Ann Arbor, MI, is the location of the University of Michigan, home of the Wolverines. College football fans know that the bad blood between Michigan and the Ohio State Buckeyes is one of the fiercest rivalries—not just in college football but also sports in general. When it comes to their two teams, fans have a hard time getting along.
Ann Arbor is also the home to a law with troubling implications. While the law wouldn’t force a Michigan advertising agency, decked out in the maize and blue of the Wolverines, to print materials that say, “Go Bucks,” the law does prohibit “discrimination” based on political beliefs—which presents a lot of serious problems in the political gridiron.
Let’s take a look.
Grant Strobl and Jacob Chludzinski are political conservatives who believe in free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong national defense. Together, they founded ThinkRight Strategies, a political consulting firm.
ThinkRight’s advocacy services include designing websites, developing slogans and social-media content, providing coaching for public speaking and media interviews, helping guide canvassing efforts to mobilize voters, and writing speeches for causes, candidates, lawmakers, and non-profits. Grant and Jacob want to provide these services to promote only messages, platforms, and causes that further their conservative principles.
Because of this, they find themselves at odds with the Ann Arbor law.
As mentioned before, that law prohibits discrimination based on political beliefs. That means Grant and Jacob must create advocacy material promoting progressive causes because they create similar material promoting conservative causes.
Further, the law bans Grant and Jacob from posting statements on their firm’s website explaining that they will promote only conservative political positions. The law even requires the firm to seek work promoting progressive political positions if the firm takes certain steps to contact groups or individuals promoting conservative causes.
Those who fail to comply with Ann Arbor’s law risk fines of $500 for each day the violation occurs, which is not ideal for a startup business. Or anyone, for that matter.
Having recently launched their political consulting and marketing business, Grant and Jacob decided to file the lawsuit ThinkRight Strategies v. City of Ann Arbor in federal court to ask for a ruling protecting their freedom to speak and advocate consistent with their beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing ThinkRight Strategies and argues that the Ann Arbor law violates First Amendment freedoms of speech, association, and press as well as the right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
ADF Senior Counsel Jonathan Scruggs commented:
The First Amendment protects people’s freedom to choose what to say and what to endorse, and Americans don’t have to wait to be punished to protect this freedom. That’s why we are representing Grant and Jacob in this challenge to an unjust and unconstitutional law. We can all agree that a pacifist painter shouldn’t be forced to paint a pro-war mural, and a Democratic speechwriter shouldn’t be forced to write speeches for President Trump. But Ann Arbor’s law requires these absurd results. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NIFLA v. Becerra, “the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.” We’re hopeful this lawsuit will cause Ann Arbor to quickly reverse course and respect the First Amendment.
Grant and Jacob have not violated Ann Arbor’s law, but they are suffering from its restrictions on their freedoms and their ability to recruit clients who will partner with them to advance conservative beliefs. So they asked a court to correct this injustice. After all, it’s just common sense that Americans do not have to wait to be punished before seeking justice. Challenging unjust laws is a hallmark of civil rights history. People and groups across the ideological spectrum have used pre‐enforcement challenges to secure their freedoms for decades. The government should never have the unchecked power to violate basic rights.
Just like sports rivalries, political rivalries can be fierce and competitive. But we should all cheer together for this basic principle: everyone should be free to choose for themselves which political positions to promote.