply of eligible signature gatherers, would effectively end grassroots freedom-oriented ballot drives such as that of the Workplace Freedom Amendment.


Read Citizens in Charge’s Complaint HERE.

Read Citizens in Charge’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.

Read 1851’s recent Testimony to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission, defending Ohioans Initiative and Referendum rights, HERE.

October 5, 2013: The Toledo Blader: Guarding Ohio’s referendum process

September 20, 2013: Plain Dealer: Conservative groups cry foul over Ohio’s new restrictions on referendum petitions

U.S. Supreme Court Petitioned to Review Ohio PAC Laws

1851 Center asks United States Supreme Court to review Ohio Political Action Committee regulations on behalf of Geauga County blogger’s First Amendment rights

blogger-150x150Columbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, in cooperation with the Washington D.C.-based Center for Competitive Politics, late yesterday petitioned the United States Supreme Court to weigh in on the nation’s strictest Political Action Committee regulations.

The legal action is filed on behalf of Edmund Corsi, a Cleveland-area blogger who faces prosecution after blogging about state and local political issues, authoring a pamphlet critical of local politicians, and hosting an informal political discussion group. The state contends that Ohio’s PAC laws required Mr. Corsi and others, known as “Geauga Constitutional Council,” to first register with the state and hire a treasurer, and then disclose his home address on his pamphlet and blog, and that by failing to do so, Corsi is subject to criminal penalties and civil fines. Mr. Corsi was referred for prosecution by one of the politicians he criticized – – Geauga County Republican Party chairman Edward Ryder.

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly confirmed that political speech, even when through group association, in pamphlets or on the internet, is afforded the greatest constitutional protection.

The Court has already once struck down Ohio’s Political Action Committee regulation, in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission in 1995. There, the Court chastised the Ohio Supreme Court and the OEC for upholding the regulations after state officials attempted to prosecute a senior citizen for failing to include a “disclaimer” on her homemade flyer advocating against a local tax increase.

Nevertheless, the Ohio Elections Commission maintains that the re-written regulations still require groups of two or more Ohioans who communicate political thoughts to first register as a Political Action Committee, and thereby submit to reporting, disclaimer, and disclosure requirements. Ohio Courts applied no scrutiny to the OEC, and the Ohio Supreme Court voted 4-3 to sidestep the issue.

This case presents the first opportunity for a federal court to analyze application of the re-written PAC regulations, as well as the first opportunity to consider the effect of the Court’s landmark Citizens United decision on Ohio’s campaign finance regulations.

The Petition for Certiorari presents the following legal questions to the Court:

  1. May the major purpose test for political committee status, established by this Court in Buckley v. Valeo and FEC v. Mass. Citizens for Life, be satisfied without finding that regulated activity comprises the majority of an organization’s activity or expenditures?
  1. May a state meet its burden of demonstrating an organization’s major purpose without determining the portion of its expenditures directed toward political communications?

In addressing these issues, the Petition explains:

  • The costs of complying with the PAC regulations, which includes reporting and disclaimer requirements, administrative burdens, the hiring of a treasurer, and the loss of privacy and anonymity of those who speak out by effectively requiring the disclose of the author’s name and home address on government filing, has the effect of silencing protected speech.
  • The Ohio Elections Commission members improperly guess at the “primary or major purpose” of the group, without considering whether they have spent money on politics, how much money, or other non-campaign-related activities.
  • In involuntarily committing groups of citizens not primarily engaged in elections as PACs, the OEC improperly overanalyzes isolated Facebook and blogs posts and informal “mission statements.”

“Ohio’s PAC regulations have long been considered the most oppressive in the nation, and the Ohio Elections Commission’s application of those regulations has rightfully been the source of national criticism” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “Meanwhile, Ohio courts, including our highest court, continue to make high-profile mistakes and oversights on basic First Amendment doctrine, requiring Ohioans to look to federal courts to protect their rights. The First Amendment does not allow politically-appointed OEC bureaucrats and political opponents to use PAC regulations to silence the speech of those who criticize government, using the loss of privacy and expensive reporting requirements of PAC regulations as leverage to intimidate and threaten those expressing differing views, as has been done here.”

Thompson added, “While many Americans fret over government permitting speech by ‘super-PACs,’ they should be more concerned about shocking amount of everyday grass-roots political speech that Ohio is forcing into PAC status – from lawn signs to Facebook pages – and thus essentially prohibiting, at the very same time.”

The case is particularly significant for opponents of local tax levies and “tea party” groups, many of whom are likely to be characterized as Political Action Committees, if the Ohio Election Commission’s ruling is not eventually overturned.

 


Read The Geauga Constitutional Council’s Petition for Certiorari here.


September 10, 2013: The Plain Dealer: Edmund Corsi’s political blog and activism that triggered Ohio election complaint now sits before U.S. Supreme Court

September 6, 2013: Wall Street Journal: Bradley Smith: The Supreme Court and Ed Corsi’s Life of Political Crime

July 11, 2013: Forbes: In Today’s America, Consult Your Attorney Before Speaking Freely

Banning Internet Cafes to Benefit Casinos: Unconstitutional and Inadvisable

Attacking politically weak small businesses at behest of influential larger businesses is wrong way for Republicans to begin new legislative session

internetcafesColumbus, OH – The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law today emphasized to Ohio’s state senators and representatives that “priority” legislation to shut down Ohio’s 800-plus internet cafes is inconsistent with principles of limited government, unconstitutional, and dangerous to Ohio’s economic well-being.

House Bill 7, introduced on February 8, is designed to regulate Ohio internet cafes out of existence. The legislation comes in swift response to the casino industry’s public expression of a strong desire “to prohibit internet sweepstakes cafes in Ohio,” which are “posing a threat to existing state-licensed businesses.”

In a comprehensive analysis released today “Placing a Dangerous Bet: Banning Internet Cafes to Benefit Casinos is Unconstitutional and Inadvisable,” the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law explains that the legislation has no place on the “conservative” agenda, much less prioritized as a “first legislative initiative” by House Republican leadership. Specifically, the report asserts:

(1) The ban violates the most basic principles of limited government: treating similarly situated parties equally, respecting property rights and voluntary transactions, and avoiding choosing sides between market competitors.

(2) The newfound interest in banning rather than regulating these business coincides with casino lobbying for the same.

(3) The ban violates the spirit, if not the letter, of Ohio’s anti-cronyism provisions and property rights protections.

(4) The current text of House Bill 7 violates the free speech protections of the state and federal constitutions.

(5) Assigning such a high priority to legislation picking winners and losers amongst business competitors sends a dangerous message to the business community.

The report further notes that the internet cafe business model does not constitute gambling, is not prohibited by the Ohio Constitution’s “lottery” provision, and the only plausible justification for shutting down rather than licensing and regulating internet cafes is to advance the private financial interest of the Ohio’s new casinos.

“House Republicans are misguided in fast-tracking unconstitutional legislation that destroys over 800 harmless small businesses and 16,000 jobs, particularly while Ohioans continue to be burdened by overspending, over-taxation, and over-regulation at the state level,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “This legislation sets a dangerous precedent by signaling to large businesses that they can use political influence to shut down their less influential competitors.”

“While internet cafes do not pursue a universally-adored business model, the property rights of ‘unpopular’ businesses must be afforded the same respect as those of popular businesses,” added Thompson.

Read the policy report: Placing a Dangerous Bet: Banning Internet Cafes to Benefit Casinos is Unconstitutional and Inadvisable

February 15, 2013: Twinsburg Bulletin: Ohio House Begins Hearings on New Bill to Regulate Sweepstakes Parlors [VIDEO]

Federal Court: Ohio Precious Metals Dealers Licensing Scheme Unconstitutional

Act regulates business in response to constitutionally-protected advertising, and prohibits legitimate purchases of gold and silver

Columbus, OH – A federal court late yesterday ruled that Ohio’s regulatory scheme governing those purchasing gold, silver, and other precious metals – the Precious Metals Dealers Act- violates the First Amendment.

The ruling, made by Judge Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District of Ohio, paves the way for Ohio businesses, most prominently coin dealers, to resume purchases of items containing gold and silver content, and in particular, to resume advertising their interest in purchasing inventory consisting of precious metals, free from concern over confiscatory prosecution, fines and regulations.

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law took up the coin dealers’ case and challenged the state law after the Ohio Department of Commerce threatened to shut down Liberty Coins, of Delaware, Ohio, if it refused to pay considerable fines and obtain a government license to advertise its business.

The lawsuit had sought recognition that the First Amendment applies to and protects “commercial speech,” such as coin dealers’ advertising, and that the Act’s prohibition of advertising by coin dealers was not a means of reducing gold and silver-related theft.

The lawsuit had also made claims asserting that requirements that business owners demonstrate that they have “good character,” “sufficient reputation,” “sufficient financial responsibility,” and “sufficient experience” prior to being permitted to run their businesses were unconstitutionally vague; and that the Act’s authorization of warrantless searches of business owners’ property and records at any time without notice violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

In his 28 page decision, Judge Watson, explaining that “the Act only prohibits the unlicensed buying of precious metals when commercial speech is involved,” emphasized that “a broad injunction completely prohibiting enforcement of the licensing provision is warranted.”

The order, an across-the-board rebuke to Ohio’s regulations and the cavalier enforcement tactics the Ohio Department of Commerce has against Ohio’s small businesses over the past year, concluded as follows:

  • The Department of Commerce failed to show “how holding one’s self out as willing to purchase precious metals contributed to the evils the State seeks to prevent. Moreover, Defendants have not shown how requiring a license only for purchasers of precious metals who engage in commercial speech directly and materially advance those interests.”
  • “[The state] has not shown that forcing those who engage in commercial speech to obtain a license is reasonable,” and “the restriction on commercial speech is more extensive than necessary.”
  • The Department of Commerce “incorrectly” asserts “that the law prevents fraud, money laundering, theft and terrorism by requiring those who wish to engage in the business of buying from the public gold, silver, and other precious metals to be licensed.”
  • “The breadth and number of exemptions undercuts the Defendants’ argument that the licensing scheme is narrowly tailored to protect against theft, fraud, or terrorism.”

The Court added that the Department of Commerce’s aggressive reading of the regulations was “nonsensical,” and that Ohio coin dealers and others “are unable to actually purchase precious metals without facing prosecution due to Defendants’ incorrect interpretation of the Act.”

“We are just trying to make it safe for small businesses to operate in Ohio – – a mission that we wish our state government would share, rather than thwart,” said Maurice Thompson, Executive Director of the 1851 Center. “This Act and those enforcing it treat small businesses who make gold and silver available as public utilities at best, and criminals at worst, irrespective of whether they have done harm.”

Heightened enforcement of the PMDA by the Department of Commerce, under the control of the Kasich Administration, comes in response to accelerated lobbying and financial contributions to candidates by the pawn brokers industry, which is exempt from the regulations, and a direct competitor of those who are subject to the Act. The enforcement, which would have put many coin dealers out of business, also comes at a time of rising precious metals prices, where an increasing number of Ohioans seek to use gold and silver to protect their savings against potential inflation caused by federal government increases in the money supply.

Thompson added “the state misguidedly seeks to advance its mission of ‘preventing theft and resale of precious metals’ through gag orders, warrantless searches, and criminalization of innocent small businesses. Fortunately, the First Amendment allows us to protect Ohioans’ rights to engage in truthful promotion of their businesses.”

Read the Court’s Order Granting Liberty Coins’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction HERE.


December 7, 2012: Bloomberg Businessweek: Ohio gold, silver dealers’ law blocked by judge

December 7, 2012: Ohio Watchdog: OH: Judge blocks catch-22 in state law that threatened entire industry

December 6, 2012: WYTV 33 News: Ohio gold, silver dealers’ law blocked by judge