Category: Constitutional Law

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FAN 118.1 (First Amendment News) Seasoned SCOTUS Appellate Lawyer Files Cert. Petition in “Public Official” Defamation Case

Here is what Tony Mauro once said of him: “Few lawyers — including the nine lawyers who wear robes to work — know the Supreme Court’s docket as well as” he does. “He is generally regarded,” observed Georgetown Law Professor Steven Goldblatt,  “as one of the best [Supreme Court lawyers] in the country.”

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

His name: Roy T. Englert, Jr. That name is known among those seasoned few in the Supreme Court Bar. He has argued 21 cases before the Court, including United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (1989), a Freedom of Information Act case concerning privacy exemption. He won, this while he was Assistant to the Solicitor General.

Later, when he was at Mayer, Brown & Platt, he filed an amicus brief in United States v. Eichman (1990) (First Amendment challenge to Flag Protection Act of 1989)), this on behalf of Senator Joesph Biden, Jr. and in support of the Petitioner. There is, of course, more, much more.

One of Mr. Englert’s latest cert. filings is in Armstrong v. Thompson, submitted earlier this month. The issue in the case is whether all (or nearly all) law enforcement officers are “public officials” under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Here is how his cert. petition opens:

“This case presents a recurring First Amendment question: whether a garden-variety law enforcement officer, with little or no role in setting public policy, must establish ‘actual malice’ to recover for harm caused by tortious statements. A number of Circuits and state courts of last resort—where many issues relating to the First Amendment and defamation are decided—have held that every law enforcement officer is a ‘public official’ under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Accordingly, those courts, including the court below, require each and every law enforcement officer to show ‘actual malice’ before recovering for any tort carried out through speech. In this case, despite an otherwise-error-free trial resulting in a jury verdict establishing that respondent had committed an established common-law tort, the court of appeals joined those courts and reversed on federal constitutional grounds after determining that Armstrong was a public official and that he had failed to prove ‘actual malice.'”

 Later, he argues that the “Court has . . . never determined how far down the government ranks the ‘actual malice’ standard applies. It has, however, unequivocally stated that not every public employee is a ‘public official.’ Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 119 n.8 (1979). And it has made clear that the category ought to be limited to ‘those among the hierarchy of government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.’ Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 86 (1966); accord Gertz, 418 U.S. at 345 (equating ‘public official’ with someone who has “accepted public office’).”

Furthermore, Mr. Englert maintains that a “number of state courts have taken heed and held that low-ranking law enforcement officers are not public officials for purposes of the First Amendment. Kiesau v. Bantz (Iowa 2004); McCusker v. Valley News (N.H. 1981); Tucker v. Kilgore (Ky. 1964). Nevertheless, until 2013, there was an ‘overwhelming and entirely one-sided’ consensus among federal courts of appeals (as well as a number of other state courts) that ‘police officers are public officials for defamation purposes’—regardless of rank or role—because ‘there is a strong societal interest in protecting expression that criticizes law enforcement officers.’ Young, 734 F.3d at 553-54 (Moore, J. dissenting). In 2013, the Sixth Circuit stated (albeit in dicta) that courts holding the ‘consensus’ view ‘have misinterpreted federal law on the issue.’ Id. at 549 (opinion of the court). . . .”

“Certain state courts,” he notes, “have developed their own idiosyncratic, fact-based inquiries into whether police officers are public officials. . . .”

“Finally, there are courts that have (correctly) determined that there is nothing talismanic about the designation of ‘law enforcement.’ These courts have applied to ‘law enforcement’ employees the same rule that they would to any other government employee.” . . . . “

In light ion the above, Mr. Englert urged the Justices to “establish a clear rule that low-level law officers are not ‘public officials.'”

Other counsel for the Petitioner are: Lanora C. Pettit and Peter B. Siegal.

The time for filing on a response is on or before September 6, 2016.

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FAN 117.3 (First Amendment News) University of Cape Town Disinvites Flemming Rose — Nadine Strossen Dissents

In the classic expression of freedom of speech and assembly, UCT’s policy is that our members will enjoy freedom to explore ideas, to express these and to assemble peacefully. The annual TB Davie Memorial Lecture on academic freedom was established by UCT students to commemorate the work of Thomas Benjamin Davie, vice-chancellor of the university from 1948 to 1955 and a defender of the principles of academic freedom. Organised by the Academic Freedom Committee, the lecture is delivered by distinguished speakers who are invited to speak on a theme related to academic and human freedom. 

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Note: Below is a heretofore unpublished letter from Professor Nadine Strossen. This coming Wednesday FAN will post another dissenting letter, this one by Floyd Abrams. Additionally, Vice-Chancellor Max Price, to whom the letter is primarily directed, is invited to reply should he be so inclined. (Links have been added for reference purposes.) 

July 22, 2016

Dear Vice-Chancellor Price, AFC Chair Professor Rousseau, and Professors Hendricks and McClachlan-Daniels:

UnknownAs someone who was honored to deliver the TB Davie Memorial Lecture in 2011, I was inspired by the University of Cape Town’s proud history of defending academic freedom, and its ongoing commitment to doing so, including through this Lecture and the work of the Academic Freedom Committee. I also recall fondly Dr. [Max] Price’s cordial hospitality and  appreciated support for the AFC and the Davie Lecture.

I applaud the AFC’s March 2015 decision to invite Flemming Rose to deliver the 2016 Davie Lecture, and I am heartened by the AFC’s refusal to rescind that invitation despite apparently great pressure to do so from both within and beyond UCT. Having read Mr. Rose’s enlightening book, The Tyranny of Silence, as well as many other publications by and interviews of him, I consider him one of the most principled, courageous exemplars of intellectual freedom and freedom of conscience, including freedom for religious and other beliefs. I was therefore deeply honored to present to him the biennial Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, awarded by the Cato Institute, in New York City on May 25, 2016. For your information,  I append below this letter the text of the remarks that I delivered on that occasion.

maxresdefaultOf course, I would neutrally defend Mr. Rose’s right to speak at UCT  — and the UCT community’s right to hear his ideas – even if I strongly objected to his ideas. But he is especially deserving of a forum such as the Davie Lecture because his ideas have been so widely caricatured and misunderstood, and because these ideas are urgently important precisely due to the sensitive nature of the issues they address.

 For the foregoing reasons, I was deeply disheartened to learn recently that UCT had overridden the AFC and breached the commitment to host Mr. Rose to deliver the 2016 Davie Lecture. I was particularly disheartened by the reasons set out for that action in Dr. Price’s recently released letter, dated July 12, 2016.

These are the very same reasons that regularly have been cited to suppress the expression of any view that is politically unpopular at the particular time and place. In the U.S., for example, these were the reasons that too many universities cited for barring civil rights advocates from speaking during the twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement. Likewise, they are the same reasons why too many U.S. universities more recently barred “Black Power” activists from speaking. In a nutshell, the arguments both then and now are that the suppressed ideas could well offend other people, threatening their most cherished personal beliefs and community values, and potentially leading to violent reactions by those who are thus offended.

Professor Nadine Strossen

Professor Nadine Strossen

I have read the persuasive responses that have been issued to Dr. Price’s letter by the 2015 Davie Lecturer, Kenan Malik, and by the Index on Censorship, as well as by the AFC and Flemming Rose himself. I will not repeat the powerful arguments they made.  Rather, I will confine myself to making several additional points.

First, why does UCT succumb to the victim-blaming approach in this context that it would surely eschew in other contexts? To say that Flemming Rose should not advance ideas that others might find provocative and respond to with violence, seems to me the same as arguing that women should not wear certain clothing that others might find provocative and respond to with violence.

Second, Dr. Price’s letter references the limits upon free speech that the South African Constitution sets out, which are also generally accepted in other legal systems.  Yet the letter doesn’t expressly contend – nor could it credibly do so – that anything Flemming Rose has said, or is likely to say, would transgress any of those limits.  Indeed, apparently acknowledging as much, Dr. Price’s letter makes only the tentative, qualified observation that “Mr. Rose is regarded by many around the world as..someone whose statements.possibly amount to hate speech.”

As any survey of the media will reveal, if universities declined to host any speakers whom some people consider to have made statements that “possibly amount to hate speech,” then they would have to ban from campus just about everyone who is addressing any important, contentious, sensitive issue. For example,  in the U.S., many critics recently have denounced “Black Lives Matter” protestors as engaging in hate speech, even blaming such speech for allegedly instigating murders of police officers.

Dr. Max Price

Dr. Max Price

Flemming Rose’s speech clearly is not “advocacy of hatred . . . that constitutes incitement to cause harm,”  which the South African Constitution excludes from free speech protection (as quoted in Dr. Price’s letter). First, there is no basis for concluding that Mr. Rose would say anything that could fairly be considered “advocacy of hatred that is based on.religion.” Moreover, even if someone did engage in such “advocacy,” it would still be protected speech, unless it also “constitutes incitement to cause harm.” To the best of my knowledge,  not even Flemming Rose’s most unfair, harshest critics have charged him with “incitement” – a legal term of art that means intentionally spurring on listeners who are supportive of his views to commit harm against third parties, in a context where his sympathizers are actually likely to do so imminently. And if any such charge has been leveled, it would be patently unjustified.

If South Africa withheld free speech protection for non-inciting statements that merely criticize certain religious beliefs, or actions that are based on certain religious beliefs, then it could not protect many views that have been widely aired around the world:  for example,  criticism of’ discriminatory views and actions concerning LGBTQ individuals that are held by many Christian and other denominations and their adherents.

Third, Dr. Price’s invocation of “the rise in extremist terrorist groups” as somehow allegedly justifying suppression of Flemming Rose’s speech is also part of a general pattern that has been used to suppress a wide range of freedom, all over the world, not only in the recent past, but also historically. Ironically, this was precisely the topic of my 2011 Davie Lecture:  the unjustified violations of academic freedom in the name of fighting “the War on Terror.”

Given that this “War” is likely to remain “The New Normal” worldwide, it will remain an all-too-convenient, but unjustified, rationale for suppressing academic and other freedom.  This danger was recognized by none other than the namesake of the TB Davie Memorial Lecture himself. Let me quote a passage from my Davie Lecture, which quoted Dr. Davie’s pertinent observations.

“In his 1948 Inaugural Address, upon being installed as UCT’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Davie noted that `[r]ecent history has…shown …how easily and almost imperceptibly Universities can be deprived of their freedom.’  In words that are chillingly apt today  [almost seven] decades later, he warned: `Controls and restrictions [that are] imposed and accepted under conditions of war are only too meekly submitted to, even when the conditions necessitating their imposition have disappeared.'”

Fourth, I would like to add to the critiques that have already been made of Dr. Price’s argument that proceeding with Flemming Rose’s lecture “might retard rather than advance academic freedom.”  This reminds me of the much-maligned statement by a U.S. military official during the Vietnam War, that “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

It is also the same argument that the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected in the landmark 1997 case of Reno v. ACLU, in which the Court for the first time upheld freedom of speech for the then-new medium of online expression. The U.S. government had argued that individuals might avoid an uncensored Internet “because of the risk of exposing themselves or their children to harmful material,” and therefore that censorship could have a net positive impact on free speech. The Court resoundingly repudiated this Through-the-Looking-Glass argument for the same reason that it is unpersuasive in the current context:

“We find this argument singularly unpersuasive…[I]n the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.”

Fifth and finally, I am troubled by the ongoing threat to academic freedom that Dr. Price’s letter signals. On the one hand, he  asserts that UCT “hope[s] never again to have to interfere with an invitation to deliver a lecture on academic freedom.” On the other hand, though, he later endorses  “a considered version of academic freedom that is avowedly sensitive to the concurrent rights to dignity and freedom from harm.” In other words, it is only his version – or UCT’s “official” version – of academic freedom that will be honored, not that of the AFC, or the viewpoint-neutral version that would be consistent with the South African Constitution and UCT’s own proud traditions, as exemplified by TB Davie.

In light of the positive experience that I was so honored to enjoy as a prior Davie Lecturer -the same positive experience that Kenan Malik described in his response to Dr. Price’s letter – and in the constant hope that “more speech” will prevail over censorship, I respectfully urge reconsideration of the decision not only to “disinvite” Flemming Rose from giving the Lecture, but also apparently to exclude him from speaking at UCT altogether, even as part of a debate or panel presentation. I don’t think that bringing any speaker to campus could reasonably be viewed as anointing that speaker “as the chosen champion of the University of Cape Town,” as Dr. Price says. Certainly, when I had the privilege of delivering the Davie Lecture, I saw myself as the champion only of my own views on academic freedom; I did not see myself as even a spokesperson for UCT, let alone its “champion.” By continuing to create fora for discussion and debate by and with speakers expressing a range of views – including such an important thinker, writer, and activist as Flemming Rose — UCT itself would continue as “the chosen champion” of academic freedom.

 Very truly yours,

 Nadine Strossen

John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law,  New York Law School

Immediate Past President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008)

APPENDIX   Read More

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FAN 117.2 (First Amendment News) David Cole Named New National Legal Director for ACLU

I am deeply honored to take on the leadership of the ACLU’s national legal program. — David Cole

Tony Mauro over at the National Law Journal just broke the story:

ACLU Names Georgetown Law Prof David Cole as New Legal Director

Here are a few excerpts from Tony’s story:

Prof. David Cole

Prof. David Cole

“The American Civil Liberties Union announced Thursday that Georgetown University Law Center professor David Cole will be the organization’s next national legal director.”

“Cole, a leading liberal scholar and litigator, will replace Steve Shapirowho is leaving after 25 years in the job. Cole will conduct the ACLU’s Supreme Court practice and oversee the work of the organization’s nearly 300 lawyers, according to executive director Anthony Romero.”

“However, Cole’s new role will pose recusal issues for his wife, Judge Nina Pillard of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who has also been mentioned as a possible future Supreme Court nominee. The recusals may deprive the ACLU of a favorable vote in some instances. . . .”

“In addition to authoring several books and writing commentary for The Nation and The New York Review of Books, Cole has argued four cases before the high court, most recently the First Amendment case Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in 2010.”

→ I will be writing more on this in my FAN blog for this coming Wednesday.

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FAN 117.1 (First Amendment News) Martin Garbus Files Defamation Suit on Behalf of Pete Rose

WHEREFORE Plaintiff Peter Rose demands a money judgment against Defendant John Dowd for the amounts described herein and an award of punitive damages, together with costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees, of this action, and such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper. — Martin Garbus (pro hac vice pending)

Martin Garbus, a lawyer who has done his share of First Amendment defense work, now finds himself on the other side of the constitutional divide.  According to an ESPN news story, Mr. Garbus is representing Pete Rose in a federal defamation suit against “John Dowd, who oversaw the investigation that led to Rose’s ban from baseball, for claims Dowd made last summer that Rose had underage girls delivered to him at spring training and that he committed statutory rape.”

Martin Garbus

Martin Garbus

“The complaint,” says the ESPN story, “was filed today in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania. It cites a radio interview last summer with a station in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in which Dowd said, ‘Michael Bertolini, you know, told us that he not only ran bets but ran young girls down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn’t that lovely? So that’s statutory rape every time you do that.’ . . . “

“The lawsuit also cites an interview with CBS Radio in which Dowd said, ‘He has Bertolini running young women down in Florida for his satisfaction, so you know he’s just not worthy of consideration or to be part of the game. This is not what we want to be in the game of baseball.'”

“Rose denied Dowd’s accusations. Bertolini has said he never made such claims. Former commissioner Fay Vincent, who was deputy commissioner at the time of Rose’s ban, has said that he did not remember such allegations. .  . .”

Rose v. Dowd complaint here. The three claims for relief set out in the complaint are: (1) “Defamation per se“, (2) “Defamation”, and (3) “Tortious Interference with Existing or Prospective Contractual Relationship.”

 Additional News Stories:

  1. Randy Miller, Pete Rose suing John Dowd for statutory rape accusations,” NJ.com, July 6, 2016;
  2. Debra Cassens Weiss, Pete Rose sues former Akin Gump partner for radio show comments, ABA Journal, July 7, 2016;
  3. Brian Baxter, Pete Rose (and Marty Garbus) Sue Ex-Akin Gump Partner, Law.com, July 6, 2016; and
  4. Greg Noble, Pete Rose sues John Dowd over allegations he had sex with underage girls, WCPO9, July 6, 2016.

Biographical Snapshot:  Ever the maverick, Mr. Garbus has represented everyone from:

  • the ribald comedian Lenny Bruce (Garbus was co-coounsel with Ephraim London in People v. Bruce),
  • to a woman in a libel case brought against a Daily News columnist for allegedly claiming she faked a rape).
  • He was on the brief for the Appellant in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) and was counsel for Viking Press in the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court in which the court dismissed a libel suit against a novelist (see New York Times, December 16, 1982).

See generally:

  • Nat Hentoff, “First Amendment Lawyer Punished,” Nevada Daily Mail, April 11, 1996 (“Garbus . . . followed his conscience to help someone he believed had been terribly wronged by a columnist and his newspaper. Let this be a lesson to law school students with a conscience.”)
  • John Sullivan, “Columnist Wins a Suit On Articles About Rape,” New York Times, February 7, 1997 (“The woman’s lawyer, Martin Garbus, said that the judge’s conclusions were wrong and that the ruling could provide an opportunity for a successful appeal, though his client had not decided whether to pursue the case.” — The case was dismissed and no appeal was taken.)
  • Martin Garbus & Richard Kurnit, “Defamation in Fiction: Libel Claims Based on Fiction Should be Lightly Dismissed,” Brooklyn Law Review (1985)
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FAN 117 (First Amendment News) Center for Competitive Politics Prevails in Challenge to Utah Campaign Finance Law

Columnist George Will held them out as the go-to group when it comes to the First Amendment and campaign finance laws. The group: The Center for Competitive Politics. Consistent with that reputation, the Center has recently prevailed in a challenge it leveled against  a Utah campaign finance law (Utah Taxpayers Association v. Cox). Here are some excerpts from a press release from the Center:

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 9.39.24 PM

“In an agreement approved by a federal judge this afternoon, Utah agreed not to enforce a state campaign finance law that violated the First Amendment. The complex law required nonprofit advocacy groups to register with the state and publicly report their supporters’ private information, threatening donations to those organizations.”

“The agreement, known as a consent decree, was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball and settles a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Utah groups by attorneys at the Center for Competitive Politics, America’s largest nonprofit working to promote and defend First Amendment rights to freedom of political speech, assembly, and petition.”

Allen Dickerson, CCP Legal Director and the lead attorney in the lawsuit said, ‘This complicated law chilled speech and association protected by the First Amendment. By regulating speech about any public policy issue and groups with only trivial connections to elections, Utah failed to regulate with the care the Constitution demands. We appreciate the work done by Attorney General Sean Reyes’s office to settle this litigation and provide necessary guidance to all advocacy groups in Utah.'”

The plaintiffs were represented by Center for Competitive Politics’ Allen Dickerson and Staff Attorney Owen Yeates.

Here are a few excerpts from the consent decree:

“The State Defendants and their agents, officers, and employees agree not to enforce the law currently codified at Utah Code Ann. §§ 20A-11-701 to -702, as modified to create a donor reporting regime by H.B. 43, because imposing such requirements on Plaintiffs for engaging in constitutionally protected political advocacy and political issues advocacy is unconstitutional unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose. In particular, the State Defendants will not impose fines against corporations for failing to comply with the donor reporting regime unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose; file or refer criminal charges against such corporations; or otherwise enforce the donor reporting regime unless those organizations are political action committees or political issues committees for which such advocacy is their major purpose.”

Colorado Petitions SCOTUS in Campaign Disclosure-Requirements Case

The case is Williams v. Coalition for Secular GovernmentThe issue in the case is whether Buckley v. Valeo’s “wholly without rationality” test apply to all dollar thresholds that trigger campaign finance disclosures, or are thresholds below some as- yet-undefined amount subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny?

In its cert. petition Colorado notes:

“To trigger campaign finance disclosure regulations, States rely on dollar thresholds ranging from zero to amounts in the thousands. Recognizing that setting a disclosure threshold is a policy decision entitled to deference, this Court held in Buckley v. Valeo that disclosure thresholds must be upheld unless they are “wholly without rationality.” 424 U.S. 1, 83 (1976). The Tenth Circuit, however, has rejected this test. In two decisions, it has held that Colorado’s disclosure threshold for “issue committees” is too low, although it declined to explain what number would be constitutional. Under that reasoning, even groups that spend $3,500 on campaign advocacy—a figure over ten times greater than the amount that triggers similar disclosure regulations in other States—are exempt from Colorado’s disclosure laws.”

Colorado urged the Court to grant review for the following reasons:

“I.  This Court’s review is necessary to resolve the circuit split over the standard of review for campaign finance triggering thresholds.”

“A. The Circuits are split three ways over Buckley’s ‘wholly without rationality’ test.”

“B. The outcome below conflicts with cases from the Fifth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits, which uphold disclosure thresholds for issue committees ranging from $0 to $500.”

“II. The constitutional standards that govern campaign finance disclosure laws, particularly laws that apply in the ballot issue context, are exceptionally important in dozens of States.”

“III. Because it comes from the outlier circuit after a bench trial, this case is an excellent vehicle for resolving the confusion among the lower courts.”

Frederick Yarger, Solicitor Generall, counsel of record for Colorado.

The challenge to the Colorado law was brought by the Center for Competitive Policits.

The ACLU & Campaign Finance Laws: Marcia Coyle Interviews Outgoing Legal Director Steven Shapiro Read More

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FAN 116 (First Amendment News) Farber on Scalia & the Abortion Protest Cases

Professor Daniel Farber

Professor Daniel Farber

The current issue of the Minnesota Law Review Headnotes consists of a symposium on Justice Antonin Scalia. One of the contributors to that symposium is Professor Daniel Farber, whose contribution is entitled “Playing Favorites?Justice Scalia, Abortion Protests, and Judicial Impartiality.” His essay consists of an analysis of Justice Scalia’s views on four abortion protest cases and the First Amendment.

Here are a few excerpts from his introduction:

“[G]iven Scalia’s accusations of partiality in the abortion protest cases, a 2013 statistical study concluded that Scalia himself was far more likely to uphold the speech rights of conservative speakers than liberal ones, though the study has been subject to some methodological criticisms.”

“Taking a closer look at the abortion protest cases can shed light on these disputes over judicial bias in First Amendment cases. It can also shed light on two important aspects of Scalia’s work: his rhetorical style, which regularly featured scathing attacks on the motives or competence of other Justices; and his insistence that his own decision-making adhered to rigorous, objective methods of analysis.”

1199772_630x354“In reexamining the four abortion protest cases, my goal is not to decide whose views of the doctrinal issues were correct. Rather, it is to assess whether Justice Scalia or the majority stepped outside normal bounds in ways that might indicate bias. At the risk of eliminating suspense about the results of the inquiry, there seems to be more evidence of partiality on the part of Justice Scalia in these cases than on the part of his opponents.”

He concludes his essay by noting:

“In these cases involving abortion protesters, Justice Scalia accused the Court of ignoring well-established law in the interest of suppressing speakers with whom the majority disagreed. That was a serious accusation. It involved not only violation of the general judicial duty of impartiality and fairness toward all litigants, but also of the First Amendment’s own imperative of neutrality toward opposing viewpoints. A close examination of the relevant cases suggests little support for this accusation, although it is never possible to say with confidence that a case was completely unaffected by the biases or ideologies of the judges. . . . “

Headline: “Judge Rules Virginia Can’t Force Delegates to Back Donald Trump”

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal “Virginia can’t require Republican National Convention delegates to back Donald Trump, a federal judge in Richmond said Monday, though he made no ruling on whether the party can itself bind its delegates.”

“U.S. District Judge Robert Payne said the Virginia state law requiring delegates who oppose Mr. Trump to vote for him next week at the party’s convention creates ‘a severe burden’ on First Amendment rights.”

“But Judge Payne explicitly avoided weighing in on whether Republican National Committee rules requiring convention delegates to follow the results of their states as dictated by state and national party rules. Judge Payne said he “lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate” the broader unbinding question. . . .”

Bopp Petitions Court in Judicial Elections Free Speech Case  Read More

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Graetz & Greenhouse on the Burger Court

Over at SCOTUSblog, I interviewed Michael J. Graetz and Linda A. Greenhouse in connection with their new book The Burger Court & the Rise of the Judicial Right (Simon & Schuster, 2016, pp. 450).

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Here is an excerpt:

Question: By the end of your book one gets the impression that Justice Powell – the “centrist” jurist – was both the great enabler of the Burger Court’s “counter-revolution,” on the one hand, and the great denier of that very charge, on the other hand. Is that true? What are your thoughts?       

Graetz & Greenhouse: You’re right – Powell’s role was very substantial, to a degree that surprised us. He commanded respect within the Court. His instincts were notably conservative: pro-business, pro-local and state discretion, ready to draw a line against recognizing new rights or handing new remedial powers to the federal courts. He also left a great set of papers (at Washington & Lee), making it easy to trace how often his deepest-held views prevailed and how those views, projected onto the pages of United States Reports, so often trace the story of the Burger Court.

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FAN 115 (First Amendment News) Profile: Jameel Jaffer to Head New Knight First Amendment Institute

Jameel Jaffer

Jameel Jaffer

“Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced his appointment of Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the ACLU, as founding director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Last [May], Columbia and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the creation of the new institute which will workthrough litigation, research and public advocacyto preserve and expand the freedoms of expression and the press in the digital age.”

Columbia News also reported that “since he joined the staff of the ACLU in 2002, Jaffer has litigated some of the most significant post-9/11 cases relating to national security and civil liberties, among them: constitutional challenges to gag orders imposed under the USA Patriot Act, surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, the viewpoint-based denial of visas to foreign scholars, and the sealing of judicial opinions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. He has argued cases at all levels of the federal court system, including in the U.S. Supreme Court, and has testified before Congress about a variety of topics relating to national security and civil liberties. Jaffer is also one of the nation’s leading Freedom of Information Act attorneys, having litigated landmark cases that resulted in the publication of crucial documents about the U.S. government’s counter-terrorism policies.”

Select Litigation 

  • Jaffer represented the Respondents in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA (2013) (briefs here & here)
  • In 2004, “he successfully litigated a Freedom of Information challenge that forced the administration of former president George W. Bush to release the ‘torture memos,’ which authorized the use of brutal interrogation and torture techniques against detainees during the War on Terror.”
  • ACLU v. Holder (4th Cir., 2010) (Appellants’ brief) (“The False Claims Act requires the sealing of fundamental court documents alleging matters of vital public importance, sometimes for many years. The statute penalizes relators for discussing facts that are true and of public interest. Approximately one thousand cases remain under seal, and serious allegations that the federal government has been defrauded of billions of dollars continue to be hidden from the public eye. Thus has a venerable statute enacted to expose fraud against the government been employed as a means of suppressing public debate about critical national issues, in plain contravention of the First Amendment.”)
  • ACLU v. NSA, 467 F.3d 590 (2006)

Select Publications, Congressional Testimony & Interviews

 Jameel Jaffer was born in Kingston, Ontario. He is a graduate of Williams College and received his law degree from Harvard Law School (he was an editor on the Harvard Law Review). Jaffer clerked for Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada.

ACLU Contests Constitutionality of Computer Fraud & Abuse Act

This chill arises because the CFAA makes it a crime to visit or access a website in a manner that violates that website’s terms of service, while robust audit testing and investigations to uncover online discrimination require violating common website terms of service. — ACLU Complaint 

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of an anti-hacking law. The group argues that the law (the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) inhibits academics and others from gathering data to study whether online algorithms might be discriminatory. The ACLU claims the law v violates First Amendment freedoms.

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The ACLU complaint “challenges the constitutionality of a provision of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal statute that prohibits and chills academics, researchers, and journalists from testing for discrimination on the internet. This chill arises because the CFAA makes it a crime to visit or access a website in a manner that violates that website’s terms of service, while robust audit testing and investigations to uncover online discrimination require violating common website terms of service. Without online audit testing, policymakers and the American public will have no way to ensure that the civil rights laws continue to protect individuals from discrimination in the twenty-first century. . .”

“The Plaintiffs’ research and testing activities, which include posing as online users of different races and recording the information they receive, constitute speech and expressive activity that is protected by the First Amendment, and that is prohibited by the Challenged Provision. The overbroad and indeterminate nature of the Challenged Provision prohibits and chills a range of speech and expressive activity protected by the First Amendment, because it prevents Plaintiffs and other individuals from conducting robust research on issues of public concern when websites choose to proscribe such activity.”

→ ACLU Attorneys for Plaintiffs: Esha Bhandari, Rachel Goodman, Arthur B. Spitzer & Scott Michelman

 David McCabe, ACLU sues feds over anti-hacking law, The Hill, June 29, 2016

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Divergent Paths to Same-sex Marriage: What We Can Learn from South Africa

Last Sunday marked the one year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the Supreme Court ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional. Obergefell was a huge development not only for the United States, but also for the world. Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, has predicted that Obergefell “will reverberate in many countries that still deny people the right to marry the person they love.”

As countries around the world draw inspiration from Obergefell, I hope Obergefell will not overshadow Fourie v. Minister of Home Affairs, another important case in the international arena. In 2005—nearly a decade before Obergefell—South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled in Fourie that depriving same-sex couples of the ability to marry violated constitutional protections of dignity and equality. South Africa’s Constitutional Court became the first national apex court to decide that barring same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. 

Many aspects of Fourie fascinate me, but in the confined space of this blog post, I will focus on just two. First, in comparison with Obergefell, Fourie offers a competing—and more compelling—conceptualization of the relationship between marriage and dignity. In Obergefell, Justice Kennedy endorsed a highly romanticized view of marriage as an institution that confers dignity upon those who enter it. “Marriage dignifies couples,” he said. “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.” He talks in grandiose terms about how “[n]o union is more profound than marriage,” and how being denied marriage is “being condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”

Many commentators have criticized Obergefell for implying that people must get married to be fully dignified. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) What about people who don’t want to get married, or people who simply haven’t found the right partner to marry? Obergefell’s over-the-top romanticization of marriage marginalizes these segments of society.

For the record: I’m married, I love being married, and I love being married to a spouse of the same sex! But I also think marriage is not for everyone, and that’s one reason why I admire the Fourie opinion. No other judicial opinion on same-sex marriage has done as good a job as Fourie at explaining the relationship between same-sex marriage and dignity. Fourie makes clear that marriage doesn’t dignify couples. Rather, it’s giving people the decision whether to marry—and whether to marry someone of the same sex—that is most important to dignity.

To the best of my knowledge, Fourie is the only judicial opinion on same-sex marriage that has explicitly engaged queer and feminist critiques of marriage. The Court acknowledged that many same-sex couples might well choose not to marry if given the opportunity. Instead of denigrating that choice, the Court explained that “what is in issue is not the decision to be taken, but the choice that is available. If heterosexual couples have the option of deciding whether to marry or not, so should same-sex couples have the choice . . .”

The South African Constitutional Court also avoided over-romanticizing marriage by emphasizing that marriage rights are important precisely because marriages often fail. If a couple is married, the government will help the couple sort things out if and when they break up. “[T]he law of marriage is invoked both at moments of blissful creation and at times of sad cessation.” If you are not married, you cannot claim the legal protections of divorce.

I am currently writing a law review essay that elaborates on the difference between Obergefell’s and Fourie’s competing visions of marriage, and the ramifications of each view. Stay tuned! In the meantime, I’d like to turn our attention to yet another fascinating aspect of Fourie: the Constitutional Court’s decision to delay providing a remedy to same-sex couples.

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FAN 114 (First Amendment News) 2015 Term: What Happened to the Big Cases? — Equally Divided or Cert. Denied

The big First Amendment news of the 2015 Term was the cases the Court declined to hear. But even in the one case the Justices actually decided (4-4 cases don’t count), they were of two minds. The result: no blockbuster opinion like last Term’s Reed  Town of Gilbert (2015).

The Court’s Schizophrenic Moment 

The only First Amendment expression case the Justices actually decided was a government employee case, Heffernan v. City of Paterson (7-2). But even there, Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion was (if I may) rather schizophrenic. One the one hand, the Court ruled that “when an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in protected political activity, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action under the First Amendment and §1983 even if, as here, the employer’s actions are based on a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior.” On the other hand, the Court “assumed that Heffernan’s employer demoted him out of an improper motive. However, the lower courts should decide in the first instance whether respondents may have acted under a neutral policy prohibiting police officers from overt involvement in any political campaign and whether such a policy, if it exists, complies with constitutional standards.”

Thus while Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) remains the main law in the area of government-employee speech, a little wind has been taken from its sails.

  Abood Lives On 

The central issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association was whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “agency shop” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment. After oral arguments, it looked like Abood was headed for the dead-precedents dumpster. Ever since Harris v. Quinn (2014), the conservative bloc of the Court seemed to be gunning for Abood.

Justice consider the rhetorical question Justice Antonin Scalia posed to Michael Carvin, counsel for Petitions: “Is ­­ is it okay to force somebody to contribute to a cause that he does believe in?” The drift of his other questions and comments moved along that conceptual track.

But Fate intervened, Justice Scalia died, and that left the Court divided 4-4, which affirmed the ruling of the Ninth Circuit in favor of the unions. Much as Heffernan saved Garretti, Friedrichs saved Abood. The rehearing petition was also denied. (See also Town of Mocksville v. Hunter, below.)

Some Important Cases — Cert. Denied 

Some big First Amendment issues came before the Court this Term, but alas, all were ducked and thus delegated to the dustbin of forgotten cases.  Just consider the following areas of the law:

  • Right of Publicity: “Whether the First Amendment protects a speaker against a state-law right-of-publicity claim that challenges the realistic portrayal of a person in an expressive work.” Despite the splits in the circuits and the confusion in the lower courts, the Justices denied the petition in Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Davis Paul M. Smith was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • Deceptive & Misleading Ads: “Whether a finding by the FTC that a truthful advertisement nonetheless implies a misleading message to a minority of consumers, and therefore receives no First Amendment protection, must be reviewed de novo.” POM Wonderful, LLC v. FTC Tom Goldstein was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • Student Speech: “Whether and to what extent public schools, consistent with the First Amendment, may discipline students for their off-campus speech.” Bell v. Itawamba County School Board Wilbur Colom was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • Government Employee Speech: “Whether the First Amendment protects police officers who report misconduct in their ranks to a law enforcement agency for investigation.” Town of Mocksville v. Hunter→ Philip M. Van Hoy was lead counsel for the Petitioners.
  • Occupational Speech: “Whether restrictions on occupational speech are subject to First Amendment scrutiny, or only rational-basis review.” Hines v. Alldredge. Jeffrey Rowes was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • Public Forum: “(1) Whether the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) created a public forum by accepting for display on its property a wide array of controversial political and public-issue ads, including ads that address the same controversial subject matter as petitioners’ pro-Israel ad, and thus violated the First Amendment by rejecting petitioners’ ad based on its content; and (2) regardless of the nature of the forum, whether the MBTA’s rejection of petitioners’ advertisement based on an advertising guideline that prohibits ads considered by MBTA officials to be “demeaning and disparaging” was a viewpoint-based restriction of speech in violation of the First Amendment.” American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority→ Robert J. Muise was lead counsel for the Petitioners.
  • Charitable Fund Solicitations: “Whether a state official’s demand for all significant donors to a nonprofit organization, as a precondition to engaging in constitutionally-protected speech, constitutes a First Amendment injury; and whether the “exacting scrutiny” standard applied in compelled disclosure cases permits state officials to demand donor information based upon generalized “law enforcement” interests, without making any specific showing of need.” Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris. → Allen Dickerson was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • 4 Campaign Finance Cases: [1] “Whether Mississippi can, consistent with the First Amendment, prohibit a small informal group of friends and neighbors from spending more than $200 on pure speech about a ballot measure unless they become a political committee, adopt the formal structure required of a political committee, register with the state, and subject themselves to the full panoply of ongoing record-keeping, reporting, and other obligations that attend status as a political committee.” Justice v. Houseman Paul Avelar was lead counsel for Petitioners.
  • [2] Disclosure Requirements: “Does a state’s interest in “increas[ing] . . . information concerning those who support the candidates,” Buckley v. Valeo, permit it to condition a charity’s publication of a nonpartisan voter education guide, which lists all candidates equally and makes no endorsements, upon the immediate and public disclosure of the names and addresses of individuals making unrelated donations over the previous four years?”  Delaware Strong Families v. Denn (Justice Thomas dissented from the denial of cert. and issued an opinion, and Justice Alito would have granted the petition.  Allen Dickerson was lead counsel for the Petitioner.
  • [3] Whether Hawaii’s registration, recordkeeping, and and ongoing reporting requirements violate the First Amendment as interpreted in Citizens United v. FEC. Yamada v. Snipes James Bopp, Jr., was lead counsel for the Petitioners.
  • [4] “Whether the ban on political contributions by federal contractors in 52 U.S.C. § 30119, as applied to individuals such as petitioner and the other plaintiffs, is sufficiently tailored to meet the requirements of the Equal Protection component of the Fifth Amendment and the First Amendment to the Constitution.” Miller v. Federal Election Commission. Alan Morrison was lead counsel for the Petitioner.

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