Tagged: Supreme Court

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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FAN 52.1 (First Amendment News) Court denies review in false political ads law case

This morning the Court released its latest order list. The Court denied cert in Arneson v. 281 Care Committee (see state’s cert. petition here). The Minnesota law challenged in the case provides:

A person is guilty of a gross misdemeanor who intentionally participates in the preparation, dissemination, or broadcast of paid political advertising or campaign material . . . with respect to the effect of a ballot question, that is designed or tends to . . . promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.

Applying a strict scrutiny standard of review, the Eight Circuit ruled that the law was not narrowly tailored to comply with First Amendment requirements, though the Eight Circuit panel also ruled that the state attorney general was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment.

 Tomorrow the Supreme Court will issue opinions in argued cases (see listing below) and may do so again on Wednesday.

℘ ℘ ℘

The next great First Amendment battleground, it turns out, is on the back of your car. — Adam Liptak (2009)

UnknownThis morning at 10:00 a.m. ET the Court is hearing oral arguments in the Texas license plate case, Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. The case was argued by R. James George Jr. on behalf of the Respondent and by the state’s Solicitor General, Scott A. Keller. Some of the more notable amicus briefs were filed by:

See here re an earlier post re license plate cases breakdown of cases and sampling of scholarly literature.

THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

Review Granted

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

Pending Petitions

  1. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case)
  2. Thayer v. City of Worcester
  3. The Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York (see Becket Fund amicus brief of Michael McConnell)
  4. Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District (re Mary Beth Tinker amicus brief)
  5. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al.
  6. Apel v. United States (Erwin Chemerinsky, counsel of record)

Review Denied

  1. Arneson v. 281 Care Committee
  2. ProtectMarriage.com-Yes on 8 v. Bowen
  3. Kagan v. City of New Orleans
  4. Clayton v. Niska
  5. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  6. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  7. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  8. Mehanna v. United States
  9. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission
  10. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell
stairway-to-heaven-1319562-m-720x340
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FAN 51 (First Amendment News) Journalists, Scholars & Others Pay Tribute to Anthony Lewis

Anthony Lewis . . . created a new approach to legal journalism. He combined sophisticated legal analysis with an unparalleled ability to write in plain, lucid English, translating the Court’s decisions, explaining their implications, and assessing their significance for a broad readership. David Cole (May 9, 2013)

Tony Lewis (credit: NYT)

Tony Lewis (credit: NYT)

Anthony Lewis (1927-2013) — reporter, columnist, educator, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and scholar. He was all of those things and more. I grew up on Tony Lewis (he was born Joseph Anthony Lewis). He was right there, in the New York Times, which in those days you couldn’t get on the Internet – there was none. If you were outside New York you were lucky to find a hard copy at a good hotel or news- stand.  A Lewis column was a staple of one’s diet for those who followed the Court and related matters. And what a corpus of work he set his name to — some 5,600 some articles and columns and five books. That is reason enough to single out the Lewis byline.

→ See Adam Liptak, “Anthony Lewis, Supreme Court Reporter Who Brought Law to Life, Dies at 85,” NYT, March 25, 2013

Happily, the Missouri Law Review recently paid tribute to Tony Lewis in a symposium issue with 13 contributors, several of whom once worked with him and were also close friends of his. (Note: The links below may not open in Safari but should open in Firefox and Chrome.)

  1. Foreword: The Art, Craft, and Future of Legal Journalism: A Tribute to Anthony Lewis, by Richard Ruben
  2. Keynote: Anthony Lewis and the First Amendment, by Adam Liptak

Articles

  1. Anthony Lewis: What He Learned at Harvard Law School, by Lincoln Caplan
  2. Anthony Lewis: Pioneer in the Court’s Pressroom, by Lyle Denniston
  3. The Rigorous Romantic: Anthony Lewis on the Supreme Court Beat, by Linda Greenhouse
  4. Press Freedom and Coverage in the U.S. and Kosovo: A Series of Comparisons and Recommendations, by Ben Holden
  5. A Tiger with No Teeth: The Case for Fee Shifting in State Public Records Law, by Heath Hooper & Charles N. Davis
  6. Anthony Lewis, by Dahlia Lithwick
  7. Legal Journalism Today: Change or Die, by Howard Mintz
  8. Institutionalizing Press Relations at the Supreme Court: The Origins of the Public Information Office, by Jonathan Peters
  9. Setting the Docket: News Media Coverage of Our Courts – Past, Present and an Uncertain Future, by Gene Policinski
  10. As Today’s Tony Lewises Disappear, Courts Fill Void, by David A. Sellers
  11. Making Judge-Speak Clear Amidst the Babel of Lawspeakers, by Michael A. Wolff

Tony Lewis’ Fantasy

You lead me to tell you my fantasy. A happy fantasy. [It is this:] our next President does the equivalent of what Jefferson did in his first inaugural when he was so hated by the Federalists and began his inaugural speech by saying, “We are all Republicans – we are all Federalists.” The next president sets out to say two things. One, there’s nobody unpatriotic here. We’re all Americans together. And two, this administration is going to be an administration of law; where law has been rolled back, we’re going to bring it to the fore again. This country is a government of laws, not men. That’s my fantasy. Will it happen? I doubt it. But I sure think it ought to. (Sept. 12, 2006 Interview, Walter Lippmann House, Cambridge, Mass.)

Go here for a C-SPAN interview I did with Tony in connection with his book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (2001).

Media Groups Challenge Claim for Profits in the Defamation Case

Jesse Ventura

Jesse Ventura

The case is Ventura v. Kyle, which is presently before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The matter involves a defamation lawsuit brought in federal court by Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota and Navy veteran) against HarperCollins concerning its publication of the book American Sniper by Chris Kyle. Last summer, a jury awarded Ventura $1.8 million from the Kyle estate. The case is now on appeal.

Yesterday Floyd Abrams joined by Susan Buckley and Merriam Mikhail filed an amicus brief on behalf of 33 media companies and organizations contesting the award. In it, the trio of lawyers advanced two main arguments:

  1. The Common Law Does Not Recognize and the Constitution Does Not Permit an Award of a Book’s Profits as a Remedy for Defamation, and
  2. The Award of Profits from American Sniper is Tantamount to an Award of Punitive Damages, Damages that Are Not Permitted Against the Estate

“[T]he law of libel,” they maintain, has “been clear that while damages could be awarded to victims of libel, the awards would be limited to the recovery of money for the injuries said to have been sustained by plaintiffs and not for amounts claimed to have been received by defendants. That proposition has rarely been questioned until this case. Indeed, we know of only one case, decided more than 65 years ago, that is directly on point: Hart v. E.P. Dutton & Co., 93 N.Y.S.2d 871 (Sup. Ct. 1949), aff’d, 98 N.Y.S.2d 773 (App. Div. 1950), appeal denied, 99 N.Y.S.2d 1014 (App. Div. 1950). Rooted in constitutional concerns and the common law relating to libel, the Hart decision holds that a claim for profits may not be asserted in the defamation context. We are aware of no case before or after Hart to the contrary.”

The briefs concludes: “Where, as here, there was no showing of evil intent sufficient to satisfy [Minnesota’s punitive damages law], where, as here, an award of profits can serve no deterrent or punitive purpose, and where, as here, the First Amendment’s abhorrence of exorbitant damage awards untethered to a plaintiff’s true injury is clearly in play, this Court should not be the first to sanction an unprecedented award of a book’s profits.”

 As noted in their amicus brief, the issue of an award of profits in defamation cases is addressed in Dan Dobbs, Law of Remedies: Damages – Equity – Restitution (2d ed.) (“One reason to deny the restitution claim is the threat it presents to free speech. Another is the difficulty of apportioning the publisher’s profit between his own effort and investment and the defamatory material.”)

Geoffrey Stone Weighs in on Oklahoma Expulsion Controversy  Read More