Tagged: Supreme Court

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

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

Chief Justice John Roberts (photo: Getty Images)

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

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

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

Roberts & Rehnquist: Stark Contrast 

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist

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

Paul M. Smith

Paul M. Smith

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

“Strong free expression principles”

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

Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

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

Selected Commentaries:

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

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

Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking metersBob Dylan

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

Justice James Bassett

Justice James Bassett

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

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

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

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

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

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

California Lawmakers: Reproductive Fact Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Monument Project 

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

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

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

See video here

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

RelatedEugene Volokh Joins TJC Board of Trustees

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

Professor David Strauss

Professor David Strauss

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

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

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

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

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

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

Campus Free-Speech Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Journalists, Jails & the First Amendment

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

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Senator Cruz & Shaun McCutcheon

Senator Cruz & Shaun McCutcheon

Shaun McCutcheon — Round ‘n About

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

New & Notable Blog Posts

New & Forthcoming Scholarly Articles

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

News, Op-eds, Commentaries & Blog Posts

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

Professor Elliott Visconsi

Notre Dame Online Video Lecture Series on First Amendment Law

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

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

New YouTube Posts

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

THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET

[last updated: 6-09-15]

Cases Decided 

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

Review Granted & Cases Argued

  1. Reed v. Town of Gilbert (argued 1-12-15)
  2. Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (argued 3-23-15)

Pending Petitions*

  1. Berger v. American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (license plate case)
  2. Thayer v. City of Worcester (last distributed for Conference of January 9, 2015)
  3. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, et al. (4-27-15: The Court asked the Calif. AG to respond to the petition)
  4. Central Radio Co., Inc. v. City of Norfolk (amicus brief by Eugene Volokh)
  5. Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris (emergency application for injunction pending Cert.)
  6. Walker-McGill v. Stuart

Review Denied*

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

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

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

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

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FAN 62 (First Amendment News) Federal Judge Blasts Liberal Assault on the First Amendment

Chief Judge Loretta Preska (credit: NY Law Journal)

Chief Judge Loretta Preska (credit: NY Law Journal)

She is Loretta A. Preska, the Chief Judge of the United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York. And she has just published an article entitled “Tyranny of the Arrogant, Ignorant and Intolerant: The Liberal Movement to Undermine Free Speech,” which appears in the Touro Law Review (2015). The article derives from remarks she gave at the Madison Award Dinner for the New York City Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, on October 8, 2014. Here are a few excerpts:

“[W]ho is that open enemy today, threatening fundamental American rights that should be cherished and perpetuated? Sadly, it is America herself and the arrogance, ignorance, and intolerance of her universities and politics, which have burst open Pandora’s Box. Somehow academia has become the ‘friend of the liberal’ in- stead of the ‘friend of the people;’ a place, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg noted in his commencement address at Harvard, where a liberal arts education has turned into “an education in the art of liberalism.’

“Modern-Day McCarthyism”

“As bastions of intolerance, universities are promoting a single ideology instead of acting as welcoming, neutral forums for debate. In censoring unpopular viewpoints, they rob the marketplace of ideas of its substance and consequently silence the critical debating prac- tice that our Founding Fathers routinely turned to in ironing out the nation’s most complex issues. Mayor Bloomberg added: ‘There is an idea floating around college campuses — including here at Harvard — that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a par- ticular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.’ This modern-day McCarthyism has run rampant across college campuses.”

“The most troubling attack on our First Amendment freedom”

“. . . Throughout our history we have seen individuals in positions of power attempting to erode what truly makes America the land of the free. Today, for example, there is the specter of fifty-four Senators trying to amend the First Amendment’s glorious protection of freedom of speech in the name of political correctness. . . . The Left’s recent movement actually to amend the Constitution to allow Congress to limit fundraising and spending on all-important political speech is perhaps the most troubling attack on our First Amendment freedom. Such an amendment would rip Pandora’s Box wide open, for it could have the domino effect of allowing further restrictive amendments so vast, unknown, and alarming, that they would surely awaken Madison from his grave.”

The Dangers of Chilling Speech

“Madison, Hamilton and Jay needed a name that would conjure a sense of public-spiritedness in their plea to ratify the Constitution. Today, chilling speech, in whatever form it takes, tramples on the very spirit of Publius’ appeal. Infringing free speech not only makes us arrogant, ignorant, and intolerant, but it also makes today’s Amer- ica the antithesis of all that our Founding Fathers hoped their nation would be. . . .”

Muslim-American woman forced to remove Hijab sues sheriff 

Ms. Dakroub (right, seated) at Arab-American Civil Rights League press conference

Ms. Dakroub (right, seated) at Arab-American Civil Rights League press conference

According to a report in the International Business Times by Clark Mindock, a “Muslim-American woman in Michigan has filed a federal lawsuit against the Oceana County Sheriff Department for allegedly violating her First Amendment rights when she was arrested earlier this month and forced to remove her hijab. Fatme Dakroub, of Dearborn Heights, said the arrest “was the worst experience of my life.”

“Dakroub was vacationing with her children May 17, when she was pulled over in a rental car. The officer questioned her about a traffic ticket she had received years ago — a ticket she claimed to have paid — before arresting and booking her and forcing her to remove her hijab. . . “

“Three male officers were present during the booking when she was asked to remove the headscarf, said Dakroub, who then requested a female officer to assist her during the process, to no avail. She was led to a holding cell without the garment, where she said she was ridiculed by police. ‘I don’t understand why they had to be so rude and mean,’ Dakroub said. ‘I was being so polite with them and just trying to make them understand how uncomfortable I am.'”

The Arab-American Civil Rights League  filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Michigan. “The complaint asks for a federal judge to rule that the Oceana County Sherriff’s Department’s practices be deemed unconstitutional under the first amendment. ‘We are asking a federal judge today to take action and to stop this continuous harassment and intimidation and set some policy across the line as to how to deal with individuals with their first amendment rights,’ said Nabih Ayad, the executive director of the ACRL. Dakroub was released from the Oceana County Jail on $150 bail. She is asking for compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at a trial.” (Source here)

See also EEOC v Abercrombie & Fitch (June 1, 2015): the Court holds 8-1 that under Title VII a job applicant can show discrimination without showing employer knew there was a need for an accommodation. The case involved Abercrombie’s refusal to hire Samantha Elauf, a practicing Muslim, because the headscarf that she wore pursuant to her religious obligations conflicted with Abercrombie’s employee dress policy.

Nightmare at Northwestern Over — Professor Cleared Read More

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

Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

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

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

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

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

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

Ilya Shapiro
Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies
Cato Institute

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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