Tagged: Constitutional Law


FAN 58 (First Amendment News) Citizen Recordings of Police in Public Places — First Amendment Protection?

We’ve had incidents where people have videotaped us and it requires unbelievable restraint. Typically during times where things can be a little chaotic. We really have to convey we’re living in a different environment now where police action is scrutinized and a lot of video is surfacing. We simply tell our officers to assume they’re being recorded out in public at all times. — South Gate Police Capt. Darren Arakawa (L.A. Times, April 21, 2015)

We live in technological times, in times when the means of communications are restructuring the relationship between citizen and State. Part of that new technology is the cell phone and its ability to capture reality with video accuracy and then transmit its recorded images to the world within seconds. In the process, citizens have become journalists of sorts as they convey the news of the moment to their fellow citizens and others. From Ferguson to Baltimore, eyes are opening as never before as the conduct of police is cast in bold relief. What was once routinely concealed is now routinely revealed. Predictably, there have been attempts to squelch (by force and by law) these new checks on police power — transparency breeds contempt. By the same token, the new technology can also turn its lens on acts of lawlessness, as the events in Baltimore are revealing. And as you will see below in the item concerning a recent incident at the Albany Airport, sometimes there are videos of police actually defending people’s claims of their First Amendment rights.

UnknownIt is a fact: Visual communication is revolutionizing our world, both in cultural and in constitutional ways. The public forum is becoming public in ways heretofore unimagined. Every street corner, every ally, and every open space is now not only a place wherein to be, but also a place wherein to be watched. True, it may sometimes smack of an Orwellian world, but it is likewise a world in which the acts of Big Brother can be scrutinized like never before. Hence, just as technology can enhance governmental power, so too can it restrain it.

How does the First Amendment figure into all of this? That is the question. Before turning to it, however, it is well to consider what happened recently to a citizen in Southern California as she attempted to record the events in her own neighborhood.

* * * *

Recent scene in South Gate, CA

Ms. Paez & police

A little over a week ago something disturbing happened in South Gate, California — and true to the times, it was captured on cell-phone video. It happened in a neighborhood where a “tactical unit” of police from different departments sough to arrest some members of an alleged bike gang, purportedly on outstanding warrants. As all of this was taking place in open daylight — replete with heavily armed police and what have you — Beatriz Paez was recording portions of it on her cell phone. The woman appeared to be a few houses or more away from where all of this was occurring and did not otherwise seem to be interfering with the police in any way.

Meanwhile, an officer directed an armed U.S. Marshall towards the woman with the cell phone. The marshall approached Ms. Paez, who continued to record the events. Suddenly, he lunged towards her, grabbed her cell phone, and then threw it to the ground and kicked it.

You’re making me feel unsafe. I have a right to be here. — Beatriz Paez

Fate being what it is, the scene was captured on video, apparently by another citizen with a cell phone camera.

See also, March 7, 2015 video-recorded incident in Santa Barbara, California, and March 24, 2015 video-recorded incident in Dillon, Montana.

Ms. Beatriz Paez

Ms. Beatriz Paez

What to make of this? “The officer’s conduct is a blatant and deliberate violation of the Constitution and his duties as an officer to abide by the law,” is what Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, told a Los Angeles Times reporter.

A “blatant . . . violation of the Constitution”? While I agree that blanket prohibitions and the like on citizen recordings of police actions in public violate the free speech provisions of the federal and many state constitutions, among other laws, I nonetheless thought I would look into the matter. Here is what I found:

Summary of Federal Case Law

  • 5 federal cases out of four different circuits have sustained a First Amendment claim to record police activities occurring in public
  • 3 federal cases out of two different circuits have denied a First Amendment claim to record police activities occurring in public, though two of those cases involved unpublished opinions.
  • 8 federal district courts out of four different federal circuits have denied a First Amendment claim to record police activities occurring in public.
  • (see cases listed below)

When police officers seize materials in order to suppress the distribution of information critical of their actions, “the seizure clearly contravene[s] the most elemental tenets of First Amendment law.” Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 521 (4th Cir. 2003) (source: here)

Limitations on Citizens’ Videoing Police: Legitimate & Otherwise   

(credit: City Watch)

(credit: City Watch)

In all of this certain limitations might come into play, limitations that could confine the reach of an right, constitutional, statutory, or otherwise. Such limitations would include the following:

  1. Time, place and manner restrictions (see e.g., Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248, 262 (3d Cir. 2010), but “peaceful recording of an arrest in a public space that does not interfere with the police officers’ performance of their duties” is conduct “not reasonably subject to limitation.” Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78, 84 (1st Cir. 2011);
  2. Any behavior that might reasonably be viewed as interfering with the lawful activity of police officials;
  3. And then there are certain consent laws requiring individuals to obtain consent before recording anyone, even police engaged in public activities (such laws as applied to police officials raise First Amendment issues as evidenced by the 7th Circuit Alvarez ruling listed below). Moreover, state wiretap statutes are often used when citizens secretly record;
  4. Application of the fighting words doctrine (but see: Lewis v. City of New Orleans415 U.S. 130, 135 (1974) (Powell, J. concurring): “a properly trained officer may reasonably be expected to ‘exercise a higher degree of restraint’ than the average citizen, and thus be less likely to respond belligerently to ‘fighting words.'”), and R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 428 (1992) (Stevens, J., concurring) (“we have consistently construed the ‘fighting words’ exception … narrowly”).
  5. Disorderly conduct (but seeGregory v. City of Chicago, 394 U.S. 111, 120 (1969) (“To let a policeman’s command become equivalent to a criminal statute comes dangerously near making our government one of men rather than of laws.”);
  6. Securing the area rationale;
  7. Suspicious behavior rationale (but see: A person “whom police may think is suspicious but do not have probable cause to believe has committed a crime, is entitled to continue to walk the public streets,” and may not be arrested “‘at the whim of any police officer.’” Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 358 (1983) (quoting Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U.S. 87, 90 (1965)).

Recording Case Now Being Litigated in Maryland

Note: Many of the above issues are currently being litigated in Garcia v. Montgomery County (Case 8:12-cv-03592-TDC, U.S. Dist. Ct., MD), and Statement of Interest of Department of Justice supporting First Amendment claims.  See here re the complaint filed by Robert Corn-Revere.

Unknown→ See also May 14, 2012 Statement by Department of Justice re Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, et. al. (“[Police] policies should affirmatively set forth the contours of individuals’ First Amendment right to observe and record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties. Recording governmental officers engaged in public duties is a form of speech through which private individuals may gather and disseminate information of public concern, including the conduct of law enforcement officers.”).

State law ought to make clear that it is illegal for an officer to confiscate a camera or phone — and certainly to destroy it — or to arrest people simply for recording police action in public places.Editorial, L.A. Times,  April 23, 2015

Statutory LawIt would, of course, be short-sighted to limit one’s focus to constitutional limitations. That is, the legality of police conduct in this area could also depend on:

  1. The precise scope of statutory authorization of police conduct in this area, and
  2.  The character and extent of statutory limitations on police conduct in this area

See here re proposed California legislation creating a public right to record.

Officer Protects Assertion of 1-A Rights  

Obviously this is your constituional right.” — Deputy Sheriff Stan Lenic

When an airport authority at Albany International Airport tried repeatedly to prevent a young woman from InfoWars from distributing flyers informing passengers of their right to opt out of body scanning screening, a local sheriff’s officer came to their  defense. It is all captured on video by documentary filmmaker Jason Bermas — it’s a must see!

Compare International Society for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee (1992) (no 1-A right to solicit for money in public airports)

Police Policies & Training Programs 

  1. Boston Police Department training video re what citizens are allowed to record under Massachusetts’ wiretap statute.
  2. Luke Broadwater, “New city police policy says public has right to film officers,” Baltimore Sun, March 12, 2014 (Baltimore Police Policy here)
  3. Montgomery County, MD, Police Policy, “Citizen Videotaping Interactions

I am calling on incoming Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to order a Justice Department investigation of the incident and to make sure that all law enforcement officers are trained to respect the right of citizens to videotape them. — Congresswoman Janice Hahn (April 26, 2015)

Lawsuits Against Municipalities: Damages and/or Attorneys’ Fees  

  • Danielle Keeton-Olsen, “Recent settlement in suit over arrest for recording police follows growing trend,” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, June 16, 2014: “The town of Weare, New Hampshire, settled a lawsuit last week for $57,500 with a woman arrested for videotaping a police officer, adding to the growing list of settlements stemming from police officers’ restriction of video and audio recordings in public places. In Gericke v. Begin, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) upheld a lower court opinion that Carla Gericke was within her First Amendment rights to record a police officer at a traffic stop.Following that opinion, instead of choosing to continue with the trial, Weare settled the case with Gericke.”
  • “Other courts have reached similar conclusions. In a U.S. district court case in Maryland, Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, police arrested a man taking video, deleted his recordings, and subpoenaed his medical and cell phone records.The court affirmed the plaintiff had a right to make the recording. The court quashed the subpoena and awarded him $25,000 in damages in addition to covering his approximately $220,000 in legal fees.”
  • “Most recently, in ACLU v. Alvarez, the Seventh Circuit addressed the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping offense law after the ACLU of Illinois filed a pre-enforcement action against Illinois’ attorney general so its videographers would not be arrested for audio recording police officers in public places.Following that decision, the district court awarded $645,000 to the ACLU, covering attorney fees.”
  • See Datz v. Suffolk County Police (story here: “On June 8, 2014, the NYCLU announced a settlement approved by Suffolk County Legislature. The settlement required the County Police Department (SCPD) to pay Datz $200,000 and create a Police-Media Relations Committee to address problems between the press and the police department.”) (see settlement here)

Appellate Cases Sustaining a First Amendment Claim Read More


FAN 56.1 (First Amendment News) Constitutional & Criminal Law Experts File Brief Defending Gov. Rick Perry — First Amend. & Other Defenses Raised

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 10.46.47 PM

This morning an amicus brief was filed in the case of Ex Parte James Richard “Rick Perry” (App. Ct., 3rd Jud. Dist.); this is how it opens:

Amici are an ideologically diverse coalition of experts in the fields of constitutional and criminal law—including former judges, solicitors general, prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, constitutional litigators, and professors on both sides of the aisle. They represent virtually the entire political spectrum and have no personal or political stake in this case. They submit this brief for one simple reason: They are committed to the rule of law, and do not wish to see the law tarnished or distorted for purely partisan political purposes.

Gov. Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry

The case, recall, involves Texas Governor Rick Perry and his threat to veto a bill if a state political official did not do what he asked. He then vetoed the bill. A grand jury thereafter indicted the Governor and charged him with two felonies.

One count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law when he vetoed a bill that would have funded the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

The other count alleged that the Governor violated Texas law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign her post (this in connection with his call  for the resignation of Travis County D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, who had been convicted of drunk driving).

 See here re video of Gov. Perry’s Aug. 16, 2014 press conference

See here re Feb. 23, 2015 Defense’s objections to bill of particulars & amended indictment

Counsel for Gov. Perry on appeal: Tony BuzbeeDavid Botsford & Thomas R. Phillips (Appellant’s brief here)

Now, 18 noted constitutional and criminal law experts are rallying to Gov. Perry’s defense in an amicus brief filed  in a Texas appellate court by James C. Ho, Prerak Shah, Bradley G. Hubbard and Eugene Volokh. The brief in support of an application for a writ of habeas corpus makes two basic arguments:

  1. “Count I of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it is Both Unconstitutional and Barred by Legislative Immunity,”
  2. “Count II of the Indictment Should Be Dismissed, Because it Criminalizes Speech Protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

The 18 who signed onto the amicus brief are:

  • Floyd Abrams (First Amendment lawyer)
  • Michael Barone (Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute)
  • Ashutosh Bhagwat (UC Davis law professor)
  • Jeff Blackburn (Founder and Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas)
  • Paul Coggins (former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas)
  • Alan Dershowitz (Harvard law professor)
  • Raul A. Gonzalez (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • James C. Ho (Former Texas Solicitor General & former Chief Counsel to U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution)
  • Daniel Lowenstein (Emeritus UCLA law professor)
  • Michael W. McConnell (Stanford law professor)
  • John T. Montford (Former District Attorney for Lubbock County, TX)
  • Michael Mukasey (Former U.S. Attorney General & former federal court judge)
  • Theodore B. Olson (Former Solicitor General of the United States)
  • Harriet O’Neill (Former Justice, Texas Supreme Court)
  • Nathaniel Persily (Stanford law professor)
  • Kenneth W. Starr (Former U.S. Solicitor General & former federal court appellate judge)
  • Johnny Sutton (Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas), and
  • Eugene Volokh (UCLA law professor)

The two statutes under which Gov. Perry was indicted are reminiscent of the old Soviet Union — you know, abuse of authority. The idea of indicting him because he threatened to veto spending unless a district attorney who was caught drinking and driving resigned, that’s not anything for a criminal indictment. That’s a political issue. — Alan Dershowitz (Aug. 18, 2014)

Free Speech Claims

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

James C. Ho (lead counsel)

The amicus brief argues that Count II of the indictment — that Gov.Perry violated the law by “threatening” to use his veto powers if a government official did not resign — violates his free speech rights under the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.  “[H]e has every right to do just that,” they contend.

Core Political Speech: “A political official,” they add, “has the right to threaten to perform an official act in order to persuade another government official to engage in some other official act. That is not a crime—it is core political speech. See, e.g., Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 707 (1969) (‘What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech.’).”

Parade of Horribles: “The consequences of allowing Governor Perry to be prosecuted under this law would be both far-reaching and devastating. The prosecution’s theory of the case would criminalize a vast swath of constitutionally protected—and exceedingly common—political speech.”

Facially Invalid: “The vast amount of protected speech that would be deemed criminal under the prosecution’s theory reveals another fundamental problem with this Count: the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad and therefore facially invalid.”

Government Speech?: “[T]he speech of elected officials at issue here is simply not government speech as defined by the Garcetti line of cases. Indeed, common sense demands that it not be government speech. Does the special prosecutor truly believe that the Legislature could, with a veto-proof majority, prevent the Governor from saying anything at all on particular topics? Of course not—yet that is precisely what the Legislature could do if Governor Perry’s speech were deemed government speech.”

 After offering various other free speech challenges, the authors of the amicus brief point out that

Last year, President Obama threatened to issue various executive orders if Congressional Republicans refused to pass comprehensive immigration reform. . . . The President later followed through on that threat. To be sure, those executive actions are highly controversial and are currently the subject of litigation. But no one could seriously argue that President Obama’s political statements regarding those actions are unprotected by the First Amendment and subject to potential criminal prosecution. So too here.

Mincing no words, the brief urges: “This Court should announce—right now—that it is unconstitutional to prosecute Governor Perry for his protected political speech.”


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


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.


FAN 55.1 (First Amendment News) “American Sniper” Cancelled at U. Michigan — part of “speech-destroying storm” says Floyd Abrams

UnknownAccording to a news report in the Michigan Daily, a showing of Clint Eastwood’s box-office blockbuster American Sniper has been cancelled at the University of Michigan.

“The Center for Campus Involvement announced Tuesday afternoon they would cancel a planned showing of American Sniper at UMix following a student petition over the depiction of certain communities in the film. . [T]he organization said the choice was made in response to concerns raised by students about the film in the petition.”

Unknown“‘Student reactions have clearly articulated that this is neither the venue nor the time to show this movie,’ the statement read. ‘We deeply regret causing harm to members of our community, and appreciate the thoughtful feedback provided to us by students.'”

“Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region. . . ‘As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,’ Mekkaoui said.”

100toys62Writing in The Daily Caller, Rachel Stoltzfoos reports that “instead of showing American Sniper, The Center for Campus Involvement will instead show Paddington Bear at the event Friday, which is part of a program dedicated to providing students with alcohol-free Friday nights.”

Ms. Stoltzfoos also noted that “conservative students started their own petition in response to a decision Tuesday by The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to cancel a planned screening of American Sniper after a few hundred students said the film made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. . . So far the petition has 111 signers. ‘[American Sniper] is not anti-Muslim by any means,’ UM YAF chapter Chairman and national board member Grant Strobl told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ‘It’s anti-radical Islam and that’s something that all religions — Muslims, Christians and everybody — can agree on, because our troops are fighting overseas for the freedom of all people.”

In response to the cancellation, Floyd Abrams, a noted First Amendment lawyer, stated: “Surely, this is the best evidence yet that a speech-destroying storm is sweeping across American campuses. The students who seek to ban speech have much to learn but a university that yields to their demands can hardly be trusted to teach them.”

See also:

  1. Carol Noah, “Student launches petition to reverse decision to cancel UMix film showing,” April 8, 2015
  2. Ibrahim Ijaz, “Letter to the Editor: Love for all, hatred for none,” Feb. 15, 2015

FAN 55 (First Amendment News) Another Sign Case Comes to the Court

The “necessity and wisdom of using eminent domain” are “matters of legitimate public debate.” — Justice John Paul Stevens, Kelo v. City of New London (2005)

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 11.17.08 PMThe Court currently has a sign case before it, one that was argued on January 12th. That case is Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Now it has another one just presented to it: Central Radio Co., Inc. v. City of NorfolkHere is how the petition opens:

“Central Radio placed a banner on the side of its building protesting government’s attempt to take the building by eminent domain. The City of Norfolk quickly cited Central Radio for violating the City’s sign code, despite not having enforced the code against any other political sign in at least a quarter-century. Although the sign code prohibited Central Radio’s protest banner, it exempts various other categories of signs from regulation. For example, Central Radio’s banner would have been allowed if, rather than protesting city policy, it depicted the city crest or flag.”

The two issues presented to the Court are:

  1. Does Norfolk’s mere assertion of a content-neutral justification or lack of discriminatory motive render its facially content-based sign code content neutral and justify the code’s differential treatment of Central Radio’s protest banner?
  2. Can government restrict a protest sign on private property simply because some passersby honk, wave, or yell in support of its message?

B y a 2-1 margin, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals answered both of those questions “yes” and thus denied the First Amendment claim. Judge Barbara M. Keenan wrote the majority opinion which was joined in by Judge G. Steven Agee with Judge Roger Gregory dissenting in part.

Among other things, in her majority opinion Judge Keenan observed: “It is undisputed here that the plaintiffs’ 375-square-foot banner would comport with the City’s sign code if the banner were reduced to a size of 60 square feet. We recently have deemed such an alternative to be adequate upon comparable facts.’ And also this: “Even assuming, without deciding, that the City’s past refusal to enforce strictly the sign code constituted evidence of discriminatory effect, dismissal of the plaintiffs’ selective enforcement claim was proper because there was insufficient evidence that the City was motivated by a discriminatory intent.”

Michael E. Bindas

Michael E. Bindas

Judge Gregory took exception to the majority’s content-discrimination analysis: “Why is it that the symbols and text of a government flag,” he argued, “do not affect aesthetics or traffic safety and escape regulation, whereas a picture of a flag does negatively affect these interests and must be subjected to size and location restrictions? I see no reason in such a distinction.” And also this: “This case implicates some of the most important values at the heart of our democracy: political speech challenging the government’s seizure of private property – exactly the kind of taking that our Fifth Amendment protects against. If a citizen cannot speak out against the king taking her land, I fear we abandon a core protection of our Constitution’s First Amendment. Here, Central Radio spoke out against the king and won.”

From Petitioner’s Brief

     This Court’s review is needed to resolve a longstanding, deep division among the courts of appeals over an important and recurring question of First Amendment law: whether a sign code that, on its face, draws content-based distinctions is nevertheless content-neutral simply because the government disclaims a censorial motive or proffers a content- neutral justification for the code. That question has confounded the lower courts ever since this Court’s sharply fractured decision in Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego (1981), failed to yield an answer. As early as 1994, then-Judge Alito noted this confusion and the need for “the Supreme Court [to] provide[] further guidance.” Rappa v. New Castle Cnty. (3d Cir. 1994) (Alito, J., concurring). Then-Professor Kagan similarly observed that this issue is “calling for acknowledgment by the Court and an effort to devise a uniform approach.” Elena Kagan, The Changing Faces of First Amendment Neutrality: R.A.V. v. St. Paul, Rust v. Sullivan, and the Problem of Content-Based Underinclusion, 1992 Sup. Ct. Rev. 29, 77 (1992).

     If this Court resolves this issue in Reed v. Town of Gilbert and does so in a way that calls into question the Ninth Circuit’s approach to assessing content neutrality – the same approach the Fourth Circuit followed in this case – then an order granting certiorari, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s decision, and remanding this case will be warranted. If, on the other hand, this Court does not resolve the issue in Reed, it should grant certiorari to resolve it now.

 Counsel for Petitioner: Michael E. Bindas

→ Randy Barnett, “Can a city suppress speech protesting eminent domain?,” Volokh Conspiracy, April 2, 2015

 Press Conference re filing of lawsuit (May 10, 2012) (YouTube)

Howard Kurtz on “Intolerance” Read More


FAN 54.1 (First Amendment News) Supreme Court: Latest Orders List — Free Expression Cases Remain on Docket

The Court just released its latest orders list and took no action on the pending petitions listed below.

  The next Court Conference is scheduled for April 17th and oral arguments are scheduled for April 20th.


[updated: 4-6-15]

Review Granted

  1. Elonis v. United States (argued on 12-1-14)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (argued 1-20-15)
  3. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued on 1-12-15)
  4. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (license plate case) (argued 3-23-15)

Pending Petitions

  1. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case)
  2. Thayer v. City of Worcester
  3. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al.
  4. Apel v. United States (Erwin Chemerinsky, counsel of record)

Review Denied

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

FAN 54 (First Amendment News) Fourth Circuit Skeptical of Local Panhandling Law . . . Issue Before SCOTUS in Another Case

Robert S. Reynolds (credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Robert Reynolds (credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Somehow this one slipped by me. Thanks to Joseph P. Rapisarda, Jr. (the county attorney in the case), however, I now know of it and of Chief Judge William Traxler’s opinion in Reynolds v. Middleton (4th Cir., Feb. 24, 2015).

The case involves a homeless man (Robert S. Reynolds) who begged for money in Henrico County, Virginia. (A panhandling First Amendment case is currently pending before the Supreme Court: Thayer v. City of WorcesterThe petition was distributed for Conference of January 9, 2015.)

In a world where commercial speech is the coin of the realm, Mr. Reynolds looked to the First Amendment to aid the cause of his life-sustaining speech. To that end, he challenged a newly enacted local ordinance, which provides:

Sec. 22-195. Distributing handbills, soliciting contributions or selling merchandise or services in highway.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person while in the highway to:

(1) Distribute handbills, leaflets, bulletins, literature, advertisements or similar material to the drivers of motor vehicles or passengers therein on highways located within the county.

(2) Solicit contributions of any nature from the drivers of motor vehicles or passengers therein on highways located within the county.

(3) Sell or attempt to sell merchandise or services to the drivers of motor vehicles or passengers therein on highways located within in the county.

(b) For purposes of this section, the term “highway” means the entire width of a road or street that is improved, designed, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel and the shoulder, the median, and the area between the travel lane and the back of the curb.

Brian Burgess

Brian Burgess

At first he was unsuccessful; his case was dismissed by a federal judge. Thanks to the appellate work of Brian Timothy Burgess (a former Sotomayor law clerk) and the ACLU, Reynolds did rather well in the Fourth Circuit (see CBS video clip). Here are a few excerpts from Chief Judge Traxler’s opinion:

  1. There is no question that panhandling and solicitation of charitable contributions are protected speech. See Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 553 (4th Cir. 2013). There is likewise no question that public streets and medians qualify as “traditional public forum[s].” Id. at 555; see Warren v. Fairfax Cnty, 196 F.3d 186, 196 (4th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (“Median strips, like sidewalks, are integral parts of the public thoroughfares that constitute the traditional public fora.”).
  2. The government’s power to regulate speech in a traditional public forum is “limited, though not foreclosed.” Clatterbuck, 708 F.3d at 555. Content-neutral time, place, and manner regulations of speech in traditional public forums are subject to intermediate scrutiny — that is, the restrictions must be “narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest and leave open ample alternative channels of communication.” Id.; see Ross v. Early, 746 F.3d 546, 552-53 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 183 (2014). A content-neutral regulation is narrowly tailored if it does not “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.” McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S. Ct. 2518, 2535 (2014)
  3. In our view . . . the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCullen v. Coakley clarifies what is necessary to carry the government’s burden of proof under intermediate scrutiny. McCullen involved a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts buffer-zone statute that prohibited standing on a “public way or sidewalk within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway” of an abortion clinic. McCullen, 134 S. Ct. at 2525. After a bench trial on stipulated facts, the district court upheld the statute, and the First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court applied intermediate scrutiny — the same standard we apply in this case — and reversed.
  4. We draw several lessons from the Court’s decision in McCullen. First, the Court’s discussion of whether the statute furthered an important governmental interest confirms that the existence of a governmental interest may be established by reference to case law. Second, the Court’s flat declaration that “[t]he buffer zones clearly serve these interests” indicates that objective evidence is not always required to show that a speech restriction furthers the government’s interests. Finally, the Court’s rejection of the Commonwealth’s narrow-tailoring arguments makes it clear that intermediate scrutiny does indeed require the government to present actual evidence supporting its assertion that a speech restriction does not burden substantially more speech than necessary; argument unsupported by the evidence will not suffice to carry the government’s burden.

The Chief Judge concluded his opinion as follows:

Although we have concluded that the County’s evidence failed to establish that the Amended Ordinance was narrowly tailored, we believe the proper course is to vacate and remand. Our analysis in this case was driven by the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen, which was issued after the district court’s ruling in this case. As we have explained, McCullen clarified the law governing the evidentiary showing required of a governmental entity seeking to uphold a speech restriction under intermediate scrutiny. Because the parties did not have McCullen’s guidance at the time they prepared their cross — motions for summary judgment, we believe the County should have an opportunity to gather and present evidence sufficient to satisfy McCullen’s standard. Accordingly, we hereby vacate the district court’s order granting summary judgment to the County and remand for further factual development and additional proceedings as may be required (footnote omitted).

Note: Since “the Henrico ordinance has not been invalidated,” said Burgess, “panhandlers still could be criminally charged.”

See A. Barton Hinkle, “There’s No Begging Exception to the First Amendment,” Reason.com, March 4, 2015

 See Arizona Senate Debates Panhandling Bill,” NAZToday, March 25, 2015 (YouTube video)

See also Sara Rankin, “A Homeless Bill of Rights,” Seton Hall Law Review (forthcoming, 2015).  

Balkin & Redish Discuss Commercial Speech at First Amendment Salon Read More


FAN 53.1 (First Amendment News) U. Maryland Law to Host Conference: “The Impact of the First Amendment on American Business”

e5eb96fc377fcf9f7e18eb56d245dca1The 2015 Symposium (March 27th), “The Impact of the First Amendment on American Businesses,” will facilitate a discussion on the effects and consequences of First Amendment jurisprudence on businesses. The symposium will specifically cover the areas of commercial speech, religious exemptions for businesses, and rights of businesses to use technology appropriately. This event will be located at University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and is open to anyone interested in attending, including students, lawyers, and scholars.

Welcome and Introductory Remarks
Dean Donald TobinUniversity of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Keynote Speaker 1
Travis LeBlanc, Federal Communications Commission

Panel 1: First Amendment and Commercial Speech Relating to Health

Jane Bambauer, University of Arizona School of Law
Adam Candeub, Michigan State University College of Law
Stephanie Greene, Boston College & Greene LLP
Kathleen Hoke, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Wendy Wagner, University of Texas at Austin School of Law

Panel 2: First Amendment and Technology

Hillary Greene,  University of Connecticut School of Law
James Grimmelmann, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Glenn Kaleta, Microsoft Corporation
Renee Knake, Michigan State University College of Law
Neil Richards, Washington University School of Law
Felix Wu, Yeshiva University Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Panel 3: Religious Exemptions for Corporations

Caroline Corbin, University of Miami School of Law
Michelle Harner, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
Louise Melling, American Civil Liberties Union
Jennifer Taub, Vermont Law School
Nelson Tebbe, Brooklyn Law School

Keynote Speaker 2

Tamara PietyUniversity of Tulsa School of Law

Closing Remarks

Danielle CitronUniversity of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

For additional information, please contact Joella Roland, Executive Symposium & Manuscripts Editor, via email at JoellaRoland@UMaryland.edu.

ht: Neil Richards 


FAN 53 (First Amendment News) Justice Sotomayor joins in discussion of Burt Neuborne’s New Book (“Madison’s Music”)

[My colleague Anthony Kennedy’s] approach to [the First Amendment], unlike some of my other colleagues,  is born on a very, very, almost fanatical belief that . . . the essence of democracy is no regulation of speech. Justice Sonia Sotomayor (March 13, 2015)

How could the pie get much sweeter? I mean, who among us is so fortunate as to have a sitting Supreme Court Justice travel to discuss a book we have just published?

Answer: Professor Burt Neuborne.

It is as rare as it is true — on March 13, 2015 Justice Sonia Sotomayor ventured to New York University Law School to join with Dean Trevor Morrison to discuss (for one hour or so) Neuborne’s Madison’s Music: On Reading the First Amendment (The New Press, 2015).  

Burt Neuborne, left, Sonia Sotomayor, & Trevor Morrison

Professor Burt Neuborne, left, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, & Dean Trevor Morrison

As it turned out, the pie did get sweeter when Justice Sotomayor first praised and then commented  on  Madison’s Music: “It’s a fun book for someone who’s not immersed in the law,” she said. “It’s so well written that I heard Burt’s voice in my head as I was reading it. I consider that the highest of compliments to an author.”

Later she asked: “You say that the focus of the First Amendment is democracy. You invite your thesis as a different way of interpreting the Constitution. So who decides what promotes democracy? People disagree about it all the time. How do you define democracy? Is it something like one person, one vote? What are its structures?”

Neuborne: “I’m sort of shocked that you asked that, because it’s clear that I define it,” he said jokingly, to audience laughter. “But Sotomayor prevailed with the wry rejoinder, ‘No, no, no, you forget, I do,’ “prompting an eruption of mirth and applause.”

“I don’t know what will be the final denouement of a judicial discussion about whether unlimited campaign spending is the best way to have a good democracy or a bad democracy,” Neuborne added. “But I would rather have judges asking that question among themselves than pretending to decide the case by deciding what seven words mean — ‘Congress shall make no law abridging speech’ — and having it be sort of automatic, without even thinking about the consequences for democracy.”

When Neuborne took issue with the Roberts Court’s campaign finance line of cases, Justice Sotomayor asked: “How does a Madisonian judge strike on balance [when it comes to those] laws?” To which Neuborne replied: “Great question.” He then proceeded to discuss cases going back to Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and up to the Court’s latest rulings in this area. He took pointed exception to the Court’s “narrow, bribery, quid quo pro definition of corruption.”

Speaking in a very animated way, Neuborne was equally critical of the Court’s notion (one that “I genuinely . . . don’t understand”) that “contributions can create a risk of corruption because you give the money directly to a candidate, but the unlimited spending of money, without coordination with the candidate, doesn’t create a risk of corruption . . . .” He thought that citizens and judges alike need to ask themselves: “What kind of democracy are we trying to protect here?”

Returning more directly to his answer to Justice Sotomayor’s question, Neuborne remarked: “Everybody’s political power should be equal in a democracy, and money shouldn’t corrupt that idea. . . . I think if they adopted a Madisonian reading of the First Amendment  we would change campaign financing regulation overnight.”

Neuborne on Justice Anthony Kennedy

[Justice Kennedy is] the most important First Amendment Judge that has ever sat on the Supreme Court. . . . 

Federal Judges Get Free Book

At the outset of his remarks Professor Neuborne thanked his publisher, The New Press, “a non-profit press that remembers the responsibility of a truly free press in placing new and challenging ideas before the public, and who has helped in making the book available both to every federal judge and in donating the books outside [here today] for you.” 

There is much more, about democracy, free speech, substantive due process, the Second, Third, and Ninth Amendments, media corporations, partisan gerrymandering, and the rule of unelected judges. See video of the event here.

I will be doing a Q&A with Professor Neuborne concerning his new book, the First Amendment, and other things that matter to those in the First Amendment community (divided as it is).

On Corporations: Point – Counterpoint 

 Adam Liptak, “First Amendment, ‘Patron Saint’ of Protesters, Is Embraced by Corporations,” NYT, March 23, 2015

Damon Root, “The New York Times, a Corporation, Worries That the First Amendment Is Now ‘Embraced by Corporations,'” Reason.com, March 24, 2015

Amanda Shanor

Amanda Shanor

“Adam Smith’s First Amendment” — DC Circuit Comes Under Fire

That is the title of a new essay by Robert Post and Amanda Shanor, one that appears in the Harvard Law Review Forum. What troubles the authors is the “recent and aggressive expansion of commercial speech doctrine,” one that they argue has resulted in a “striking turn in our constitutional order.”

The essay was prompted by a decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a case named Edwards v. District of Columbia (2014). (Ms Shanor, a Yale PhD in law candidate and a Yale Law School graduate, is a former law clerk to Judges Judith Rogers (2012-2013) and to Cornelia T.L. Pillard (2013-2014) of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.) Read More