Category: History of Law


Can We Tolerate Tolerance?  

This is the third in a series of occasional short essays about free speech in America. Earlier installments can be found here and here.

We live in a tolerant society. Of course, that is an exaggeration. But when it comes to so many flashpoint issues – ranging from blasphemy to race-hate speech – we are far more tolerant than almost all other nations, so much so that we are routinely criticized for being too tolerant. It is our badge of honor . . . and dishonor.

Professor Mark Lilla

Professor Mark Lilla

Mindful of the events in France and Denmark earlier this year, I wonder: Will we continue to tolerate toleration if our world takes a terrible turn? My question has less to do with what is being tagged as the “terrorist’s veto” than with a more complex problem, and one therefore even more difficult to resolve. This problem occurred to me when I first read an eye-opening essay by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books, an essay entitled “France on Fire.” Here is a very brief excerpt:

“For the past quarter-century a political and intellectual culture war over the place of Islam in French society has been bubbling along, and every few years some event — a student wears a burka to school, riots erupt in a poor neighborhood, a mosque is attacked, the National Front wins a local election — renews hostilities.”

I want to extrapolate from that essay (at once insightful and provocative) in order to outline a phenomenon that may be hurling our way, a phenomenon related to toleration and dissident speech.

Before I do, however, let turn to the glorious side of the toleration equation by way of a well-known case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Recall the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ flag-salute case, the one with that liberty-inspiring majority opinion by Justice Robert Jackson. In words that should be fixed in every lawmaker’s consciousness, Jackson declared: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.” The judgment in that case affirming First Amendment freedom is all the more amazing given that it was rendered in wartime and involved a religious sect that was then very much hated in various quarters of American society. (See Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000).)

The (Hypothetical) Problem

Against that backdrop, imagine the following scenario. Assume that the editors of a respectable libertarian magazine elected to publish several satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in order to make a First Amendment point and to take a stand against the “terrorist’s veto.” Assume thereafter that the Charlie Hebdo incident replayed itself in Cincinnati (the headquarters of my hypothetical magazine). Ten people who work for the magazine are murdered and two Muslim extremists take credit. Both of the terrorists are later killed in a shootout with police that also results in the deaths of two local police officers.

Here is where I begin to extrapolate from Professor Lilla’s essay. Now assume the following additional scenarios, replete with a few quotations from the Lilla essay”

  1. The Governor of Ohio calls for a moment of mourning with heads bowed on the day following the tragedy (say, the time is 11:00 a.m.);
  2. A “noticeable number” of Muslim public high school students in Cincinnati refuse, on religious and political grounds, to bow their heads;
  3. “And not only that. Some [tell] their teachers that the victims got what they deserved because no one should be allowed to mock the Prophet”;
  4. “Others celebrate the killers on social media, and circulate rumors that the entire crisis was manufactured by the government and/or Zionist agents”; and
  5. The parents (some of whom work for state and local governments) of some of these Muslim-American students speak openly (though not at work) to defend their children and endorse the positions they took.

Note that the Muslim-Americans in the above scenarios were otherwise peaceful and law abiding. And some Muslim-American leaders sought to counteract the messages of the violent extremists among them. That said, let me stir the pot a bit more with a few more scenarios and related questions:

  1. So far as government entities are involved, how far are we willing to go to accommodate (culturally, statutorily, and constitutionally) the religious views of the more observant and separatist Muslim-Americans who harbor what we would see as extreme views concerning homosexuality, female purity, and Jews and Israel?
  2. Finally, let me again from quote Professor Lilla to raise a final question: Some “students and their parents demand separate swimming hours or refuse to let their children go on school trips where the sexes might mix. . . . There are fathers who won’t shake hands with female teachers, or let their wives speak alone to male teachers. There are cases of children refusing to sing, or dance, or learn an instrument, or draw a face, or use a mathematical symbol that resembles a cross. The question of dress and social mixing has led to the abandonment of gym classes in many places. Children also feel emboldened to refuse to read authors or books that they find religiously unacceptable: Rousseau, Molière, and Madame Bovary. Certain subjects are taboo: evolution, sex ed, the Shoah. As one father told a teacher, ‘I forbid you to mention Jesus to my son.’” Does our commitment to religious freedom extend that far so as to accommodate the genuine religious views of those who hold them?

Let me be clear: I do not mean to demean Muslim-Americans as a class, nor do I wish to be understood as saying the above scenarios mirror the sentiments of most Muslim-Americans . I trust they are not. Then again, I may disagree with some of them, and sometimes vigorously, on several of the issues flagged above. But I also believe in toleration, and the ever-present need to be sensitive to the plight of minorities of all ideological, political, and religious stripes.

So where does that leave us?

Testing Our Tolerance Read More


FAN 74 (First Amendment News) Summer thoughts on dissent

Before the summer runs its course, I thought I’d do a post on one of my favorite topics — dissent. So no news this week, just some thoughts on dissent — and some lists of books, and songs, and what have you.

Take dissent out of the cultural and constitutional equation and what remains is faint-hearted freedom. Dissent gives free speech its steel. One of the First Amendment’s greatest virtues is the protection of those messages we fear and/or loathe — those sent our way by insufferable Anti-Federalists, abolitionists, suffragists, unionists, anarchists, Communists, atheists, civil-rights activists, anti-war pacifists, gay-rights antagonists, Tea Party supporters, religious zealots, the politically incorrect, and even nihilists.

* * * *

William F. Buckley, Jr.

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Dissent. It is a word we all know. We use the word with regularity in any variety of contexts. Judges dissent against a court majority. Political activists dissent against the establishment. Religious protesters dissent against orthodoxy. Students dissent against an administration. Newspaper editorialists dissent against politicians. And employees dissent against management. The list goes on.

In these ways and others, America values dissent, or so it seems. We often tolerate, encourage, and protect dissent. It is part of our Madisonian heritage. Some preach it, some practice it, others safeguard it, and still others endure it even when they oppose its message. Dissent is a salient feature of our modern society. It is a cultural and constitutional given.

Over the ages, dissent has been championed for assorted reasons. Dissent, it might be said, promotes self-realization and autonomy. It enables individual self-expression without fear of societal repression. The liberty of self is meaningless if one must always conform to majority will. Freedom for the outsider allows a unique brand of self-identity and self-expression.

Dissent, it might be said, advances religious freedom. When people of faith are permitted to question prevailing beliefs, they stand to redefine the relationship between themselves and their Maker. This spirit of moderation extinguishes the fires of heresy.

Dissent, it might also be said, contributes to the marketplace of ideas. It does this by promoting competition among divergent viewpoints. The hope is that, in the battle of opinions, some form of truth will prevail over falsehood, and the struggle will produce a more enlightened citizenry.

(credit: Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News)

(credit: Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News)

Dissent, it might further be said, enables self-governance by civic participation. Such participation is a two-way street: it is the prerogative to agree or disagree with governmental action. When the governed rule, they must have the right to differ from their governors.

Dissent likewise checks governmental abuses of power. When the whistleblower exposes governmental corruption or malfeasance, political power then comes under public scrutiny. By raising citizen awareness, dissent might bring about institutional reforms.

Dissent might moreover cultivate a democratic culture of tolerance, where all views are suffered no matter how objectionable they may be. Democracy is diversity, and diversity of views is often born out of dissent. One measure of a thriving democracy is the extent to which it fosters vibrant dissent.

Finally, it might also be said that a culture of dissent secures a safe haven for the outsider. When individuals no longer fear censure simply for being different, they can give public voice to their private views. Thereby, dissenters are afforded a chance to expand the behavioral boundaries of their society.

Whatever the objections to dissent, it is valued for all these reasons and others.  (source: Collins & Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America)

Unknown rebel in front of tank in Tiananmen Square (credit: The Mirror, UK)

Unknown rebel in front of tank in Tiananmen Square (credit: The Mirror, UK)

Books of and on Dissent 

  1. Pierre Berton, editor, Voices from the Sixties: Twenty-Two Views of a Revolutionary Decade (1966)
  2. William F. Buckley, Jr., God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom” (1951)
  3. Stokely Carmichael & Charles Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (1976)
  4. Stephen Carter, The Dissent of the Governed (1998)
  5. Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent (2002)
  6. Collins & Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America (2013)
  7. Dinesh D’Souza, Letters to a Young Conservative (2005)
  8. William O. Douglas, Points of Rebellion (1969)
  9. Christopher Fairman, Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting our First Amendment Liberties (2009)
  10. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)
  11.  Amin Ghaziani, The Dividends of Dissent: How Conflict and Culture Work in Lesbian and Gay Marches on Washington (2008)
  12. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2009)
  13. Andrew Hsiao & Audrea Lim, editors, The Verso Book of Dissent: From Spartacus to the Shoe-Thrower of Baghdad (2010)
  14.  Eugene Dennis

                   Eugene Dennis

    Martin Luther King, Letter From a Birmingham Jail (1963) (full text here)

  15. Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (2007)
  16. Robert W.T. Martin, Government by Dissent: Protest, Resistance, and Radical Democratic Thought in the Early American Republic (2013)
  17. Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (1970)
  18. Jack Newfield, editor, American Rebels (2003)
  19. The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution (1962, 2005)
  20. Michael Ratner & Margaret Ratner Kunstler, Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-century America (2011)
  21. Charles Reich, The Greening of America (1964)
  22. Austin Sarat, editor, Dissent in Dangerous Times (2005)
  23. Steven Shiffrin, Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America (2010)
  24. Herbert Storing, editor, The Complete Anti-Federalist (1981)
  25. Cass Sunstein, Why Societies Need Dissent (2003)
  26. Henry David Thoreau, Jeffrey S. Cramer, editor, Essays (2013)
  27. Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991)
  28. Ralph Young, Dissent: The History of an American Idea (2015)
  29. Howard Zinn, Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990)

51CmbungqBL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Forthcoming Books on Dissent

  1. Melvin Urofsky, Dissent and the Supreme Court: Its Role in the Court’s History and the Nation’s Constitutional Dialogue (Pantheon, October 13, 2015)
  2. Stephen D. Solomon, Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (St. Martin’s Press (April 26, 2016)
  3. Thomas Grace, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties (University of Massachusetts Press, January 14, 2016)
  4. Maria Rovisco & Jonathan Corpus Ong, editors, Taking the Square: Mediated Dissent and Occupations of Public Space (Rowman & Littfield, April 2016)
  5. Wendy B. Scott & Linda S. Greene, I Dissent!: The Dissenting Opinions of Justice Thurgood Marshall (Carolina Academic Press, March 11, 2016)
  6. Thomas Grace, Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties (University of Massachusetts Press, January 14, 2016)

* * * *

 [I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate. — Holmes, dissenting in United States v. Schwimmer (1929)

Editorial_cartoon_depicting_Charles_Darwin_as_an_ape_(1871)Books of and on Religious Dissent

  1. Margaret H. Bacon, The Quiet Rebels: The Story of the Quakers in America (1969)
  2. John M. Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul (2012)
  3. Nicholas P. Miller, The Religious Roots of the First Amendment: Dissenting Protestants and the Separation of Church and State (2012)
  4. William Lee Miller, The First Liberty, Expanded and Updated: The First Liberty: America’s Foundation in Religious Freedom (2003)
  5. Martha Nussbaum, Liberty of Conscience: In Defense of America’s Tradition of Religious Equality (2010)
  6. Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000)
  7. John Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty (2010)
  8. Stephen Stein, Communities of Dissent: A History of Alternative Religions in America (2003)
  9. Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (1644)
  10. John Winthrop, A Short History of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines (1644)
Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (credit: SVA Picture Collection)

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (credit: SVA Picture Collection)

Songs of Dissent (YouTube clips)

  1. Tracy Chapman, Talkin’ bout a Revolution
  2. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come
  3. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Ohio
  4. Bob Dylan, Masters of War
  5. Dylan, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
  6. Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin
  7. Peter Gabriel, Biko
  8. Marvin Gay, What’s Goin On?
  9. Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land
  10. Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit
  11. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert), Same Love 
  12. Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction (Reply: Barry Sadler, Ballad of the Green Berets)
  13. N.W.A., Fuk Da The Police
  14. Phil Ochs, I Ain’t Marching Anymore
  15. The Plastic Ono Band, Give Peace a Chance
  16. Public Enemy, Fight the Power
  17. Nina Simome

             Nina Simone

    Rage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name

  18. Pete Seeger sings Woody Guthrie Deportee
  19. Seeger, We Shall Overcome
  20. Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddam
  21. Todd Snider, Ballad of the Kingsmen 
  22. Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth
  23. Buffy St Marie, Universal Soldier
  24. U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday
  25. Suzanne Vega, Luka
  26. The Wailers, Get Up, Stand Up

Last Scheduled FAN #73: “D.C. Circuit strikes down SEC “conflict minerals” rule by 2-1 margin

Next Scheduled FAN #75: September 2, 2015


FAN 71 (First Amendment News) Just Released: 2nd ed. of Cogan’s “The Complete Bill of Rights” — 30 New Pages on History of Press & Assembly Clauses

This book is an invaluable resource for constitutional scholars, teachers, litigators, and judges alike. It collects and collates the basic texts necessary for informed interpretation of the Bill of Rights and gives them to researchers in a compact, comprehensive, and reliable form that is wonderfully organized for both quick scanning and sustained critical analysis. It makes previously difficult research tasks easy and opens new lines of thinking at a glance.– Anthony G. Amsterdam (2015)

41lkMJ+mUtL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_The second edition of Professor Neil Cogan’s monumental The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, & Origins (Oxford University Press) has just been released. Get out your wallet, for this book is well worth the $185.00 list price. Really!

Here is what Floyd Abrams said of the first edition: “For anyone interested in our Constitution, our history, or our political theory, this book is an intellectual treasure chest. It is more than legislative history. It is constitution-drafting in the raw — all the proposals and all the give-and-take (some of it disturbing) that resulted in the adoption of the Bill of Rights.” The historian Stanley Katz referred to it as “a major occasion in American publishing. . . . This is a triumph of careful and thoughtful scholarship. It is now one of the essential components of the the library of constitutionalism.” Though it is hard to imagine, Cogan’s second edition is even better and more triumphant!

 The second edition (1362 pp.) almost doubles the first edition (705 pp.) in length by adding, among other things, lengthy excerpts from the treatises and dictionaries familiar to judges and lawyers in the 1780s. (Note: the pages in the new edition are also longer and its margins are narrower.)

In the First Amendment section — other than in the religion clauses segments which total 146 pages — new materials were added to the Press Clause segment and to the Assembly Clause segment. The majority of the newly added materials in those areas appears in the Press Clause segment (five new entries: Bacon, Burn, Cunningham, Jacob, and Viner) and one new entry for the Assembly Clause segment (Burn). The new sources materials for those segments of second edition of The Complete Bill of Rights are listed below:

  1. Matthew Bacon, A New Abridgment of the Law (London (Savoy): E. & R. Nutt & R. Gosling, 1736) [NB: hyperlink is to a later edition]
  2. Richard Burn, Justice of the Peace & Parish Officer (London: Ho. Woodfall & W. Strahan, 10th ed., 1776) [NB: hyperlink is to a later edition]
  3. T. Cunningham, A New And Complete Law-Dictionary (London: Law Printers to the King, 1764, 1765) (Adams Library)
  4. Giles Jacob, The New-Law Dictionary (London (Savoy): Henry Lintot, 1743) (Adams Library) [NB: hyperlink is to an earlier edition]
  5. Charles Viner, A General Abridgment of Law and Equity (London, 1742) (Adams Library)

In the Press Clause segment, the 27 pages of new materials (pp.  182-208) consist of definitions and discussions of defamation:

  • What is it?
  • What amounts to a libel?
  • How much certainty is required?
  • Can statements made in court amount to defamation?
  • Who qualifies as a libeler?
  • What constitutes publishing?
  • What matters are for a judge or jury to decide?, and
  • What  punishment (civil and/or criminal), if any, is appropriate?

Beyond this, there is also an entry from Richard Burn’s treatise concerning religious and civil laws regulating swearing (pp. 206-208)

The new entry concerning the Assembly Clause (pp. 254-61) segment consists of seven pages (also from Richard Burn’s treatise). Those pages largely concern definitional and related questions, which are divided into the following six subcategories:

I.    “What is a riot, rout, or unlawful assembly”?

II.   “How the same may be restrained by a private person.” [re common law powers to suppress a riot]

III.  “How by a constable, or by other peace officer.” [re common law powers to suppress a riot]

IV.  “How by one justice.” [re statutory powers of a justice of the peace to restrain, arrest, chastise or punish.]

V.    “How by two justices.”  [re statutory powers of two or three justices of the peace to use “the power of the country” or that of the sheriff to enforce an order re a riot or unlawful assembly]

VI.  “How by a process out of chancery.” [re statutory powers of chancery court to inquire into the truth of any complaint brought by an aggrieved party].

Professor Neil Cogan

Professor Neil Cogan

Whatever one thinks of textualism and/or historicism, Professor Cogan has performed a great public service in bringing into sharper focus the historical backdrop of the Bill of Rights. In a 1993 letter to Cogan, the late Gerald Gunther tagged the first edition as a “very valuable book” and a “marvelous collection” of historical documents. (Cynthia Cotts, “A Dean’s Book on Bill of Rights Scores with Supremes, Scholar,” National Law Journal, Nov. 24, 1997). For those who knew Gerry Gunther, he was not one to offer exaggerated or unmerited praise. That said, he was too modest in his assessment of The Complete Bill of Rights. Then again, perhaps he knew better than most that superlatives may sometimes devalue the true worth of a great work. In that spirit, nothing much need be added other than this: The second edition of The Complete Bill of Rights is even more “valuable” than the first.    

Cert Petition Filed in Occupational Speech Case Read More


FAN 70 (First Amendment News) 10 Little known or long forgotten facts about the First Amendment

Since the news slows down in the summer, I thought I’d share some little known or long forgotten facts about the First Amendment. They concern everything from the text of the First Amendment / to Holmes and his 1919 opinions / to the first woman who argued a free-speech case in the Supreme Court / to Robert L. Carter’s ideas about freedom of association and his subsequent victory in NAACP v. Alabama / to the opinion Richard Posner wrote in NAACP v. Button / to the author of the famous line in Sullivan / to Ralph Nader and the origins of the modern commercial speech doctrine and more.

* * *  *

  1. Does any Justice (originalists, textualists, and others, living or dead) have any idea of what exactly the word abridge means as used in the First Amendment? To the best of my knowledge, no member of the Court (including Justices Hugo Black, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas) has ever devoted any serious ink to this definitional question. (see here for a discussion of the word).
  2. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was not the first person to use the phrase clear and present danger in a legal context. As Professor Lucas Powe has observed, in “the summer of 1918, Benjamin W. Shaw, defending (unsuccessfully until appeal) an Espionage Act case, uttered the following during his closing argument to the jury”: Under all of the facts and circumstances disclosed by the evidence in this case, how can it be said that he wilfully [sic] said and did the things alleged? How can the words used under the circumstances detailed in the evidence have the tendency to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent?” (John Fontana, 12 American State Trials 897, 932 (John D. Lawson, editor) (F.H. Thomas Book Co., 1920) (emphasis added), quoted in L. A. Powe, “Searching for the False Shout of ‘Fire,’” 19 Constitutional Commentary 345, 352, n. 61 (2002)
  3. Notwithstanding what the Court did in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the holdings in Schenck v. United States (1919), Debs v. United States (1919) and Dennis v. United States (1951) have never been formally overruled.
  4. In his concurrence in Whitney v. California (1927), Justice Louis Brandeis flagged his substantive agreement with the majority’s judgment: “[In this case] there was other testimony which tended to establish the existence of a conspiracy, on the part of members of the International Workers of the World, to commit present serious crimes, and likewise to show that such a conspiracy would be furthered by the activity of the society of which Miss Whitney was a member. Under these circumstances, the judgment of the state court cannot be disturbed.” (emphasis added)
  5. The first woman to argue a free speech case (though not a First Amendment case) in the Supreme Court was Olive Rabe — the case was United States v. Schwimmer (1929). It was nearly 40 years before another woman represented a rights claimant in a free-speech case in the Supreme Court. The woman was Eleanor Holmes Norton, a woman of color; the case was Carroll v. President & Commissioners of Princess Anne (1968). As with Olive Rabe, few if any know or remember that Eleanor Holmes Norton, now a member of Congress, was the first woman to represent a rights claimant in the Supreme Court in a First Amendment free-expression case. (Collins & Hudson: “To the high court: Olive Rabe representing Rosika Schwimmer“).
  6. the young Robert L. Carter

    the young Robert L. Carter

    Robert L. Carter successfully argued NAACP v. Alabama (1958). In the NAACP’s brief and in the course of oral arguments (Jan. 15-16, 1958) Mr. Carter stated: “We contend that the order to require us to disclose the list of our members is a denial of our right — the right of a corporation and the right of its members — to free speech and freedom of association and is protected by the First Amendment.” Years earlier Mr. Carter wrote a post-graduate thesis on the First Amendment while at Columbia Law School, this after having received his J.D. from Howard University. (Collins & Chaltain, We Must not be Afraid to be Free)

    (See box below re Carter’s LLM thesis)

  7. Though Justice Brennan is formally credited with authoring NAACP v. Button (1963), the opinion was actually written by his law clerk Richard Posner. “That was one I did for Brennan,” Posner told Kenneth Durr in a 2011 interview.
  8. The famous prhrase, “debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” originated with Stephen R. Barnett, one of Justice Brennan’s law clerks in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). (Stern & Wermiel, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion)
  9. For decades before before Citizens United (2010), most of the appellate challenges to campaign finance laws were brought by liberals, liberal groups, or labor unions. (Collins & Skover, When Money Speaks (2014))
  10. The emergence of the modern commercial speech doctrine was made possible by Ralph Nader’s group, Public Citizen. Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Consumer Council (1976) was successfully argued by Alan Morrison, who was then affiliated with Public Citizen. Earlier, Morrison had submitted an amicus brief to the same effect in Bigelow v. Virginia (1975).

The Three Freedoms

by Robert L. Carter

submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Law in the Faculty of the School of Law, Columbia University.

August 1, 1941

TRO Granted in Online Adult/Escort Advertising Case Read More


FAN 63 (First Amendment News) CJ Roberts: Mr. First Amendment — The Trend Continues

He has the potential, almost from a running start, to bring a new day and a new era to the Supreme Court.Senator Arlen Specter (Sept. 26, 2005)
Chief Justice John Roberts (photo: Getty Images)

Chief Justice John Roberts (photo: Getty Images)

He is, by all measures, Mr. First Amendment. When it comes to free expression cases, Chief Justice John Roberts is the point man. Moreover, he solidifies that jurisprudential status with each passing year. In the process, we may well be witnessing the evolution of what could turn out to be an unprecedented chapter in the history of free-speech law in America — a welcome chapter to some and an unwelcome one to others. However that might be, one fact is undeniable: John Roberts is busy constructing a First Amendment edifice. Though it is a work still in progress, it is already towering over that of others on the Court.

This Term he has authored all of the free speech cases decided thus far by the Court — Elonis v. United States  (8-1, statutory grounds) and Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (5-4). And then there is truth of the tallies:

Of course, the Chief Justice’s overall record has a few glitches, or what some might deem breaches of faith. For example, strong as his First Amendment credentials are when it comes to sustaining rights, he failed on that score in two important cases: Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (per JR, 5-4, 2010) and Garcetti v. Ceballos (per AK, 5-4, 2006, JR joining majority). And then there was his opinion for the Court in Morse et al. v. Frederick (5-4, 2007). Finally, there was his vote Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (7-2, 2011) wherein he joined Justice Alito’s concurrence and thereby declined to join the First Amendment majority opinion by Justice Scalia. And while cases such as Elonis v. United States (8-1) reveal his tendency to dispose of free speech cases on statutory grounds when possible and in ways consistent with the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, others cases such as  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (AK, 5-4, 2010) run contrary to that position. (More could be said about all of these cases and yet other others, but I will reserve further commentary for another time.)

Roberts & Rehnquist: Stark Contrast 

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

What to make of it all? Here is how Paul M. Smith (a noted appellate advocate who successfully argued the Brown case) answers that question: “While it is clear that Chief Justice Roberts has become the most important Justice in First Amendment cases, surpassing even Justice Anthony Kennedy, he has shown a willingness to deny protection to speech he disapproves of. Examples include Holder v. Humanitarian Project, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n, and Morse v. Frederick. But, that said, Chief Justice Roberts has certainly come a long way from the viewpoint of his mentor Justice (and later Chief Justice) William Rehnquist, who was far less likely than more recent conservatives to vote to invalidate laws under the First Amendment.”

Paul M. Smith

Paul M. Smith

To illustrate Mr. Smith’s comparative point, consider the fact that during his 33 years on the Court, first as an Associate Justice and then as the Chief Justice, Rehnquist authored 71 freedom-of-expression opinions, 29 of which were majority opinions. The vast majority of those opinions were hostile to the free-speech claims raised. And as Professor Geoffrey Stone has observed: “In his more than 30 years on the Supreme Court, Rehnquist participated in 259 decisions involving these freedoms. In these cases, Rehnquist voted to support the 1st Amendment claim only 20 percent of the time.”

“Strong free expression principles”

While some maintain that John Roberts’s opinions primarily serve corporate deregulatory interests (see below), the fact is that there is a bounty of doctrinal law and powerful language in many of those opinions that lawyers have tapped into in any variety of free speech cases.

Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

According to Robert Corn-Revere, an experienced First Amendment lawyer: “The Chief Justice has espoused strong free expression principles that have had the effect of protecting even speech some consider to be at the fringe of the First Amendment concern – including  fetish videos and speech by hateful religious zealots. And in McCutcheon he observed that ‘[i]f the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.’  Those who criticize the application of these principles to campaign laws because they are ‘deregulatory’ simply are engaging in a different sort of result-oriented reasoning. They don’t want the First Amendment to limit those speech regulations they favor.  Chief Justice Roberts’ record may not be perfect (given decisions like MorseGarcetti, and Holder), but it certainly is strong.”

Selected Commentaries:

  1. Sam Baker, “John Roberts: First Amendment Champion*,” National Journal (June 3, 2015)
  2. David H. Gans, “Roberts at 10:The Strongest Free Speech Court in History?”, Constitutional Accountability Center (May, 2015)
  3. Lincoln Caplan, “The Embattled First Amendment,” The American Scholar (Spring 2015)
  4. David H. Gans, “The Roberts Court Thinks Corporations Have More Rights Than You Do,” The New Republic (June 30, 2014)
  5. Ronald Collins, “The Roberts Court and the First Amendment,” SCOTUSblog (July 9, 2013)
  6. Ronald Collins, “Exceptional Freedom-The Roberts Court, First Amendment, and the New Absolutism,” Albany Law Review (2013)
  7. Adam Liptak, “Study Challenges Supreme Court’s Image as Defender of Free Speech,” New York Times (January 7, 2012)
  8. Erwin Chemerisnky, “Not a Free Speech Court,Arizona Law Review (2011)
  9. David L. Hudson, Jr., “Chief Justice Roberts and the First Amendment,” First Amendment Center (April 22, 2011)

New Hampshire High Court: Parking Meter “Robin Hoods” Protected under FA

Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking metersBob Dylan

The case is City of Keene v. Cleaveland, et al (N.H., June 9, 2015). The opinion for the Court was authored by Associate Justice James P. Bassett.

Justice James Bassett

Justice James Bassett

Facts: “The City employs [parking enforcement officers (PEOs] to enforce motor vehicle parking laws and regulations in Keene. The PEOs patrol downtown Keene on foot and in marked vehicles, monitoring parking meters and issuing parking tickets. In December 2012, the respondents began protesting parking enforcement in Keene. On an almost daily basis, the respondents followed closely behind the PEOs, identifying expired parking meters and filling the meter before a PEO could issue a ticket, a process referred to by the respondents as a “save.” When the respondents “save” a vehicle, they leave a card on the vehicle’s windshield that reads: ‘Your meter expired! However, we saved you from the king’s tariff!’ The respondents also: videotaped the PEOs from a close proximity; called the PEOs names such as ‘f*****g thief,’ ‘coward,’ ‘racist,’ and ‘b***h’; criticized the PEOs for issuing tickets; encouraged the PEOs to quit their jobs; and waited for the PEOs during their breaks, including waiting outside restrooms. The respondents testified that they engage in these activities to protest parking enforcement because they believe that parking is not a criminal act, and that parking tickets are a ‘threat against [the] people.'”

Held: “[W]e note that we share the trial court’s skepticism as to whether a tortious interference claim can exist when private citizens engage in protest of the government. However, we need not decide whether a viable tortious interference claim can exist under the circumstances present in this case because we agree with the trial court that holding the respondents liable for tortious interference based upon their alleged activities would infringe upon the respondents’ right to free speech under the First Amendment. . . .”

7256167_G“Because we hold that the First Amendment bars the City from pursuing its claim for tortious interference with contractual relations, we also conclude that the First Amendment bars the City from pursuing its claim that the respondents are liable for conspiring to commit the very same tort. . . .”

“In light of the City’s allegations that the challenged conduct threatens the safety of the PEOs, pedestrians, and the motoring public, and given the testimony of the PEOs at the hearing, we hold that the trial court erred when it failed to consider the particular factual circumstances of the case and whether an injunction should issue based upon the governmental and policy interests asserted by the City. . . . Accordingly, we vacate the trial court’s denial of the City’s request for injunctive relief, and remand for the trial court to address the issue of whether the governmental interests and factual circumstances asserted by the City in its petition are sufficient to warrant properly tailored injunctive relief.”

Counsel for Respondents: Backus, Meyer & Branch, LLP, of Manchester (Jon Meyer on the brief and orally).

Amici: Nixon Peabody LLP of Manchester (Anthony J. Galdieri on the brief), and New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, of Concord (Gilles R. Bissonnette on the brief), for New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae.

California Lawmakers: Reproductive Fact Act

This from a WND report by Bob Unruh: “California’s Democrat-controlled legislature previously became the first state to bar counselors from helping minors be healed of unwanted same-sex attractions. Counselors are allowed only to promote homosexuality to minors. Now, California Democrats, with AB 775, want to require crisis pregnancy centers, including those that are run by faith-based organizations, to actively promote abortion. New York already tried it and was slapped down by the courts.” See Evergreen Association v. City of New York (2nd Cir., 2014)

See also Samantha Lachman, “California Assembly Passes Bill Banning Crisis Pregnancy Centers From Misleading Patients,” Huffington Post, May 26, 2015: “The California Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that would require faith-motivated crisis pregnancy centers to provide comprehensive information about reproductive health care options, including abortion.”

“The bill, known as the Reproductive Fact Act, would require pregnancy centers to post notices saying that reproductive health services, including abortion, are available to pregnant women in the state. Pregnancy centers also would have to disclose whether they lack a medical license. The bill passed on a party-line vote, with Republicans objecting on the grounds that it would unconstitutionally compel government speech for the state’s 167 centers.”

Unprotected: Cellphone video of U.S. senator’s bedridden wife in a nursing home

This news report from the Associated Press: “A Mississippi judge on Monday rejected an argument that a blogger had a First Amendment right to shoot a cellphone video of a U.S. senator’s wife while she was bedridden with dementia in a nursing home. The defense attorney for blogger Clayton Kelly made the free-speech argument during pre-trial motions Monday. Clayton Kelly of Pearl is charged with conspiracy, attempted burglary and burglary”.

“‘I think a lot of this is political. I think my constitutional rights should be respected,’ Kelly, whose blog was called Constitutional Clayton, told reporters outside the Madison County Courthouse.. . .”

“Images of Rose Cochran appeared online briefly during the 2014 election, during a tough Republican primary. Investigators say Kelly was one of several people who conspired to produce the video suggesting U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran was having an affair. . . “

See also Kelly pleads guilty to conspiracy in Cochran photo case,” Jackson Clarion Ledger‎, June 8, 2015

Mobile Monument Project 

This from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression:

The Mobile Monument Project involves transforming a standard issue 20-foot ISO shipping container into an elegant and engaging representation of our precious First Amendment values.

UnknownThe exterior features more than 400 sq ft of “chalkboard” space where visitors can express themselves however they wish. On the inside, a beautiful open gallery space provides a backdrop for rotating exhibits, performances, installations—the sky’s the limit!
In short, the Mobile Monument is an interactive exploration of what it means to enjoy and exercise our right of free expression. And because it’s so portable, the Mobile Monument takes this important message straight to the people. Once completed, the Monument can go almost anywhere:
  • College Campuses
  • State Capitols
  • Public Parks
  • Festivals
  • Community Events
  • Concerts

See video here

DONATIONS NEEDED TO FUND PROJECT: $15,000 goal (go here to contribute)

RelatedEugene Volokh Joins TJC Board of Trustees

David Strauss: “Toil and Trouble in Media-Land”

Professor David Strauss

Professor David Strauss

Over at The New Rambler Professor David Straussreviews Amy Gajda’s The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Paparazzi Threaten a Free Press (2015). Here are a few excerpts:

“The Obama Administration is said to have prosecuted more people for leaking classified information than all previous administrations combined. Journalists have noticed. ‘The Obama Administration is the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation,’ according to James Risen, the New York Times investigative reporter. Risen’s language is unusually strong, but the general theme is familiar among journalists. In a typical comment, Bob Schieffer, a CBS Washington correspondent, is quoted as saying: ‘Whenever I’m asked what is the most manipulative and secretive administration I’ve covered, I always say it’s the one in office now . . . . This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.’”

“It seems unlikely that this Administration is just more authoritarian or paranoid than the one before it (which was in turn more so than the one before it, and so on), or that this President and Attorney General harbor a perverse desire to antagonize the New York Times and CBS. The much more plausible explanation is that the world has changed, and government officials have responded by becoming less tolerant of practices they might have lived with before. . . .”

What are some of the changes that Strauss thinks explains this? He lists four:

  1. “The first change, inevitably, is the technology.”
  2. The second change is the mass availability of information on the Internet, information that was once difficult to obtain.
  3. The third change is in the nature of “the press.” “Today, of course, a self-anointed Ellsberg does not have to submit himself to the judgment of editors like [those of the New York Times or the Washington Post]. Someone who has government secrets can propagate them, worldwide, more or less immediately, either without any intermediary or with an intermediary who will not feel the same obligation to try to take the government’s interests into account.”
  4. The fourth change is “the economics of the media industry put pressure on everyone to cater to the lowest denominator.”

The main problem in all of this, he adds, is not such much the law. “The problem is whether the media themselves will have the incentives and the capacity to do the job that they must do, and ought to do, in a free society. There is only so much the law can do about that.”

Campus Free-Speech Watch

As the the stories and commentaries below (all recent ones) indicate, the battle for free speech on college campuses is proving, yet again, to be the biggest one of the year. What is also noteworthy is the very high success rate of challenges to campus speech codes . . . and yet many remain on the books.     

  1. College Attempts to Censor Student Columnist: Q&A with Andrew Breland,” TheFireorg, June 8, 2015
  2. Robert Soave, “Campus Censorship is The Feds’ Fault,” The Daily Beast, June 6, 2015
  3. Benjamin Wermund, “Student sues Blinn College, says ‘free speech zone’ violates First Amendment,” Chron, June 6, 2015
  4. Ray Nothstine, “Boise State University to Pay $20,000 to Pro-Life Group After Backtracking on Censorship,” CP US, June 6, 2015
  5. George F. Will, “A summer break from campus muzzling,” Providence Journal, June 5, 2015
  6. BSU changes policy, drops lawsuit with campus group,” Associated Press, June 4, 2015
  7. Greg Piper, “Democratic lawmaker defends anti-Christian campus policies at hearing,” The College Fix, June 2, 2015
  8. Brenda Schory, “Waubonsee paid $132K to settle free-speech lawsuit,” My Suburban Life, June 5, 2015
  9. Donald A. Downs, “Shouting down campus speakers,”, June 2, 2015
  10. Another university gets ‘green light’ for First Amendment-friendly campus,” News Now, May 29, 2015

Congressman Louie Gohmert on First Amendment Rights in Universities & Schools (June 2015: re statement made at House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice Hearing)

Group Launches Litigation Campaign to Challenge Campus Speech Codes,” Concurring Opinions, FAN 21.1, Jul2 2, 2014

Seinfeld: “I don’t play colleges. They’re so PC.”

This from a Washington Post news story by Justin Wm. Moyer: “Jerry Seinfeld himself has taken a stand — against political correctness on campus. The 61-year-old comedian told an ESPN interlocutor that he avoids performing at universities because of trigger warnings, speech codes and other First Amendment umbrage.”

“‘I don’t play colleges,’ Seinfeld said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd. ‘. . . I hear a lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.’”

Flashback: Politically Incorrect: “Racist” jokes – David Spade, Sarah Silverman & Bill Maher

Check out this YouTube video of an old Bill Maher show — really quite good back-and-forth.

* * * * *

Journalists, Jails & the First Amendment

“For the first time we have assembled, in one place, virtually all the journalists who’ve gone to jail in the United States for doing a vital part of their job. . . Tonight we’re going to hear their stories.” — John M. Donnelly (See video here.)

* * * * *

Senator Cruz & Shaun McCutcheon

Senator Cruz & Shaun McCutcheon

Shaun McCutcheon — Round ‘n About

→ Luke Mulins, “Shaun McCutcheon Blew Up Campaign-Finance Law and Became a GOP Hero. Then He Set His Sights on Paris Hilton,” The Washingtonian, June 7, 2015

New & Notable Blog Posts

New & Forthcoming Scholarly Articles

  1. Jessica Bulman-Pozen & David E. Pozen, “Uncivil Obedience,” Columbia Law Review(2105)
  2. Daniel E. Herz-Roiphe, “Stubborn Things: An Empirical Approach to Facts, Opinions, and the First Amendment,” Michigan Law Review: First Impressions (2015)
  3. Eugene Volokh, “Gruesome Speech,” Cornell Law Review (2015)
  4. Mohamed H. Aziz , “Counter Terrorism Measures via Internet Intermediaries: A First Amendment & National Security Dilemma,” Journal of Law and Cyber Warfare (forthcoming 2015)
  5. Jordan M. Singer, “Judges on Demand: The Cognitive Case for Cameras in the Courtroom,” Columbia Law Review: Sidebar (2015)
  6. John Korevec, “‘McDonald Does Dallas’: How Obscenity Laws on Hard-Core Pornography Can End the Nation’s Gun Debate,” Southern California Law Review (2015)
  7. Paul J. Larkin Jr., “Revenge Porn, State Law, and Free Speech,” Loyola Los Angeles Law Review (2014)

News, Op-eds, Commentaries & Blog Posts

  1. Tim Cushing, “New Mexico Judge Says First Amendment Is Subservient To The ‘Dignity Of The Court’,” TechDirt, June 8, 2015
  2. George Will, “Campaign-Finance Reformers’ First Amendment Problem,” National Review Online, June 6, 2015
  3. Gene Policinski, “Inside the First Amendment — A reminder to remember — rededicating the Journalists Memorial, The Morning Sun, June 6, 2015
  4. Mike Goodwin, “Supreme court dodges First Amendment issue, but still puts limits on criminalizing speech,” R Street, June 5, 2015
  5. David Keating, “Another View: Demand for nonprofits’ donor lists violates First Amendment,” Sacramento Bee, June 5, 2015
  6. Charlie Butts, “Porn lawyers claim First Amendment right to hire kids,” NewsNow, June 6, 2015
  7. Ruthann Robson, “Supreme Court Dodges First Amendment Issue in Facebook Threats Case,” Constitutional Law Prof Blog, June 1, 2015
Professor Elliott Visconsi.

Professor Elliott Visconsi

Notre Dame Online Video Lecture Series on First Amendment Law

The Notre Dame Office of Digital Learning offers an informative and engaging overview of First Amendment free expression law in a series of video lectures (or “modules” as they are tagged). The lectures are given by Professor Elliott Visconsi.

  1. Why the First Amendment? 
  2. Arguing Free Expression
  3. Rise of Individually Centered First Amendment
  4. Sedition & Incitement 
  5. What is Speech?
  6. Literariness
  7. Digitality

New YouTube Posts

  1. Alton man wins free speech case before NH Supreme Court,” WMUR-TV, June 9, 2015
  2. Hannity, “Pamela Geller, imam debate threats to free speech,” Fox News, June 7, 2015


[last updated: 6-09-15]

Cases Decided 

  1. Elonis v. United States (decided: June 1, 2015) (8-1 per Roberts)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (argued: Jan. 20, 2015 / decided: April 29, 2015) (5-4 per Roberts)

Review Granted & Cases Argued

  1. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued 1-12-15)
  2. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (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 (last distributed for Conference of January 9, 2015)
  3. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al. (4-27-15: The Court asked the Calif. AG to respond to the petition)
  4. Central Radio Co., Inc. v. City of Norfolk (amicus brief by Eugene Volokh)
  5. Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris (emergency application for injunction pending Cert.)
  6. Walker-McGill v. Stuart

Review Denied*

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

Though these lists are not comprehensive, I try to track as many cases as possible. If you know of a cert. petition that is not on these lists, kindly inform me and I will post it.   

LAST SCHEDULED FAN POST, #62: “Federal Judge Blasts Liberal Assault on the First Amendment

NEXT SCHEDULED FAN POST, #64: Wednesday, June 17, 2015


On Memorial Day — Judge Richard Kopf Remembers Holmes

UnknownOver at Hercules and the Umpire Judge Richard Kopf remembers — and it is fitting that he does — one of our greatest soldiers, a man who sacrificed much and in the face of it all saw many a dear friend fall.

Make of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., what you will. If you are so disposed, paint him a nihilist, or a fatalist,  a self-serving capitalist, or a defender of eugenicists, or any other derogatory ist label you care to pin on him. Still, his star glows.

But of this it cannot be denied: He fought honorably to defend the Union in its time of great need; he rallied forward when others feared to do so; and when it was done (all the bloody battles and lost lives) he remembered the fighting faith of those who struggled, of those Harvard men and others who journeyed into the dark of an eternal night. And he always remembered Memorial Day (see his “The Soldier’s Faith” speech) and tried to teach the young the value of honor in service to our country.

Thanks to Judge Kopf for reminding us to remember Holmes and all who followed him in serving honorably.

To first lieutenant, lieutenant colonel, and captain Holmes on this Memorial Day. Remember!


FAN 61 (First Amendment News) Past & Prologue — Ralph Young on the History of Dissent & David Skover on Free Speech in a Robotic Era

In this post I highlight two new works (one on dissent, the other on data, etc.) to emphasize the importance of history, on the one hand, and the challenge of new technologies to inform the way we think about the First Amendment, on the other hand.

Let me start with history: Take dissent out of the cultural and constitutional equation and what remains is faint-hearted freedom. Dissent gives free speech its steel. The First Amendment’s greatest virtue is the protection of those messages we fear and/or loathe — those sent our way by insufferable Anti-Federalists, abolitionists, suffragists, unionists, anarchists, Communists, atheists, civil-rights activists, anti-war pacifists, gay-rights antagonists,  and even nihilists and racists.

Professor Ralph Young

Professor Ralph Young

Enter Temple University Professor Ralph F. Young and his new book, Dissent: The History of an American Idea (New York University Press, 2015). Generally speaking, this 600-page tome, which follows Young’s various volumes titled Dissent in America, does a splendid job of chronicling much of the evolution of dissent in America. His panoramic account spans much in the history of dissent from the plight of the Puritans, to the fate of Native American Indians, to the struggle of abolitionists, to the campaigns of labor activists, to the crusades of feminists, to the sit-ins of civil rights demonstrators, to the marches of war protestors, to the anti-Establishment songs of Bob Dylan, to the Stonewall riots, to the politics of the Tea Party, to the antics of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and more! It is a remarkable achievement.

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (photo: Daniel Kramer)

Bob Dylan & Joan Baez (photo: Daniel Kramer)

Sadly missing from this otherwise impressive survey of dissent in the United States is any mention of the likes of:

That said, there is still more than a big bundle of worthwhile and eye-opening historical reading to be found between the covers of this engaging volume.

For a philosophical account of what exactly constitutes dissent, see Collins & Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

Forthcoming: Stephen J. Solomon, Revolutionary Dissent (Palgrave Macmillan, January 2016)

Disclosure: Though an ad for Dissent: The History of an American Idea appears on this page, I had no involvement with it and was not otherwise influenced (positively or otherwise) by it.

* * *  * 


Venturing on into the future: On May 26th Seattle University Law Professor David Skover will speak at the Third Annual Governance of Emerging Technologies Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. His remarks will be delivered at the outset of a panel discussion entitled “Robotics & Autonomous Systems.” The panel will be moderated by Wendell Wallach. The other panelists are Kate Darling and Greg Garvey.  

Professor David Skover

Professor David Skover

Professor Skover’s remarks are based on a work-in-progress, tentatively titled “Intentionless Free Speech: Robots & Receivers” (of which I am the co-author) (NB: We chose the term “intentionless” because it conveys a meaning quite different than “unintentional.”) In brief, Skover’s remarks will examine why First Amendment coverage should be assigned to robotic expression, quite apart from whether such expression merits constitutional protection when balanced against a spectrum of potential harms. The paper argues that robotic expression puts into  bold relief the view that much First Amendment speech is protected because of the experience of a user or receiver. The paper builds on, or moves beyond, or takes issue with the works of robotic free speech scholars Jane Bambauer, James Grimmelmann, Timothy Wu, and Eugene Volokh, among others. The paper began as an outgrowth of a series of conversations with Professor Ryan Calo, whose support and encouragement have been invaluable in developing our ideas in this new and largely uncharted area.

“Intentionless Free Speech” is the latest installment of the authors’ ongoing examination of the relationship between law and technology. This venture began with a 1990 article entitled “The First Amendment in an Age of Paratroopers,” and then continued with a 1992 article entitled “Paratexts” (expanded and reconstituted in “Paratexts as Praxis” in 2010), and ultimately developed into a book entitled The Death of Discourse (1996 & 2nd ed., 2005).

Headline: “NYC Censorship Event Gets Censored” — Another Mohammed Controversy  Read More


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


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.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 12.08.46 PM

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

*  *  *  *

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


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.

Books 03

Does Scholarship Really Have an Impact? The Article that Revolutionized Privacy Law

Does scholarship really have an impact? For a long time, naysayers have attacked scholarship, especially scholarship about law. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts once remarked: “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see, and the first article is likely to be, you know, the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th Century Bulgaria, or something.” He noted that when the academy addresses legal issues at “a particularly abstract, philosophical level . . . they shouldn’t expect that it would be of any particular help or even interest to the members of the practice of the bar or judges.” Judge Harry Edwards also has attacked legal scholarship as largely irrelevant.

Critics are quick to point out that much legal scholarship is not cited much — and many articles are never even cited by anyone other than the authors themselves in subsequent works.

But I think that a lot can be learned from the story of one of the most influential law articles of all. That article was Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890).

Brandeis Right to Privacy 02

Warren and Brandeis discussed how journalism was becoming more sensationalistic: “Gossip is no longer the resource of the idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued with industry as well as effrontery.” And they expressed concern about a new technology they called “instantaneous photograph[y.]” — the new smaller and cheaper cameras being marketed by the Eastman Kodak Company that made it possible for candid photos to be taken.

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