Former rep appeals in suit against pro-life group over election loss

A former Ohio congressman who sued the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List for contributing to his election defeat has appealed after a U.S. District Court judge ruled against him last month. 

The move by former Rep. Steve Driehaus appeared to come as a surprise to the Susan B. Anthony List, which effectively declared victory in the case after the ruling in late January. President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement it is "frustrating" to see Driehaus pursue the case "knowing that he should never have started this legal battle in the first place." 

The former congressman evidently disagrees. 

In the unusual case, which Driehaus launched two years ago, the Ohio Democrat tried to hold Susan B. Anthony List accountable for spreading "lies" about him -- ultimately inflicting, he claimed, "reputational" and "economic" harm when he was defeated. 

The defamation case itself raised questions about the limits of rapid-fire ads, billboards and other campaign literature in a political race. In this case, Driehaus complained that the Susan B. Anthony List unfairly accused him of voting for taxpayer-funded abortions when he backed the federal health care overhaul. Driehaus campaigned as a pro-life Democrat. 

Last month, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black had dismissed the case. He determined that in the area of political campaigns, where the "principles of free speech and truth collide most violently," truth must be determined in the "marketplace of ideas" -- not the courts. 

Black wrote that associating a political candidate "with a mainstream political position, even if false, cannot constitute defamation." 

The congressman's original complaint cited statements dating back to August about his record on abortion. Among them was a set of billboards the Susan B. Anthony List planned to put up in October claiming he voted for "taxpayer-funded abortion." At the time, Driehaus filed a complaint with the state election board over the billboards, which did not go up, claiming they broke a state law prohibiting false statements. That battle dragged on until, after the election, Driehaus dropped the complaint and instead filed the defamation suit. 

The ex-congressman claimed he was going after the group because, according to him, they crossed the line and lied. 

"The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood," his original complaint said. 

The court filing this past Thursday appeals the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.