1

Stealing the Bill of Rights

I wanted to share a story about the Bill of Rights that I had not heard  before, though perhaps some of you have.

In 1789, each state was sent a copy of the 12 amendments proposed by Congress. The one sent to North Carolina, though, was stolen by a Union soldier at the end of the Civil War.  He returned to Ohio and sold it to a man named Charles Shotwell for $5.  (Shotwell may have been related to the Shotwells of Cadiz who knew John Bingham, but I’m not sure).  Shotwell moved to Indianapolis, where he kept the copy in his office or in his house until his death in the 1930s!  The document then passed down through the family until 2002, when it was sold to an antiques dealer.  He then tried to sell the text to the National Constitution Center, but at that point the FBI came in and seized the relic as stolen property.  Ultimately, the courts held that the document belonged to North Carolina.

Anyway, the full story is told in this book, which is a fun read.

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Berkshire Hathaway 50th Anniversary Symposium

I’m honored to be giving the keynote address at the Museum of American Finance symposium on the 50th anniversary of Berkshire Hathaway under Warren Buffett on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at the Museum on Wall Street.  As the Museum explains:  “When Warren Buffett took control of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in 1965, it was a small textile company. Through a combination of value investing, exceptional management and savvy acquisitions, Buffett has transformed the firm into one of the most profitable, successful and highly-emulated corporations in American history. ”  The impressive program schedule follows.

Museum of American Finance

8:00-9:00 am
Fireside Chat
Byron D. Trott, chairman and CEO of BDT & Company and source for several of Berkshire’s important acquisitions, will be interviewed by Carol Loomis, long-time editor of Fortune magazine and editor of Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.

9:15-10:15 am
Panel 1: Investors Inspired by Berkshire Hathaway
Roger Lowenstein (moderator), financial journalist and author of the best-selling Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist and, among other works, the newly-published America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve
Bill Ackman, founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management, L.P.
Seth A. Klarman, president and CEO of The Baupost Group, L.L.C.

10:30-11:30 am
Panel 2: Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders
Jason Zweig (moderator), Wall Street Journal columnist and editor of the revised edition of The Intelligent Investor
Paul Lountzis, president of Lountzis Asset Management LLC
Thomas Russo, partner at Gardner Russo & Gardner LLC
Whitney Tilson, founder and managing partner of Kase Capital Management LLC

11:30 am-12:15 pm
Lunch Break

12:15-1:15 pm
Panel 3: Value of Partnerships
Jim Grant (moderator), founder and publisher of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer
Thomas Gayner, president and chief investment officer of Markel Corporation
John C. Phelan, managing partner of MSD Capital

1:30-2:30 pm
Afternoon Keynote
Lawrence Cunningham, author of Berkshire Beyond Buffett, co-author of The Essays of Warren Buffett and the Henry St. George Tucker III Research Professor of Law at George Washington University

Tickets and Admission 

General admission: $325
Current MoAF and NYSSA members: $125

All guests will receive a complimentary copy of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America, courtesy of the editor and publisher, Lawrence Cunningham.

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Making Contracts on Kickstarter

11111In 2013, Chapman Ducote, a professional race car driver, and his wife, Kristin Ducote, had an idea for a new book about the world of professional motor sports, to be called Naked Paddock. Rather than the traditional route through book publishing—hiring an agent, seeking a publisher to pay an advance, and having the house handle the rest—they opted for a new approach of crowd-funding and self-publishing.

Crowd-funding refers to project financing generated from among the general public, usually facilitated by an internet-based service designed to match money to ideas. Creators post project proposals on the site and invite backers to buy the product in advance or stake funds in exchange for bonus mementos or voice in production. Proposals state the total amount sought to be raised and the deadline. If the goal is not reached on time, no funds change hands. But otherwise a deal is made: the facilitating site has enabled backers and creators to form a bargain.

Facilitators, such as Kickstarter, present on their web sites “terms of use” that all creators and backers must agree to in order to access the site. Such terms of use include standards designed to promote the commercial efficacy of the site. Kickstarter is where Chapman and Kristin Ducote hatched their book idea, posting their project and thus manifesting their assent to the terms of use.

The couple launched heavy promotional efforts, which included an appearance on a reality TV show—a spin-off of  But within a week, Kickstarer took it down because it violated its rules. The Ducotes sued for breach of contract, saying Kickstarter had no basis to remove the project. But they soon withdrew the suit acknowledging that they had made a contract with Kickstarter to abide by it rules yet failed to do so.

Kickstarter therefore had the right to remove the project.  While neither side disclosed publicly what rules were broken, they revealed that Kickstarrter acted in response to complaints from other users. Among likely violations were rules restricting what creators can do to promote projects—creators may not spam, use link-bomb forums, or promote on other Kickstarter project pages.

Terms of use flourish on the internet, where web site builders use them to define business models and a sense of community norms. While the means of assent vary from traditional means—clicking at prompts rather than signing a form—they have similar purposes, efficacy and limits.  While the traditional rules of contract formation fit the creator-facilitator relationship well, they require adaptation, at least conceptually, when considering other pairs of relationships in crowd-funding.

Consider that between backers and facilitators. On the surface, it may seem that the facilitator has agreed to provide a service to the backer, such as assuring product delivery and quality. But the sites disclaim such a traditional contractual relation, instead establishing the facilitator as a pure middleman without duties.   The Kicktarter terms of use state, for example: “The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project.” Kickstarter’s terms of use declare that “Kickstarter doesn’t evaluate a project’s claims, resolve disputes, or offer refunds—backers decide what’s worth funding and what’s not.” The facilitator disclaims any duty to backers concerning product delivery, quality, warranties, or refunds. Read More

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FAN 74.1 (First Amendment News) First Amendment Salon goes to L.A. — Chemerinsky & Volokh discuss Roberts Court & First Amendment . . . & more!

It was a remarkable late-afternoon program yesterday as the First Amendment Salon went on the road for the first time with an event held at the Los Angeles office of Davis Wright Tremaine. There was a live video feed to DWT’s offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. Those participating in the Salon (the sixth) were UC Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh with DWT lawyer Kelli Sager moderating the exchange between the two. The Salons are conducted in association with the law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz and the Floyd Abrams Institute for Free Expression at Yale Law School. (Chemerinsky and Volokh are on the Salon’s advisory board). Lee Levine introduced the program. The topic of discussion for the 90-minute exchange, replete with questions from the audience, was “The Roberts Court and the First Amendment.”

Eugene Volokh, Erwin Chemerinsky & Kelli Sager

                        Eugene Volokh, Erwin Chemerinsky & Kelli Sager

The Chemerinsky-Volokh exchange was nuanced and esoteric yet always insightful, informative, and engaging. Ms.Sager ably navigated the discussion through a variety of topics including:

  • First Amendment law in the context of the government acting as sovereign vs the government acting in a managerial capacity
  • the reach of the government speech doctrine after Walker
  •  the future of “strict scrutiny” analysis after Williams-Yulee
  • whether in light of Williams-Yulee (and the idea that judicial elections are different) independent expenditures might be regulated notwithstanding the holding in Buckley
  • the impact of Reed on the “secondary effects” doctrine
  • the likelihood that the trio of Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan will be able to persuade a majority of the Court to abandon strict scrutiny in content-discrimination cases
  • whether in the Friedrichs case the Court will overrule Abood (reference was made to Catherine Fisk’s SCOTUSblog post “The Friedrichs petition should be dismissed“)
  • what important First Amendment issues are not before the Court but which need to be
  • whether the Court is likely to grant cert. in a “right to publicity” case (see Law360 Aug. 14, 2015 news story here)
  • and how the Court has yet to give any serious consideration, post Reno and Ashcroft, as to how the Internet impacts First Amendment law.
Judge Alex Kozinski

Judge Alex Kozinski

And there was more, much more, including a variety of questions from the audience consisting of First Amendment lawyers and law professors, journalists, and free-speech activists.

BTW: Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski was in the audience and asked the two professors to comment on the following statement: “The big threat to free speech in the next twenty years is from foreign countries” trying to enforce “right to be forgotten” laws against the likes of Google and ordering them to remove certain items from all of their posts in all nations, including the United States. “The right to be forgotten,” he added, “is just the first of what may be many laws that are more speech restrictive than those of the U.S., e.g. defamation, privacy, and moral rights.” [See Mike Masnick, “Google Disappears Techdirt Article About Right To Be Forgotten Due To Right To Be Forgotten Request,” Infowars.com, Aug. 25, 2015)]

Shout out to the fine folks at Davis Wright Tremaine for hosting the Los Angeles Salon.

The L.A. Salon event was video-recored and I hope to post a link to it soon.

Go here for video of fifth Salon: “Is the First Amendment Being Misused as a Deregulatory Tool?”  The exchange, held at the Abrams Institute at Yale Law School, was between Professors Jack Balkin and Martin Redish with Floyd Abrams moderating.

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The Many Bills of Rights

202px-Webster_2One theme of my next book is that in the nineteenth century many texts vied for the title of our national bill of rights.  Thus, when you see references to the Bill of Rights before the 1890s, you can’t be sure what you’re seeing.

Here’s an example that I’ve finally figured out.  In 1867, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the Second Reconstruction Act, which was part of Congress’s plan to impose military rule on the South until the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified.  In that veto, Johnson quoted Daniel Webster, who said: “[T]he military must be kept, according to the language of our bill of rights, in strict subordination to the civil authority. Wherever this lesson is not both learned and practiced there can be no political freedom.”

Now at first this is puzzling.  While you can construe parts of the Bill of Rights, like the Third Amendment, as being about civil supremacy over the military, there certainly is not any clear language on that.  Then I thought, “Well, maybe Webster and Johnson were referring to the Declaration of Independence.”  People back then did call that a bill of rights, and it does speak directly to the issue of civil/military relations in one passage condemning George III.

So then I looked for the original Webster quote.  It’s in an oration he gave in 1843 to dedicate the monument at Bunker Hill.  (He gave an even better speech there when they began building the monument in 1825.)  Turns out Webster was talking about the Massachusetts Bill of Rights (by “our” he meant “in our state”), which also talks about keeping the military subordinate to civil authority.

Indeed, during Reconstruction you see “our Bill of Rights” defined as

  1.  The Massachusetts Bill of Rights (by Johnson)
  2. Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution (by the Supreme Court)
  3. The first eight amendments (by some members of Congress)
  4. The first ten amendments (by other members of Congress)
  5. The Declaration of Independence (by still others)

There were other candidates (maybe I’ll do another post on that later in the week).

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FAN 74 (First Amendment News) Summer thoughts on dissent

Before the summer runs its course, I thought I’d do a post on one of my favorite topics — dissent. So no news this week, just some thoughts on dissent — and some lists of books, and songs, and what have you.

Take dissent out of the cultural and constitutional equation and what remains is faint-hearted freedom. Dissent gives free speech its steel. One of the First Amendment’s greatest virtues is the protection of those messages we fear and/or loathe — those sent our way by insufferable Anti-Federalists, abolitionists, suffragists, unionists, anarchists, Communists, atheists, civil-rights activists, anti-war pacifists, gay-rights antagonists, Tea Party supporters, religious zealots, the politically incorrect, and even nihilists.

* * * *

William F. Buckley, Jr.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Dissent. It is a word we all know. We use the word with regularity in any variety of contexts. Judges dissent against a court majority. Political activists dissent against the establishment. Religious protesters dissent against orthodoxy. Students dissent against an administration. Newspaper editorialists dissent against politicians. And employees dissent against management. The list goes on.

In these ways and others, America values dissent, or so it seems. We often tolerate, encourage, and protect dissent. It is part of our Madisonian heritage. Some preach it, some practice it, others safeguard it, and still others endure it even when they oppose its message. Dissent is a salient feature of our modern society. It is a cultural and constitutional given.

Over the ages, dissent has been championed for assorted reasons. Dissent, it might be said, promotes self-realization and autonomy. It enables individual self-expression without fear of societal repression. The liberty of self is meaningless if one must always conform to majority will. Freedom for the outsider allows a unique brand of self-identity and self-expression.

Dissent, it might be said, advances religious freedom. When people of faith are permitted to question prevailing beliefs, they stand to redefine the relationship between themselves and their Maker. This spirit of moderation extinguishes the fires of heresy.

Dissent, it might also be said, contributes to the marketplace of ideas. It does this by promoting competition among divergent viewpoints. The hope is that, in the battle of opinions, some form of truth will prevail over falsehood, and the struggle will produce a more enlightened citizenry.

(credit: Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News)

(credit: Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News)

Dissent, it might further be said, enables self-governance by civic participation. Such participation is a two-way street: it is the prerogative to agree or disagree with governmental action. When the governed rule, they must have the right to differ from their governors.

Dissent likewise checks governmental abuses of power. When the whistleblower exposes governmental corruption or malfeasance, political power then comes under public scrutiny. By raising citizen awareness, dissent might bring about institutional reforms.

Dissent might moreover cultivate a democratic culture of tolerance, where all views are suffered no matter how objectionable they may be. Democracy is diversity, and diversity of views is often born out of dissent. One measure of a thriving democracy is the extent to which it fosters vibrant dissent.

Finally, it might also be said that a culture of dissent secures a safe haven for the outsider. When individuals no longer fear censure simply for being different, they can give public voice to their private views. Thereby, dissenters are afforded a chance to expand the behavioral boundaries of their society.

Whatever the objections to dissent, it is valued for all these reasons and others.  (source: Collins & Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America)

Unknown rebel in front of tank in Tiananmen Square (credit: The Mirror, UK)

Unknown rebel in front of tank in Tiananmen Square (credit: The Mirror, UK)

Books of and on Dissent 

  1. Pierre Berton, editor, Voices from the Sixties: Twenty-Two Views of a Revolutionary Decade (1966)
  2. William F. Buckley, Jr., God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951)
  3. Stokely Carmichael & Charles Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (1976)
  4. Stephen Carter, The Dissent of the Governed (1998)
  5. Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent (2002)
  6. Collins & Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America (2013)
  7. Dinesh D’Souza, Letters to a Young Conservative (2005)
  8. William O. Douglas, Points of Rebellion (1969)
  9. Christopher Fairman, Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting our First Amendment Liberties (2009)
  10. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  11.  Amin Ghaziani, The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington (2008)
  12. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2009)
  13. Andrew Hsiao & Audrea Lim, editors, The Verso Book of Dissent: From Spartacus to the Shoe-Thrower of Baghdad (2010)
  14.  Eugene Dennis

                   Eugene Dennis

    Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail (1963) (full text here)

  15. Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (2007)
  16. Robert W.T. Martin, Government by Dissent: Protest, Resistance, and Radical Democratic Thought in the Early American Republic (2013)
  17. Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1970)
  18. Jack Newfield, editor, American Rebels (2003)
  19. The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution (1962, 2005)
  20. Michael Ratner & Margaret Ratner Kunstler, Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-century America (2011)
  21. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1964)
  22. Austin Sarat, editor, Dissent in Dangerous Times (2005)
  23. Steven Shiffrin, Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America (2010)
  24. Herbert Storing, editor, The Complete Anti-Federalist (1981)
  25. Cass Sunstein, Why Societies Need Dissent (2003)
  26. Henry David Thoreau, Jeffrey S. Cramer, editor, Essays (2013)
  27. Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991)
  28. Ralph Young, Dissent: The History of an American Idea (2015)
  29. Howard Zinn, Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990)

51CmbungqBL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Forthcoming Books on Dissent

  1. Melvin Urofsky, Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue (Pantheon, October 13, 2015)
  2. Stephen D. Solomon, Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (St. Martin’s Press (April 26, 2016)
  3. Thomas Grace, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties (University of Massachusetts Press, January 14, 2016)
  4. Maria Rovisco & Jonathan Corpus Ong, editors, Taking the Square: Mediated Dissent and Occupations of Public Space (Rowman & Littfield, April 2016)
  5. Wendy B. Scott & Linda S. Greene, I Dissent!: The Dissenting Opinions of Justice Thurgood Marshall (Carolina Academic Press, March 11, 2016)
  6. Thomas Grace, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties (University of Massachusetts Press, January 14, 2016)

* * * *

 [I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate. — Holmes, dissenting in United States v. Schwimmer (1929)

Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)Books of and on Religious Dissent

  1. Margaret H. Bacon, The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America (1969)
  2. John M. Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul (2012)
  3. Nicholas P. Miller, The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State (2012)
  4. William Lee Miller, The First Liberty, Expanded and Updated: The First Liberty: America’s Foundation in Religious Freedom (2003)
  5. Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (2010)
  6. Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000)
  7. John Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty (2010)
  8. Stephen Stein, Communities of Dissent: A History of Alternative Religions in America (2003)
  9. Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (1644)
  10. John Winthrop, A Short History of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines (1644)
Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (credit: SVA Picture Collection)

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (credit: SVA Picture Collection)

Songs of Dissent (YouTube clips)

  1. Tracy Chapman, Talkin’ bout a Revolution
  2. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come
  3. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Ohio
  4. Bob Dylan, Masters of War
  5. Dylan, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  6. Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin
  7. Peter Gabriel, Biko
  8. Marvin Gay, What’s Goin On?
  9. Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land
  10. Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit
  11. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert), Same Love 
  12. Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction (Reply: Barry Sadler, Ballad of the Green Berets)
  13. N.W.A., Fuk Da The Police
  14. Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore
  15. The Plastic Ono Band, Give Peace a Chance
  16. Public Enemy, Fight the Power
  17. Nina Simome

             Nina Simone

    Rage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name

  18. Pete Seeger sings Woody Guthrie Deportee
  19. Seeger, We Shall Overcome
  20. Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam
  21. Todd Snider, Ballad of the Kingsmen 
  22. Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  23. Buffy St Marie, Universal Soldier
  24. U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday
  25. Suzanne Vega, Luka
  26. The Wailers, Get Up, Stand Up

Last Scheduled FAN #73: “D.C. Circuit strikes down SEC “conflict minerals” rule by 2-1 margin

Next Scheduled FAN #75: September 2, 2015

4

Why Was There No Bill of Rights in the Constitution?

As promised, here come the posts about the Bill of Rights.

One question that naturally arises is why did the Constitutional Convention not include a bill of rights in its proposal, especially given that this omission helped rally the Anti-Federalists?  Here are a couple of thoughts on that:

1.  Some of the delegates (most notably Madison) thought that a bill of rights was either unnecessary or harmful.

2.  Some of them hailed from states that did not have a bill of rights in their state constitution.  It is easy to see why many of these folks would not have thought the issue important.

3.  The delegates had more pressing concerns, such as how congressional representation should look or how the President would be chosen.

4.  The first suggestion to have a bill of rights came from George Mason just five days before the Convention adjourned.

As anyone who has run a lengthy meeting or process knows, complex suggestions that come at the end often get ignored or rejected because people are tired and eager to finish.  Mason may have anticipated this problem, as he added (somewhat hilariously) that it would only take “a few hours” to write a satisfactory bill of rights. Perhaps, then, we owe the lack of a bill of rights in 1787 to nothing more than the failure to suggest the idea in July or June.

4

Judge Posner Is Wrong

I want to draw your attention to the Seventh Circuit’s opinion in Rowe v. Gibson, which addresses a Section 1983 claim by a prisoner. The panel was sharply–very sharply–divided on the majority’s reliance on facts outside of the record drawn from some medical websites.  Judge Posner, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that this was appropriate, while Judge Hamilton dissented and said that this research was not appropriate.  (Disclosure–I have met Judge Hamilton at some functions, but not for many years.)

I think the dissent has the better of this argument, and that Judge Posner’s discussion of the issue is poorly reasoned.  Here is a key passage:

There is a high standard for taking judicial notice of a fact, and a low standard for allowing evidence to be presented in the conventional way, by testimony subject to cross-examination, but is there no room for anything in between? Must judges abjure visits to Internet web sites of premier hospitals and drug companies, not in order to take judicial notice but to assure the existence of a genuine issue of material fact that precludes summary judgment? Are we to forbear lest we be accused of having “entered unknown territory”? This year the bar associations are busy celebrating the eight hundredth anniversary of Magna Carta. The barons who forced King John to sign that notable document were certainly entering unknown territory, and risking their lives to boot. Shall the unreliability of the unalloyed adversary process in a case of such dramatic inequality of resources and capabilities of the parties as this case be an unalterable bar to justice? Must our system of justice allow the muddled affidavit of a defendant who may well be unqualified to be an expert witness in this case to carry the day against a pro se plaintiff helpless to contest the affidavit?

My first thought on reading this is that Judge Posner’s comparison of his situation to the barons at Runnymede sounds like something silly that an undergraduate would say in a seminar paper.  My next thought is that is this sounds a lot like saying that courts should do factual research on behalf of pro se plaintiffs or plaintiffs who look overmatched in the adversarial process.  Where does that end?

Maybe we would be better off with an inquisitorial system.  But we don’t have one, and Judge Posner can’t give us one (comparisons to Magna Carta notwithstanding).  He should know better, but recently his decision read as if he just knows best.

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
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FAN 73 (First Amendment News) D.C. Circuit strikes down SEC “conflict minerals” rule by 2-1 margin

Yesterday, the DC Circuit handed down its ruling in National Association of Manufacturers v. SECThe case involves a First Amendment challenge brought by the National Association of Manufacturers concerning the SEC’s conflict minerals disclosure rule, which requires companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country. “Conflict minerals” are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights violations, particularly in the DRC.

A. Raymond Randolph (photo by Adrian R. Rowan)

Judge  Raymond Randolph (photo by Adrian R. Rowan)

By a 2-1 margin, the court ruled that the SEC disclosure requirement violated the First Amendment. Circuit Judge Raymond Randolph wrote the majority opinion which Judge David Sentelle joined. Judge Sri Srinivasan dissented.

The case was reheard in light of the court’s ruling in American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture (D.C. Cir. 2014) (en banc) and its treatment of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio (1985).

“Using Zauderer’s relaxed standard of review,” said Judge Randolph, “AMI held that the federal government had not violated the First Amendment when it forced companies to list on the labels of their meat cuts the country in which the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. The AMI court therefore overruled the portion of our decisions in NAM, R.J. Reynolds, and National Association of Manufacturers v. NLRB holding that the analysis in Zauderer was confined to government compelled disclosures designed to prevent the deception of consumers.” In yesterday’s ruling, the majority declared that the issue then before it was “whether Zauderer, as now interpreted in AMI, reaches compelled disclosures that are unconnected to advertising or product labeling at the point of sale.”

Judge Randolph concluded that “Zauderer has no application to this case.This puts the case in the same posture as in our initial opinion when we determined that Zauderer did not apply, but for a different reason. As we ruled in our initial decision, we need not decide whether ‘strict scrutiny or the Central Hudson test for commercial speech’ applies. For the reasons we gave in that opinion, the SEC’s ‘final rule does not survive even Central Hudson’s intermediate standard.’ We need not repeat our reasoning in this regard.” (footnotes omitted)

To buttress the majority’s First Amendment argument, Judge Randolph added: “But given the flux and uncertainty of the First Amendment doctrine of commercial speech, and the conflict in the circuits regarding the reach of Zauderer, we think it prudent to add an alternative ground for our decision. It is this. Even if the compelled disclosures here are commercial speech and even if AMI’s view of Zauderer governed the analysis, we still believe that the statute and the regulations violate the First Amendment.” (footnotes omitted) The majority thus concluded that “the Commission’s final rule, 77 Fed. Reg. at 56,362-65, violate[s] the First Amendment to the extent the statute and rule require regulated entities to report to the Commission and to state on their website that any of their products have ‘not been found to be ‘DRC conflict free.’’”

Judge Sri Srinivasan

Judge Sri Srinivasan

Writing in dissent, Judge Srinivasan argued that “[i]ssuers of securities must make all sorts of disclosures about their products for the benefit of the investing public. No one thinks that garden-variety disclosure obligations of that ilk raise a significant First Amendment problem. So here, there should be no viable First Amendment objection to a requirement for an issuer to disclose the country of origin of a product’s materials—including, say, whether the product contains specified minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country, the site of a longstanding conflict financed in part by trade in those minerals. Such a requirement provides investors and consumers with useful information about the geographic origins of a product’s source materials. Indeed, our court, sitting en banc, recently relied on “the time-tested consensus that consumers want to know the geographical origin of potential purchases” in upholding a requirement for companies to identify the source country of food products. Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric. It is hard to see what is altogether different about another species of “geographical origin” law requiring identification of products whose minerals come from the DRC or adjoining countries.”

The Liberal Divide Widens — Abrams & Post on the Vices vs Virtues of Reed Ruling Read More

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Birthright Citizenship

As the presidential primary season is here, that means that we are again seeing Republican candidates making the claim that Congress can and should abolish birthright citizenship by statute (Hello, Mr. Trump).  Senator David Vitter, for example, has introduced “The Birthright Citizenship Act of 2015” to do just that.

As I explained in an article several years ago, such a statute would be unconstitutional.  As John Bingham and others said at the time, the law was well-established that virtually all free people born here were citizens, and slavery was an unacceptable exception to that rule.  There were only two other exceptions at common law.

1.  Children born here to foreign diplomats.

2.  Children born here to foreign troops engaged in hostile action against the United States.

Neither of these narrow categories apply to the children born here to illegal aliens.  Their parents are not part of a hostile military force, even if people sometimes loosely call them “invaders.”

A close reading of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment confirms this view.  Illegal aliens receive equal protection and are deemed to be under the “jurisdiction” of the states.  So you cannot turn around and say that the same illegal aliens are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States under the Citizenship Clause.

UPDATE:  I corrected this post to fix some errors that were in the first version.