Category: Constitutional Law

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FAN 156 (First Amendment News) Special Post: The Espionage Act at the 100 Year Mark: Commentaries by Bambauer, Chemerinsky, Stone & Vladeck

There are citizens of the United States . . . born under other flags but welcomed under our generous naturalization laws to the full freedom and opportunity of America, who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life; who have sought to bring the authority and good name of our Government into contempt, to destroy our industries wherever they thought it effective for their vindictive purposes to strike at them, and to debase our politics to the uses of foreign intrigue. . . . 

I urge you to enact . . . laws at the earliest possible moment and feel that in doing so I am urging you to do nothing less than save the honor and self-respect of the nation. Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out. — Woodrow WilsonState of the Union Address, December 7, 1915

[T]he newspaper or individual who criticizes or points out defects in policies . . . with the honest purpose of promoting remedial action and warning against danger is not a public enemy. — Editorial, New York Times,  April 13, 1917

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Espionage Act of 1917 (18 U.S. Code Chapter 37). In light of that, I have collected some background materials about the Act followed by several original comentaries on it, which follow the introductory materials below.

Origins

  • Assistant Attorney General Charles Warren drafts a bill “for suppressing or punishing disloyal and hostile acts and utterances.”
  • Bill introduced in the House as H.R. 291
  • Bill passes in the House on May 4, 1917 (261–109)
  • Bill passes the Senate on May 14, 1917 (80–8)
  • President Woodrow Wilson signs bill into law on June 15, 1917.

August 1917 cover of Masses Magazine

First Amendment Online Library Timeline of Espionage Act & Related Acts

 The Masses cases:

  • Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, 244 F. 535 (S.Dist.N.Y., 1917) (per Hand, J.)
  • ruling re stay of appealed order, 245 F. 102 (per Hough, J., 1917), and
  • Circuit Court ruling reversing District Court,  246 F. 24 (2nd Cir., 1917) (per Rogers, J. for the majority  with Ward, J. concurring)

FAN 148, Coming this fall: NYU Law to host conference to commemorate centennial anniversary of Hand’s Masses decision

Controversial Provisions of the Act: “The Espionage Act put into law a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment for anyone convicted of interfering with military recruitment. The law also presented the penalty of levying fines of up to $10,000 for those convicted. The law also gave additional powers to the post office. Specifically, the law allowed the Postmaster General to confiscate any mail that might be deemed seditious or treasonable.” (source: This Day in History)

Domestic Issues of Concern: “There were quite a number of concerns the Wilson administration had about certain groups that were in opposition to the war. Public criticism of the war was definitely a major concern of the government. Since a significant number of troops would be needed to carry out the war effort, a draft was imposed. Among the concerns the government had was the notion that constant criticism would make recruitment and even conscription difficult.” (source: This Day in History)

Enforcement: “Enforced largely by A. Mitchell Palmer, the United States attorney general under President Woodrow Wilson, the Espionage Act essentially made it a crime for any person to convey information intended to interfere with the U.S. armed forces prosecution of the war effort or to promote the success of the country’s enemies. Anyone found guilty of such acts would be subject to a fine of $10,000 and a prison sentence of 20 years.” (Source: Totally History)

See also David Greene, As the Espionage Act Turns 100, We Condemn Threats Against Wikileaks, Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 14, 2017

Historical Resources

→ Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Freedom of Speech in War Time, 32 Harvard Law Review 932 (1919)

Karl N. Llewellyn, Free Speech in Time of Peace, 29 Yale Law Journal 337 (1920) (student comment)

Walter Nelles, In the Wake of the Espionage Act, The Nation (December 15, 1920)

Masthead from Masses magazine

Commentaries by Derik Bambauer, Erwin Chemerinsky, Geoffrey Stone & Stepehen Vladeck 

Backwards and Forwards

by Derek E. Bambauer

Many thanks to Ron Collins for the invitation to reflect on the centennial of the Espionage Act!

I want to argue that the Espionage Act is not only problematic on its own terms, but that it has paved the way for a newer set of worrisome statutes and dubious cases. These newer measures, like the Act itself, respond to an exaggerated sense of danger from internal and external threats. Courts and lawmakers alike have largely engaged in ahistorical analysis: they have failed to learn the lessons from the past. They underrated the perceived risk of subversive political speech in wartime in the early twentieth century, and they fail to question whether terrorism is a sufficiently existential threat today to warrant impingements on speech. I conclude that there are two possible responses, neither particularly promising.

To give the problems with the Espionage Act and its progency some currency, consider the current fight against the terror group ISIS in the Middle East. ISIS has taken a surprising amount of territory, and has become infamous for its horrific treatment of captives. There have been domestic attacks by individuals or small groups who claimed an association with or allegiance to ISIS. However, while these attacks are horrifying, even significant terror attacks are not existential threats to the United States.

But the perceived threat from ISIS has generated a disproportionate response, and one that frequently targets speech. For example, the assistant attorney general for national security said that people who are “proliferating ISIS social media” could be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. 2339A (the material support statute). His contention was that disseminating ISIS’s point of view counts as providing “technical expertise” to a terrorist group. In 2012, the government successfully prosecuted Tarek Mehanna as a terrorist, in part because he translated al Qaeda writings and videos into English. The First Circuit Court of Appeals, in affirming his conviction, called terrorism the “modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague” and an “existential threat” – an embarrassing example of hyberbole. And the Supreme Court has failed to rein in restrictions on speech justified as necessary for the war on terror. In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Supreme Court rejected a First Amendment challenge to the material support statute, highlighting the fact that completely independent political advocacy is not covered by the law’s prohibitions. (The challenge, of course, is determining when someone is “completely independent.”)

The material support statute is also problematic in that it defers decisions about what content should be criminalized to the executive branch. The State Department is empowered to determine which entities constitute terrorist groups. Coordinated political advocacy with groups on the list is a crime; advocacy for violent but not listed groups is safe. One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. There’s also the risk of one-way advocacy: if terrorist group calls for people to advocate on its behalf, and someone does so, does that count as coordination? And, of course, the Justice Department has charged Edward Snowden under the Espionage Act itself, and continues to investigate whether to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange under it.

These efforts seem similar to prosecutions in the early twentieth century under the Espionage Act that ultimately elucidated the weak form of the “clear and present danger” test. For example, Charles Schenck was convicted for distributing pamphlets for American Socialist Party that read “Assert your rights – do not submit to intimidation” – hardly stuff to stir the blood. The Socialist Eugene Debs was convicted for giving a speech titled “Socialism is the Answer.” And Jacob Abrams was an anarchist convicted for his criticism of the U.S. decision to defend Russia against the Bolsheviks.

There were similar trends during the Cold War. The Communist Eugene Dennis received his conviction for knowingly advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force. The Supreme Court called the Communist Party a “permanently organized, well-funded, semi-secret organization.” These cases demonstrate at least two parallels to current events. The first is a conception of political (largely foreign) enemies as an existential threat. The second is that the magnitude of this threat justifies restrictions on political speech and advocacy that would ordinarily be at the heart of First Amendment protection.

I can see two tentative responses to these problems, one pessimistic and one mildly optimistic.

The pessimistic channels Geoffrey Stone: we must accept as inevitable that there will be limits on political advocacy, especially in wartime, even if that war is a long twilight struggle rather than a declared conflict. This has the interesting side effect of making First Amendment less exceptional – there turns out to be an implicit balancing test even with “core” political speech. It might also be a useful descriptive exercise to examine the pendulum swing of First Amendment liberties – is it temporal in nature, or does it relate primarily to subject matter?

The optimistic idea is to draw upon the historical parallels elaborated above: neither socialists nor Communists proved an existential threat to U.S. politics and institutions, despite the heated fears of the moment. This requires more work on our collective part: we have to hold the government to its burden when it seeks to restrict speech, first by questioning the characterization of information as a threat, and second by carefully policing the line between conduct and speech when regulations are proposed or promulgated. That will require political courage – always in short supply – and legal analysis grounded in history.

The Espionage Act ought to teach us that these are vital assets in our self-governance, but it’s not clear we have yet learned the lesson.

A Loaded Gun

By Erwin Chemerinsky

The Espionage Act of 1917 is a loaded gun waiting for the federal government to use it to punish speech. Indeed, throughout its history, it has been used to punish speech that should be deemed constitutionally protected. I especially worry that the Obama administration has set a precedent for the Trump administration, which has shown great hostility to the press. Since the enactment of the Espionage Act of 1917, twelve prosecutions have been brought under it for disclosures of information and nine of those were during the Obama administration.

The Espionage Act, by its very terms, is directed at restricting speech. The law makes it a crime to convey information with the intent to interfere with the operation of the armed forces or to promote the success of its enemies. The Act also makes it a federal crime to convey false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the military or naval forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies when the United States is at war, to cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or to willfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States. Yet another provision gives the Postmaster General the authority to impound or to refuse to mail publications that he determined to be in violation of its prohibitions.

The Act has been used to punish speech. Most famously, it was used to punish speech during World War I that the First Amendment never should have allowed to be punished. In Schenck v. United States, the Court considered the conviction of two individuals – Charles Schenck and Elizabeth Baer – who were prosecuted for circulating a leaflet arguing that the draft violated the Thirteenth Amendment as a form of involuntary servitude. The leaflet was titled, “Long Live the Constitution of the United States.”   It said, ‘‘Do not submit to intimidation,’’ and ‘‘Assert Your Rights,’’ but did not expressly urge violation of any law; it advocated repealing the draft law and encouraged people to write to their representatives in Congress to do so.

There was not any evidence that their leaflet had any effect in causing a single person to resist the draft. Nonetheless, they were prosecuted and convicted and sentenced to jail for violating the 1917 Act. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, upheld their convictions and sentences; he dismissed as irrelevant that the leaflet had no effect.

A week after Schenck was announced, the Court upheld convictions under the 1917 Act in two other cases, Frohwerk v. United States and Debs v. United States.   Jacob Frohwerk was the publisher of a German language newspaper, Missouri Staats-Zeitung. He was prosecuted for a dozen articles published between June and December 1917. Again, the speech was the antithesis of shouting fire in a crowded theater or that which would pose a clear and present danger.   Without doubt, any court today would regard it as expression protected by the very core of the First Amendment. It took the jury only three minutes of deliberation to convict Frohwerk of violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison for his writings. The Supreme Court affirmed.

Albert Burleson was appointed Postmaster General by Woodrow Wilson

In Debs v. United States, the Court affirmed the conviction of Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs who had been sentenced to jail for ten years for violating the 1917 Act. Debs was a national political figure, having run for President in 1900, 1904, 1908, and 1912. Debs was convicted for a speech that was primarily advocacy of socialism, but it included some mild criticism of the draft. At one point in a long speech, Debs remarked that he had to be ‘‘prudent’’ and not say all that he thought, but that ‘‘you need to know that you are fit for something better than slavery and cannon fodder.’’ For this mild statement Debs was convicted of attempting to incite disloyalty in the military and obstruct the draft. Again, the Supreme Court affirmed.

Moreover, during World War I, the Postmaster used the authority under the statute to seize magazines and newspapers. Albert Burleson, a reactionary racist from Texas who despised labor unions and the people who supported them, began a campaign to root out magazines and newspapers that promoted socialist or radical causes.

The subsequent use of the Espionage Act reinforces reasons for great concern. It is the statute used to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg and Chelsea Manning. It is a law that can be used to punish those who provide information to the press and to those who disseminate information. The Act is so broadly written that there is no way to know the speech that it has chilled over the years. I have great fears of how it might be used in the next four years with a President who has shown such great hostility to the press.

When Can a Government Employee Leak Classified Information?

by Geoffrey R. Stone

The Espionage Act of 1917, as amended over the years, forbids government employees to disclose classified information to any person who is not authorized to have access to it. For this reason, most prosecutions of government leakers of classified information have relied upon the Espionage Act. The Act recognizes no defense for government employees who leak such information. This is one of Edward Snowden’s justifications for refusing to return to the United States to face prosecution. He maintains that the absence of a defense that would exonerate government leakers of classified information whose acts do more good than harm is unjust. As we look to the future, a central question is whether the Espionage Act should be amended to recognize such a defense.

Edward Snowden (credit: The Guardian)

At first blush, there is obvious logic in Snowden’s position. After all, if someone does more good than harm, shouldn’t they be free to do the good? Moreover, this seems especially sensible in the context of classified information, because the test for classification is whether the disclosure of the information might “reasonably be expected to harm the national security.” There is no balancing at all of good versus harm. The standard does not take into account the possible benefits of the leak and it does not require that the harm be likely, imminent, or grave.

Moreover, the government quite predictably tends to over-classify information. The simple rule is: Better be safe than sorry. In addition, we know from experience that public officials have on occasion abused the classification system in order to hide from public scrutiny their own misjudgments, incompetence, and venality.

In light of these concerns, it might seem logical to amend the Espionage Act to permit a government employee legally to disclose classified information whenever she can demonstrate that the benefit of the disclosure outweighed the actual harm to the national security. Why shouldn’t Edward Snowden have such a defense, if he can prove the case? After all, granting such a high level of deference to the government in these situations significantly overprotects government secrecy at the expense of both official accountability and informed public debate. Even worse, in some situations the leaker might disclose the existence of programs that are themselves unlawful. In that case, how can it possibly be right to make it a crime for the government employee to disclose the information to the public?

The government’s response to all this is fairly straightforward. First, except in extraordinary circumstances like self-defense, we don’t give individuals a right to break the law because, in the circumstances, committing the crime might do more good than harm. For example, if X steals someone’s purse because he needs money to feed his children, he could easily argue that his theft did more good than harm, but that is not a defense. One could, of course, multiply that hypothetical endlessly.

Second, there are more than a million government employees and private contractors who have access to classified information. The government will argue that it would be reckless in the extreme to permit each of those individuals to think that it is permissible for them to disclose classified information whenever they conclude that the good would outweigh the harm. Even if in some instances they might be right, often they will be wrong – especially because individual government employees and contractors are rarely in a position to understand how the information they plan to disclose might damage the national security. Thus, the government will argue, the only sensible thing to do is to take that option away from these employees. Finally, the government will point out that in order to prove in court that a leak caused substantial damage it would often have to reveal even more classified information, often including sources and methods, which would make such inquiries especially problematic.

So, what’s to be done? It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will recognize a First Amendment right of government employees to leak classified information. The implementation of a constitutional rule that permits leaks would just be too messy for the Court to impose or to implement. As a legislative matter, though, it would make sense to create some internal mechanism through which these employees can raise their concerns, especially if they believe the programs at issue to be unlawful. To-date, though, there seems to be little interest in such an option. Another possibility, of course, is simply to tighten up the standards and procedures for classification. No one doubts that we currently live in a world of gross over-classification.

Are there cases one can imagine in which even under existing law it would seem implausible to punish a leaker? Suppose an FBI agent learns from a classified document that at the direction of the Russian government the FBI assassinated the president? I rather suspect that if she leaked that information, assuming it is accurate, she would not go to jail.

It’s (Long-Past) Time to Modernize the Espionage Act

by Stephen Vladeck 

For a law that turns 100 today, and that’s only been materially amended once in a century, the Espionage Act has sure enjoyed a popular resurgence of late. President Barack Obama used it to prosecute more leakers than all previous Presidents put together. Critics of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private e-mail server sought desperately to make the (legally unconvincing but politically damaging) argument that she had violated the statute. And when former FBI Director Jim Comey revealed just last week that he had been responsible for leaking a memo memorializing a conversation he had with President Trump, commentators quickly gravitated toward the Act as proof that, if any laws were broken as part of Comey’s termination, it was the old chestnut herself through Comey’s transgression.

U.S. Army Intelligence WW I Poster Warned Americans About German Spies.

What all of these recent stories have in common is the absence of actual “espionage”— the conduct that motivated Congress to enact the law in the first place. The Act was written on the eve of the United States’s entry into World War I, and, as importantly, before the emergence of either the modern terminology for national security classification or the Supreme Court’s modern First Amendment and vagueness jurisprudence. But because Congress has resisted decades of calls to revisit it, it remains on the books mostly as initially enacted—a statute aimed at German spies. Its clunky and capacious language paints with the same brush three distinct offenses:

  1. classic espionage,
  2. leaking, and
  3. the retention or redistribution of national defense information by third parties.

Part of why it’s so problematic that the Espionage Act treats these three very different sins as the same crime is because of its outdated (and outmoded) language. We now have a sophisticated series of Executive Orders that define and regulate the scope of “classified” national security information, and that have, unlike the Espionage Act, regularly been updated to respond to changes in technologies and threat vectors. One would think it is those provisos, and not a century-old statute, that better reflect the true contemporary scope of “information relating to the national defense.”

And, along with classification, we also now have a far-more-sophisticated understanding of the problem of over-classification—and why it’s so problematic that courts have refused to recognize “improper classification” as a defense to an Espionage Act prosecution. Thus, the more information that has become classified, the easier it has become to violate the Espionage Act through conduct that bears increasingly less resemblance to spying.

Finally, we also now have First Amendment jurisprudence that recognizes at least some circumstances (albeit virtually none thus far involving national security information) in which the disclosure of certain previously confidential material might be of such surpassing public concern as to be protected by the First Amendment even when it might otherwise be unlawful. But the 100-year-old verbiage of the Espionage Act doesn’t account for any of these developments. That may be why, 37 years ago (before it qualified for Medicare), the Act was decried by Anthony Lapham, then the General Counsel of the CIA, as the “the worst of both worlds.” As he then explained to Congress:

On the one hand the laws stand idle and are not enforced at least in part because their meaning is so obscure, and on the other hand it is likely that the very obscurity of these laws serves to deter perfectly legitimate expression and debate by persons who must be as unsure of their liabilities as I am unsure of their obligations.

Modernizing the Espionage Act won’t be easy. But 100 years in, it’s long past time for Congress to do so.

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FAN 155 (First Amendment News) “The Past, Present and Future of Free Speech” — Journal of Law and Policy posts First Amendment Symposium

Professor Joel Gora

When it comes to First Amendment symposia, Brooklyn Law School seems to be the go-to-venue, at least judging from the latest issue of the Law School’s Jounral of Law and PolicyThe symposium was done under the watchful eye of Professor Joel Gora, who authored the Introduction — The Past, Present and Future of Free Speech. In that introuction Gora writes:

This may be a historic moment for the First Amendment. In 2016, a landmark Supreme Court ruling turned forty, the Supreme Court turned a corner, and First Amendment rights may turn out to be strengthened. January 30, 2016 marked the fortieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Buckley v. Valeo, dealing with the clash between First Amendment rights and campaign finance limits. And February 12, 2016, the day Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died, marked the end of a ten-year period when the “Roberts Court” became perhaps the most First Amendment friendly and speech-protective Court in the Nation’s history. And the surprise outcome of this past presidential election may, unexpectedly, enhance the future of free speech, because Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to succeed Justice Scalia, seems to be a strong supporter of the First Amendment

The contents of the symposium are set out below.

  1. A Landmark Decision Turns Forty: A Conversation on Buckley v. Valeo by Ira Glasser, Nicholas W. Allard, & James L. Buckley
  2. Free Speech Under Fire: The Future of the First Amendment by Nicholas W. Allard & Floyd Abrams
  3. Free Speech Matters: The Roberts Court and the First Amendment by Joel M. Gora
  4. Where’s the Fire? by Burt Neuborne
  5. Protecting Hatred Preserves Freedom: Why Offensive Expressions Command Constitutional Protection by Andrew P. Napolitano
  6. Freedom of Speech and Equality: Do We Have to Choose? by Nadine Strossen
  7. The Academy, Campaign Finance, and Free Speech Under Fire by Bradley A. Smith
  8. Money and Speech: Practical Perspectives by Nicholas W. Allard
  9. Producing Democratic Vibrancy by K. Sabeel Rahman
  10. Persistent Threats to Commercial Speech by Jonathan H. Adlers

Group Argues that Trump’s Blocking Twitter Account Violates First Amendment

In a June 6, 2017 letter to President Donald Trump, lawyers for the Knigth First Institute at Columbia University called on the President to unblock their clients’ accounts.  The Institute represents two Twitter users who while using @RealDonaldTrump were blocked after they posted tweets critical of Trump.

Below are some excerpts from the Institute’s letter, which was signed by Jameel Jaffer, Katie Fallow and Alex Abodo:

Accordingly, the Institite called on President Trump or his aides to “immediately unclock our clients’ accounts and the accounts of others who have been blocked because of their views.”

Professor Volokh Responds

 Eugene Volokh, Is @RealDonaldTrump violating the First Amendment by blocking some Twitter users?, The Volokh Conspiracy, June 6, 2017

Did the President violate the Institite’s clients’ First Amendment rights?  “I think that’s not quite so,” replied Eugene Volokh, “though the matter is not open and shut.”

Here, in abreviated form, is why Professor Volokh says so by way of his “tentative thinking on the matter”:

  1. “[M]y inclination is to say that @RealDonaldTrump, an account that Trump began to use long before he became president, and one that is understood as expressing his own views — apparently in his own words and with his own typos — rather than some institutional position of the executive branch, would likely be seen as privately controlled, so that his blocking decisions wouldn’t be constrained by the First Amendment. And I think that’s so even if he gets some help from government-employed staff in running it.”
  2. “But what if I’m mistaken, and it’s viewed as run by Trump in his capacity as a government actor, and thus subject to the First Amendment? . . . But even if he reads a few of his notifications, there’s no First Amendment problem with his refusing to read those that come from particular people. Speakers ‘have no constitutional right to force the government to listen to their views.'”
  3. ” Another effect is that the blocked users can’t follow @RealDonaldTrump, and can’t view or search his messages while logged on. But all they need to do is log off and go to http://twitter.com/RealDonaldTrump, and they’ll see them all. I do think that the First Amendment bans viewpoint-based interference with people’s ability to acquire information and not just with their ability to convey it . . . .”
  4. “If @RealDonaldTrump is seen as a governmental project and thus a limited public forum, then viewpoint-based exclusion from posting to such threads likely would be unconstitutional, just as viewpoint-based exclusion from commenting on a government-run Facebook page would be.”

Invitation

I have invited Jameel Jaffer to respond to Professor Volokh’s critique and will happily post his reponse.

Espionage Act tapped to prosecute intelligence contractor

Reality Leigh Winner

This from Charles Savage writing in the New York Times: “An intelligence contractor was charged with sending a classified report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to the news media, the Justice Department announced Monday, the first criminal leak case under President Trump.”

“The case showed the department’s willingness to crack down on leaks, as Mr. Trump has called for in complaining that they are undermining his administration. His grievances have contributed to a sometimes tense relationship with the intelligence agencies he now oversees.”

“The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, 25, about an hour after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the apparent document, a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency. . . .”

“It was not immediately clear who is serving as the defense lawyer for Ms. Winner, who has been charged under the Espionage Act.”

Related

Erik Wemple, Did the Intercept bungle the NSA leak?, Washington Post, June 6, 2017

Coming Next Week: Special FAN post re 100th Anniversary of Espionage Act 

Next Thursday, June 15th, I will post a special issue of FAN to mark the 100th anniversary of the Espionage Act of 1917. The following individuals will offer comments on the Act and its possible use in modern times:

  1. Derek Bambauer
  2. Bruce Brown
  3. Erwin Chemerinsky
  4. Geoffrey Stone, and
  5. Stephen Vladeck

 The post will also contain a package of resource materails prepared by Jackie Farmer and Robert Shibley who oversee, with me, FIRE’s online First Amendment Library.

Herbst & Stone on “The New Censorship on Campus” 

Read More

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Stanley v. Illinois: Terminating A Rapist’s Paternal “Rights” in Maryland

In my first two posts on the mixed legacy of Stanley v. Illinois, I discussed my preferred relationship approach, some background about the family, why I think some justices may have seen the case as involving racial as well as gender equality, and how I think that could have made a difference.  In this last post, I address one aspect of the negative legacy of Stanley:  the continuing vitality in state legislatures of the idea that paternal rights should be recognized in every man, including a man whose rape of the mother resulted in the child’s conception.

Let me give you a modern example to chew on.  This year, the Maryland legislature considered and refused to pass for the ninth time a bill to remove paternal rights of men when the child’s conception occurred as the result of a rape. Remember that this is 2017, and Stanley was decided 45 years ago.  During much of the intervening 45 years, usually as the result of legislation enacted by state legislatures after Stanley, marital and non-marital fathers have had the same rights as marital and non-marital mothers to the custody and guardianship of their children and to decide about a child’s adoption, regardless of whether the parent exhibited any commitment to care.  A number of states have limited those rights where the conception occurred as the result of a rape, but not all.  Even where the rights have been limited, however, the negative legacy of Stanley lingers.  I’ll demonstrate that point by a close examination of Maryland’s most recent failed attempt.

Maryland’s legislation would have created a process to address the paternal rights of a man to a child whose conception was the result of the man’s rape of the mother.  Under the proposed legislation, the paternal rights of some of these men could be terminated.  If the rights were terminated, the man would be denied the opportunity to make claims of custody and guardianship of or access to his biological child.

Bill with the same goal have been introduced and failed in each of the prior eight sessions of the legislature.  The bill failed this time after a conference committee did not resolve the differences between the bill passed by the Senate with the bill passed by the House.  The House bill went further in terms of allowing the termination of paternal rights.  It is the better example for my analysis since, in my view, even the House bill protects paternal rights in ways that disempower women without enhancing the care and well-being of children.  I think the bill may protect only a small number of mothers who want to protect themselves and their children from an ongoing relationship with the rapist.

Under the House bill, a man’s paternal rights to a child conceived without the consent of the mother can be terminated if he is convicted of nonconsensual sexual conduct, which includes sexual assault on the mother in the first or second degree and incestuous intercourse with the mother.  In the absence of a conviction, the man’s paternal rights can be terminated if the woman proves by clear and convincing evidence that nonconsensual sexual occurred.  Even though Maryland has no marital rape exemption, the House bill also provides that a husband’s paternal rights can be terminated only if he has been convicted of nonconsensual sexual conduct.

In addition to proof of nonconsensual sexual conduct, termination of paternal rights requires a finding, based on clear and convincing evidence, that termination is in the best interest of the child.

A finding of termination eliminates the man’s right to custody, guardianship, access to and visitation with the child.  It also terminates the man’s child support obligation.  If the man is indigent, he is entitled to have counsel provided for him.

In terms of Stanley, many things are interesting about the proposed bill in addition to the fact that it followed eight previous failed attempts.

First, the bill assumes that all biological fathers are the same, just as the Stanley court assumed, and that all of them have the same rights as mothers to be recognized as parents.  In fact, after Stanley, the Court came to a more nuanced place about the rights of biological fathers to be recognized as legal fathers.  Biology, according to the Court in Lehr v. Robertson , offers a man an opportunity to develop a relationship with a child that is shared by no other man, but biology is not enough.  If a man does not seize the opportunity, the Constitution does not require a state to recognize the man’s claim to legal fatherhood.  A rapist who had no further contact with mother and child (or failed to file postcard with a state registry, as provided by New York law at the time of Lehr), therefore, could be constitutionally denied all rights to parenthood.

Second, the bill prohibits termination unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that termination is in the best interest of the child.  If the bill also denied paternal rights to men who fail the Lehr test, this provision would apply only to men who had some relationship with the child or who, at the very least, had admitted paternity prior to an action for termination.  But the bill doesn’t do that.  Instead, it follows the Stanley path and treats all men alike.  As a result, the bill allows for a scenario where a man who has never seen or done anything for the child may get to keep his paternal rights because the mother does not have the resources to mount a convincing case against him about the child’s best interest.

But it gets worse.  Because the bill follows Stanley’s lead of treating all men alike, regardless of prior involvement with the child, it puts impoverished women in a particularly bad position.  Take, for example, the case of a mother who needs public benefits such as cash assistance or Medicaid in order to support her child.  Recipients of these and some other public benefits are required to assign their rights to child support to the state and to cooperate in the establishment of paternity and the order of support.  If the mother persuades the state that the child is the result of a rape, she may get a waiver, but waivers are hard to come by.

Once the paternity and child support suit is brought by the state under the assignment, the father can counterclaim for custody and visitation.  No lawyer represents the mother in such a case; the lawyer who brings the original suit represents the state under the assignment, not the mother.  If the mother tries to defend against the custody and visitation claim on the basis that the child is the result of a rape, the father, if indigent, would be entitled to a lawyer paid for by the state under the House bill.  No lawyer would be provided for the mother.

Third, the bill relieves the man whose rights are terminated of the duty to pay child support.  The bill says, in effect, that child support is a quid pro quo for rights with respect to the child.  That is contrary to the usual understanding that child support is an obligation owed by people who participate in the creation of a child.  In theory, at least, child support is about the child’s well-being, not the father’s sense of entitlement or grievance.

Stanley provides something of an explanation for the anomaly.  Remember that the Stanley court requires the state to respect paternal rights to the same extent that it respects maternal rights.  In the 1970s, when feminist claims were only beginning to be heard, maternal roles and paternal roles were openly recognized as distinct.  Fathers were responsible for financial support of their children, and mothers were responsible for physical and emotional support.  Many states, including Maryland, did not place an equivalent duty of child support on mothers and fathers until five years after Stanley in a decision based in the state’s equal rights amendment.

Fathers “earned” their right to a place in a family by satisfying the financial duty.  If a father satisfied his duty, he “should” be empowered to do what fathers do in families.  The tradition makes sense of a decision to relieve a man who is deprived of the usual power to make decisions about his child from the usual duty of the father to provide financial support.  It makes no sense, however, once one rejects the traditional approach of differentiated male and female family roles or if one puts the needs of the child over a parent’s sense of entitlement.  Including this provision today, 45 years after Stanley and long after gendered roles in the provision of financial support have been rejected as a form of sex discrimination, is indefensible.

The House bill differs from Stanley in one key respect.  It provides greater protection for the married father to keep his paternal rights than it provides for the unmarried father.  The married father’s rights can be terminated only if he is convicted of nonconsensual sexual conduct; the unmarried father’s rights can be terminated upon conviction or upon clear and convincing evidence that he committed nonconsensual sexual conduct.  Of course, if Peter Stanley had been married to Joan Stanley, the state could have terminated his parental rights only upon a showing of neglect or abuse, so the case would never have gone to the Supreme Court.  The Court’s decision placed the unmarried father, Peter Stanley, in the same position he would have enjoyed had he been married to Joan Stanley.

Why is marriage a privileged status in the House bill, even though Stanley points to the opposite path?  Perhaps the answer is that the legislators want to encourage marriage.  If that’s the case, the consequence is likely to be to also privilege European-American fathers, because marriage rates, while lower now than in the 1970s, still tend to be higher among European-Americans than among African-Americans.  An equally likely motivation is a lingering allegiance among legislators to the traditional claim that a husband can’t rape his wife, no matter what the criminal law now says.

The bill is, at best, a crabbed approach to the interests of a woman who was raped, gave birth to the child and wants to raise the child.  Nonetheless, many of the bill’s features are predictable, given what the Court did in Stanley 45 years ago.  If all men and women are the same, regardless of their engagement in caring for a child, then a child should rarely be deprived of an opportunity to have a “father,” even if the “father” raped the child’s mother.  And if mothers need to be under the control of a man, a rapist might be as good as any other man.

What would a better bill look like?  A better bill would respect and valorize all parents who commit to caring for a child and avoid empowering people who assert rights without entering into relationships.  A better bill would focus on and seek better outcomes for parents who lack privilege.  A better bill would not tread on the autonomy of a committed parent because the parent is female.

I think a better bill would differ from the failed House bill in at least six ways.  Here’s my list:

  1. Paternal rights are recognized only where the biological, adoptive or marital father demonstrates a history of care for and connection with the child or otherwise satisfies the Lehr Mere biological or marital connection is not enough.  Therefore, no termination is required where the man who committed the nonconsensual sexual conduct has not satisfied Lehr, because no paternal relationship is recognized in the first place.
  2. Where a man demonstrates his entitlement to recognition as a father because he has satisfied Lehr, termination is allowed where the mother demonstrates that the child is the result of nonconsensual sexual conduct, either through evidence of the man’s conviction or through clear and convincing evidence of the conduct. No discretion is allowed for a court to deny termination, because the mother should not be forced to have a continuing relationship with a man who committed a violent act against her as extreme as first or second degree rape or incest.  If the mother decides to allow the man to have a relationship with the child, the mother’s decision provides no basis for a court to order the mother to continue the relationship.
  3. The termination proceeding follows the same procedures as are used in other termination of parental rights cases.
  4. The termination of parental rights which is ordered because of rape does not relieve the biological father of the duty to provide child support.
  5. Married and non-married fathers are accorded the same protections from termination.
  6. The duty to assign child support and to cooperate in the establishment of paternity and support is eliminated from public benefits law unless the state proves in a judicial proceeding that a mother’s claim of rape is not sustainable. The mother is entitled to have counsel provided in such a proceeding.

A bill that incorporates at least these six features, it seems to me, starts to address the negative legacy of Stanley.  Such a bill would provide sufficient procedural protections to men who are wrongfully accused of nonconsensual sexual conduct so long as they have also demonstrated a commitment to caring for a child.  At the same time, if conception occurred without the mother’s consent, the man’s claim of parenthood could be challenged with a greater likelihood of success, particularly if he has never made a commitment to the child’s care.  The mother’s opportunity to care for the child is better protected against unwarranted attacks by a man using judicial proceedings without good cause.  Most importantly, a woman who has made the commitment to care and raise a child regardless of the pain she suffered from the assault will have greater autonomy.  The law will not indulge in an assumption that a man with a biological or a marital tie to a child is entitled to the same or even greater authority than the mother has in terms of deciding what is best for the child.  Further, the mother will not have to make a choice between her parental autonomy and financial security for the child, if that security depends in any way on support from the biological father or from the state.

I’m hoping that year ten will prove to be the magic year for Maryland to come to terms with Stanley’s negative legacy and to treat rapists as they deserve when it comes to fatherhood.  I look forward to hearing from readers of Concurring Opinions about my views.

 

2

Stanley v. Illinois and Rapist-“Fathers”

I am delighted to return to Concurring Opinions as a guest contributor.  Many thanks to Solangel for her kind invitation.

My posts this week are about the continuing influence of Stanley v. Illinois, 45 years after it was decided.  Stanley’s legacy is positive in terms of encouraging legal recognition of men as fathers to children for whom they provide care and commitment.  The legacy also includes, however, legal recognition of men as fathers in the absence of any involvement, much less care and commitment.  This part of the legacy contributes to the empowerment of men as parents at the expense, in some cases, of the empowerment of women as parents, an ironic result given the gender equality rhetoric of the decision.

One example of the negative legacy is the ongoing controversy about whether a man should enjoy legal fatherhood when his rape of the mother resulted in her pregnancy.  Later, I’ll address that controversy in the context of the recent failure of corrective legislation in Maryland.

In my view, the negative legacy of Stanley reflects unexamined and intersecting stereotypes not only about gender but also about race.  I argue that the Justices may have assumed, without evidence and without express acknowledgement, that the Stanley family was African-American.  If that speculation is correct, the court may have been pursuing what some justices saw as a racial justice agenda along with gender equality claims.  I will address in my next post where the agenda may have led the court.

First, some background.  In 1972, the Supreme Court decided that Illinois was required to recognize Peter Stanley as a parent, even though he was not married to the mother of his children when she died.  Because Stanley, as an unmarried father, was the surviving parent, the state declared the younger Stanley children parent-less and wanted to take them into care.  According to the Court, the failure of the parents to marry was not equivalent to the evidence of neglect or abuse that would be required if the state wanted to take into care the children of a mother or a married father.  The Court concluded that unmarried fathers were entitled to recognition as parents and the same level of process accorded to all mothers and to married fathers before the state could take their children.

In a concurring opinion that I wrote for Feminist Judgments a few years ago, I agree that Peter Stanley was entitled to parental recognition.  I argued that recognition should not arise solely from Stanley’s biological connection to the children, however.  Instead, Stanley’s entitlement should be based in the level of care and commitment he had demonstrated for his children.

My concurrence reflects two strands of feminist thought.  First, many feminists emphasize that caring relationships should count for more in the law.  Second, many feminists agree that law needs to take stories into account to provide context and support reality-based law-making.  In particular, courts do a better job deciding cases when they see people’s relationships to one another as meaningful, particularly relationships of support and care.  Understanding law in the context of people’s lives, their “stories,” is equally essential.  The Stanley Court did little of either.  Instead, the Court came to a broad, abstract conclusion that all people who claim parenthood through a blood relationship, marriage or adoption are the same, regardless of what any of those people have demonstrated in terms of connection with the child.

I am not arguing that a feminist Justice would have dissented; I agree with the outcome of the case.  The record, as I will discuss, demonstrates that Peter Stanley was involved with his children, shared a household with them, and was concerned for their future.  His marital status should not be cause for depriving him of parental status; only a finding of unfitness should justify that deprivation.

Where the Court and I part company is on the question of why.  The Court justifies its rule on the basis that the father has a right to be treated the same as a mother.  In my view, the parental rights of any person, whether father or mother, should turn on whether the person has a relationship with the child that demonstrates a level of commitment to the child’s care.  Where a person with a formal claim to parenthood, whether through birth, marriage or adoption, has never exercised any commitment to the child’s care, the state should be allowed to disregard that person’s claim to parenthood.

The Court’s focus on equality strikes me as not coincidental, but I’m not sure it was solely gender equality that the justices were thinking about.  In my view, at least some of the justices saw Stanley as part of the Court’s racial justice jurisprudence.  In light of this possibility, it also seems important that members of the Court probably thought Peter Stanley and his family were African-American, as I’ll discuss later.

The case is a good example of how claims about racial justice and claims about gender justice may lead to confounding results if not understood and examined contextually.  Empowering Peter Stanley to resist state intervention into his family because of his biological attachment to the children has been interpreted over the years since as empowering all unmarried fathers to be recognized as parents.  Once recognized as a parent, these men have the opportunity to restrict the autonomy of the mothers of their children in parenting decisions such as adoption and custody.  That outcome is inconsistent with preferring involved, committed and caring parents, whether male or female, over others whose connection to a child is solely formal or biological. Ironically, that outcome is hostile, in many cases, to respecting women’s equality.  The risks may be greatest for women of color.

My conclusion is that a relationship-based approach to Stanley’s claims would not have led to a different result for Peter Stanley.  Because a relationship-based approach adds context to the question of who should be recognized as a parent, further, it would help to counter the empowerment of the uninvolved parent that has been the negative legacy of Stanley.

To understand Stanley, it helps to know something about the story of the Stanley family.  The record, however, is scanty.  Here’s what we know from the record and additional research.  Peter and Joan had a long-term relationship and may have believed they were married, although no documentation was ever uncovered.  All accounts show them living together during the last few years before Joan’s death.  For the 17 or so years before that, they lived together continuously or intermittently, depending on whose account is accepted.  Their oldest child was found to be neglected at some point before her mother died.  The two younger children were born in the last few years before Joan’s death, and they were living with Joan and Peter when she died.  We also know that Social Security survivor benefits were paid for the three children, which seems to mean that Joan Stanley earned a salary for some period of time.  Money was tight, at least after Joan’s death.

Here’s some of what the Court’s record does not reveal:  whether Joan or Peter would identify themselves as African-American or European-American, what they did for a living, whether both provided economically to the family, what led to Joan’s early demise, whether Peter cared for her during her illness, and what the oldest child experienced before or after her mother’s death.

In my next post, I’ll discuss why I think members of the Court may have regarded the Stanleys as African-American and what that may have meant to them.

 

1

FAN 154 (First Amendment News) Oregon ACLU: Attempt to Quash Alt-Right Rallies Would Violate First Amendment

If the government has concrete evidence of an imminent threat they can and should address it, without restricting 1A rights of all. Oregon ACLU 

 Our hearts are broken, but government censorship is not the answer. We must defend the constitution even when it is uncomfortable.Mat dos Santos, Oregon ACLU Legal Director

Mayor Ted Wheeler

In the aftermath of a brutal anti-Muslim attack involving the slaying of two men and the serious injury of a third, Portalnd Mayor Ted Wheeler declared that “[o]ur city is in mourning, our community’s anger is real.” Because of that, Wheeler aksed  the federal government to revoke permits for two free speech rallies slated for next week by right-wing groups. The “timing and subject of these events can only exacerbate an already difficult situation,” he stressed. “I am calling on every elected leader in Oregon, every legal agency, every level of law enforcement to stand with me in preventing another tragedy,” he added. (Video of Mayor’s statement here.)

The Organizers 

According to KGW News in Portland, “Joey Gibson is organizing a rally on June 4 and has already received a permit for the event at Shrunk Plaza from the federal government, which controls the downtown park. A second rally is scheduled for June 10 but is not yet permitted.” Both were planned prior to the recent attack.

The event, billed as the “Trump Free Speech Rally,” is, according to its organizers, slated to consist of “speakers exercising their free speech, live music, flags, and an uplifting experience to bring back strength and courage to those who believe in freedom.Thank you Trump for all you have done.” (Video by Joey Gibson here re upcoming rallies.)

  Joey Gibson

The Mayor’s Statement

“‘My main concern is that they are coming to peddle a message of hatred and of bigotry,’ Wheeler told reporters, referring to organizers of the two rallies. ‘They have a First Amendment right to speak, but my pushback on that is that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.'” (Source: CNN)

Oregon ACLU Response

ACU’s Mat dos Santos

Enter the ACLU.  According to a story by Aaron Mesh writing in the Willamette Week, the “American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon says that Mayor Ted Wheeler’s efforts to keep far-right protesters from holding more rallies in Portland is an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.”

“The government cannot revoke or deny a permit based on the viewpoint of the demonstrators,” The ACLU said. “Period. It may be tempting to shut down speech we disagree with,” the statement continued, “but once we allow the government to decide what we can say, see, or hear, or who we can gather with, history shows us that the most marginalized will be disproportionately censored and punished for unpopular speech.”

“We are all free to reject and protest ideas we don’t agree with. That is a core, fundamental freedom of the United States. If we allow the government to shut down speech for some, we all will pay the price down the line.”

Organizer Disavows Affiliation with Alleged Attacker 

As reported in the KGW news story, Joey Gibson, “who runs the group Patriot Prayer, said he is a Libertarian and does not promote hate speech. ‘I promote freedom. I promote love and I promote bringing spirituality back into this country,’ he said.Gibson said if the permit is revoked, the event could be more dangerous. He said he won’t be able to kick people out if they’re causing problems. . . . ‘Jeremy Christian has nothing to do with us and nothing to do with our movement,’ he said.”

Christian, the man alleged to have knifed three men on a MAX train, is said to have “yelled slurs at two teenage girls on the train, one of whom was wearing a hijab, when the other men intervened to try to talk him down.”

Jeremy Christian “was kicked out of a prior Patriot Prayer demonstration,” Gibson said.

Allan Brettman, Portland suspect in 2 slayings on train is known for hate speech, The Oregonian, May 28, 2017

V.P. Pence on Campus Speech Codes Read More

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FAN 153 (First Amendment News) POLICYed & Richard Epstein Bring Free-Speech Lessons to Digital Media

If you watch music videos or wild-animal adventures on YouTube, you may come upon a public-service announcement by, yes, Professor Richard Epstein. Well, sort of — he’s the brain power behind an animated and podcast series on free speech.

The series is titled Intellections: Activate Your Thinking and contains videos on a range of topics from rent control to health-care insurance to free speech and beyond. Intellections is part of POLICYed, which is funded by the Hoover Institution located on the campus of Stanford University.

Below are three animated videos for which Professor Epstein helped prepare the content:

  1. Should Speech that Offends be Prohibited? (transcript here)
  2. Who Can Restrict Free Speech? (transcript here)
  3. The Limits of Free Speech? (transcript here)

Related Podcasts

  1. The Libertarian: “Yale, Safe Spaces, And Free Speech” (Troy Senik interviewing Richard Epstein)
  2. Mob Censorship on Campus (Troy Senik interviewing Richard Epstein)
  3. The Libertarian: Free Speech on College Campuses (Troy Senik interviewing Richard Epstein)

Fourth Circuit: Wikimedia Has Standing to Challenge NSA Surveillance Program

The case is Wikimedia Foundation, et al v. National Security Agency, et al (4th Cir., May 23, 2017).

Judge Albert Diaz

Plaintiffs Claims: “Plaintiffs—educational, legal, human rights, and media organizations—filed their first amended complaint wherein they ask for, among other things, a declaration that Upstream surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments, an order permanently enjoining the NSA from conducting Upstream surveillance, and an order directing the NSA ‘to purge all records of Plaintiffs’ communications in their possession obtained pursuant to Upstream surveillance.'”

Summary from the court: “The Wikimedia Foundation and eight other organizations appeal the dismissal of their complaint challenging Upstream surveillance, an electronic surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency (the “NSA”). The district court, relying on the discussion of speculative injury from Clapper v. Amnesty International USA (2013), held that the allegations in the complaint were too speculative to establish Article III standing. We conclude that Clapper’s analysis of speculative injury does not control this case, since the central allegations here are not speculative. Accordingly, as for Wikimedia, we vacate and remand because it makes allegations sufficient to survive a facial challenge to standing. As for the other Plaintiffs, we affirm because the complaint does not contain enough well-pleaded facts entitled to the presumption of truth to establish their standing.”

Judge Albert Diaz wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Motz joined and in which Senior Judge Davis joined in part. Judge Davis wrote a separate opinion dissenting in part.

Majority Opinion: Article III Standing: “[T]he Wikimedia Allegation is that the NSA is intercepting, copying, and reviewing at least some of Wikimedia’s communications in the course of Upstream surveillance, ‘even if the NSA conducts Upstream surveillance on only a single [I]nternet backbone link.’ We conclude that this allegation satisfies the three elements of Article III standing.”

“. . . because Wikimedia has self-censored its speech and sometimes forgone electronic communications in response to Upstream surveillance, it also has standing to sue for a violation of the First Amendment.”

Judge Andre Davis

Judge Andre Davis, concurring in part and dissenting in part: “I agree with the holding that Wikimedia has standing to challenge the NSA’s surveillance of its internet communications. However, because I would find that the non-Wikimedia Plaintiffs also have standing, I respectfully dissent in part.”

→ Counsel for AppellantsPatrick Christopher Toomey, ACLU Foundation, New York

→ Counsel for AppelleesCatherine H. Dorsey, United States Department of Justice

Amicus briefWikimedia Foundation v. National Security Agency (4th Cir., 2016) (Chelsea J. Crawford, Joshua Treem, Margot E. Kaminski, Marc J. Blitz, A. Michael Froomkin, David Goldberger, James Grimmelmann, Lyrissa Barnett Lidsky, Neil M. Richards, & Katherine Jo Strandburg)

Court Summarily Affirms “Soft Money” Case: Hasen’s Commentary  Read More

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FAN 152 (First Amendment News) Gilbert Roe — Free Speech Lawyer is Subject of Forthcoming Book

Breaking News from the New York Times

“. . . Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.”

“Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

_______________________

Do not be bluffed on this subject of free speech. Remember that the first amendment of the Constitution stands.  I would say it with greater emphasis if I were a member of the forces of the [Wilson] Administration; for I want to say that if any administration in this country wants to seek trouble, it will find it along the line of denying the constitutional rights of free speech and free press. — Gilbert Roe (1917)

Indeed, [Gilbert] Roe provided the most trenchant and prescient of all criticisms of the Espionage bill by stressing the dangers of the intent requirement. — David Rabban

Gilbert Roe

By and large, First Amendment law is Supreme Court centric. That is, we equate the law, logic and history of freedom of speech with the names of Justices — Holmes, Brandeis, Black, Douglas, Brennan, Scalia, and Roberts. The lawyers behind the cases are all-too-frequently ignored . . . save, perhaps, for Floyd Abrams. But if one looks around the black robes and then turns the clock back, one name, among others, surfaces — Gilbert Roe (1864-1929).

Among other things, Gilbert Roe was the lawyer for the Free Speech League. He  knew and once worked with Louis Brandeis before the latter became a Justice. In 1917 Roe represented Max Eastman, the petitioner in Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten (1917, per Hand., J.). Mr. Roe also argued the case on appeal to the Second Circuit (246 F. 24), which reversed Judge Hand’s opinion.

Before the Masses case Roe was Eastman’s lawyer in a criminal libel case. See People v. Eastman, 89 Misc. 596, 152 N.Y.S. 314 (N.Y., 1915). Before that Roe was the attorney for the petitioner in Fox v. State of Washington (1915). And in April of 1917, he testified before Congress against the Espionage Act.

In his amicus brief in Debs v. United States (1919) Roe, along with the attorney for the petitioner, challenged the Blackstonian interpretation of freedom of expression.

Once this Court says that public discussion of the measures of government can be punished because of any intent which a jury may find caused the discussion, or because of any result which a jury may think will follow such discussion, then the free speech and free press of the Constitution is destroyed. — Gilbert Roe, amicus brief in Debs v. United States (1919)

 Statement of Gilbert Roe, representing the Free Speech League, House Committee on the Judiciary (65th Congress), April 12, 1917 (re proposed bill “To Punish Acts of Interferference with the Foreign Relations, the Neutrality, and the Foreign Commerce of the United States”).

Gilbert Roe & Robert La Follett (credit: Wisconsin Historical Society)

Related

Gilbert Roe died in 1929.

* * * *

Beyond what Professor David Rabban wrote in his seminal Free Speech in its Forgotten Years (1999) and Mark Graber in his Transforming Free Speech (1991), this January Gilbert Roe will be the object of a full-length biography by Professor Eric B. Easton.

The book, to be published by the University of Wisconsin Press, is titled Defending the Masses: A Progressive Lawyer’s Battles for Free SpeechHere is the abstract:

“Free speech and freedom of the press were often suppressed amid the social turbulence of the Progressive Era and World War I. As muckrakers, feminists, pacifists, anarchists, socialists, and communists were arrested or censored for their outspoken views, many of them turned to a Manhattan lawyer named Gilbert Roe to keep them in business and out of jail.”

“Roe was the principal trial lawyer of the Free Speech League—a precursor of the American Civil Liberties Union. His cases involved such activists as Emma Goldman, Lincoln Steffens, Margaret Sanger, Max Eastman, Upton Sinclair, John Reed, and Eugene Debs, as well as the socialist magazine The Masses and the New York City Teachers Union. A friend of Wisconsin’s progressive senator Robert La Follette since their law partnership as young men, Roe defended ‘Fighting Bob’ when the Senate tried to expel him for opposing America’s entry into World War I.”

“In articulating and upholding Americans’ fundamental right to free expression against charges of obscenity, libel, espionage, sedition, or conspiracy during turbulent times, Roe was rarely successful in the courts. But his battles illuminate the evolution of free speech doctrine and practice in an era when it was under heavy assault. His greatest victory, including the 1917 decision by Judge Learned Hand in The Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, is still influential today.”

Prof. Eric Easton

How the book came about: “I was looking to write something about Masses Publ. Co. v. Patten, but couldn’t find an approach that hadn’t already been done . . . and done well.  I decided to look at the human side of the case. Again, I found Hand and Eastman well covered (and Patten not terribly interesting).  But Roe seemed like a possibility, although I didn’t know who he was. Brief mentions of him in books I had read (Rabban, Graber) hadn’t really registered with me.

“I wrote to the University of Wisconsin Law Library, among others, to see if they might have some of Roe’s papers, and a librarian there sent me a Westlaw printout of Roe’s published cases (something I could have done myself, but didn’t). My interest was really piqued when I saw some familiar names as parties. When I read the cases, I knew I had something, and plunged into his papers (with La Follette’s in the Library of Congress) and his wife’s (at the Wisconsin Historical Society).”

“What followed was the most enjoyable scholarly experience of my career:  a new discovery nearly every day, a fascinating cast of characters, and a true unsung hero in the evolution of American freedom of speech.  I only hope I have done him justice.” [Source: e-mail to RKLC]

Professor Easton will present a paper at the October Masses conference at New York University Law School. His paper is entitled: “The Role of Gilbert Roe, the Masses attorney.”

Cert. Petition filed in Right to Assembly Protest Case Read More

0

Did You Hear the One About the Alaska Legislator Who Said …

We have folks who try to get pregnant in this state so that they can get a free trip to the city, and we have folks who want to carry their baby past the point of being able to have an abortion in this state so that they can have a free trip to Seattle.

One might think, at first blush, that this is a bad joke.  Yet this quote actually did fall from the lips of Alaska state representative David Eastman of Wasilla (Anchorage suburb, of Sarah Palin fame) last week, in conversation with the Associated Press.  Eastman subsequently made similar comments to other media outlets.  Bear with me as I bracket Eastman’s impeachment of women’s character, returning to it below.

Like me, you are probably wondering about this “free trip” thing, given that the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funding for abortions.  Turns out, according to the AP story, that the “Alaska Supreme Court has held that the state must fund medically necessary abortions if it funds medically necessary services for others with financial needs.”  Mighty progressive, if you ask me, not least because many women in Alaska must travel vast distances to reach an abortion provider, given the size of the state.  And this can be mighty expensive and involve multiple plane journeys, even within Alaska.  (Bear in mind that the villages around Bethel and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta are among many Alaska places not accessible by road.) Ditto for those who must travel for other medical services, which the Alaska court has wisely recognized.

Indeed, speaking of distance, the dust-up created by Mr. Eastman reminds me of one of the most knuckle-headed things I’ve ever seen a judge say about the “undue burden” standard under Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992):

A woman in Alaska, for example, could be required to travel 800 miles to get to an abortion clinic merely because she lives in one place and the nearest abortion clinic is on the other side of the state. But that certainly doesn’t constitute anything even approaching an undue burden.

The judge who wrote this was Dee Benson (now a senior district judge), and the case was Utah Women’s Clinic v. Leavitt, 844 F. Supp. 1482 (D. Utah 1994) (discussed here).  Why the Utah judge thought it appropriate or necessary to use an example from Alaska rather than Utah is unclear.  I suppose he was looking for the most extreme example of distance he could find–to then make the point that such travel would still not trigger a constitutional problem.  Given that Alaska is the largest state in terms of land area, Judge Benson necessarily turned to “The Last Frontier” to illustrate his point.

Interesting in light of this point is the fact that the second largest state in the union, Texas, became the subject of the latest round of litigation over abortion restrictions, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.  Of course, distance ultimately loomed very large in relation to the Court’s assessment of the undue burden standard there because women would have been challenged to travel as far as 550 miles each way (from El Paso to San Antonio) to reach an abortion provider had the Court not struck down Texas H.B. 2.  Read more here and here.  Distance as an undue burden is also a reminder of my recent exchange with Prof. Carol Sanger of  Columbia Law  on this blog regarding  the significance of spatiality/geography/rurality as it relates to abortion access.

But let me return now to the issue most directly implicated by Eastman’s comments,  which is less about the burden of distance (and therefore the “situation of women”)–which the state of Alaska has pragmatically taken care of, at least in part–and more about the character of women.  The AP story, by Becky Bohrer, includes not only helpful background for us on abortion availability in Alaska and, for late-term abortions, in Seattle, she also fills us in on the furor Eastman’s comments have generated:

In a speech on the House floor Friday, Democratic Rep. Neal Foster of Nome said Eastman’s comments were unacceptable and said he hoped Eastman would apologize.

“It shocks the conscience to think that a female in a village would want to endure the physical and the emotional pain of getting an abortion just so that they could get a free trip to Anchorage,” Foster said.

Most of the women who live in villages that Foster represents are Alaska Native and feel Eastman’s comments were directed toward them, Foster said. Many Alaska communities are not connected to a road system and smaller communities often have limited health services that necessitate travel to larger communities for care.

Two other “rural lawmakers,” demanded a public apology from Eastman, and Rep. Geran Tarr of Anchorage said she might “seek a motion to censure Eastman,” calling his comments “deeply offensive, racist in nature, and misogynistic.”

It is encouraging to see other legislators standing up for Alaska Natives and other rural populations.  And it also brings me back to the really outrageous part of what Eastman said–that women might purposefully get pregnant so that they can have a day out on the town, a freebie trip to the bright lights to get an abortion … and then tie on some shopping or a fancy meal, maybe even a jaunt up the Space Needle. This outrageous suggestion ties perfectly into Sanger’s over-arching point in About Abortion:  Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century:  women take abortion seriously–and we should presume they can make good decisions about it for themselves.  We should certainly not presume–as Eastman suggests–that they will get pregnant willy-nilly to “earn” a frolic in the city.  Insulting, misogynist and racist, indeed.

1

FAN 151 (First Amendment News) Morgan Weiland Meet Ira Glasser — The First Amendment & the Liberal Dilemma

[F]or those who believe that the Speech Clause has meaning beyond its strategic use, the application of the speech right must have limits. In other words, the outward creep of the speech doctrine’s boundaries need not be tolerated as “freedom for the [speech] that we hate.” — Morgan N. Weiland

I regard [the campaign finance issue] as the biggest liberal blindspot in First Amendment struggles in my entire career at the ACLU. – Ira Glasser 

∇ ∇ ∇ ∇ 

Morgan Weiland

Expanding the Periphery and Threatening the Core: The Ascendant Libertarian Speech Tradition” is the title of a forthcoming article in the Stanford Law Review.

The author is Morgan N. Weiland, an attorney and PhD candidate at Stanford University specializing in speech, press, and technology law and ethics. Next year she will clerk for Ninth Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown. Here is how Ms. Weiland begins the abstract to her forthcoming article:

“Though scholars have identified the expanding scope of First Amendment speech doctrine, little attention has been paid to the theoretical transformation happening inside the doctrine that has accompanied its outward creep. Taking up this overlooked perspective, this Article uncovers a new speech theory: the libertarian tradition. This new tradition both is generative of the doctrine’s expansion and risks undermining the First Amendment’s theoretical foundations.”

“This Article excavates the libertarian tradition through an analysis of Supreme Court cases that, beginning in the 1970s, consistently expanded speech protections by striking down limits on commercial speech and corporate political spending. The Court justified this expansion with the rationale of vindicating listeners’ rights in the free flow of information—the corporate benefit was incidental. But by narrowly conceptualizing listeners as individuals whose interests are aligned with corporate speech interests, the Court ended up instrumentalizing listeners’ rights in the service of corporate speech rights. This is the libertarian tradition. Today, the tradition has abandoned listeners’ rights altogether, directly embracing corporate speech rights. . . .”

As Ms. Weiland sees it, the “libertarian tradition” threatens two longstanding free-speech theories:  “the republican and liberal tradition.” Against that conceptual backdrop, she adds:

“First, by reconceptualizing listeners as individuals whose interests are vindicated through deregulation, the libertarian tradition draws from and is hostile to the republican tradition, which emphasizes the rights of the public, figured as listeners. Second, because the libertarian tradition focuses on vindicating corporate speech rights, it strips away the hallmarks of individual autonomy central to the liberal tradition, leaving only a naked speech right against the state, which this article names ‘thin autonomy.’ If the two traditions have value, then the libertarian tradition is problematic.

This insight cuts against the widespread belief that to protect speech we must be willing to countenance nearly any application of the right, even—and perhaps especially—if it goes against our most deeply held beliefs. That view is a myth; the speech right must have limits.”

 Related 

Weiland on Press Clause & Shield Legislation 

“Weiland’s scholarship and policy work has also focused on the press clause and journalism. She is researching the doctrinal development of the press clause, a paper that was supported by Stanford’s Constitutional Law Center and presented at the Communication Department’s Rebele Symposium in April 2015.”

“Related to this research, Weiland has engaged extensively with the federal shield bill debate. She has spoken about the bill and its potential impact on journalism at AEJMC’s 2014 conference. Free Press, in a report titled “Acts of Journalism: Defining Press Freedom in the Digital Age,” notes that “[j]ournalism and First Amendment scholar Morgan Weiland has argued that lawmakers should simply drop the definition of ‘covered persons’ in both the House and Senate bills and rely instead on the House definition of journalism.” She advanced these arguments while working as a legal intern at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013, where she critiqued and helped to change the legislation. Her work on congressional shield legislation is also featured in the Stanford Lawyer.” [Source here]

Podcast: Interview with former ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser

[F]or me the First Amendment and all those always was a strategic argument. I regarded the First Amendment, not as a highfalutin doctrine of principle, but as an insurance policy, and that’s what it was meant to be. . . .Ira Glasser 

Ira Glasser

Over at FIRE’s So to Speak podcast series Nico Perrino interviews one the ACLU’s giants, Ira Glasser (transcript here).

In this wide-ranging and spirited interview, the liberal Glasser speaks about everything from

  • his teaching math at Queens and Sarah Lawrence Colleges,
  • to the people who inspired him (e.g., Murray Kempton, I.F. Stone and Max Lerner),
  • to his admiration for Jackie Robinson,
  • to his early days in 1967 at the NYCLU with Aryeh Neier (Glasser is not a lawyer),
  • to his understanding of  how real political change comes about,
  • to his presence at March on Washington in 1963 when he was 25 (“I’d never seen anything like that in my life before, or since”)
  • to his activism during the Nixon years
  • to his views on the ACLU’s involvement in the Skokie case (“It was a surprise to us that it got so controversial”)
  • to his historical discussion of Buckley v. Valeo and how of campaign-finace laws were tapped to go after liberals,
  • to his views on progressives’ call to amend the First Amendment in order to overrule Citizens United (“You are handing your enemies the tools to suppress you!”)
  • to his reply to Perrino’s last question: “What are you most proud of?” — Glasser: “There are two answers: One answer is substantive, and one answer is organizational . . . .” [You’ll have to listen to the podcast or read the transcript to hear the rest of Glasser’s answer.]

Related 

[B]ack in 1972, the ACLU, which by the way is . . . a corporation, was prevented from taking out an ad in The New York Times criticizing then-President Nixon for his opposition to school busing for integration, and had to go to court to vindicate its right to free speech. Ira Glasser (2011)

From Stanford Law Review Online: Judge Neil M. Gorsuch on Free Expression Read More

5

Our Unconstitutional Reapportionment Process

I thought I would post the Introduction of the paper that I’m now writing. I’ve taken out the footnotes to make this short enough for a long post, though I’m happy to share those if asked. Hopefully the draft will be complete by August.

Determining how many members each state is entitled to in the House of Representatives is among the most routine constitutional tasks. Every ten years, a census is conducted under the auspices of the Commerce Department. When the census is complete, the Department enters the state and national population information into a mathematical formula that was fixed by Congress in 1941, and the formula generates a representative total for each state. These state tallies are sent to the President and are certified by him without any congressional action or any exercise of administrative discretion. Though the counting method in the census and the allocation formula for representatives were the subject of unsuccessful court cases in the 1990s, the ministerial nature of the modern reapportionment process is taken almost entirely for granted.

This Article argues instead that the current mechanical system for redistributing congressional representatives violates Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment. Section Two provides that if the right to vote in federal or many state elections is “denied” or “in any way abridged” by a state for a broad class of presumptively eligible voters, then that state’s delegation in the House of Representatives shall be reduced in proportion to the amount of disenfranchisement. Consistent with this requirement, the first census taken after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified tried to ascertain the number of people who fell within Section Two’s definition. The resulting data was then forwarded to Congress and was discussed in floor debates as part of the reapportionment legislation enacted in 1871.

Under present law, by contrast, the Commerce Department is barred from considering Section Two in assessing how many representatives each state should get. While the census can ask Americans about their voting eligibility and behavior, the formula that Congress created to delegate its reapportionment authority does not include a Section Two variable. The current state regulations of voting rights may not require the imposition of any representation penalty, but the imposition of such a penalty cannot be precluded no matter what the facts are. It is axiomatic that Congress cannot erase a constitutional requirement through ordinary legislation, but that is exactly what the reapportionment statutes do given that Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment says a representation penalty is mandatory if the suffrage rights of a sufficient percentage of the relevant population within a state are “in any way abridged.”

My claim that the reapportionment law in place since World War II is unconstitutional may seem unbelievable, but that reaction might fade after learning that the same point was made in the civil rights era. In the early 1960s, there was growing interest in Congress’s failure to enforce Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment against the flagrant exclusion of African-Americans in the South. Indeed, there was a specific demand from the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. for the “[e]nforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment—reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.” As part of this brief renaissance, a handful of scholars observed that the automatic system of ascertaining that representation violated Section Two and litigation was filed in the District of Columbia seeking a declaratory judgment that would invalidate the reapportionment statutes. Following the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, however, academic interest in the Section Two issue evaporated and the litigation was dismissed on prudential grounds pending “appraisal of the effectiveness of the new Voting Rights Act.”

Though the Voting Rights Act and its subsequent amendments did not fix the constitutional flaw in the reapportionment process, the Supreme Court’s 2013 holding in Shelby County v. Holder that the Act’s preclearance requirement cannot be applied to the jurisdictions that were designated by Congress makes that flaw more visible. After decades of neglect, it is time to treat Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment with respect. Congress must revise the reapportionment statutes and at least permit the Commerce Department to take Section Two into account. If Congress takes no action, then a state with standing to contest the result of the next reapportionment should raise a Section Two objection and the Supreme Court should hold the reapportionment void.

Part I explores the history of congressional reapportionment and describes the contemporary process. Part II discusses Section Two of the Fourteenth Amendment, how that provision was applied when Congress conducted the first reapportionment after ratification, and the short-lived revival of interest in Section Two’s role in that process during the 1960s. Part III explains why the current reapportionment framework is at odds with Section Two and why a judicial declaration to that effect is proper.