FAN.2 (First Amendment News)

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Thanks to everyone who sent along information for this and future FAN columns. For those who missed the first column, go here. One of the aims of FAN is to help build bridges between scholars and litigators, liberals and conservatives (and libertarians, too!), and between journalists and all others interested in the First Amendment and freedom of expression. To that end, here is more free speech news:

  • Speech — Justice Stevens & The First Amendment: In a February 7, 2014 speech to the ABA Forum on Communications Law (as of yet unpublished), retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said some interesting things about the free expression law of the First Amendment. Here are a few samples:

— Re the Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc. (1984) product disparagement case, though Justice Stevens ultimately wrote the majority opinion in the 6-3 case, when the cert. petition was first considered at Conference Stevens and most of his colleagues voted to deny review. Justice Byron White, however, relisted the case in order to write a dissent from the denial of cert. Ultimately, however, White persuaded his colleagues to hear the case and the rest is, as they say, history.

— Similarly, the Justices originally planned to deny review in Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton (1989), a defamation case. Here, too, Justice White drafted a dissent from the denial of cert., which prompted three other Justices (Brennan, Blackmun, and Marshall) to “vote to grant.” When the dialogic dust settled (and there is more to the Stevens’ story), the Court was unanimous and Stevens wrote the opinion. [For more on this case and the Bose one and related stories, see Lee Levine & Steve Wermiel’s The Progeny (2014).)]

— Justice Stevens disapproved of the Court’s judgment in United States v. Alvarez (the 2012 stolen valor case). “I agree,” said Stevens (a WW II Bronze Star veteran), “with the reasoning and conclusion of Justice Alito’s dissent.” Nonetheless, Stevens found  the first sentence of that dissent to be “inaccurate.” According to Stevens, and contra Alito, “the Court did not hold that ‘every American has a constitutional right to claim to have received that singular award.’” All the Court did was strike down as overbroad a particular federal statute; it thus did not condone all such false and deceptive speech.

— During the ABA Q & A period, Justice Stevens was asked if he thought it was necessary to have a constitutional amendment to overrule the 2010 Citizens United case. He replied: “Well, either a constitutional amendment or one more vote.”

Though Justice Stevens’ remarks have yet to be posted or published, you can look for them in the days ahead on the ABA Forum website here.  (Hat tip to Lee Levine and Steven Zansberg.)

  • Are Animal Rights Activists Terrorists? Have you ever heard of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act? Section 43(a) of the Act makes it a crime for anyone who “travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, for the purpose of causing physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise; and intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of, any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, and thereby causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 to that enterprise, or conspires to do so; shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” The Center for Constitutional Rights maintains that AETA violates the First Amendment by criminalizing protected speech and expressive activities such as protests, boycotts, picketing and whistleblowing (see here). The district court dismissed the case on standing grounds, though that ruling has been appealed to the First Circuit (see here).
  • Free Press-Fair Trial: Seems that a Marin County public defender objects to the Marin Independent Journal taking photos of his client (an accused serial bank robber) at an arraignment in the Superior Court. According to a MIJ news report, “after the courtroom hearing, MIJ photographer Frankie Frost snapped photos of [the defendant] on public property outside the Hall of Justice as sheriff’s deputies escorted him in a wheelchair back to the jail. Those photos, which we shared with the Associated Press, have been published in the MIJ’s print editions and website.” The public defender balked and filed an 11-page memorandum seeking to enjoin the paper from publishing the photos again. When MIJ objected, Judge James Chou denied its request without prejudice (see here).
  • Upcoming Event: On Friday, February 21, 2014 (12:00-1:00 pm), the Heritage Foundation will host a program titled “Taxing the First Amendment: Using the IRS to Censor Speech?” The participants include Cleta Mitchell (partner, Foley & Lardner), Bradley A. Smith (chairman, Center for Competitive Politics), Eliana Johnson (reporter, National Review), and Kimberley Strassel (editorial board, Wall Street Journal).
  • Next FAN: Wednesday, February 19.

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