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Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus

Ahead of the 2010 election, a political advocacy organization sought to post a billboard criticizing a sitting Ohio Congressman, which proclaimed: “Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion!”1×1. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 525 F. App’x 415, 416–17 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). But the billboard was never posted — the advertising company that owned the space refused to post the billboard due to an Ohio law that prohibits parties from making certain “false statement[s]”2×2. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.21(B)(9) (LexisNexis 2013). in the course of a political campaign.3×3. SBA List, 525 F. App’x at 417. Last Term, in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus4×4. 134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014). (SBA List), the Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs alleged a “sufficiently imminent injury” to confer Article III standing for their preenforcement challenge to the law.5×5. Id. at 2338. Though precedent supported conferring standing, the Court’s analysis that standing was proper because the organization spoke about broad issues across multiple election cycles — and thus faced threats of future enforcement — could result in recognition of standing for repeat players in political discourse without providing the same recognition for actors with an interest in a single election cycle who potentially face the same threat of enforcement.

Ohio state law prohibits parties from making certain “false statement[s]” of fact “during the course of any campaign for nomination or election to public office.”6×6. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.21(B). The statute criminalizes, among other actions, any person’s effort to “[m]ake a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official,” id. § 3517.21(B)(9), or to “[p]ost, publish, circulate, distribute, or otherwise disseminate a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not,” id. § 3517.21(B)(10). If a party fails to comply with the law, “any person, on personal knowledge” may file a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission.7×7. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.153(A) (LexisNexis Supp. 2014). The Secretary of State or a Board of Elections official could also file a complaint. Id. The Commission lacks the authority to “initiate any proceeding or investigate any person or entity on its own initiative.” Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 805 F. Supp. 2d 412, 417 (S.D. Ohio 2011). The Commission reviews each complaint,8×8. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.154(A)(1). and provides an expedited hearing for any complaint filed within sixty days of a primary or special election, or ninety days of a general election.9×9. Id. § 3517.156(B)(1). At least three Commissioners must preside over an expedited hearing, id. § 3517.156(A), and the hearing must occur within two business days after the Commission determines an expedited hearing is appropriate, id. § 3517.156(B)(1). If the hearing panel finds “probable cause” that a failure to comply with the law occurred, it refers the matter to the full Commission for a hearing to occur no later than ten days afterward.10×10. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.156(C)(2) (LexisNexis 2013). If the Commission finds that the law was violated “by clear and convincing evidence,” it “shall refer the matter to the appropriate prosecutor.”11×11. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.155(D) (LexisNexis Supp. 2014). A first conviction under the law is a first-degree misdemeanor, id. § 3599.40, and a second violation is a fourth-degree felony, id. § 3599.39.

Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a “pro-life advocacy organization,” had planned to run advertisements against then-Congressman Steven Driehaus in Ohio shortly before the 2010 election.12×12. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 525 F. App’x 415, 416 (6th Cir. 2013). SBA List opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act13×13. Pub. L. No. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010) (codified as amended in scattered sections of the U.S. Code). as “permit[ting] taxpayer-funded abortion,” and sought to place a billboard in Congressman Driehaus’s district criticizing his vote for the Act.14×14. SBA List, 525 F. App’x at 416. However, the planned billboard was never posted; Congressman Driehaus threatened legal action against the billboard owner, who subsequently refused to post the billboard.15×15. Id. at 417. Congressman Driehaus filed a complaint against SBA List with the Ohio Elections Commission on October 4, 2010, alleging that SBA List had violated the false-statement law by claiming he had voted for “taxpayer-funded abortion.”16×16. SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2339 (internal quotation marks omitted). At an expedited hearing, a Commission panel found probable cause that SBA List violated the false-statement law and scheduled a full-Commission hearing for ten business days later.17×17. Id.

Before the full-Commission hearing, SBA List filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of the false-statement law.18×18. Id. The court denied SBA List’s request for a temporary restraining order enjoining the Commission proceeding and stayed the federal action pending the Commission’s determination. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 805 F. Supp. 2d 412, 415 (S.D. Ohio 2011). SBA List appealed the denial to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, alleging that the Commission proceeding “chilled” the organization’s speech. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Sixth Circuit denied the request. Id. Congressman Driehaus and SBA List agreed to postpone the full-Commission hearing until after the November election.19×19. The Commission hearing was scheduled for October 28, 2010, and the election took place on November 4, 2010. Id. Congressman Driehaus lost his reelection bid and withdrew his complaint against SBA List.20×20. SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2340. After the Commission terminated the proceeding, SBA List amended its federal complaint to claim that the false-statement law unconstitutionally “chilled” the organization’s speech.21×21. Id. (noting that SBA List also claimed an “inten[t] to engage in substantially similar activity in the future” (internal quotation marks omitted)). The district court consolidated SBA List’s suit with a similar lawsuit by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST),22×22. Id. Though the suits were combined, both the Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit focused their analyses primarily on SBA List. See id. at 2340–46; Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 525 F. App’x 415, 418–23 (6th Cir. 2013). an organization that sought to disseminate “factual statements and opinions related to Mr. Driehaus and his support of the federal health care reform legislation.”23×23. SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 415. Unlike SBA List, COAST alleged that it refrained from disseminating its proposed political communications because the organization “was fearful of finding itself subject to the same fate” as SBA List. Id. at 415–16. The defendants moved to dismiss the case.24×24. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, No. 1:10-cv-720, 2011 WL 3296174, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 1, 2011); SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 419. In addition to Congressman Driehaus, the Ohio Elections Commission and its members were also defendants in the suit. See SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *1.

Focusing on justiciability,25×25. See SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *9. the district court dismissed the claims.26×26. Id. Writing for the court, Judge Black first applied the Sixth Circuit’s three-part test for ripeness, which examines the likelihood of the alleged harm, the sufficiency of the factual record to adjudicate the claims, and the hardship to the parties if judicial relief were denied.27×27. Id. at *2; see also SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 420 (applying the same test to COAST’s suit and finding ripeness lacking). He concluded that these factors weighed against a finding of ripeness for SBA List and COAST.28×28. See SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *4 (“[T]he Commission was never given the opportunity to determine whether Ohio law applied to SBA List’s advertisement.” Id. at *3.); SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 421 (finding COAST faced no “imminent threat of enforcement” since no complaint against it “has been or is pending before the Commission”). Judge Black then applied the Article III standing test established by the Supreme Court,29×29. E.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 590 (1992). which requires that the plaintiff suffer an “‘injury in fact’ that is both concrete and particularized and actual or imminent,”30×30. SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *5 (quoting Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180 (2000)) (internal quotation mark omitted). that the injury be “fairly traceable”31×31. Id. (quoting Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 180). to the defendant’s action, and that the injury be redressable by finding for the plaintiff.32×32. Id.; see also SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 421 (analyzing COAST’s standing under the same framework). He held that SBA List’s claim of “chilled speech” failed to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement because SBA List “cannot demonstrate that Ohio’s statute will be imminently enforced against it.”33×33. SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *5. The organization’s claim of injury through the “threat of a future election complaint[]” if it made similar statements in the future was also insufficient to establish an injury.34×34. Id. at *6. COAST also failed to establish a sufficient injury because the organization claimed its intended speech was true, and any threat of prosecution was “speculative” and thus insufficient to establish standing. SBA List, 805 F. Supp. 2d at 422. Because the Commission had dismissed the action against SBA List with the organization’s consent, Judge Black further determined that SBA List’s claims were moot.35×35. SBA List, 2011 WL 3296174, at *6.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed, examining only the issue of ripeness.36×36. See Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 525 F. App’x 415, 416 (6th Cir. 2013). The court did not examine the alternative justiciability issues of standing and mootness; it found “no obligation to favor one of these justiciability doctrines over the other” and relied on its ability to “address them in any sequence” in finding that ripeness provided at least one basis for dismissing the claims on justiciability grounds. Id. at 418 (quoting Warshak v. United States, 532 F.3d 521, 525 (6th Cir. 2008) (en banc)). Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Stranch37×37. Judge Stranch was joined by Judges Rogers and Pearson. applied the circuit’s three-factor ripeness test, looking to the likelihood of harm, factual-record development, and hardship to the parties.38×38. SBA List, 525 F. App’x at 419. The court evaluated “the imminence of the threat of prosecution against SBA List” and the “sufficiency of SBA List’s alleged intent to disobey the challenged statute,”39×39. Id. and found the rejection of the billboard — done by a private party — and the Commission’s probable-cause hearing — only a preliminary enforcement action — insufficient to create a reasonable “fear of future enforcement” necessary to establish likely harm.40×40. Id. at 420. The court also found SBA List unlikely to face prosecution because the organization did not believe its statements were false; it had thus not made the statements knowing they were false as required for liability under the false-statement law. Id. at 422. The court also found the factual record insufficiently developed because “Ohio has not applied its law to SBA List’s speech”41×41. Id. at 422. and found that withholding judicial relief would not unduly harm SBA List because no complaint was then pending against the organization and “SBA List’s conduct . . . suggests that its speech has not been chilled.”42×42. Id. at 423. The court applied a similar analysis to COAST’s claims and concluded that the two cases were not ripe for review.43×43. Id.

The Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Thomas held that SBA List and COAST had “alleged a sufficiently imminent injury for the purposes of Article III.”44×44. SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2338. The Court employed the term “standing” in its analysis instead of the ripeness doctrine used by the Sixth Circuit, reasoning that in this case, Article III standing and ripeness issues “boil down to the same question.”45×45. Id. at 2341 n.5 (quoting MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 128 n.8 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court also noted that “standing and ripeness ‘originate’ from the same Article III limitation.” Id. (quoting DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 335 (2006)). While it touched briefly on the issue of prudential ripeness, the Court determined that it “need not resolve the continuing vitality of the prudential ripeness doctrine in this case.”46×46. Id. at 2347. The Court found this inquiry unnecessary because it determined that the prudential ripeness factors of fitness and hardship were “easily satisfied” by the fact that a purely legal controversy was at stake and a denial of review for SBA List and COAST would “forc[e] them to choose between refraining from core political speech . . . [or] risking costly Commission proceedings and criminal prosecution.” Id. Examining the issue of Article III standing, the Court highlighted the same three requirements as the district court — an injury in fact, a sufficient causal connection between the conduct and injury, and an injury redressable by a favorable decision — but considered only the injury-in-fact requirement.47×47. Id. at 2341. The Court determined that a sufficient Article III injury could arise in preenforcement circumstances if the “threatened enforcement [was] sufficiently imminent” and impacted a constitutional interest,48×48. Id. at 2342. and found SBA List had “alleged a credible threat of enforcement.”49×49. Id. at 2343.

The Supreme Court based its conferral of standing for SBA List on three major factors: an intent to make future similar statements, a discussion of broad issues not specific to a single legislator, and previous threats of enforcement. Because both SBA List and COAST pleaded “specific statements they intend[ed] to make in future election cycles,” the Court first found that a constitutional speech interest was sufficiently impacted.50×50. Id. at 2343–44. The Court then determined that the Ohio law arguably proscribed the intended speech because the speech “focuse[d] on the broader issue of support for the ACA, not on the voting record of a single candidate”; as long as SBA List and COAST continued to “engage in comparable electoral speech . . . , that speech will remain arguably proscribed by Ohio’s false-statement statute.”51×51. Id. at 2344. Further, the Court found a “substantial” threat of future enforcement against both organizations, based in part on “a history of past enforcement” in the form of the Commission proceedings.52×52. Id. at 2345. COAST’s threat of future injury relied jointly on the organization’s “intent to engage in the same speech that was the subject of a prior enforcement proceeding” — albeit an enforcement proceeding against SBA List — and the fact that “COAST has been the subject of Commission proceedings in the past.” Id. at 2346. This threat of future enforcement was bolstered by the power for “any person”53×53. Id. at 2345 (quoting Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.153(A) (LexisNexis Supp. 2014)) (internal quotation marks omitted). to file a complaint with the Commission under the Ohio law, and the fact that “Commission proceedings are not a rare occurrence”54×54. Id. and are “backed by the additional threat of criminal prosecution.”55×55. Id. at 2346; see also id. at 2345 (“Because the universe of potential complainants is not restricted to state officials . . . there is a real risk of complaints from, for example, political opponents.”). These factors together established a “sufficient Article III injury” to confer standing for SBA List and COAST to challenge the Ohio false-statement law.56×56. Id. at 2347.

SBA List appears to be a straightforward application of standing precedent.57×57. See, e.g., Lyle Denniston, Opinion Analysis: False Politicking Law Open to Challenge, SCOTUSblog (June 16, 2014, 3:24 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/06/opinion-analysis-false-politicking-law-open-to-challenge [http://perma.cc/65Q8-N7MV]. However, the rationale behind the Court’s conferral of standing — because SBA List intended to speak across multiple election cycles about broad issues, for which it had previously been reprimanded — is potentially problematic, in the unique context of elections, for actors who intend to make statements similar to SBA List except only about a single candidate or election cycle.58×58. The Court did not directly address the issue of nonrepeat players in its opinion. See SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2346 (finding that standing was specifically appropriate “under the circumstances of this case”). A direct application of the rationale for granting SBA List standing would provide standing to similar repeat players in the political process, but would not clearly provide standing to nonrepeat election speakers.59×59. The Court on several occasions has suggested the importance of maintaining robust involvement in political discourse while not discriminating against certain types of actors. See, e.g., McCutcheon v. FEC, 134 S. Ct. 1434, 1441 (2014) (“[W]e have made clear that Congress may not . . . restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others.”); Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876, 899 (2010) (“[T]he Government may commit a constitutional wrong when by law it identifies certain preferred speakers. By taking the right to speak from some and giving it to others, the Government deprives the disadvantaged person or class of the right to use speech to strive to establish worth, standing, and respect for the speaker’s voice. The Government may not by these means deprive the public of the right and privilege to determine for itself what speech and speakers are worthy of consideration.”). The Court could have adjusted the focus of its analysis slightly — toward similar prior enforcement efforts and a discussion of issues with future effects — to remain true to precedent but also to clearly provide standing for nonrepeat political speakers making statements similar to SBA List’s against the backdrop of a false-statement law.

Two of the key factors the Supreme Court relied upon in determining that SBA List had a sufficient injury in fact to confer standing — previous threats of enforcement and a discussion of broad issues not specific to a single legislator60×60. See SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2344–45. — are familiar to Article III standing jurisprudence.61×61. The Court’s third primary consideration — intent to make future similar statements — was also rooted in standing precedent. See, e.g., Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705, 2717 (2010); Babbitt v. United Farm Workers Nat’l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 302–03 (1979). The Court has recognized for several decades that a prior threat of law enforcement for an action creates a sufficient threat of future enforcement to confer preenforcement standing.62×62. See Virginia v. Am. Booksellers Ass’n, 484 U.S. 383, 393 (1988); City of Houston v. Hill, 482 U.S. 451, 459 n.7 (1987); Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 459 (1974). The Court has also found that criticisms focusing on a single legislator were nonjusticiable when that particular legislator had left office,63×63. See Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 109 (1969). but could be justiciable if the political criticisms surrounded broader social issues.64×64. See Steffel, 415 U.S. at 460.

Despite this application of standing precedent to SBA List’s claims, the Court failed to recognize the uniqueness of the two-year electoral cycle in establishing Article III standing.65×65. Cf. Transcript of Oral Argument at 9–10, SBA List, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (No. 13-193), http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/13-193_kh7p.pdf [http://perma.cc/J6FZ-CPUX] (quoting SBA List’s counsel as arguing that “even the [Ohio Elections] Commission recognizes that the declaratory judgment advisory opinion procedure doesn’t work in the heat of an election campaign”). Within elections, actors have only a temporary interest in making a particular speech, though the consequences of that speech may endure after the election.66×66. See Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876, 895 (2010) (“[T]he public begins to concentrate on elections only in the weeks immediately before they are held. There are short timeframes in which speech can have influence. . . .  By the time [a] lawsuit concludes, the election will be over and the litigants in most cases will have neither the incentive nor, perhaps, the resources to carry on . . . .”). For example, under the Ohio false-statement law there is no prohibition against filing a complaint for a statement made during an election cycle after that election is over — the law only requires that the complaint be filed within two years after the occurrence of the false statement. See Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 3517.157(A) (LexisNexis 2013). Indeed, SBA List attempted to highlight this very distinctiveness of justiciability analysis within the election cycle by invoking the “capable of repetition, yet evading review” exception to the mootness doctrine; SBA List argued that because of electoral timing, any claim under the false-statement law either could not be fully litigated or would expire during the election cycle, and there was a “reasonable expectation that the same complaining party will be subject to the same action again” in another election.67×67. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, No. 1:10-cv-720, 2011 WL 3296174, at *6 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 1, 2011) (quoting FEC v. Wis. Right to Life, Inc., 551 U.S. 449, 462 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted) (denying this exception). This critique highlights the need for standing for one-time electoral speakers: without clear standing to vindicate their speech rights after an election, these speakers are faced with the undesirable option of either engaging in speech that carries the threat of punishment or chilling their potentially constitutional speech.68×68. See Virginia v. Am. Booksellers Ass’n, 484 U.S. 383, 392–93 (1988). Preelection litigation of speech is an unrealistic alternative for these one-time actors; despite the “2-year window between elections” during which such litigation could occur, these speakers typically “cannot predict what issues will be matters of public concern” during the upcoming election and thus would have “no way of knowing well in advance” what type of speech they would intend to make. Wis. Right to Life, 551 U.S. at 462.

Two of the major factors upon which the Court relied in its standing analysis do not fit with the unique needs of adjudication within election cycles. First, the Court’s reliance on prior threats of enforcement as indicative of potential future enforcement fails to recognize that electoral actors are by nature impermanent. Each election cycle brings new actors into political discourse who may make a sizable contribution to political speech in the election cycle during which they first participate.69×69. Cf. Richard Briffault, Super PACs, 96 Minn. L. Rev. 1644, 1644 (2012) (“The 2010 election cycle witnessed the birth of the ‘Super PAC’ . . . . Nonexistent and probably illegal before the spring of 2010, Super PACs spent an estimated $65 million on independent expenditures in 2010, and were significant players in more than a dozen Senate and House races.”). These actors — sometimes interested in only a single candidate or issues relevant during a single election cycle — may disappear before the next election.70×70. See, e.g., Matea Gold & Tom Hamburger, Must-Have Accessory for House Candidates in 2014: The Personalized Super PAC, Wash. Post, July 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/one-candidate-super-pac-now-a-must-have-to-count-especially-in-lesser-house-races/2014/07/17/aaa2fcd6-0dcd-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html [http://perma.cc/D2GK-LXAS] (discussing the rise of single-candidate Super PACs in congressional races during the 2014 election cycle). Because these actors did not exist during prior elections, no threats of prior enforcement against them were possible.71×71. The Court’s language could potentially be read to ameliorate this problem by permitting consideration of past enforcement action against other parties to be indicative of a threat of future enforcement. The Court made overtures toward this approach in SBA List regarding standing for COAST when it found sufficient “intent to engage in the same speech that was the subject of a prior enforcement proceeding” — even though the proceeding in question was against SBA List, not COAST. SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2346. It bolstered this interpretation by noting that “past enforcement against the same conduct is good evidence that the threat of enforcement is not ‘chimerical.’” Id. at 2345 (emphasis added) (quoting Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 459 (1974)) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, the Court also emphasized that “COAST has been the subject of Commission proceedings in the past,” id. at 2346, which suggests that past enforcement against the same plaintiffs should be a factor considered in standing analysis; this consideration could render a demonstration of standing more difficult for one-time political actors. See also Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 133 S. Ct. 1138, 1148 (2013) (finding a lack of standing in a surveillance case where the plaintiffs “fail[ed] to offer any evidence that their communications have been monitored” (emphasis added)).

The impermanence of many political speakers poses a challenge for the Court’s standing analysis in the election context: when an organization engaging in political discourse does not exist across multiple election cycles, the “history of past enforcement” against an actor cannot be an indicator of the “threat of future enforcement” as the SBA List Court emphasized in finding standing.72×72. See SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2345. To sufficiently recognize single-cycle political actors in preenforcement challenges, the Court could have instead emphasized a history of past enforcement against similarly situated actors.73×73. This analysis would be especially apposite in the context of Ohio’s false-statement law: between 2001 and 2010, over 500 proceedings were initiated under the law that could provide points of comparison for new actors. See Transcript of Oral Argument, supra note 65, at 28. This approach would not be novel to standing doctrine — in Steffel v. Thompson,74×74. 415 U.S. 452. which addressed a preenforcement challenge to a statute that limited handbilling, the Court found an “ample” threat of future enforcement based partly on “[t]he prosecution of petitioner’s handbilling companion,” a similarly situated actor to the petitioner.75×75. Id. at 459. But see Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 42 (1971) (finding no standing for similarly situated actors who had not been directly prosecuted). The number of people actually prosecuted under a law has also been considered indicative of whether a credible threat of prosecution exists for a particular actor. See, e.g., Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705, 2717 (2010); Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 501–02 (1961) (plurality opinion). A focus on previous enforcement threats to similarly situated actors in establishing standing could more effectively recognize the revolving door of electoral actors, instead of relying on an actor’s presence in political discourse across multiple election cycles as an indicator of future enforcement.

Second, the Court emphasized a political speaker’s discussion of broad issues, which are capable of future discussion, as creating a future enforcement threat necessary for standing;76×76. See SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2344. this approach is ill suited for the election context, where advocacy efforts address both broad issues and individual candidates. The Court employed this broad-issues analysis to distinguish SBA List from Golden v. Zwickler,77×77. 394 U.S. 103 (1969). an early case applying justiciability to elections.78×78. See SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2344. In Zwickler, justiciability was lacking because the plaintiff’s “sole concern” was speech related to a specific congressman who had left office and was unlikely to run for Congress again.79×79. Zwickler, 394 U.S. at 109. A similar challenge existed in SBA List: in June 2011, Congressman Driehaus began a two-year appointment with the Peace Corps in Swaziland, so SBA List could not convincingly claim that he “may run for Congress again” to create a future enforcement threat.80×80. Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, 525 F. App’x 415, 418 (6th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Sixth Circuit found that this multi-year assignment nullified SBA List’s argument that Congressman Driehaus’s prior filing of a complaint suggested his “willingness to file complaints in the future.” Id. at 421. In response, SBA List highlighted the organization’s broad interest in the ACA and intent to remain a repeat political player. See Reply Brief at 5, SBA List, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (No. 13-193), 2014 WL 1389008, at *5 (“Whether Driehaus runs for Congress again is therefore irrelevant. Petitioners do not care about Driehaus; they care about the ACA’s abortion funding, which remains politically salient.”). In order to find any future enforcement threat, the Court needed to underscore that a discussion of the issues — if not the legislator — would likely reoccur in the future.

By indicating the importance of a discussion of broad issues in finding standing, the Court overlooked situations where the threat of future enforcement for an organization’s speech could create a sufficient injury, but the speech in question only addressed a single legislator.81×81. See McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 346–47 (1995) (highlighting the necessity of unimpaired electoral speech for “the ability of the citizenry to make informed choices among candidates,” id. (quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 14–15 (1976) (per curiam)), while also suggesting that “core political speech need not center on a candidate for office” but could “extend equally to issue-based elections,” id. at 347). Zwickler recognized that such a situation addressing a legislator still in office might be sufficient to confer standing. The true problem with standing in that case was that it was “wholly conjectural that another occasion [of future enforcement] might arise” sufficient to create an injury through threat of enforcement, since the legislator driving enforcement was no longer in office.82×82. Zwickler, 394 U.S. at 109; cf. Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 821 (1997) (“If one of the Members were to retire tomorrow, he would no longer have a claim; the claim would be possessed by his successor instead.”); Karcher v. May, 484 U.S. 72, 81 (1987) (“Karcher and Orechio participated in this lawsuit in their official capacities . . . but since they no longer hold those offices, they lack authority to pursue this appeal on behalf of the legislature.”). Instead of focusing its standing analysis on speech involving broad issues, the Court should have focused its analysis on whether the speech in question would have future effect because the topic could arise again in later elections83×83. Cf. Norman v. Reed, 502 U.S. 279, 288 (1992) (“There would be every reason to expect the same parties to generate a similar, future controversy . . . .”). This future effect could be felt whether the speech addressed a specific legislator still in office, see Zwickler, 394 U.S. at 109, or a broader policy issue that might arise in future electoral discourse, see SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2344. and whether the parties would “continue to engage in comparable electoral speech.”84×84. SBA List, 134 S. Ct. at 2344.

The Court’s application of standing precedent to SBA List thus creates inconsistencies in the electoral context. This reasoning could advantage repeat players in political discourse over others who make the same statements, and thus suffer the same threat of enforcement as an injury in fact, but who are not clearly granted Article III standing under the Court’s analysis. Without clear standing to sue, these single-interest speakers may restrain their own speech in ways repeat players would not85×85. Cf. Citizens United v. FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876, 895 (2010) (suggesting the need for “clarity to the application of the statutory provision . . . in order to avoid any chilling effect”). — a consequence the Court has suggested may be undesirable for the democratic process.86×86. See McIntyre, 514 U.S. at 346 (describing election speech as “occup[ying] the core of the protection afforded by the First Amendment”). By adjusting its standing analysis to emphasize similar prior enforcement and discussion of issues with future effects, instead of direct past enforcement and discussion of broad issues, the Court could have avoided raising questions of standing by — and potentially chilling the speech of — nonrepeat players in the electoral conversation.