Category: Constitutional Law

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More Questions About the Meaning of “Legislature”

The Justices are still considering the Arizona redistricting case that I’ve posted about several times, but a few other things occurred to me about that pending decision that I wanted to share.

1.  At oral argument, Justice Kagan pointed out that there are many state constitutional provisions that regulate the “time, place, and manner” of voting in congressional elections.  I’m not sure how many there are, but it would seem that all of them would be vulnerable under an analysis that says that only the state legislature may make those regulations subject to congressional preemption.  It would be useful to know (and the dissent may end up telling us) how many of these there are.

2.  If you take the legislative exclusivity argument seriously, doesn’t that mean that a state court interpretation of a voting regulation for congressional elections could raise a federal constitutional question?  In Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice Rehnquist’s concurrence argued that the Florida Supreme Court’s interpretation of state election law regarding the selection presidential electors was so flawed that “the Legislature” was not truly exercising its constitutional authority under Article II.  Couldn’t the same be true for a legislature under Article I?  (Yes, I know–it was a plurality opinion from Bush v. Gore.  Two strikes there.  But still.)

3.  If Arizona’s plan is unconstitutional, then California’s plan of open primaries adopted as part of the state constitution is probably also unconstitutional.  Oddly enough, the Legislature elected under that plan can cure the constitutional flaw by just enacting the same plan as a statute.  Right?

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FAN 57 (First Amendment News) Press Group & Others Await Ruling re Release of 1942 Grand Jury Transcripts in Chicago Tribune Case

PETITION FOR ORDER DIRECTING RELEASE OF TRANSCRIPTS OF CERTAIN TESTIMONY FROM AUGUST 1942 GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION OF THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE

UnknownThat is the caption in the petition titled In re Petition of Elliot Carlson, et al, which was filed on November 18, 2014 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The judging presiding over the case is Chief Judge Ruben Castillo. In addition to the lead petitioner, the other parties in the case are: the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Historical Association, the National Security Archive, the Naval Historical Foundation, the Naval Institute Press, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society for Military History.

Stanley Johnston & Jay Loy Maloney

Stanley Johnston & J. Loy Maloney of the Tribune

The controversy traces back to a June 7, 1942 front-page story the Chicago Tribune ran by its war correspondent Stanley Johnston. The piece was titled “Navy Had Word of Jap Plan to Strike at Sea.” Citing “reliable sources in naval intelligence,” the Johnston story reported that the U.S. Navy had detailed information concerning the Japanese military’s plan to attack U.S. forces at Midway several days in advance of that battle.

The government believed that the story was based on a classified Navy dispatch. More importantly, it believed that the story revealed a closely-held secret, namely, that the Navy had cracked the radio code used by the Japanese navy to encrypt communications. Outraged by the apparent “leak,” officials in the FDR Administration pressed for the prosecution of the reporter and his paper. Or as the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune put it in 2014: “The response was ferocious. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s instinct was to have Marines occupy Tribune Tower. Navy Secretary Frank Knox insisted that U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle prosecute Tribune journalists for hurting national security.”

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The Justice Department convened a grand jury in August of 1942 to investigate whether Johnston and his managing editor, J. Loy Maloney, along with the Tribune had violated the Espionage Act of 1917. On August 19, 1942, the grand jury declined to issue any indictments.

Tribune_The  CitadelJubilant over its victory, the Tribune ran a front-page cartoon the next day — the cartoon depicted the Tribune Tower as a citadel for press freedom.

It is against that backdrop that Elliot Carlson (a naval historian) and his fellow petitioners requested the release of the transcripts of the testimony of all 13 witnesses who testified before the grand jury in connection with the Tribune investigation. The transcripts are apparently stored at a National Archives repository in College Park, MD (enclosures to Serials 1 through 11 for File Number 146-7-23-25).

In his declaration to the court, Carlson maintained that “[r]eleasing the grand jury testimony will fill in important gaps in the existing historical record and will provide valuable perspective on the relationship between the government and the press during national security crises – a subject that has never been more relevant. Historians and writers still disagree would the details of the Tribune scandal . . . but the grand jury testimony could settle the dispute.”

Government Opposes Release of 1942 Transcripts

On December 24, 2014, the government filed its response in opposition to the release of the grand jury transcripts. Its opposition was based on three basic arguments:

  1. “No Statute or Rule Provides for Release of Grand Jury Information for Reasons of Historical Interest”
  2. “Second Circuit Law Recognizing Historical Significance as a Special Circumstance Justifying Disclosure Is Flawed and Contrary to the Weight of  Supreme Court Jurisprudence,” and
  3. “The Supreme Court’s Rulemaking Body Has Rejected an Amendment to Rule 6(e) Based on Historical Interest”

In their reply memorandum, the Petitioners advanced two main arguments:

  1. “Courts have discretion to order disclosure of historical grand jury material in appropriate circumstances pursuant to their inherent authority,” and
  2. “The Coalition has demonstrated that disclosure of the testimony from the 1942 Tribune grand jury investigation is a proper exercise of this Court’s discretion.”

Lawyer for Petitioners: Brendan J. Healey

 Lawyer for the Government: Elizabeth J. Shapiro (U.S. Department of Justice)

A ruling is expected sometime within the next two months.

→ See also Editorial, “Breaking the code on a Chicago mystery from WWII,” Chicago Tribune, November 21, 2014

For some historical background, see:

  1. Lloyd Wendt, Chicago Tribune: The Rise of a Great American Newspaper (1979), pp. 627-636
  2. Michael S. Sweeney & Patrick S. Washburn, “‘Aint Justice Wonderful': The Chicago Tribune’s Battle of Midway Story and the Government’s Attempt at an Espionage Act Indictment in 1942,” Journalism & Communication Monographs December 5, 2013 (updated 2014)
  3. Dina Green, “Communication Intelligence and the Freedom of the Press. The Chicago Tribune’s Battle of Midway Dispatch and the Breaking of the Japanese Naval Code,” Journal of Contemporary History (1981)

ht: Katie Townsend

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Muzzle Awards ‘Honor’ First Amendment Violators

This from a news report in The Daily Progress: “The administration of a major university, the mayor of Peoria, Illinois, and an Alabama circuit judge are among this year’s recipients of the Jefferson Muzzle awards, given to people or institutions accused of stifling freedom of speech in the United States. Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression . . . gives out the awards each year.”

Those receiving the awards were:

  1. Peoria, Illinois Mayor Jim Ardis
  2. Bergen Community College (NJ)
  3. Mora Co., New Mexico Board of Commissioners
  4. Bedford Co., Pennsylvania District Attorney Bill Higgins
  5. Alabama Circuit Court Judge Claud D. Neilson
  6. The Indiana Department of Corrections
  7. Asnuntuck Community College (CT)
  8. The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

NB: Links are to stories re the reasons for bestowing the awards.

Video of Balkin-Redish Exchange Posted  Read More

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The Great State Constitutional Opinions

Suppose you had to name the Top 5 constitutional decisions by a state court.  What would they be?  This could refer to readings of a state constitution or a state case on the Federal Constitution.  Here are some thoughts:

1.  Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health (Mass. 2003).  This was not the first state case finding a right to same-sex marriage (that was in Hawaii), but this was the most important.

2.  Ives v. South Buffalo RR (N.Y. 1911).  This case invalidating the state worker’s compensation statute as a due process violation sparked outrage across the country and led to modifications in the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.  (The case could not be reviewed by the Justices at the time.)

Other candidates?

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FAN 56.1 (First Amendment News) Constitutional & Criminal Law Experts File Brief Defending Gov. Rick Perry — First Amend. & Other Defenses Raised

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This morning an amicus brief was filed in the case of Ex Parte James Richard “Rick Perry” (App. Ct., 3rd Jud. Dist.); this is how it opens:

Amici are an ideologically diverse coalition of experts in the fields of constitutional and criminal law—including former judges, solicitors general, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional litigators, and professors on both sides of the aisle. They represent virtually the entire political spectrum and have no personal or political stake in this case. They submit this brief for one simple reason: They are committed to the rule of law, and do not wish to see the law tarnished or distorted for purely partisan political purposes.

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

The case, recall, involves Texas Governor Rick Perry and his threat to veto a bill if a state political official did not do what he asked. He then vetoed the bill. A grand jury thereafter indicted the Governor and charged him with two felonies.

One count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law when he vetoed a bill that would have funded the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

The other count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign her post (this in connection with his call  for the resignation of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, who had been convicted of drunk driving).

 See here re video of Gov. Perry’s Aug. 16, 2014 press conference

See here re Feb. 23, 2015 Defense’s objections to bill of particulars & amended indictment

Counsel for Gov. Perry on appeal: Tony BuzbeeDavid Botsford & Thomas R. Phillips (Appellant’s brief here)

Now, 18 noted constitutional and criminal law experts are rallying to Gov. Perry’s defense in an amicus brief filed  in a Texas appellate court by James C. Ho, Prerak Shah, Bradley G. Hubbard and Eugene Volokh. The brief in support of an application for a writ of habeas corpus makes two basic arguments:

  1. “Count I of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it is Both Unconstitutional and Barred by Legislative Immunity,”
  2. “Count II of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it Criminalizes Speech Protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 18 who signed onto the amicus brief are:

  • Floyd Abrams (First Amendment lawyer)
  • Michael Barone (Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute)
  • Ashutosh Bhagwat (UC Davis law professor)
  • Jeff Blackburn (Founder and Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas)
  • Paul Coggins (former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas)
  • Alan Dershowitz (Harvard law professor)
  • Raul A. Gonzalez (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • James C. Ho (Former Texas Solicitor General & former Chief Counsel to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution)
  • Daniel Lowenstein (Emeritus UCLA law professor)
  • Michael W. McConnell (Stanford law professor)
  • John T. Montford (Former District Attorney for Lubbock County, TX)
  • Michael Mukasey (Former U.S. Attorney General & former federal court judge)
  • Theodore B. Olson (Former Solicitor General of the United States)
  • Harriet O’Neill (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • Nathaniel Persily (Stanford law professor)
  • Kenneth W. Starr (Former U.S. Solicitor General & former federal court appellate judge)
  • Johnny Sutton (Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas), and
  • Eugene Volokh (UCLA law professor)

The two statutes under which Gov. Perry was indicted are reminiscent of the old Soviet Union — you know, abuse of authority. The idea of indicting him because he threatened to veto spending unless a district attorney who was caught drinking and driving resigned, that’s not anything for a criminal indictment. That’s a political issue. – Alan Dershowitz (Aug. 18, 2014)

Free Speech Claims

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

The amicus brief argues that Count II of the indictment — that Gov.Perry violated the law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign — violates his free speech rights under the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.  “[H]e has every right to do just that,” they contend.

Core Political Speech: “A political official,” they add, “has the right to threaten to perform an official act in order to persuade another government official to engage in some other official act. That is not a crime—it is core political speech. See, e.g., Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969) (‘What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.’).”

Parade of Horribles: “The consequences of allowing Governor Perry to be prosecuted under this law would be both far-reaching and devastating. The prosecution’s theory of the case would criminalize a vast swath of constitutionally protected—and exceedingly common—political speech.”

Facially Invalid: “The vast amount of protected speech that would be deemed criminal under the prosecution’s theory reveals another fundamental problem with this Count: the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad and therefore facially invalid.”

Government Speech?: “[T]he speech of elected officials at issue here is simply not government speech as defined by the Garcetti line of cases. Indeed, common sense demands that it not be government speech. Does the special prosecutor truly believe that the Legislature could, with a veto-proof majority, prevent the Governor from saying anything at all on particular topics? Of course not—yet that is precisely what the Legislature could do if Governor Perry’s speech were deemed government speech.”

 After offering various other free speech challenges, the authors of the amicus brief point out that

Last year, President Obama threatened to issue various executive orders if Congressional Republicans refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform. . . . The President later followed through on that threat. To be sure, those executive actions are highly controversial and are currently the subject of litigation. But no one could seriously argue that President Obama’s political statements regarding those actions are unprotected by the First Amendment and subject to potential criminal prosecution. So too here.

Mincing no words, the brief urges: “This Court should announce—right now—that it is unconstitutional to prosecute Governor Perry for his protected political speech.”

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FAN 56 (First Amendment News) Floyd Abrams Signs Contract to do Third Book on Free Speech

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams

If only he didn’t so much enjoy the lawyering life, Floyd Abrams might have been a law professor. For he surely savors publishing books and articles. Witness his Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment (Penguin, 2006), followed by his Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2013) — this in addition to numerous law review articles and op-eds (see here).

Now, only a little more than a year since his last book was published, Mr. Abrams has signed a contract to do yet another book on free speech. Its title: Why the First Amendment Matters. The book will be a part of the “Why X Matters” series published by Yale University Press. Other works in that series include Mark Tushnet’s Why the Constitution Matters (2011) and Louis Begley’s Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2010).

The work will be in the 30,000-40,000 words range with a submission date of November 15, 2015. Steve Wasserman is Abrams’ editor. Mr. Wasserman is the former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and served as the editorial director of Times Books and publisher of Hill & Wang, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He is a past partner of the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency and is currently the executive editor at large for Yale University Press (he specializes in trade publications).

The 78-year-old Abrams shows no signs of retiring anytime soon and continues to manage a full workload (and then some) as a practicing lawyer. That said, he still has a ways to go to top the publishing record of another First Amendment lawyer, Theodore Schroeder (1864-1953) — the co-founder of the Free Speech League (the precursor to the ACLU) and the author of several books on free speech.  To be fair, however, Schroeder was more of a writer and activist than a litigator, so he did not have to worry about the demands of being a full-time practitioner.

 See also Floyd Abrams, “Libert is Liberty” (March 16, 2015 speech at Temple University Law School)

Go here for a list of practicing lawyers who have written books on free speech.

 Forthcoming Event: Floyd Abrams Institute: Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference # 3 (Saturday, May 2, 2015 – 8:15 a.m. to Sunday, May 3, 2015 – 5:15 p.m.) (Mr. Abrams will be in attendance)

Hillary Clinton: ‘I would consider’ anti-Citizens United amendment

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

This from an MSNBC news report: “Taking questions from Facebook users at the social media giant’s California headquarters Monday evening, Clinton expressed some interest in the idea. ‘I would consider supporting an amendment among these lines that would prevent the abuse of our political system by excessive amounts of money if there is no other way to deal with the Citizen’s United decision,’ she said in response to a question on the measure.”

“Taking questions from Facebook users at the social media giant’s California headquarters Monday evening, Clinton expressed some interest in the idea. “I would consider supporting an amendment among these lines that would prevent the abuse of our political system by excessive amounts of money if there is no other way to deal with the Citizen’s United decision,” she said in response to a question on the measure.”

→ See also YouTube video clip here.

Garry Trudeau Takes Aim at Charlie Hebdo — Critics Fire Back  Read More

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Looking Back — Francis Biddle, Censorship & the “Biddle List”

War threatens all civil rights. Francis Biddle, December 15, 1941

I was reading Sam Walker’s Today in Civil Liberties History (a daily historical calendar — quite good!) when I came upon this entry for today, circa April 14, 1942:

Attorney General Biddle OKs Censoring Father Coughlin’s Social Justice Magazine

“In a letter to Postmaster General Frank Walker on this day, Attorney General Francis Biddle (1886-1968) proposed banning the magazine Social Justice from the mails. Social Justice was the publication of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest in the Detroit area, who in the late 1930s became a public, ultra-conservative critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Unknown“When the U.S. entered World War II, Coughlin became a critic of the war effort, in part because he was anti-Semitic. Coughlin’s criticisms were the reasons for Biddle’s censorship proposal. In the end, the Post Office did bar Social Justice from the mails. It was one of the relatively rare instances of suppression of dissent during World War II . . . .” (See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 15, 1942 story here.)

Biddle, of course, was the one who had been a secretary to Justice Holmes (1911-1912), assistant to the U.S. Attorney (E-Dist., PA), chairman of the NLRB (1934-35), Third Circuit Judge (1939-1940), U.S. Solicitor General (1940), U.S. Attorney General (1941-45), and later a judge on the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945-1946) (Herbert Wechsler served as his main assistant), among other things. Biddle also wrote a biography of Holmes — Mr. Justice Holmes (1942), among other books.

Francis Biddle

Francis Biddle

One more biographical note: he was a half second cousin four times removed of James Madison.

As recounted in a Wikipedia entry, “[d]uring World War II Biddle used the Espionage Act of 1917 to attempt to shut down ‘vermin publications.’ This included Father Coughlin’s publication entitled Social Justice. Biddle has also been ‘credited’ with the creation of what became known later as the ‘Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.’ In fact, this list was originally known as ‘The Biddle List.'”

“In the Biddle List, eleven front groups originating in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) were singled out as being ‘subversive’ and under the control of the Soviet Union. Unlike the later, more infamous Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, which contained both left and right-wing organizations, the Biddle List contained only left-wing organizations as well as civil rights organizations tied to the CPUSA.”

Biddle List (1941): 

Contrast Francis Biddle, Remarks at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Room, Library of Congress, December 15, 1941, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Here is an excerpt from those remarks:

War threatens all civil rights; and although we have fought wars before, and ourpersonal freedoms have survived, there have been periods of gross abuse, when hysteria and hate and fear ran high, and when minorities were unlawfully and cruelly abused. Every man who cares about freedom, about a government by law — ­and all freedom is based on fair administration of the law — must fight for it for the other man with whom he disagrees, for the right of the minority, for the chance for the underprivileged with the same passion of insistence as he claims for his own rights. If we care about democracy, we must care about it as a reality for others as well as for ourselves; yes, for aliens, for Germans, for Italians, for Japanese, for those who are vdth us as well as those who are against us: For the Bill of Rights protects not only American citizensbut all hunlan beings who live on our American soil, under our American flag. The rights of Anglo-Saxons, of Jews, of Catholics, of negroes, of Slavs, Indians — all are alike before the law. And this we must remember and sustain — ­ that is if we really love justice, and really hate the bayonet and the whip and the gun, and the whole Gestapo method as a way of handling human beings.

As far as I can tell, there has been no book-length biography of Francis Biddle, which strikes me as odd. Such a biography is long overdue and Biddle is certainly deserving of one.

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FAN 55.1 (First Amendment News) “American Sniper” Cancelled at U. Michigan — part of “speech-destroying storm” says Floyd Abrams

UnknownAccording to a news report in the Michigan Daily, a showing of Clint Eastwood’s box-office blockbuster American Sniper has been cancelled at the University of Michigan.

“The Center for Campus Involvement announced Tuesday afternoon they would cancel a planned showing of American Sniper at UMix following a student petition over the depiction of certain communities in the film. . [T]he organization said the choice was made in response to concerns raised by students about the film in the petition.”

Unknown“‘Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,’ the statement read. ‘We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.'”

“Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region. . . ‘As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,’ Mekkaoui said.”

100toys62Writing in The Daily Caller, Rachel Stoltzfoos reports that “instead of showing American Sniper, The Center for Campus Involvement will instead show Paddington Bear at the event Friday, which is part of a program dedicated to providing students with alcohol-free Friday nights.”

Ms. Stoltzfoos also noted that “conservative students started their own petition in response to a decision Tuesday by The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to cancel a planned screening of American Sniper after a few hundred students said the film made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. . . So far the petition has 111 signers. ‘[American Sniper] is not anti-Muslim by any means,’ UM YAF chapter Chairman and national board member Grant Strobl told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ‘It’s anti-radical Islam and that’s something that all religions — Muslims, Christians and everybody — can agree on, because our troops are fighting overseas for the freedom of all people.”

In response to the cancellation, Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer, stated: “Surely, this is the best evidence yet that a speech-destroying storm is sweeping across American campuses. The students who seek to ban speech have much to learn but a university that yields to their demands can hardly be trusted to teach them.”

See also:

  1. Carol Noah, “Student launches petition to reverse decision to cancel UMix film showing,” April 8, 2015
  2. Ibrahim Ijaz, “Letter to the Editor: Love for all, hatred for none,” Feb. 15, 2015
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FAN 55 (First Amendment News) Another Sign Case Comes to the Court

The “necessity and wisdom of using eminent domain” are “matters of legitimate public debate.” — Justice John Paul Stevens, Kelo v. City of New London (2005)

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.17.08 PMThe Court currently has a sign case before it, one that was argued on January 12th. That case is Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Now it has another one just presented to it: Central Radio Co., Inc. v. City of NorfolkHere is how the petition opens:

“Central Radio placed a banner on the side of its building protesting government’s attempt to take the building by eminent domain. The City of Norfolk quickly cited Central Radio for violating the City’s sign code, despite not having enforced the code against any other political sign in at least a quarter-century. Although the sign code prohibited Central Radio’s protest banner, it exempts various other categories of signs from regulation. For example, Central Radio’s banner would have been allowed if, rather than protesting city policy, it depicted the city crest or flag.”

The two issues presented to the Court are:

  1. Does Norfolk’s mere assertion of a content-neutral justification or lack of discriminatory motive render its facially content-based sign code content neutral and justify the code’s differential treatment of Central Radio’s protest banner?
  2. Can government restrict a protest sign on private property simply because some passersby honk, wave, or yell in support of its message?

B y a 2-1 margin, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals answered both of those questions “yes” and thus denied the First Amendment claim. Judge Barbara M. Keenan wrote the majority opinion which was joined in by Judge G. Steven Agee with Judge Roger Gregory dissenting in part.

Among other things, in her majority opinion Judge Keenan observed: “It is undisputed here that the plaintiffs’ 375-square-foot banner would comport with the City’s sign code if the banner were reduced to a size of 60 square feet. We recently have deemed such an alternative to be adequate upon comparable facts.’ And also this: “Even assuming, without deciding, that the City’s past refusal to enforce strictly the sign code constituted evidence of discriminatory effect, dismissal of the plaintiffs’ selective enforcement claim was proper because there was insufficient evidence that the City was motivated by a discriminatory intent.”

Michael E. Bindas

Michael E. Bindas

Judge Gregory took exception to the majority’s content-discrimination analysis: “Why is it that the symbols and text of a government flag,” he argued, “do not affect aesthetics or traffic safety and escape regulation, whereas a picture of a flag does negatively affect these interests and must be subjected to size and location restrictions? I see no reason in such a distinction.” And also this: “This case implicates some of the most important values at the heart of our democracy: political speech challenging the government’s seizure of private property – exactly the kind of taking that our Fifth Amendment protects against. If a citizen cannot speak out against the king taking her land, I fear we abandon a core protection of our Constitution’s First Amendment. Here, Central Radio spoke out against the king and won.”

From Petitioner’s Brief

     This Court’s review is needed to resolve a longstanding, deep division among the courts of appeals over an important and recurring question of First Amendment law: whether a sign code that, on its face, draws content-based distinctions is nevertheless content-neutral simply because the government disclaims a censorial motive or proffers a content- neutral justification for the code. That question has confounded the lower courts ever since this Court’s sharply fractured decision in Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego (1981), failed to yield an answer. As early as 1994, then-Judge Alito noted this confusion and the need for “the Supreme Court [to] provide[] further guidance.” Rappa v. New Castle Cnty. (3d Cir. 1994) (Alito, J., concurring). Then-Professor Kagan similarly observed that this issue is “calling for acknowledgment by the Court and an effort to devise a uniform approach.” Elena Kagan, The Changing Faces of First Amendment Neutrality: R.A.V. v. St. Paul, Rust v. Sullivan, and the Problem of Content-Based Underinclusion, 1992 Sup. Ct. Rev. 29, 77 (1992).

     If this Court resolves this issue in Reed v. Town of Gilbert and does so in a way that calls into question the Ninth Circuit’s approach to assessing content neutrality – the same approach the Fourth Circuit followed in this case – then an order granting certiorari, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s decision, and remanding this case will be warranted. If, on the other hand, this Court does not resolve the issue in Reed, it should grant certiorari to resolve it now.

 Counsel for Petitioner: Michael E. Bindas

→ Randy Barnett, “Can a city suppress speech protesting eminent domain?,” Volokh Conspiracy, April 2, 2015

 Press Conference re filing of lawsuit (May 10, 2012) (YouTube)

Howard Kurtz on “Intolerance” Read More

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Boycotts by One State Against Another

During the recent controversy over Indiana’s RFRA, some states banned non-essential travel by state employees to Indiana.  (What would constitute essential travel to Indiana was left unsaid.)  This got me thinking about whether there are any constitutional limits on a state–acting as a market participant–boycotting another state.

An example of a state’s broad authority to discriminate in favor of its residents is that tuition charged to in-state students can be lower than for out-of-state students.  Suppose, though, that a state said: “We will not admit any students from State Y to state universities because of State Y’s policy on something.”  Could this be done?  Maybe this would flunk rational basis review, but one could say in favor of rationality that a state wants to express its outrage at State Y’s policy.  The Dormant Commerce Clause is not at issue because the state is acting as a market-participant rather than as a regulator.  Is there a Privilege or Immunities Clause claim here?  Maybe, but why?

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FAN 54.1 (First Amendment News) Supreme Court: Latest Orders List — Free Expression Cases Remain on Docket

The Court just released its latest orders list and took no action on the pending petitions listed below.

  The next Court Conference is scheduled for April 17th and oral arguments are scheduled for April 20th.

THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

[updated: 4-6-15]

Review Granted

  1. Elonis v. United States (argued on 12-1-14)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (argued 1-20-15)
  3. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued on 1-12-15)
  4. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (license plate case) (argued 3-23-15)

Pending Petitions

  1. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case)
  2. Thayer v. City of Worcester
  3. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al.
  4. Apel v. United States (Erwin Chemerinsky, counsel of record)

Review Denied

  1. Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District
  2. The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York 
  3. Arneson v. 281 Care Committee
  4. Kagan v. City of New Orleans
  5. ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Bowen
  6. Clayton v. Niska
  7. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  8. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  9. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  10. Mehanna v. United States
  11. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission
  12. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell