Category: Supreme Court

2

FAN 61.2 (First Amendment News) Cato’s Ilya Shapiro weighs in on Elonis

Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

True to form, in Elonis v. United States the Supreme Court continued its unparalleled defense of free speech — this time in the social-media context. Also true to form, however, Chief Justice John Roberts put together a near-unanimous majority by shying away from hard questions and thus leaving little guidance to lower courts.

The case involved a statute that made it a federal crime to transmit in interstate commerce — the Internet counts — “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another.” Based on a bizarre series of Facebook posts styled largely on the lurid lyrical stylings of Eminem, Anthony Elonis was convicted under that law of threatening his wife, the police, an FBI agent, and a kindergarten class. Yet prosecutors didn’t prove that Elonis intended to threaten anyone or even understood his words as being threatening. All they showed was that the individuals in question felt threatened by the posts.

The Supreme Court correctly ruled that that’s not enough, that negligently throwing around violent rap lyrics shouldn’t get someone thrown in prison. As Roberts noted, the general rule is that a “guilty mind” — what lawyers call mens rea — is a necessary element of any crime.

But alas that’s as far as Roberts went: since the statute in question doesn’t specify the requisite state of mind, mere negligence isn’t enough. He did not say — the Court did not rule at all — whether an amended statute criminalizing negligent speech would pass First Amendment muster. This issue was the focus of Cato’s amicus brief, which was also signed onto by the ACLU, the Abrams Institute, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. Indeed, as Justice Samuel Alito points out in partial dissent, the majority opinion doesn’t even say whether “reckless” Facebook posts come under the statute’s purvey (or whether that reading would in turn satisfy the First Amendment.

In short, I’m glad that amateur poet “Tone Dougie” (Elonis’s nom de rap) won’t be practicing his art in the hoosegow, but the Supreme Court’s minimalism has guaranteed this type of case — and maybe even this defendant — an encore. Particularly as social media and other new means of expression evolve, the Hustices need to do more than narrowly slice speech-chilling criminal laws.

Ilya Shapiro
Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies
Cato Institute

0

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!

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
0

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.

* * *  * 

Unknown

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

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
2

FAN 60 (First Amendment News) — Mohammed-Cartoon Controversy Continues — Liberals Divided

We defend the First Amendment for everybody because there is no other way to defend it for ourselves.Ira Glasser (December 1977)

Intolerance is a human tragedy and must be addressed. But if there’s one cardinal rule in America, it’s that we err on the side of counter-speech, not censorship, when we hear things we don’t like but that don’t directly hurt us. — Gabe Rottman (August 12, 2013)

It’s axiomatic: Give it enough time and any irksome First Amendment issue will resurrect, albeit in new cultural garb but similar enough to be more than a distant cousin. The Mohammed-cartoon controversy is only the latest example of an old issue remerging to once again test the steel of our commitment to free speech. And with a firebrand like Pamela Geller — the  who promoted the “Draw the Prophet” contest in Texas — fanning the flames, some find the need to back away from the speech-protective tradition of the First Amendment. Predictably, rationalizations are tendered and excuses offered while exaggerations are served up in bountiful plenty. Why? Simple: Whenever speech really offends us (particularly when the speaker is over-the-top provocative), there is a strong tendency to default to a censorial mindset. Then again, the true greatness of our First Amendment is our constitutional commitment to default in a different direction — to ratchet  towards freedom.

Frank Collin demonstrating in Chicago

Frank Collin demonstrating in Chicago (1978)

You hear the words a lot these days in the news: hate speech / incendiary speech / fighting words / and much more as the battles lines draw around the Texas controversy. If you turn the free-speech clock back 38 years and situate the First Amendment in Illinois, you will soon enough discover a similar conflict with people throwing around similar epithets. Remember Skokie? Remember the Nazi campaign to march there, in that predominately Jewish community with many Holocaust survivors? (See YouTube clips here and here — see also here)

Before and after the matter was resolved in 5-4 in a per curiam opinion by the Supreme Court (with liberals siding with the claims of the National Sociality Party) and later in a cert. denial in 1978, there was considerable and heated debate among liberals. And nowhere was that debate more heated than in the ranks of the American Civil Liberties Union, which through its Illinois affiliate defended the First Amendment claims of Frank Collin — the lead party in the suit to permit the Nazis to march in Skokie.

The story of this contentious moment in our free-speech history is ably set out in Philippa Strum’s When the Nazis Came to Skokie: Freedom for Speech we Hate (1999). Part of that history is the enormous price the ACLU paid to defend the First Amendment even if it meant risking the group’s own financial survival. (In those days, the New York Times editorial board stood with the ACLU in its time  of peril.) Years later, that sacrifice came to be seen by many as a badge of honor. In some ways there was even a Shakespearean quality to the fight fought back then by the ACLU:

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors  And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

National ACLU Weighs in on Cartoon Controversy

Lee Rowland

Lee Rowland

Meanwhile, a new fight emerges as liberals once again battle over how much free-speech freedom they can tolerate. Though up to now the national ACLU has not been very vocal on the cartoon controversy, when I inquired I received the following reply from Lee Rowland, the Staff Attorney for the Speech, Privacy & Technology Project: “I just wanted to let you know that the ACLU unequivocally believes that Ms. Geller and AFDI’s speech was protected, and that frankly, it’s not even a tough question. Our First Amendment protections mean nothing if they do not extend to speech that many find objectionable and provocative.”

The Draw-MohammedCartoon Controversy — Seven Views

 Real Time with Bill Maher: In Defense of Free Speech (HBO): “This is America. Do we not have the right to draw whatever we want? . . . Do we have to accept that Muslims are unable to control themselves the way we would ask everyone else in the world?  To me that’s bigotry; that’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens, “In Defense of Pamela Geller,” Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2015: Ms. Geller is hammering home the point, whether wittingly or not, that the free speech most worth defending is the speech we agree with least. That’s especially important when the enemies of free speech—in this case, Muslim fanatics—are invoking the pretext of moral injury to inflict bodily harm. A society that rejects the notion of a heckler’s veto cannot accept the idea of a murderer’s veto simply because the murderer is prepared to go to greater extremes to silence his opponents.”

Editorial, “Free Speech vs. Hate Speech,” NYT, May 6, 2015: “the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.”

Eugene Volokh, “No, there’s no ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment,” Volokh Conspiracy, May 7, 2015: “there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment. Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal aliens, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or Socialism or Democrats or Republicans.”

 Kathleen Parker, “Use and abuse of First Amendment,” Yakima Herald, May 10, 2015: “I take a back seat to no one when it comes to defending free speech — even that of the worst sorts. We let neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan march and protest because the true test of free speech is that unpopular speech is tolerated.That said, we needn’t embrace or celebrate people like Geller, who intentionally try to provoke a confrontation.She’s welcome to sponsor a cartoon contest, but we don’t have to attend. If Geller wants to stand on street corners and shout her views, no one has to listen.”

 John Costa, “Testing the First Amendment,” The Bulletin, May 10, 2015: “The question for those of us who value the First Amendment is easy to state but painfully difficult to answer. Are there limits we should impose on ourselves?In fact, newspapers that have standards of publication do it every day, which I know doesn’t answer the question of whether to publish the images of Charlie Hebdo or the cartoonists in Texas. I wholly support their right to their choice, but for me the answer is a resounding, ‘It would depend.'”

Stuart Anderson, “Have Mormons Become America’s Best Advocates For Freedom Of Speech?,” Forbes, May 7, 2015:”A worldwide debate has emerged over religion and freedom of speech. And who, by example, has become America’s best advocate for free speech? The surprising answer may be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Yale Law Professors see Blueprint for Campaign Reform in Williams-Yulee Read More

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
0

FAN 59 (First Amendment News) Williams-Yulee — The Ruling Few Expected . . . & the One Few Will Remember

Now everything will be funneled through a candidate’s committee, which everyone will understand is really just the judge or lawyer-candidate under an authorized cover. —Alan Morrison (May 4, 2015)

Let’s begin with the numbers: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar  is the

  • thirty-eighth free expression opinion rendered by the Roberts Court;
  • the eighth case during the Chief Justice’s tenure involving elections and campaign funding;
  •  the ninth five-four split in a Roberts Court free expression case;
  • the sixth five-four split in a campaign-finance case; and
  • the first of four First Amendment free expression cases the Court has agreed to review this Term.

Two more facts:

  • Williams-Yulee is the thirteenth majority (plurality re Part II) opinion by the Chief Justice — he has authored more majority opinions in the First Amendment free speech area than anyone else. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia are next in line with five each.
  • Finally, it bears noting that this is the second time the Chief Justice Roberts has found a compelling state interest sufficient to trump a First Amendment claim. See Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010).

Okay, enough with the numbers.

Question: Just how important is the Chief’ Justice Roberts’ Williams-Yulee opinion?

Answer: Not very, for the most part, that is. Here is why I say so — aided by some of the insights offered by my friends and colleagues who participated in the SCOTUSblog symposium (see listing below) on Williams-Yulee. I also offer a few related observations.

Seven ways to think about Williams-Yulee  . . . & then forget about it: 

  1. The Good for One Time Only Holding: Yes, John Roberts jumped ship in a First Amendment case and broke ranks with the “tenacious trio” (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito). But don’t count on that happening again unless you believe in the GOD of SUPREME COURT MIRACLES. And don’t expect strict scrutiny to be so relaxed in future First Amendment cases. By the same token, don’t assume that a majority will settle for such a wide fit when it comes to applying the narrowly tailored doctrine in any other First Amendment free expression cases (national security, government employee speech, and student speech excepted).
  2. Limited to the Facts of this Case Only: For all the ink spent on safeguarding public confidence in the integrity of elections, know this: Williams-Yulee is likely to confined to the particular facts of the case — and not a comma beyond it. With that in mind, consider the fact that this was a case of a judicial candidate personally soliciting campaign funds. It was not a case of a  PAC or a corporation or a wealthy donor doing likewise in order to support that same judicial candidate. Or even hosting a fundraising event for such a judicial candidate, replete with that candidate present.  Nor was it a case of a judicial candidate making campaign promises as to how he or she would rule in a general class of cases.
  3.  A New Holding that Bows to an Old One: The rule of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) — the case that James Bopp, Jr., successfully argued and the one in which Justice Scalia wrote for the majority — will likely continue to be the First Amendment mainstay in most, if not all, other judicial election cases.
  4. The Judicial Elections Exception to the First Amendment: As evidenced by what it did in United States v. Stevens (2010) and in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011), the Roberts Court has sometimes clung to the notion that speech is at least presumptively protected unless it falls into some category of historically unprotected expression. On that very point, Justice Scalia’s dissent (joined by Justice Thomas) took issue with the majority opinion: “Our cases hold that speech enjoys the full protection of the First Amendment unless a widespread and longstanding tradition ratifies its regulation. (citation omitted). No such tradition looms here.” As Ilya Shapiro pointed out, we now have a new exception to the First Amendment, which brings the number to 44 exceptions depending on how you count them.
  5. The Reinvigoration of Disclosure Requirements: One ongoing question in the campaign-finance First Amendment arena is the extent to which the Roberts Court will uphold various disclosure requirements. On this important point, Justice Kennedy (writing for himself alone) noted: “Indeed, disclosure requirements offer a powerful, speech-enhancing method of deterring corruption – one that does not impose limits on how and when people can speak. He then added: “‘Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.’ Based on disclosures the voters can decide, among other matters, whether the public is well served by an elected judiciary; how each candidate defines appropriate campaign conduct (which may speak volumes about his or her judicial demeanor); and what persons and groups support or oppose a particular candidate.” Question: Will all this praise of disclosure requirements be confined to the narrow facts of Williams-Yulee? Stay tuned!
  6. More Free-Speech Protections Under State Constitutions? It is one of the cornerstones of federalism: A state Court may rely on its own constitution to provide greater rights than those guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, provided it does not violate any federal laws. By that constitutional measure, assume that, say, Arizona had a law identical to the one sustained in Williams-Yulee. Assume furthermore that the state high court in considering the constitutionality of that law under its state constitution concluded that the law was not narrowly tailored and thus struck it down. Assuming that the independent and adequate state grounds doctrine were satisfied, a state court might well take its analytical cue from the dissenters in Williams-Yulee (much as liberal state court judges once took their cue from the dissenting opinions of Justices Brennan and Marshall during the Burger and Rehnquist Court eras).
  7. Does it All Come Down to Recusals and Due Process Challenges? Given the problems that arise when judges run for election, it may be that the only road to fairness, consistent with the demands of the free speech provisions of the federal and state constitutions, are stronger recusal rules and a fortified version of the due process claim sustained in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. (2009).  In this regard, it is important to note, as the Caperton majority did, that the objective standards of  due process do not require proof of actual bias.

A Different View of Williams-Yulee

As with anything in the First Amendment world, others have a different take on Williams-Yulee and see it as significant and even a a sign of things to come: “Roberts’ authorship of the decision was pivotal, and not just because he is chief justice. Roberts has overseen a trend during his tenure toward loosening restrictions on campaign speech and money on First Amendment grounds,” is how Tony Mauro saw it. And as Professor Rick Hasen told Mauro: ““This is a huge win for those who support reasonable limits on judicial elections, and getting [Chief Justice John] Roberts on this side of the issue is surprising, welcome, and momentous.”

Contributors to SCOTUSblog symposium on Williams-Yulee

  1. Ronald Collins, “Foreword: Are elected state judges now ‘above the political fray’?
  2. Floyd Abrams, “When strict scrutiny ceased to be strict
  3. Jessica Ring Amunson, “A rare case indeed
  4. Lawrence Baum, “The Justices’ premises about judicial elections
  5. Robert Corn-Revere, “For Judges Only
  6. Robert D. Durham, “Yes, it can hurt just to ask
  7. Joseph Grodin, “The distinctive character of judging
  8. Ilya Shapiro, “The judicial-elections exception to the First Amendment
  9. Matthew Streb, “Much ado about nothing?
  10. Josh Wheeler, ““Seem familiar?” and other random musings on Williams-Yulee

See also, Alan Morrison, “Williams-Yulee – The ruling with no real-world impact,” Concurring Opinions, May 4, 2015

Pamela Geller — Free Speech’s Controversial Defender

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.22.45 AM

 

She is an articulate defender of free speech / she is a political firebrand / she is an unabashed self-protmoter and media persona / she is a fearless blogger / she is the co-author of The Omama Administration’s War on America (2010) / she is the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative / she actively  leads various “violent jihads” campaigns  / and she is one of the co-founders of Stop Islamization of Nations. Read More

0

FAN 58.1 (First Amendment News) Alan Morrison, “Williams-Yulee – The ruling with no real-world impact”

My friend Alan Morrison recently sent me a few short observations he had concerning the new ruling in Williams-Yulle v. Florida State Bar. I thought his comments might be of some interest to FAN readers.

Alan is the Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service at George Washington Law School and has argued twenty cases in the Supreme Court, including Virginia Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (1976) in which he prevailed.  

* * * * *

This was a case that never should have happened. I say this for two reasons, both of which support the proposition that it will not have much impact in judicial elections.

Alan Morrison

Alan Morrison

First, one part of petitioner’s original state law defense was that she did not think that the ban on candidate solicitation applied because the Florida rule kicks in only when there are adverse candidates and the incumbent had not yet decided to run again.

Second, the ban only applied if the candidate “personally solicit[ed]” contributions, and most people would not think that a mass mailing and a posting on a website would fall under that ban, especially because the Florida solicitation Rule 4-7.18 (a)(1) expressly distinguishes in person from written communications.

Those “mistakes” are not legal excuses under the law. Nonetheless, they do show that this was not a test case because if one wanted a test case, no such defenses would have been raised. They also suggest that the Florida bar should have simply given petitioner a warning and never filed formal charges against her.

In terms of its real-world impact, the Florida law expressly allows a candidate’s committee to do what petitioner did here and much more. Thus, why would anyone who understands the breadth of the law try an end run? In other words, why take the risk that Ms. Williams-Yulee did when there is a much easier and far safer way to secure campaign cash? The more significant issue, and the one on which the majority of the amicus briefs supporting Florida focused, is whether direct in-person solicitation of contributions violated the First Amendment. Now that written mass mailings and websites from the candidate and not the committee can be proscribed, the in person solicitation ban is plainly constitutional, although one wonders if it would be applied to family members, law partners or college roommates – assuming that the Bar found out about such a case and were silly enough to bring it.

In short, Williams-Yulee is likely to be a one-off decision that will eliminate almost no solicitations that any real candidate, let alone a sitting judge, will want to make in any state with a rule like Florida’s. Thus, aside from not clearing petitioner’s reputation, the decision will not cut back on much in the way of either solicitation or other communication about judicial candidates, meaning that the practical damage to the First Amendment, if any, will be quite modest. Now everything will be funneled through a candidate’s committee, which everyone will understand is really just the judge or lawyer-candidate under an authorized cover.

1

The Legacy of Chief Justice Fortas

120px-Abe_fortas_hand_in_airThis is a new paper that I have forthcoming in Green Bag.  I’ve always wanted to publish something there, but until now I never had anything that would work (in other words, under 5,000 words and less than fifty footnotes).  Readers of CoOp will find the arguments familiar, as I’ve posted about them previously.

One point that I plan to elaborate further in my revisions is the thought that the extrajudicial or partisan scope of what the Justices could do shrank dramatically in the 1960s in part because the scope of their judicial authority increased.  More on that another time.

0

Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual: An Opportunity for the Supreme Court to Correct the Problems of ERISA Preemption

The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Solicitor General whether the Court should grant certiorari in Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. If the Court hears Gobeille, the Court will confront an important choice for the future of preemption under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Gobeille can be decided incrementally, as an elaboration at the margins of the Court’s current ERISA preemption case law. However, Gobeille is also an opportunity for the Court to correct the fundamental problems of its current ERISA preemption jurisprudence. While incrementalism has its virtues, on balance, it would be better for the Court to use Gobeille to correct the basics of ERISA preemption.

The Court’s current ERISA preemption case law suffers from three fundamental shortcomings. First, unlike the lower courts and commentators, the Supreme Court has not acknowledged the tension between the Court’s seminal ERISA preemption decision in Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc. and its subsequent decision in New York State Conference of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Plans v. Travelers Ins. Co. Second, per Travelers, the Court has read ERISA’s preemption clause, ERISA § 514(a), as nothing more than a codification of traditional, deferential preemption standards. This reading of § 514(a) is textually unpersuasive and renders ERISA §§ 514(b)(2)(A) and 514(b)(4) redundant. Section 514(a) is better read as establishing a presumption for preemption. Third, Travelers asserts that the presumption against ERISA preemption applies with particular force to state regulation of an area like health care “which historically has been a matter of local concern.” This judge-made rule also runs afoul of §§ 514(b)(2)(A) and 514(b)(4) which specifically exempt from ERISA preemption state banking, securities, insurance and criminal laws, but no other state laws.

The mischief caused by these three shortcomings manifests itself in Gobeille. Gobeille thus presents a problem and represents an opportunity. The Court could decide Gobeille as an incremental application of the Court’s existing ERISA preemption case law. Under this approach, the controlling issue for the high court to review will be the scope of “reporting” for ERISA preemption purposes. Notwithstanding the virtues of modest decision making, such judicial modesty in Gobeille will merely defer the Court’s confrontation with the fundamental problems of its ERISA preemption case law.

In a forthcoming article in the Cornell Law Review Online (available in draft on SSRN), I argue that it would be best for the Court to grant cert in Gobeille and use that decision to correct the underlying problems of ERISA preemption. Specifically, the Court should acknowledge the tension between Shaw and Travelers by reconsidering the statute afresh. As part of such reconsideration, the Court should construe ERISA § 514(a) as creating a presumption for preemption. Such a construction of § 514(a) respects the text of the statute without yielding to the potential indeterminacy of the statute’s broad language. Finally, the Court should jettison the notion that traditional areas of state law as defined by the Court are immune from ERISA’s more expansive than usual preemption and should instead acknowledge what the statute says: Per §§ 514(b)(2)(A) and 514(b)(4), the areas immunized from ERISA’s more stringent preemption are – and are only – state banking, securities, insurance, and criminal laws.

While the Court will understandably be tempted to decide Gobeille in a more modest fashion, there are situations which require fundamental reassessment of existing law. ERISA preemption is today such a situation and Gobeille would be a good vehicle for undertaking the necessary reassessment.

2

The Disposition of Justice Souter’s Papers

I have received a letter from Justice Souter stating that his papers (in the New Hampshire Historical Society) will be available on the 50th anniversary of his death.  In other words, probably not while any of us are alive.

UPDATE:  For those of you emailing me, he did say “death” and not “retirement.”

stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
0

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

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

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

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

→ See also YouTube video clip here.

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