Category: General Law

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FAN 50 (First Amendment News) ACLU’s 2015 Workplan & the First Amendment — Anthony Romero Responds

In my last FAN post I noted that the ACLU’s 2015 Workplan (an eight-page informational and fundraising document) had only a passing reference to the First Amendment — a mainstay of the ACLU since its founding. There was no highlighted listing of free speech rights in the categories of activities to be protected. Furthermore, a February 24, 2015 two-page ACLU fundraising letter concerning the 2015 Workplan contained no reference whatsoever re protecting free speech rights. In light of this, I invited the ACLU’s Executive Director Anthony Romero “to explain why protecting our First Amendment freedoms did not receive greater and more expanded attention in the national ACLU’s 2015 Workplan.”

Mr. Romero kindly accepted my invitation and his response of February 27th is set out below. As you can see, protecting free speech freedoms continues to be an important part of the ACLU’s mission even if its fundraising letters sometimes downplay or overlook all the fine First Amendment work the group does.

Burt Neuborne

Burt Neuborne

Unfortunately, Mr. Romero declined to do a Q&A with me, for now at least — but my invitation remains open.

Meanwhile, I am pleased to say that I am scheduled to do a Q&A with Professor Burt Neuborne, who served as the National Legal Director of the ACLU from 1981-86 and who has just published a book entitled Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment.

Stay tuned.  

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Dear Mr. Collins:

Anthony Romero

Anthony Romero

I appreciate your concern that the 2015 Workplan did not contain a section devoted to the ACLU’s efforts defending First Amendment freedom of expression, but I want to assure you that this remains a robust, bedrock area of our work to which we remain fully committed. As we note in the Workplan, the issues we chose to focus on in that document are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ACLU’s work. The Workplan is our annual opportunity to highlight certain broad issue areas and our funding goals to continue to move forward in those particular areas of our work.

Moreover, the issue areas outlined in our Workplan tend to be those where there exists a national trend – such as a coordinated effort to erode rights (e.g., reproductive rights, voter ID laws) or an opportunity for new gains (e.g., freedom to marry, mass incarceration) – or those where recent events warrant a highly coordinated, national effort on the part of the ACLU (e.g., government surveillance, privacy & technology, police misconduct).

First Amendment issues come up throughout our work and play an important role in many of our cases. At the national office, this work comes under the umbrella of our Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project which is dedicated to protecting and expanding the First Amendment freedoms of expression, association, and inquiry; expanding the right to privacy and increasing the control that individuals have over their personal information; and ensuring that civil liberties are enhanced rather than compromised by new advances in science and technology. The project is currently working on a variety of issues, including political protest, freedom of expression online, privacy of electronic information, journalists’ rights, scientific freedom, and openness in the courts.

The project routinely briefs critical First Amendment issues in the Supreme Court and the federal Courts of Appeal. In this past year, we have authored and submitted three friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court arguing for maximal free speech protections, including: a brief arguing that a political candidate had the right to challenge a law criminalizing “political lies,” (brief available here); a brief arguing that the government must meet a high bar in order for a jury to convict an individual for a “true threat,” whether online or off (brief available here); and, just last week, a brief supporting the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ challenge to Texas’ censorship of “offensive” messages on specialty license plates (brief available here). The ACLU is and has always been fully committed to protecting free speech, even when that speech may be offensive or controversial to many.

[RC: The ACLU also recently filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the judicial election campaign solicitation case.]

The project also maintains a strategic litigation docket focused on new First Amendment issues of national concern. For example, in the last few months we filed a First Amendment claim on behalf of media clients challenging Ohio’s censorship of execution access (case page here), as well as a groundbreaking challenge to Arizona’s recent anti-nudity law – one of numerous such state bills passed in the name of prohibiting “revenge porn,” but drafted so broadly as to function as a broad ban on sharing lawful nudity; that case page is available here. Of course, we also engage in diverse non-litigation advocacy and public education on free expression issues; you can read about our recent First Amendment-related issue advocacy at this link.

aclu_logoFurthermore, our First Amendment freedom of expression work is somewhat unique in that a large share of it involves responding to threats or incidents that occur on the local level and not generally as part of a broader, coordinated threat to freedom of expression. For as long as the ACLU has existed, the vast majority of First Amendment cases have been litigated by our affiliates. At the state level, First Amendment litigation tends to comprise a large portion – in many states perhaps even a majority – of ACLU affiliates’ litigation dockets.

So while free speech work remains a core, priority area of focus for the ACLU, much of the on-the-ground work of preventing or challenging restrictions of freedom of expression is carried out by ACLU attorneys and lobbyists in our local affiliate offices—often, with assistance and resources from the national office. A salient example of this is the ACLU of Missouri’s recent work to protect the rights of protesters in Ferguson; the national office assisted when a federal agency (the FAA) entered a no-fly zone which we believed to improperly limit media access. I’ve also included (at the bottom of this email) some links to our news releases on a selection of recent, ACLU First Amendment cases brought by both the national office and state affiliates, for your reference.

Mr. Collins, I hope this reply provides some clarity with respect to your concerns. Please rest assured that the ACLU remains committed to staunchly defending freedom of speech and expression.

All my best,

Anthony Romero

ACLU work on freedom of protest in Ferguson (highlights) Read More

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ROUNDUP Law and Humanities 03. 03. 2015

Douglas Coulson, Assistant Professor of English at Carnegie-Mellon, is publishing a new blog in the area of law and the humanities: Nostrum remedium. Its tagline is “Miscellany on law, narrative, art, and memory.” Professor Coulson is particularly interested in legal rhetoric; his website provides links to a nice bibliography here and weblinks here.

A couple of interesting conferences are coming up this year. First:

An International Conference on Legal Argumentation and the Rule of Law is set for June 25 and 26, 2015 at the Erasmus School of Law, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Keynote speakers are Jacco Bomhoff, London School of Economics, Damiano Canale and Giovanni Tuzet, University of Bocconi, Milan, and Matthias Klatt, University of Hamburg.  More information at the website here.

 

Read More

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FAN 49.2 (First Amendment News) Court denies cert in ballot initiative disclosure case

Earlier today the Court  released its orders from the February 27th Conference. There were no cert. grants, but the Justices did deny cert. in one case — ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Bowen. [HT: Rick Hasen]

Some opinions may be released next week.  

THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

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) (to be 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. The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York (see Becket Fund amicus brief of Michael McConnell)
  4. Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (re Mary Beth Tinker amicus brief)
  5. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al.
  6. Apel v. United States (Erwin Chemerinsky, counsel of record)

Review Denied

  1. ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Bowen
  2. Kagan v. City of New Orleans
  3. Clayton v. Niska
  4. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  5. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  6. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  7. Mehanna v. United States
  8. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission
  9. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell
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Last Pre-Argument Thoughts on King v. Burwell

I’ll have more to say after we see the transcript on Wednesday (evidently we will not get same-day audio of the argument), but beforehand I thought I’d offer some final pre-game observations.

1.  We’ll see if any of the Justices ask about standing.  Thus far, there is no sign that any are interested.

2.  To me, the problem in the case is that neither side’s story is compelling.  Petitioners are arguing that Congress intended that subsidies would be available only on state exchanges.  I think that is implausible.  Respondents are arguing that “established by the State” is ambiguous.  That is also not plausible.

Instead, I think what we have is a text that is unambiguous and erroneous.  What is the right response to that?  Some errors of this type (say, a typo that gives the wrong date) would not be followed.  Others would not be followed because of some sort of constitutional avoidance doctrine.  This case falls into neither of these categories.  You could say something like “if this was an error, then Congress must usually be held to the mistake to ensure better drafting in the future.” (The subtext here would be “Don’t use reconciliation to enact major legislation.”)  Or you could say, “if there is an error then it should be disregarded, but the burden is on those alleging that there is an error to prove that there is.”  Maybe the respondents cannot meet that burden here.  These are the right questions, though the answer is not so clear.

3.  I’ll be curious to see if the Justices focuses on remedial questions.  If you want to rule for petitioners, you may want to reassure the uncertain that such a decision will not blow up Obamacare.  Some states will create their own exchanges in response.  Others could (as I have suggested elsewhere) try just delegating their exchange responsibilities to the federal exchange.  The Court could delay the application of its order for, say, six months to avoid chaos when subsidies are terminated in many states.  If Kennedy and the Chief Justice ask a lot about this, then they would suggest to me that they will go against the Gov’t.

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Net Neutrality

Today the FCC voted to classify the Internet as a public utility and enforce net neutrality.  Kudos to Tim Wu (disclosure–I’ve known Tim for a long time).  Rarely has an academic had such a significant impact on public policy.  Congress may tinker with the regulatory framework in the coming years, but I suspect that the principle of net neutrality will remain a part of that framework.

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Barbara Babcock reviews new book on Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Professor Barbara Babcock

Professor Barbara Babcock

Over at SCOTUSblog, Standford Law Professor Emerita Barbara Babcock has a book review of Scott Dodson’s new The Legacy of Ruth Bader GinsburgCambridge University Press, 2015 (336 pp., cloth, $29.99), which he edited.

Babcock’s review is titled “Law Professor, Feminist, and Jurist” and draws on some of her own history with RBG.

As you may recall, in an earlier post on this blog Danielle Citron also wrote about Justice Ginsburg and the collection of essays in the Dodson volume.

In case you missed it, take a look at Gail Collins’ recent column in the New York Times titled “The Unsinkable R.B.G.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I also serve as the book editor for SCOTUSblog.)

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 62, Issue 2

Volume 62, Issue 2 (February 2015)
Articles

Judging Opportunity Lost: Assessing the Viability of Race-Based Affirmative Action After Fisher v. University of Texas Mario L. Barnes, Erwin Chemerinsky & Angela Onwuachi-Willig 272
Enforcing Rights Nancy Leong & Aaron Belzer 306
Milliken, Meredith, and Metropolitan Segregation Myron Orfield 364

 

Comments

David’s Sling: How to Give Copyright Owners a Practical Way to Pursue Small Claims Jeffrey Bils 464
Nonserious Marijuana Offenses and Noncitizens: Uncounseled Pleas and Disproportionate Consequences Jordan Cunnings 510
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FAN 49 (First Amendment News) ACLU “2015 Workplan” sets out narrow range of First Amendment Activities

When the ACLU was founded in 1920, its focus was on freedom of speech. — Wikipedia 

His expansive reading of civil liberties was arguably [Roger] Baldwin’s greatest contribution to American thought and practice.  It helped to redefine American liberalism and democracy and was propounded in the very period when others subscribed to a much narrower interpretation of First Amendment rights. — Robert Cottrell, Roger Nash Baldwin & the American Civil Liberties Union (2000)

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A few weeks ago I received the ACLU’s “2015 Workplan: An Urgent Plan to Protect our Rights.” The eight-page, single-spaced document was accompanied two-page letter from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and a contribution form. The Workplan began: “At the beginning of each year, ACLU attorneys and advocates construct a Workplan outlining the major civil liberties battles we are facing. I am proud to share this year’s plan with you.” In that regard he added: “Your passion, energy and financial support are crucial to our ability to meet the challenges ahead and change the lives of millions whose civil liberties are in jeopardy.”

Walter Nelles was the co-founder and first chief legal counsel of the National Civil Liberties Bureau and its successor, the American Civil Liberties Union. He was an ardent defender of free speech rights. His First Amendment cases included Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Whitney v. California (1927).

Anthony Romero

Anthony Romero

As an ACLU supporter and one who has had the honor of writing several ACLU briefs over the years, I read the 2015 Workplan with great interest. As I read the eight-page document I was surprised to find nothing more than a passing reference to the First Amendment — a mainstay of the ACLU since its founding. There was no highlighted listing of free speech rights in the categories of activities to be protected. The following categories and subcategories were listed in the 2015 Workplan:

1.) Reproductive rights
2.) Discrimination Against Women (Hobby Lobby)
3.)  Anti-Choice Legislation
4.) Freedom to Marry
5.) Privacy & Due Process Rights re Technology
6.) Government Surveillance (4th Amend., Clapper v. Amnesty)*
7.) Third Party Doctrine (expectation of privacy)
8.)  Cell Phone Privacy & GPS Tracking (US v. Jones)
9.) Voter IDs
10.) Police Misconduct
11.)  Mass Incarceration
Harriet Pilpel (1911-1991), Nanette Dembitz (1913-1989), and Nancy F. Wechsler (1916-2009) — Among others places, you will find their names on the cover of the ACLU amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court on September 9, 1963 in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan.
* The only reference to free speech freedoms came in connection with government surveillance: “[T]he bulk collection of American’s call records . . . [is] an infringement of the twin First Amendment liberties of free association and free expression.” (emphasis added)
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) — ACLU lawyer Allen Brown argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were ACLU lawyers Norman Dorsen, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Bernard A. Berkman.

On February 2, 2015 I sent an e-mail to Mr. Romero. I expressed my concerns re the virtual absence of any real and comprehensive commitment to securing First Amendment free expression rights in any variety of areas beyond the one stated. I just heard back from his office this past Monday, this after having sent a follow-up e-mail earlier that day. I was informed that Mr. Romero “intends to respond.”

Liberty in America is better off because of Al Bendich (1929-2015) and what he did as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. He gave free speech life to poetry and lawful voice to comedy . . . and more. (January 7, 2015)

I welcome Mr. Romero’s response, if only to explain why protecting our First Amendment freedoms did not receive greater and more expanded attention in the national ACLU’s 2015 Workplan, the one sent out for fundraising purposes. I will post his response once it arrives.

Update: See Howard Wasserman, “Declaring Victory?, PrawfsBlawg, Fe. 26, 2015.

Invitation to Anthony Romero re a Q&A on the First Amendment 

Beyond his response, I extend a cordial invitation to Anthony Romero to do Question & Answer segment with me — much like the ones I have done with everyone from Professor Laurence Tribe to Judge Richard Posner — related to the ACLU and its views on protecting free expression rights under the First Amendment. I am sure our readers would have great interest in hearing from him. 

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 THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET Read More