Category: Supreme Court

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FAN 107 (First Amendment News) FTC’s Power to curb misleading ads remains intact

After a lengthy hearing (involving 14 expert witnesses and nearly 2000 exhibits), an administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that petitioners had violated the FTC Act. . . . On de novo review, the Commission found that petitioners had violated the FTC Act by using misleading, unsubstantiated ads to market their products. . . . .[T]he FTC factual findings at issue in this case are entitled to judicial deference under the substantial-evidence standard. Government brief in POM Wonderful

This past Monday the Court denied cert in POM Wonderful, LLC v. FTCa commercial speech case. It was the 14th First Amendment free-speech case the Justices denied review in this Term (see below). The issue in the case was whether a finding by the FTC that a truthful advertisement nonetheless implies a misleading message to a minority of consumers, and therefore receives no First Amendment protection, must be reviewed de novo.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled in favor of the Federal Trade Commission in an opinion by Judge Sri Srinivasan joined in by Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Senior Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg.

→ Tom Goldstein — who successfully Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc. (2011) — was the counsel of record on the cert petition filed on behalf of POM Wonderful. In his brief Mr. Goldtstein argued:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) deemed several of petitioners’ advertisements unprotected by the First Amendment and banned them on the theory that their truthful content nonetheless implied a false or misleading message to a “significant minority” of consumers. Petitioners challenged that ban under the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals upheld the ban in its entirety because—applying only generic principles of administrative law—it gave great deference to the FTC’s determination that all of the challenged ads implied the alleged false or misleading messages and for that reason received no First Amendment protection.

The Cato Institute filed an amicus brief supporting the Petitioner.  In it, Cato’s lawyers argued:

This case raises the issue of whether the U.S. Courts of Appeals should defer broadly to Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) adjudicative factual and legal findings when the agency’s order restrains commercial speech. The Court has not addressed that issue in 50 years. See F.T.C. v. Colgate-Palmolive Co. (1965). Since 1965, the deference accorded the FTC’s factual and legal findings in every administrative deceptive advertising case has effec- tively transformed the agency into a court of last resort despite the fact that all FTC deceptive adver- tising decisions necessarily involve limitations on prospective commercial speech and, thus, raise First Amendment issues, and despite the fact that in administrative cases the FTC not only initiates prose- cutions but also serves as the ultimate judge, an inherent conflict of interest.

All of those claims fell to the wayside when the Court denied cert. in the case earlier this week. Instead, the Court let stand the position argued for by the government in its reply brief in POM: “the court of appeals’ holding that substantial-evidence review applies in this context is correct and does not conflict with any decision of this Court or of another circuit or a state court of last resort.”

That said, the FTC’s powers to regulate misleading ads remained intact and the Commercial Speech doctrine likewise remained as it is.

By bringing [this] case [up for review] POM [put] all of its cards on the table. But other food and supplement advertisers will have to live with the results.Bruce Silverglade (counsel for Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz)

Backpage.com Contests Senate Subcommittee Subpoena  Read More

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FAN 106.1 (First Amendment News) Sheriff Dart Petitions Court — Contests Posner Opinion in “Adult Services” Ad Case

Michael F. Williams, lead counsel for Sheriff Dart)

Michael F. Williams (lead counsel for Sheriff Dart)

Cook County’s Sheriff Thomas Dart is back on the legal news with a cert. petition filed today in the Supreme Court (Dart v. Backpage.com). The Sheriff is being represented by Michael F. Williams (counsel of record) of Kirkland and Ellis. Also on the brief are Anita Alvarez (Cook County State’s Attorney), Paul A. Castiglione, Sisavanh B. Baker, and Jill V. Ferrara (Assistant State’s Attorneys). In other words, Cook County is spending some big money to contest Judge Richard A. Posner’s ruling in Backpage.com v. Dart (7th Cir., Nov. 30, 2015).

First the factsBackpage.com is the second largest online classified advertising website in the U.S., after Craigslist. Users post more than six million ads monthly in various categories, including buy/sell/trade, automotive, real estate, jobs, dating and adult. Users provide all content for their ads; Backpage.com hosts the forum for their speech. Sheriff Dart wanted to eliminate online classified advertising of “adult” or “escort” services. And why? As the Sheriff saw it, such ads were little more than solicitations for prostitution. He also argued that these ads facilitate human trafficking and the exploitation of children. Last June the Sheriff sent letters to the CEOs of Visa and Mastercard to “request” that they “cease and desist” allowing their credit cards “to be used to place ads on websites like Backpage.com, which we have objectively found to promote prostitution and facilitate online sex trafficking.” It worked; the companies blocked the transactions. On August 21, 2015, a federal district court denied Backpage.com’s motion for a preliminary injunction, though it had previously granted a TRO in the case.

Back page appealed and prevailed.

Sheriff Thomas Dart

Sheriff Thomas Dart

The 7th Circuit Ruling: In true Posnerian form, the Judge’s opinion was blunt (“The suit against Craigslist having failed, the sheriff decided to proceed against Backpage not by litigation but instead by suffocation”), skeptical of dubious claims (“[A]s explained in an amicus curiae brief filed by the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, and DKT Liberty Project, citing voluminous governmental and academic studies, there are no reliable statistics on which Sheriff Dart could base a judgment that sex trafficking has been increasing in the United States”), and not prudish in its discussion of adult sex (“One ad in the category “dom & fetish” is for the services of a “professional dominatrix”— a woman who is paid to whip or otherwise humiliate a customer in order to arouse him sexually. See What It’s Actually Like Being A Dominatrix” [link omitted]).

Moreover, Posner was not one to blindly accept convenient rationalizations made by counsel on appeal: “At oral argument Dart’s attorney reminded us that ‘nowhere in Sheriff Dart’s letter does it say that he thought that they [the credit card companies] were accomplices to a crime.’ But the letter implies that they are—and it was the letter that prompted the credit card companies to abandon Backpage. They are unlikely to reconsider on the basis of a lawyer’s statement at oral argument, months after the initial threat.”

And then there was the no-nonsense injunction Judge Posner issued in the case:

Sheriff Dart, his office, and all employees, agents, or others who are acting or have acted for or on behalf of him, shall take no actions, formal or informal, to coerce or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions, or other third parties with sanctions intended to ban credit card or other financial services from being provided to Backpage.com.

Sheriff Dart shall immediately upon receipt of this order transmit a copy electronically to Visa and MasterCard and all other recipients of his June 29, 2015, letter (includ- ing therefore the directors of and investors in Visa and MasterCard), as well as to the Chief Inspector of the United States Postal Service.

Backpage.com shall not be required to post a security bond.

 The Cert. Petition

 Counsel for Sheriff Dart advance two main arguments:

  1. “The Injunction Entered by The Seventh Circuit in This Case Impermissibly Restrains Petitioner’s Own Rights to Speak About Matters of Public Concern,” and
  2. “The Seventh Circuit Erred, in Conflict With Decisions of Other Federal Circuit Courts, in Holding the Mere Threat of Government Action, Without More, Could Establish an Unlawful Prior Restraint”

In the Sheriff’s cert. petition, Mr. Williams argues:

Ultimately, the Seventh Circuit directed the entry of an injunction against Sheriff Dart because credit card companies, voluntarily and independent of any supposed threat by the Sheriff, decided to cut ties with Backpage. The injunction restrains the Sheriff’s own protected speech on matters of public concern, and the injunction interferes with the Sheriff’s efforts to administer important policies on behalf of the people of Cook County. The court erred, in conflict with rulings by this Court and other federal court of appeals, in entering the injunction. The Sheriff respectfully asks this Court to grant the petition for writ of certiorari in order to address the important First Amendment issues raised here.

Robert Corn-Revere was lead counsel for Backpage in the Seventh Circuit.

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FAN 106 (First Amendment News) The Heffernan Case, the Chief Justice’s Curious Vote, the Significance of Justice Scalia’s Absence, & the Importance of Motive

Officer Jeffrey Heffernan (Courtesy of Jeffrey Heffernan)

Officer Jeffrey Heffernan (Courtesy of Jeffrey Heffernan)

Yesterday the Court handed down Heffernan v. City of PatersonIt was the 43rd First Amendment free expression opinion handed down by the Roberts Court (count includes per curiams). It was Justice Stephen Breyer’s fifth majority opinion while serving on that Court. That puts Justice Breyer tied with Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, but still way behind the Chief Justice (15 majority/plurality opinions).

The Roberts Court & Government Employee Speech 

Heffernan  was the seventh case heard by the Roberts Court involving a First Amendment employee speech claim (initials = those of author of majority opinion):

  1. ™ Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) [5-4, per AK] [government employee speech]
  2. ™ Locke v. Karass (2009) [9-0, per SB] [government employee unions]
  3. Knox v. Service Employees International Union [7-2, per SA] [government employee unions]
  4. Lane v. Franks (2014) [9-0 per SS] [government employee speech]
  5. Harris v. Quinn (2014) [5-4, per SA] [employee unions]
  6. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al  [4-4, per curiam] [employee unions]
  7. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (2016) [6-2, per SB] [government employee speech]

Note that while Chief Justice Roberts was in the majority in all of these cases, he never assigned an opinion to himself. The case was argued a month before Justice Antonin Scalia died, which means that if the Chief Justice were indeed in the majority, he probably assigned the opinion to Justice Breyer at that time. But consider in this regard what is set out below.

The Significance of a Scalia Vote?

Notably, Chief Justice Roberts voted to sustain the First Amendment claim in this government employee speech. This is significant given what he said in oral argument:

Well, but the ­­ the First Amendment talks about abridging freedom of speech, and I thought the case came to us on the proposition that he wasn’t engaging in speech at all. That he was not engaging in association, he was not engaging in trying to convey a message, he was just picking up a sign for his mother. And if that’s the basis on which the case comes to us, I’m not sure how he can say his freedom of speech has been abridged. . . . My point is that maybe this shouldn’t be a constitutional violation if there are adequate remedies to address what may ormay not be a First Amendment issue.

This point was echoed by Justice Antonin Scalia in oral arguments: “He wasn’t associating with anybody any more than he was speaking. He was doing neither one.”

Those are notable points, ones that can be said to go to the core of the issue in the case. Justice Clarence (joined by Justice Samuel Alito) spoke to this very point in his Heffernan dissent:

Heffernan must allege more than an injury from an unconstitutional policy. He must establish that this policy infringed his constitutional rights to speak freely and peaceably assemble. Even if the majority is correct that demoting Heffernan for a politically motivated reason was beyond the scope of the City’s power, the City never invaded Heffernan’s right to speak or assemble. . . . Heffernan admits that he was not engaged in constitutionally protected activity. Accordingly, . . . he cannot allege that his employer interfered with conduct protected by the First Amendment. 

If one were to stop the jurisprudential frame there, it adds up to four votes (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas & Alito) against the First Amendment claim. But, following Justice Scalia’s death, the tally blossomed into a six votes to sustain that claim. Think of it: after oral arguments the vote may have been 5-4, with the Chief on the dissenters’ side. That means that Ginsburg would have been the senior Justice and assigned the opinion to Breyer.  Following Justice Scalia’s death the vote would have then been 5-3.

The Significance of Government Motive & the Insignificance of Individual Intention

What made Heffernan a peculiar case (“it’s like a law school hypothetical” said Justice Alito in oral arguments) is the fact that the Petitioner Jefferey Heffernan never claimed that he intended to convey any message when he delivered a campaign sign for his mother. Fate being what it was, police officer Heffernan was demoted for his perceived political activity. That is, he never sought to convey any political message and thus, he argued, it was wrong for him to be disciplined for doing so.  That point proved determinative when the case was before the Third Circuit.  There Judge Thomas Vanaskie, writing for a unanimous panel, declared:

[W]e conclude that Heffernan has failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact on this point. Heffernan himself confirmed that regardless of what others may have perceived, he did not have any affiliation with the campaign other than the cursory contact necessary for him to pick up the sign for his mother. Consequently, the record is insufficient to allow a jury to return a verdict in Heffernan’s favor on his claim of retaliation based on the actual exercise of his right to freedom of association.

Against that backdrop, consider what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in oral arguments in an exchange with Thomas Goldstein (one of the counsel for the Respondent City):

Justice Ginsburg: ­­I thought –­ and unlike Justice Scalia — that the thrust of the FirstAmendment is operating on government. It saysgovernment, thou shalt not ­­ thou shalt not act on thebasis of someone’s expression, speech or belief.

Mr. Goldstein: Well, essentially all of the rights, individual rights in the Constitution, otherthan the antislavery provision, requires State action.They all talk about what the government can’t do.  But the government ­­. . . 

Justice Ginsburg: Yes, so here, thegovernment acted. No question they demoted the person. This was a detective, and they put him back on the beat.So the government acted. Why did they act? Because they thought that this person was engaging in politicalactivity.

Mr. Goldstein:. . . You described this in First Amendment terms, that if this was a speech case, which it used to be, rather than an association case, he would lose. It is well settled in this Court’s precedents that the threshold inquiry under Pickering is did the individual engage in the constitutionally protected activity?

Judging from the outcome in the case, the Ginsburg line of thinking won the day. Consider the following statement from Justice Breyer’s majority opinion:

We note that a rule of law finding liability in these circumstances tracks the language of the First Amendment more closely than would a contrary rule. Unlike, say, the Fourth Amendment, which begins by speaking of the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects . . . ,” the First Amendment begins by focusing upon the activity of the Government. It says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” The Government acted upon a constitu- tionally harmful policy whether Heffernan did or did not in fact engage in political activity. That which stands for a “law” of “Congress,” namely, the police department’s rea- son for taking action, “abridge[s] the freedom of speech” of employees aware of the policy. And Heffernan was directly harmed, namely, demoted, through application of that policy.

Motive matters. Hence (and to echo a point Justice Hans Linde made decades ago), the constitutional wrong is in the impermissible making of a law, or as in this case in the impermissible motive in government action. Or to quote from a 1981 article by Justice Linde (for whom I once clerked):

If government acts without a basis in valid law, the court need not find facts or weigh circumstances in the individual case. When a constitutional prohibition is addressed to lawmakers, as the First Amendment is, the role that it assigns to courts is the censorship of laws, not participation in government censorship of private expression.

* * Additional Commentary * * 

Campaign Finance Case Readied for en banc Hearing in DC Circuit Read More

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Why No Rearguments?

Two months after Justice Scalia’s death, we can see a pattern emerging on how the Court is treating cases on which they are divided 4-4.  First, they are making an effort to find a majority through compromise, which is fine as far as it goes.  Second, when that proves impossible, they affirm by an equally divided Court.

What the Court is not doing is putting over cases for another argument next Term.  Sometimes a delay of a year or more might simply be intolerable for the parties to the litigation or for some other reason. Perhaps the Court is also reluctant to put cases over during this Term–they might be more willing to do that in the Fall since a new Justice will surely be in place by next Spring.  And I can also see that the 4 Justices who think they will lose when a new argument occurs may prefer a draw.  Still, I would think that there should be at least one 4-4 case that merits reargument.

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FAN 105 (First Amendment News) Forthcoming: Tushnet, Chen & Blocher, “Beyond Words” — The Art of Protecting Non-Speech as Speech

[T]he exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit … not to be regarded, nor intended to be regarded by the Ohio Constitution, we think, as part of the press of the country, or as organs of public opinion. Justice Joseph McKenna (1915), for a unanimous Court

Are paintings protected by the First Amendment?

What about music?

And photography and films?

Of course!  But wait, what about the words (and they are words) of the First Amendment?

Congress shall make no law . . .  abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

Recall that at first the Court rejected the idea that expression beyond words (verbal or printed) was entitled to constitutional protection — see Mutual Film Corp. v. Industrial Commission of Ohio (1915). Thankfully, that case gave constitutional way to Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952) and its progeny. But did either the logic or theory of the law ever catch up with its application?

Enter Harvard Law Professor Mark  Tushnet, University of Denver Law Professor Alan K. Chen and Duke University Law Professor Joseph Blocher. They have a new book coming out next year; its title: Free Speech Beyond Words: The Surprising Reach of the First Amendment (NYU Press, February 14, 2017). Here is an abstract:

Jackson Pollock (The Art Institute of Chicago)

Jackson Pollock (The Art Institute of Chicago)

“The Supreme Court has unanimously held that Jackson Pollock’s paintings, Arnold Schöenberg’s music, and Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” are “unquestionably shielded” by the First Amendment. Nonrepresentational art, instrumental music, and nonsense: all receive constitutional coverage under an amendment protecting “the freedom of speech,” even though none involves what we typically think of as speech—the use of words to convey meaning.”

“As a legal matter, the Court’s conclusion is clearly correct, but its premises are murky, and they raise difficult questions about the possibilities and limitations of law and expression. Nonrepresentational art, instrumental music, and nonsense do not employ language in any traditional sense, and sometimes do not even involve the transmission of articulable ideas. How, then, can they be treated as ‘speech’ for constitutional purposes? What does the difficulty of that question suggest for First Amendment law and theory? And can law resolve such inquiries without relying on aesthetics, ethics, and philosophy?”

“Comprehensive and compelling, this book represents a sustained effort to account, constitutionally, for these modes of “speech.” While it is firmly centered in debates about First Amendment issues, it addresses them in a novel way, using subject matter that is uniquely well suited to the task, and whose constitutional salience has been under-explored. Drawing on existing legal doctrine, aesthetics, and analytical philosophy, three celebrated law scholars show us how and why speech beyond words should be fundamental to our understanding of the First Amendment.”

See also, Justin Marceau & Alan K. Chen, “Free Speech and Democracy in the Video Age,” Columbia Law Review (2016).

 Related Literature  

Also Forthcoming: Stone on Sex . . . & the Constitution

When it comes to sexual expression, “it has taken us almost two centuries to get back to where we were at the time of the Founding.”Geoffrey Stone 

It has been in the works for a long time. I’m referring to Professor Geoffrey Stone’s next book: Sexing the Constitution.

It is a monumental work and will be published by Liveright (W.W.W. Norton). The book’s editor  is Philip Marino. (Norton published Professor Stone’s Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2005)).

Here is some advance publicity on the book, due out in April of next year.

Profesor Geoffrey Stone

Profesor Geoffrey Stone

Sexing the Constitution illuminates how the clash between sex and religion has defined our nation’s historyRenowned constitutional scholar Geoffrey R. Stone traces the evolution of legal and moral codes that have attempted to legislate sexual behavior from the ancient world to America’s earliest days to today’s fractious political climate. Stone crafts a remarkable, often thrilling, narrative in which he shows how agitators, moralists, legislators, and, especially, the justices of the Supreme Court have navigated issues as explosive and divisive as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and contraception.

Overturning a raft of contemporary shibboleths, Stone reveals that at the time the Constitution was adopted there were no laws against obscenity and no laws against abortion before the mid-point of pregnancy. A pageant of historical characters, including Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Anthony Comstock, Margaret Sanger, J. Edgar Hoover, Phyllis Schlafly, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, enliven this landmark work that dramatically reveals how our laws about sex, religion, and morality reflect the paradoxes and cultural schisms that have cleaved our nation from its founding.

* * * * 

I asked Professor Stone if he might add a few words about the free-speech portion of the book.  Here is what he was  shared with me on that front:

9780674905559-usSexing the Constitution explores the relationship between sex, religion, and law from ancient times to the present. From the free speech perspective, the focus is, of course, on sexual expression. Sexing the Constitution shows how in the Greek and Roman world there were no limits to the explicitness of sexual expression, and that for the most part this remained true in Western culture through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, despite a wide range of sexually explicit material.”

“English law did not recognize the concept of obscenity until the eighteenth century, and even then it was rarely invoked. Although sexual material was widely available in the American colonies, there were no prosecutions for obscenity, and, indeed, no laws against obscenity in the United States until the evangelical fervor of the Second Great Awakening in the early nineteenth century.”

Samuel Roth

Samuel Roth

“After the Civil War, in an era of severe moralism marked by the actions of Anthony Comstock, laws against sexual expression proliferated for the first time. These laws were so strict that they forbade any discussion of sex in any form and banned even the discussion of contraception. This suppression eventually led to sharp battles over the propriety of such restrictions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the most part, though, these battles were over the question of statutory interpretation rather than constitutional law.”

“The Supreme Court, of course, got involved in 1957 in the Roth case when the Court for the first time suggested that the regulation of sexual expression might violate the First Amendment. As Sexing the Constitution shows, through a combination of constitutional doctrine and the effects of technology, it has taken us almost two centuries to get back to where we were at the time of the Founding.”

Recipients of the 2016 Jefferson Muzzle Awards

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How an Anarchist Changed Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Future

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Seattle, WA: Last evening I joined David Skover to see (yet again) Stephen Sondheim‘s dark musical, Assassins. Afterwards, I turned to David and said: “Well, not all of those assassinations proved for the worst. Holmes, after all, owed a debt to the anarchist who murdered President McKinley.” So here is a page from that story, the true one that is.  

* * * *

Leon Czolgosz

Leon Czolgosz

September 6, 1901 is one of the most important dates in American constitutional history, though few think of it as such. On that day Leon Czolgosz attempted to assassinate President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Though the President would live several more days, the two shots the anarchist fired ultimately killed McKinley (he died on September 14th) and thereby put in motion a string of events that led to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. becoming the fifty-eighth Justice on the Supreme Court.

But for the death of the President, the seat to be vacated by Justice Horace Gray would not have gone to then Chief Justice Holmes of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. No — President McKinley had other plans. Here’s what those plans were:

As the summer of 1901 wound down, it became apparent to McKinley and others that Justice Gray was ill and was likely to retire soon. So the President turned to his friend John Davis Long, then Secretary of the Navy, for advice. Though Long had nominated Holmes to the Massachusetts bench when he was governor, he did not recommend him for the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, Long urged the president to select Alfred Hemenway, his law partner.  And Hemenway was prepared to accept the position if and when offered.

As it turned out, however, Horace’s delay in retiring combined with McKinley’s assassination changed everything. Thereafter, Henry Cabot Lodge, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and one of Theodore Roosevelt’s close friends, recommend Holmes for Gray’s seat when the ailing Justice stepped down in July 1902. Roosevelt acted on Lodge’s suggestion and nominated Holmes. By December the Senate confirmed him, unanimously.

As ironic as it was, Oliver Wendell Holmes owed his justiceship to a crazed anarchist.

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FAN 104 (First Amendment News) Documentary on Comedy, Campus Codes & Free Speech to Air at National Constitution Center

 “Being bruced” means being prosecuted or harassed for speaking freely, for expressing unpopular ideas, or for breaking taboos. To be “bruced” is to be silenced for exercising one’s First Amendment rights. The expression  derives from Lenny Bruce’s free-speech encounters with the law.

Lenny Bruce, the ribald comic and free-speech hero, returns to life this evening for an 8:30 performance at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Mr. Bruce, who inspired a generation of uninhibited comics, was charged with speech crimes for his comedic performances in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki posthumously pardoned Mr. Bruce for his 1964 obscenity conviction.

Lenny Bruce

Lenny Bruce (1925-1966)

This evening’s performance (Can We Take a Joke?) is being supported by FIRE to celebrate “Freedom Day.”

Can We Take a Joke? is a documentary about the threats that outrage culture poses to comedy and free speech, featuring interviews with comedians such as Adam Carolla, Gilbert GottfriedLisa Lampanelli, Heather McDonaldPenn Jillette, and more.

FIRE partnered with the DKT Liberty Project and director Ted Balaker of Korchula Productions to produce Can We Take a Joke? Due for release this fall, the documentary explores many topics and cases, including the case of student Chris Lee, whose satirical play Passion of the Musical was disrupted by a group of students who had been organized by Washington State University administrators. It will also include interviews with FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff, long-time FIRE friend and Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch, and Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project attorney Robert Corn-Revere, who was lead counsel in the petition to posthumously pardon Lenny Bruce.

Many of us lament the fact that college and high school students today don’t seem to appreciate freedom of speech as much as they should. This suspicion, unfortunately, pans out in recent surveys of millennials and generation Y. But rather than blaming the students, we should understand that we as a society have not been doing a very good job of educating students about the importance of freedom of speech. I try to do this in my writing, and FIRE is always trying to reach new audiences, but we realized many years ago that perhaps the best way to reach the largest possible audience is to remind students that comedy is impossible without freedom of speech. As I’ve said many times, you can either have a right not to be offended or you have good comedy, but you can’t have both. Can We Take A Joke? isn’t for everybody, but I think it will really connect with people who never really thought much about freedom of speech and how much we rely on it in every facet of our lives. — Greg Lukianoff (executive producer)

→ See Reason TV: Nick Gillespie interviews Greg Lukianoff re documentary.

If you’re a college student, there’s still time for you to apply for free exclusive screening rights to show the documentary on your campus between April 13th and April 20th. The deadline is fast approaching, however, so make sure to apply ASAP.

→ Related: Ronald Collins & David Skover, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall & Rise of an American Icon (Kindle edition, 2012) (see here also)

Full disclosure: I am a consultant to FIRE and likewise appear in the Can We Take a Joke? documentary.

* * * *

Headline: Westboro Baptist Church counter-protesters who flew American flags found guilty of picketing church Read More

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FAN 103 (First Amendment News) Coming Soon: New Book by Stephen Solomon on Dissent in the Founding Era

 The book is Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 368 pp.)

The author is Stephen Solomon (NYU School of Journalism)

The pub date is April 26, 2016 (Aside: It was on that same date in 1968 that Robert Cohen was arrested for wearing his infamous jacket as he walked through the Los Angeles County Courthouse.)

 His last book was Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer (2009)

Abstract

51ev+5SIRsL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_When members of the founding generation protested against British authority, debated separation, and then ratified the Constitution, they formed the American political character we know today-raucous, intemperate, and often mean-spirited. Revolutionary Dissent brings alive a world of colorful and stormy protests that included effigies, pamphlets, songs, sermons, cartoons, letters and liberty trees. Solomon explores through a series of chronological narratives how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other. Uninhibited dissent provided a distinctly American meaning to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and press at a time when the legal doctrine inherited from England allowed prosecutions of those who criticized government.

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Solomon discovers the wellspring in our revolutionary past for today’s satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, and protests like flag burning and street demonstrations. From the inflammatory engravings of Paul Revere, the political theater of Alexander McDougall, the liberty tree protests of Ebenezer McIntosh and the oratory of Patrick Henry, Solomon shares the stories of the dissenters who created the American idea of the liberty of thought. This is truly a revelatory work on the history of free expression in America.

“Solomon’s compelling stories of the raucous political speech of the founding generation give us a ringside seat to the protest rallies, provocative cartoons and clever rhetoric that forever embedded freedom of expression in our national character. Revolutionary Dissent is a must-read for all who want to understand the birth of free speech and press in America and how essential it is to continue protecting these freedoms in our democracy.” ―Nadine Strossen

“Stephen Solomon has with singular creativity and command of an elusive subject crafted in Revolutionary Dissent a masterful account of how the nation’s founding generation secured constitutional protection for free speech and press. What emerges in this seminal work is a four-century account of a uniquely American doctrine of free expression, at a time when no other nation – even those as close as Canada and Australia and all other Western democracies – remotely matched the U.S. example in this regard. Solomon has distilled the remarkably varied commitment to enduring core values of free expression by those patriots who comprised the “founding generation.” A masterful “Afterword” reminds us that, despite its sharp divisions, even an otherwise contentious high Court retains such a consensus.” ―Robert O’Neil

Excerpts from the book

Note: I plan to post more about this book in a future issue of FAN.  

The Coming of the Ginsburg Court (?) & the Future of the First Amendment Read More

7

FAN 102.3 (First Amendment News) Court Denies Review in Campaign Finance Case

Today the Court issued its orders list in which the Justices declined to hear the case of Justice v. Hoseman.

The issue in the case was whether Mississippi can, consistent with the First Amendment, prohibit a small informal group of friends and neighbors from spending more than $200 on pure speech about a ballot measure unless they become a political committee, adopt the formal structure required of a political committee, register with the state, and subject themselves to the full panoply of ongoing record-keeping, reporting, and other obligations that attend status as a political committee.

The cert. petition was filed by the Institute for Justice with Paul Avelar as counsel of record for the Petitioners.

The Center for Competitive Politics (Allen Dickerson), the Cato Institute (Ilya Shapiro), and the Independence Institute filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Petitioners.

* * * *

The Court also denied review in a First Amendment related caseStackhouse v. Colorado (see below)

The Court’s 2015-2016 First Amendment Docket

Cases Decided

** Shapiro v. McManus (9-0 per Scalia, J., Dec. 8, 2015: decided on non-First Amendment grounds) (the central issue in the case relates to whether a three-judge court is or is not required when a pleading fails to state a claim, this in the context of a First Amendment challenge to the 2011 reapportionment of congressional districts) (from Petitioners’ merits brief: “Because petitioners’ First Amendment claim is not obviously frivolous, this Court should vacate the judgments of the lower courts and remand the case with instructions to refer this entire action to a district court of three judges.”) (See Rick Hasen’s commentary here)

Review Granted

  1. Heffernan v. City of Paterson (cert. petition,  amicus brief) (see blog post here)
  2. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al. (all briefs here) (Lyle Denniston commentary)

Oral Arguments Schedule 

  1. January 11, 2016:  Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al. (transcript here)
  2. January 19, 2016:  Heffernan v. City of Paterson (see Howard Wasserman SCOTUSblog commentary here)(transcript here)

Review Denied

  1. Justice v. Hosemann 
  2. Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Davis
  3. American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority 
  4. Bell v. Itawamba County School Board (see also Adam Liptak story re amicus brief)
  5. Town of Mocksville v. Hunter
  6. Miller v. Federal Election Commission
  7. Sun-Times Media, LLC v. Dahlstrom
  8. Rubin v. Padilla
  9. Hines v. Alldredge
  10. Yamada v. Snipes
  11. Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris
  12. Building Industry Association of Washington v. Utter (amicus brief)

Pending Petitions*

  1. Scholz v. Delp
  2. Cressman v. Thompson
  3. POM Wonderful, LLC v. FTC (Cato amicus brief) (D.C. Circuit opinion)

First Amendment Related Case

  • Stackhouse v. Colorado (issue: Whether a criminal defendant’s inadvertent failure to object to courtroom closure is an “intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right” that affirmatively waives his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial, or is instead a forfeiture, which does not wholly foreclose appellate review?)  (see Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press amicus brief raising First Amendment related claims):  Cert. denied

Freedom of Information Case

 The Court’s next Conference is on April 15, 2016.

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.

2

The End of the Swing Justice

240px-IngamozgasThis is an idea that I’m going to do a series of posts on because I’m thinking about the topic for an article.  Let’s start with this question:  Suppose Judge Garland is confirmed to the Supreme Court.  Who would then be the swing justice in ideological cases?  The answer, I submit, is nobody.  In any given case it could be Garland, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, or Sotomayor.  And I think this will be a good thing.

We have lived for a generation in a world where there was clearly a swing justice. For the past ten years it’s been Justice Kennedy.  Before that it was Justice O’Connor and sometimes Justice Kennedy.  Before that it was Justice Powell.  You’d have to go back to the mid-1970s to find a time where there wasn’t a single person who played this pivotal.

The rise of the swing Justice did considerable damage to constitutional law.  First, it gave too much power to that one person. Second, briefs and opinions were unduly influenced by the idiosyncratic views of that person rather than by the doctrine.  (Obergefell is a good example.) Both of these effects undermined the rule of law within the Court.

Moreover, the notion of a swing Justice is a distinctly modern one.  Until the 1930s, nobody would have understood that idea because the Court operated much more by consensus.  Indeed, my research suggests that the term was even used until the 1960s.  More on that another time.