Category: General Law

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Vanderbilt Law Review, Volume 69, Number 4

In the May 2016, the Vanderbilt Law Review, with the generous support of the Branstetter Litigation & Dispute Resolution Program and the Program in Law & Government, hosted a paper symposium entitled, “Erwin Chemerinsky’s Case Against the Supreme Court.” In his book, The Case Against the Supreme Court, Dean Chemerinsky challenges a fundamental justification for judicial review—the notion that the judiciary is better than the legislature at protecting rights—and instead argues that the Supreme Court has consistently failed to protect controversial rights across the board. Dean Chemerinsky’s book criticizing the Court’s performance in protecting controversial rights thus served as a launching point for the symposium. The following seven articles by distinguished authors provide thoughtful, experienced reflections on the normative role of the Court in the twenty-first century.

Suzanna Sherry, Introduction: Is the Supreme Court Failing at Its Job, or Are We Failing at Ours?, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 909 (2016).

Erwin Chemerinsky, Thinking About the Supreme Court’s Successes and Failures, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 919 (2016).

Neal Devins, Rethinking Judicial Minimalism: Abortion Politics, Party Polarization, and the Consequences of Returning the Constitution to Elected Government, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 935 (2016).

Brian T. Fitzpatrick, A Tribute to Justice Scalia: Why Bad Cases Make Bad Methodology, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 991 (2016).

Barry Friedman, Letter To Supreme Court (Erwin Chemerinsky is Mad. Why You Should Care.), 69 Vand. L. Rev. 995 (2016).

Corinna Barrett Lain, Three Supreme Court “Failures” and a Story of Supreme Court Success, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 1019 (2016).

Edward L. Rubin, The Supreme Court in Context: Conceptual, Pragmatic, and Institutional, 69 Vand. L. Rev. 1115 (2016).
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FAN 110 (First Amendment News) Steve Shapiro to Step Down as ACLU’s Legal Director

Civil liberties without Steve Shapiro is like the Rolling Stones without Jagger. — Kathleen Sullivan

Steve Shapiro

          Steven Shapiro

He is a giant in his world, the world of civil liberties. For some two decades he has been the man at the helm of defending freedom on various fronts ranging from free speech to NSA surveillance and more, much more. His journey began 40 years ago as a staff counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union.

He is Steven R. Shapiro.

Sometime this fall Shapiro will step down as the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has long been the one ultimately responsible for the ACLU’s entire legal program. Equally significant, Shapiro has been most closely involved with the ACLU’s Supreme Court docket. Ever since 1987, he helped to shape, edit, and occasionally write every ACLU brief to the Supreme Court.

  • Law Clerk (1975-1976 ) Judge J. Edward Lumbard, Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
  • J.D. (1975), Harvard Law School, magna cum laude.
  • B.A. (1972), Columbia College

Since 1995 Shapiro has served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where he has taught “Civil Liberties & the Response to Terrorism,” and “Free Speech and the Internet.”

 Shapiro is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights First and the Policy Committee of Human Rights Watch, as well as the Advisory Committees of the U.S. Program and Asia Program of Human Rights Watch.

Steven Shapiro, “The Roberts Court and the Future of Civil Liberties,” Houston Law Center, April 20, 2012

Natalie Singer, “Freedom Fighter, A conversation with Steven R. Shapiro ’75

SCOTUSblog on Camera: Steven R. Shapiro (complete six-part series here)

The Measure of the Man: What Others Say

I invited a few of those who know Steve Shapiro and are familiar with his work to offer a few comments. Before proceeding to their full comments, I selected a set of words drawn from them that capture the measure of the man: Here are those seven words:

“thoughtful” 

“principled”

 “unflappable”

 “effective” 

“remarkable” 

“honest”

“extraordinary”

Nadine Strossen: “Steve Shapiro has been a supremely thoughtful, lucid, persuasive advocate of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties, both orally and in writing. Whether he is serving as Counsel of Record on a Supreme Court brief or giving a sound-bite for the national media, he always presents even the most complex, controversial positions clearly, colorfully, and compellingly.”

EVAN E. PARKER/ THE TIMES Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaks Thursday at Valparaiso University's School of Law about the legal aspects of the United States Patriot Act.

   [credit: Evan E. Parker/ The Times]

Robert Corn-Revere: “Through his long career in defending civil liberties, and First Amendment rights in particular, Steve Shapiro demonstrated that protecting individual rights often requires championing the right to express ideas you abhor, but that doing so is necessary to protect basic freedoms. For those of us who had the privilege of working with him, his principled advocacy will be greatly missed.”

Burt Neuborne: “Steve Shapiro set the standard for all once and future ACLU Legal Directors. I know because I didn’t reach his standard. Steve has a precise and uncannily quick analytic mind that breaks complex fact patterns down into controllable issues, together with a keen strategic sense that accurately separates a good academic argument from an argument having a chance in the real world. Couple Steve’s extraordinary legal ability with his careful approach to administration, unflappable good humor, patience, and deeply principled commitment to the ACLU, and you have the key to his enormous success. He leaves office with the respect and affection of hundreds of lawyers whose work he aided, and with the knowledge that he performed one of the nation’s most important legal tasks with brilliance and humanity.”

Erwin Chemerinsky: “Steve Shapiro has done a truly spectacular job as Legal Director of the ACLU. The ACLU legal staff has grown tremendously and likewise benefitted greatly under his leadership and has made a huge difference in so many areas of law. He has been especially effective in directing the ACLU’s presence in the Supreme Court.”

Kathleen Sullivan: “Over his remarkable tenure Steve’s energy, intellect, and suppleness enabled the ACLU to navigate profound changes in the landscape of security, privacy, and freedom. It has always been a joy to work with him.”

Paul M. Smith: “It has been my privilege and pleasure to work with Steve Shapiro on a large number of projects over the years. For a quarter century, he has been on the job at the ACLU displaying a breadth of knowledge and a depth of wisdom that has been extraordinary.”

Arthur Spitzer: “At a recent ACLU Nationwide Staff Conference where Steve Shapiro’s forthcoming retirement was announced, the event planners handed out cardboard fans that said, ‘We’re all fans of Steve.’ The humor may not have been brilliantly original, but I think no one disagreed with the sentiment. Steve is a terrific lawyer, often seeing the deep problems in a case before anyone else and then seeing the way around them. But I think his even greater value to the ACLU has been his ability to be an honest broker among all the competing viewpoints within the ACLU. As far as I’ve been able to perceive (although from afar, at the local affiliate in DC), everyone feels that Steve understands and appreciates his or her concerns, weighs them fairly, and takes them into account, even if not ultimately agreeing. That will be a hard act to follow.”

UnknownOne Measure of His Work: Free Expression Cases

Below is a list of all the free speech cases (not all First Amendment cases) in the Supreme Court where the ACLU filed or signed onto a brief in the last ten terms. The direct cases are marked by an asterisk; all the others are amicus briefs.

2014 Term:

2013 Term:

2012 Term:

2011 Term:

2010 Term:

2009 Term:

2008 Term:

2006 Term:

2005 Term:

____________

Court Denies Review in Sign Case Read More

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The Tenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights

When I’m not grading exams, I’m working on the new book about the Bill of Rights.  (On Chapter 4 at the moment.)  One issue that I’m still working through is when the issue of whether the Bill of Rights was the first eight, the first nine, or the first ten amendments was settled in favor of ten.  I have yet to identify a magic moment where ten emerged victorious, though I did find the following passage interesting.  It was a dissenting report by segregationists to the Democratic National Platform in 1960:

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is a part of the Bill of Rights equal in force and dignity to the First Amendment and all of the other amendments which comprise the Bill of Rights. When a court or a legislative group or an executive disregards or violates the rights of a state under the Tenth Amendment, thereby the rights of the people under the First Amendment to worship, to read, to speak, to print are jeopardized. A mere majority which can today ignore the Tenth Amendment can tomorrow ignore the First Amendment and all the others.

Of course, this was a dissenting position, but it was the clearest effort made up to that time to prop up the Tenth Amendment through the Bill of Rights.  I have yet to find the critical source that made it into the majority position.  You would think it would be from something President Reagan said, but I’m not finding anything.  Nor does there seem to be a Supreme Court case on point.

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FAN (First Amendment News, Special Series #3) Newseum Institute Program on Apple-FBI Encryption Controversy Scheduled for June 15th

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“The government [recently] dropped a bid to force Apple to bypass a convicted Brooklyn drug dealer’s pass code so it could read data on his phone.” — Government Technology, April 27, 2016

Headline: “Department of Justice drops Apple case after FBI cracks iPhone”San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2016

The Newseum Institute has just announced its June 15th event concerning the Apple-FBI encryption controversy. Information concerning the upcoming event is set out below:

Date:  June 15th, 2016

Time: 3:00 p.m.

Location: Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

Register here (free but limited seating):

http://www.newseum.org/events-programs/rsvp1/

The event will be webcast live on the Newseum Institute’s site

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“PEAR” v. THE UNITED STATES

The issues involved in the Apple cell phone controversy will be argued in front of a mock U.S. Supreme Court held at the Newseum as “Pear v. the United States.”

Experts in First Amendment law, cyber security, civil liberties and national security issues will make up the eight-member High Court, and legal teams will represent “Pear” and the government. The oral argument, supported by written briefs, will focus on those issues likely to reach the actual high court, from the power of the government to “compel speech” to the privacy expectations of millions of mobile phone users.

The Justices hearing the case at the Newseum:

  • As Chief Justice: Floyd Abrams, renowned First Amendment lawyer and author; and Visiting Lecturer at the Yale Law School.
  • Harvey Rishikof, most recently dean of faculty at the National War College at the National Defense University and chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security
  • Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Unionthe John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law at New York Law School
  • Linda Greenhouse, the Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School; long-time U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times
  • Lee Levine, renowned media lawyer; adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center
  • Stewart Baker,national security law and policy expert and former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Stephen Vladeck, Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law; nationally recognized expert on the role of the federal courts in the war on terrorism
  • The Hon. Robert S. Lasnik, senior judge for the Western District of Washington at the U.S. District Court

Lawyers arguing the case:

  • For PearRobert Corn-Revere has extensive experience in First Amendment law and communications, media and information technology law.
    • Co-counsel is Nan Mooney, writer and former law clerk to Chief Judge James Baker of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
  • For the U.S. governmentJoseph DeMarco, who served from 1997 to 2007 as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, specializes in issues involving information privacy and security, theft of intellectual property, computer intrusions, on-line fraud and the lawful use of new technology.
    • Co-counsel is Jeffrey Barnum, a lawyer and legal scholar specializing in criminal law and First Amendment law who argued United States v. Alaa Mohammad Ali before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces while in law school.

Each side will have 25 minutes to argue its position before the Court and an additional five minutes for follow-up comments. Following the session, there will be an opportunity for audience members to ask questions of the lawyers and court members.

The program is organized on behalf of the Newseum Institute by the University of Washington Law School’s Harold S. Shefelman Scholar Ronald Collins and by Nan Mooney.

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Copyright on a Useful Article

I want to discuss a major copyright case that the Court added to its docket for the Fall.  The question presented in Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc. is “What is the appropriate test to determine when a feature of a useful article is protectable under section 101 of the Copyright Act?” This is an issue that has long vexed the circuit courts and is exactly the type of case that the Court should be taking while it’s a man down.

Here is the problem.  Copyright law says that functional/useful items generally cannot get protection. This makes sense because they are only supposed to get patents given the costs that exclusive rights in those sorts of products impose. But what if something has both functional and aesthetic features? Take a belt buckle.  It is functional in the sense that it holds up your pants.  But a jeweled belt buckle might well be an adornment that is more properly considered artistic and thus copyrightable.  How do you know?

Courts have put forward several possible tests.  One says that the issue is whether the item is primarily aesthetic or functional.  Another looks to the intent of the designer.  A third simply considers the totality of the circumstances. A fourth suggests that the aesthetic aspect must be “conceptually separable” from the functional one and able to stand on its own as a work.  And so on.

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Roundup: Law and Humanities 05.18.16

What’s new in the world of law and humanities:

Conferences

Call for Papers

By Any Other’s Name: A Conference on Law, Authorship, and Appropriation

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, October 28-29, 2016

On October 28-29, 2016, the LSU College of Music and Dramatic Arts, LSU School of Theatre, the LSU Law Center, LSU’s ORED (Office of Research and Economic Development) and the Law and Humanities Institute will co-sponsor a conference on law, authorship, and appropriation on the LSU A and M campus in Baton Rouge, LA. This conference will bring together scholars, performers, and students to discuss law and authorship in the face of challenges issued by artists who engage in appropriation—the practice of taking the works of others to rethink or recreate new works.

Some artists who engage in appropriation may describe their activities as parody, sampling, or remixing. Some artists whose work is appropriated may describe the result as misappropriation. Writers might describe the use or reuse of words variously as hommage or plagiarism. Lawyers weigh in both sides of the issue, interpreting such reuse as fair use or infringement, depending on the circumstances.

Digital technology creates a host of new considerations, from the opportunity for a creator to license rights up-front (or not at all) to opportunities for users to create content cooperatively, either on the Web or in face-to-face settings.

What do such changes, in law and in aesthetics and art, mean for our understandings of authorship and the relationship between creator and audience? Do words like “author” and “creator” even continue to have meaning?

Read More

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FAN 109 (First Amendment News) Abrams Institute to Host Event on Commercial Speech

abrams-logoOn Monday, June 13th (8:45 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.) the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression will host a major conference on the commercial speech doctrine. The event will take place in New York City.

Click here to register for the event.

This conference on the commercial speech doctrine will focus on its changing and varying definitions, the regulation and potential liabilities based upon it, and the potential impact of Sorrell and Reed, two Supreme Court decisions. The discussion will center on its impact on the content creation community, lawyer speech, food and drug and other areas of corporate speech

Interview: Who’s Afraid of Commercial Speech? — 26 Years Later

Ron Collins (Harold S. Shefelman Scholar, University of Washington, School of Law) will interview Judge Alex Kozinski (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit). 

The Shifting Boundaries Between Commercial & Non-Commercial Speech

A look at the varying definitions of commercial speech, historical basis for the commercial speech doctrine, and the likely impact of the Supreme Court’s decisions in Sorrell vIMS Health, Inc. and Reed v. Town of Gilbert.

  • Floyd Abrams, Partner, Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
  • Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment, Yale Law School
  • Tamara Piety, Phyllis Hurley Frey Professor of Law, University of Tulsa College of Law
  • Martin Redish, Louis and Harriet Ancel Professor of Law and Public Policy, Northwestern University School of Law

Moderator:  Vince Blasi, Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties, Columbia Law School

Commercial Speech:  The Definition Matters

“Commercial speech” is a dividing line between free expression and potential multimillion dollar liabilities in many areas of law.  A specific look at that divide in attorney, trademark, corporate-financial, and food and drug commentary.

  • Steven G. Brody, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
  • Denise Esposito, Covington & Burling and Former Chief of Staff to the Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • Joshua M. King, Chief Legal Officer, Avvo, Inc.
  • Rebecca Tushnet, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law School

Moderators:  Chris Beall, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP and Bruce Johnson, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Brand Journalism, Sponsored Content and the First Amendment

Difficult issues involving rights of publicity, copyright fair use and consumer protection disclosures arise in the First Amendment No Man’s Land between obvious commercial advertising and editorial speech by traditional media.  This panel examines the disparate jumble of legal tests and standards that apply when brands sponsor, influence or author news stories, features or commentary on matters of public concern and considers whether they can be harmonized with evolving commercial speech doctrine.

  • Deirdre Sullivan, The New York Times Company
  • Rick Kurnit, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein + Selz PCMary K. Engle, Federal Trade Commission, Associate Director, Division of Advertising Practices
  • Allison Lucas, BuzzFeed, General Counsel

Moderator:   Scott Dailard, Cooley LLP

Strategic Issues:  What questions are we asking now? Where is the law going?

An all room discussion on the strategic issues that should be raised in litigation concerning commercial speech and the First Amendment.

Moderator:  Timothy L. Alger, Greenberg Traurig LLP

The conference is sponsored by: Avvo Inc., Cooley LLP, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC, Greenberg Traurig LLP, and Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP.

Latest First Amendment Salon: Stone & Posner

Judge Posner & Prof. Stone

Judge Richard Posner & Prof. Geoffrey Stone

Last Monday The First Amendment Salon went on the road again, this time to the University of Chicago Law School. (The first “on the road” salon was in Los Angeles with a dialogue between Erwin Chemerinsky and Eugene Volokh.)

Geoffrey Stone (who serves on the Salon’s advisory board) interviewed Judge Richard Posner. The topic: “The Centrality of the First Amendment.”

By all measures, it was a quite an evening as Stone engaged the dapper jurist, drawing him out time and again. The result: a rare display of candor on a variety of subjects ranging from the significance of the press clause to the display of confederate flags.

To invoke the words of their former boss, Justice William Brennan, the discussion was atypically uninhibited, surprisingly robust, and exceptionally wide open.

Speaking in measured tones sprinkled with occasional chuckles, Posner seldom held back as the turn of his mind ventured from one provocative thought to another — all manifested in words, no less. Stone asked him about everything from the Dennis v. U.S. ruling (correctly decided), to the Pentagon Papers Case (correctly decided), to the wisdom of extending First Amendment protection to Edward Snowden re the release of secret government documents (not much simpatico here).

Along the dialogic way Posner, ever the maverick, occasionally answered Stone’s questions with a question only to have the Chicago professor up the conversational ante to tease out this or that point.

When the time came for questions from the audiences in New York and Washington, D.C. (via teleconferencing), the tenor remained composed yet spirited as the Judge replied with singular frankness concerning topics such as

Sometimes the discussion veered onto other topics such as:

  • executive power in wartime (should be considerable with little or no interference from the courts)
  • the Second Amendment and the individual right to bear arms (critical) and
  • Justice Holmes’s general deference to the democratic process (fine except in cases like Abrams).

Among other things, Posner also leveled a hearty blow at Roger Taney, this for his 1861 opinion in Ex Parte Merryman in which the Chief Justice took constitutional exception to President Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Pure folly by Posner’s jurisprudential measure.

All in all, everyone remained relaxed even as eyebrows raised from time to time. It made for a memorable evening. There was, of course more, much more. But I’ll stop there for now.

$60 Million Initiative @ Columbia University: The Knight First Amendment Institute Read More

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More on Swing Justices

A couple of weeks ago I posted that we are probably reaching the end of Justice Kennedy’s reign as the “swing Justice,” and perhaps the end of any one member of the Court being that person.  I just wanted to follow-up with some additional thoughts.

The concept of a “swing Justice” appears to be a product of the twentieth century.  In the nineteenth century, there were times where a particular Justice was a leader of the Court (think John Marshall), but that was different from saying that this person was the median vote. Owen Roberts was the first swing Justice in the modern sense (from 1932 to 1937), but the first one who was given that title was Byron White, in a 1972 New York Times profile. After that the term became a lot more popular.  Why I’m not sure.

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FAN 108 (First Amendment News) Senate Races Could Shape the Future of the First Amendment — Campaign Spending Wars in Play

It is rare for the Senate to reject a Supreme Court nominee — the last time it did so was in 1987, when it voted against Robert H. Bork after an ugly political battle. . . . No president in at least the past century has had a Supreme Court nominee go unconfirmed on the grounds that it was an election year, according to ScotusblogEmmarie Huetteman

While the war of Citizens United and campaign financing rages on, Democrat and Republican groups are busy tapping into their financial war chests to contest key Senate races, which could determine the makeup of the Senate and the confirmation process as it applies to nominees to the Supreme Court . . . and that could shape the future of the First Amendment.

Writing in Politico, Burgess Evertt pointed out that “Democrats are getting badly outspent by their conservative rivals in the war over Merrick Garland’s confirmation, suggesting that President Barack Obama’s closest allies in the Supreme Court battle have more bark than bite.”

“The Constitutional Responsibility Project — which is taking the lead in the Democratic PR push over the court — has spent about $150,000 on two ads knocking Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania for stonewalling Garland’s nomination, according to two media tracking sources. That’s a pittance compared to the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has already spent $4.5 million to bolster vulnerable Republicans and attack moderate Democrats for urging action on Garland. . . .”

Everett also noted that “other groups aligned with the left are making seven-figure ad buys: End Citizens United hit GOP senators in New Hampshire, Iowa and Missouri with $1.2 million in ads, and Senate Majority PAC spent $1 million on Supreme Court ads targeting GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. Planned Parenthood has spent $400,000 to animate voters on the Garland issue, and a number of smaller digital ad buys, led by Majority Forward, are hitting Republicans on the matter. . . .”

Meanwhile, back on the Hill, Chief Judge Merrick Garland is making the rounds (limited as they are) to any senator who will agree to see him (46 to date, 14 of them Republicans).

∇ ∇ ∇ 

Below is a list of the Court’s 5-4 First Amendment free expression rulings in which Justice Antonin Scalia was in the majority:

  1. Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006)
  2. E.C. v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (2007)
  3. Morse et al. v. Frederick (2007)
  4. Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008)
  5. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)
  6. Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (2011)
  7. Harris v. Quinn (2014)
  8. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014)

Bravin On Garland’s Nomination Questionnaire

Jess Bravin (credit: NYT)

Jess Bravin (credit: NYT)

Wall Street Journal Supreme Court correspondent Jess Bravin just posted a piece on the 141-page questionnaire Chief Judge Merrick Garland submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The questionnaire, he wrote, “offers a sliver of Judge Garland’s views by asking him to describe his 10 most significant judicial opinions, as well as the 10 most significant matters he handled as a trial or appellate attorney. . . .  At the top of his list of significant opinions Judge Garland listed a 2015 opinion that expanded the definition of the press beyond conventional news organizations to account for new, Internet-fueled forms of media.”

“Another FOIA case,” Bravin added, “made Judge Garland’s list: his 2013 opinion requiring the Central Intelligence Agency to respond to a request related to drone strikes filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The CIA had refused to acknowledge whether it held any such records; Judge Garland found such a position untenable, as the president had publicly acknowledged the drone program.”

FAN 101.2:  Judge Garland on the First Amendment: Opinions & Votes

New Study: First Amendment Offers Scant Protection for Professors Read More

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FAN 107.2 (First Amendment Law) Hasen on the Next Big Campaign Finance Case

James Bopp, Jr.

James Bopp, Jr.

The case is Republican Party of Louisiana, et al. v. FECAs noted on the Federal Election Commission’s website: “On August 3, 2015, the Republican Party of Louisiana, the Jefferson Parish Republican Parish Executive Committee and the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee (collectively, plaintiffs) filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of portions of the Federal Election Campaign Act that specify how state and local parties must finance and disclose certain ‘federal election activity’ that they plan to engage in, including fundraising costs for such activity. They argue that the provisions are unconstitutional under the First Amendment because they burden the plaintifffs’ ‘core political speech and association’ and that there is no sufficiently ‘cognizable’ governmental interest justifying the challenged provisions.”

Prof. Richard Hasen

Prof. Richard Hasen

The case is now before a three-judge court with James Bopp arguing on behalf of the Republican Party of Louisiana. Recall that Mr. Bopp was the one who played a major role in orchestrating the litigation around such campaign finance cases as Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014).

As Professor Richard Hasen sees it, the Republican Party of Louisiana case could prove to be a major moment in the ongoing battle over campaign finance laws and the First Amendment. Writing in The Atlantic, Professor Hasen notes:

“The three-judge court is unlikely to overturn the soft-money ban. It has to follow the Supreme Court precedent set in a 2003 case, McConnell v. FEC, which specifically upheld the prohibition. But thanks to a quirk in the McCain-Feingold law, any appeal in the case would go directly to the Supreme Court. The appeals provision makes it very likely the Court will take the case, because unlike a usual decision not to hear a case, rejection of an appeal would indicate the Supreme Court’s belief that the lower court reached the right result.”

“If the Supreme Court still has a vacancy when the soft-money case arrives,” adds Hasen, “that means the lower-court ruling could stand on a 4-4 split. But even if that happens, there will be other cases waiting in the wings. Eventually, when the Court has its full complement of justices, it will face a fundamental decision: Should it embrace the vision of Justice Scalia, in which the Court holds that the First Amendment does not allow meaningful limits on money in politics?”

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