Category: First Amendment

23

Chick-fil-A, Nudity Bans, and the Speech/Conduct Distinction

In the wake of the very public opposition to gay marriage by Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, local government officials have taken steps to make Chick-fil-A unwelcome in their cities.  Although these officials may express their justified antipathy towards Chcik-fil-A, denying it permits to operate restaurants on the basis of Chick-fil-A’s viewpoint is clearly unconstitutional.  Professor Eugene Volokh, on The Volokh Conspiracy, has fully covered why.  This isn’t a close First Amendment case.

It seems strange to me that Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who supported an alderman’s decision to block permits for Chick-fil-A to build a second store in Chicago, wouldn’t realize this.  It would be painfully obvious that Boston, for example, couldn’t deny building permits to a clothing store because the store, for example, donated money to Ron Paul.  Or, Boston couldn’t decide to fire a teacher for her speech about gun control unrelated to her job duties written in a private newspaper (although the city may have almost total control of her speech in the classroom).  So, why aren’t the free speech implications of this case more apparent?

My guess is because Chick-fil-A’s speech, and the company’s expression through its donation of money to anti-gay rights causes, begins to blur the speech/conduct distinction.  As Professor Volokh notes, Chick-fil-A, a private speaker, cannot be denied a governmental benefit on the basis of its viewpoint, but if Chick-fil-A discriminated in serving or hiring decisions, the company could be punished.  This is because, while speech cannot be punished, conduct can.  This speech/conduct divide is what preserves our First Amendment values.  Chick-fil-A’s statements against gay marriage, when they sound like “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” make it difficult for us to believe that the company’s views won’t bleed into its conduct and impact hiring decisions.  And even if the company doesn’t breach the speech/conduct divide, I cannot imagine that a gay couple would feel entirely comfortable entering the establishment holding hands (although they certainly should).

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7

Newspaper Must Unmask Anonymous Commenter

An Idaho judge ruled on Tuesday that a Washington newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, must reveal identifying information about an anonymous commenter. The commenter, ironically named “almostinnocentbystander,” remarked in two comments on the newspaper’s blog that Tina Jacobson, the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party, may be embezzling funds from the Party. Specifically, the comment claimed “Is that the missing $10,000 from Kootenai County Central Committee funds actually stuffed inside Tina’s blouse??? Let’s not try to find out.” Another comment, according to the judge’s written opinion, used the words embezzlement, mentioned Jacobson’s position as bookkeeper, and accused Jacobson of refusing to allow others to review treasurer’s reports. The comments were removed from the blog after 2.5 hours, but Jacobson sued for defamation. In denying the newspaper’s motion to quash the subpoena, the judge also ruled that two other commenters’ identities need not be revealed because their posts were not defamatory.

I have been watching episodes of Ally McBeal on Netflix, and, as John Cage says, “I am troubled.” Perhaps innocentbystander’s comments technically meet the standard for defamation in Idaho (Communicating information to others, that tends to harm plaintiff’s reputation, causing damages to plaintiff.) But was that comment really damaging enough to unmask almostinnocentbystander?  The primary harm to Jacobson’s reputation that allowed this suit to proceed was that Jacobson herself ordered an audit of GOP books.

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9

Are Liberals Under-Estimating the Chances that the Catholic Hospitals Will Win Against the Health Care Act?

(Disclaimer — I decided soon after law school not to focus most of my efforts on the Supreme Court or con law.  There are brilliant people who work on it all the time, and I don’t.  But I am a law prof who can’t help noticing some things …)

Last week, liberals went through the near-death experience for the Affordable Care Act — far, far, far closer than the confident predictions of most liberals when the law was passed.

This week, I had the chance to speak in depth with an experienced liberal lawyer about the Next Big Constitutional Thing — the Catholic hospital challenges to the ACA’s requirements that contraception and other coverage must be included for the employees of hospitals, universities, and other Catholic institutions that are not themselves part of the Church.

The lawyer confidently predicted that the Catholic hospitals would lose.  After all, everyone knows the peyote case — Employment Division v. Smith, where a neutral state anti-drug law trumped a Free Exercise of religion argument that would have allowed an adherent to use peyote.  The lawyer said there was no precedent for the Catholic hospitals to win, such a holding would disrupt innumerable neutral state laws, and even Justice Scalia would be bound by his prior writings to find against the Catholic hospitals.

My reaction — “here we go again.”  It felt just like the over-confident predictions that the individual mandate inevitably would be upheld.  And my friend sounded like other liberals who have scoffed at the claims of the Catholic hospitals.

My instinct — as a realist prediction of the outcome, and not as a statement of my policy choice — is that the Catholic hospitals very possibly will win if the case goes to final judgment in the courts.

First, I don’t think Justice Scalia will find that a law prohibiting peyote (a “good” and long-standing law) is remotely similar to a law requiring the Catholic Church, for the first time in history, to buy an insurance package that pays for contraceptives.  He’ll think that the latter is a “bad” law.

Second, the Catholic Church has tens of millions of members in the U.S., and is not the splinter group at issue in the earlier case.  In a realist analysis, the views of a tiny church are not the same as those of the largest organized Church in western history.

Third, the views of the Church on contraception are sincere, widely publicized, and long-standing.  Although many individual Catholics don’t follow the doctrine on this issue, the institution of the Church is firmly on record on the issue.  This is not a pretext to take mind-altering drugs; it is a major doctrinal tenet.

Fourth, many Catholic hospitals are deeply religious institutions.  They often have a cross and a Bible in each room.  Many nuns and priests work in the hospitals.  Providing health care is deeply rooted in the mission of the Church, and has been for many years.  In other words, this is not the equivalent of “unrelated business income.”  Instead, religion and healing of the sick are thoroughly intertwined.

Fifth, and my apologies for mentioning it, six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic.  I am not saying that a Catholic judge will hold for the Church any more than a white judge holds for whites and a black judge holds for blacks.  However, the justices will have deep personal knowledge of the healing tradition of Catholic hospitals.  They will read the briefs in the context of their personal knowledge.  I don’t think they will lightly assume that they are bound by cases with facts that seem to them quite different.

After we went through this list, my liberal friend said that he had adjusted his prediction.  He now thought that some of the district court cases, at least, would go for the Church.  He then added an extra idea — the case may arise under the Administrative Procedure Act, on whether the HHS rule was properly promulgated and consistent with the statute.  His point was that a court may have a “procedural” way to block the rule from mandating that the Catholic hospitals pay for insurance that covered contraceptives.  That might be an easier path for a judge to take than overturning Free Exercise case law, if the judge were inclined to stop the rule from taking effect.

Currently, there are over 20 challenges by Catholic hospitals to this provision.  Smart lawyers in each case will be trying to define distinctions that will retain the peyote precedent while letting the hospitals win this case.  Randy Barnett and others had a huge success with the “action/inaction” distinction about the individual mandate. My realist instincts are that we will see the emergence of clever, new distinctions for the hospital cases.

I think that many liberal con law experts were complacent when the individual mandate was challenged.  If they are complacent again about the Catholic hospital cases, then I, for one, will not be surprised to see the current HHS approach struck down.

9

The Harm in “The Harm in Hate Speech”

Jeremy Waldron’s new book “The Harm in Hate Speech” has rightfully received a lot of attention. Professor Waldron’s book provides an important and multi-layered justification for what many refer to as “hate speech” regulations. These regulations, like the following example from the Danish Penal Code, prohibit statements “by which a group of people are threatened, insulted or degraded on account of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin . . . . ” Such regulations are antithetical to the American free speech paradigm, but exist in many other Western democracies.

Waldron believes that, in light of America’s uniquely speech protective history and jurisprudence, his arguments are unlikely to impact the law. I fear that he is wrong. His arguments are ingenious, and therefore quite dangerous. Former Justice John Paul Stevens and former judge, and current professor, Michael McConnell have excellently rebutted Waldron’s arguments in their reviews of his book. I’d like to add a few points of my own.

Like other scholars who seek stronger regulations against hate speech, Waldron connects his arguments to the values of equality enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. He argues that hate speech, and its appearance and tolerance in society, undermine certain groups’ senses of inclusion, security in their equal standing, and dignity. Because the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted after the First Amendment, it is tempting to argue that protection of inclusion and dignity supersedes free speech protections. Yet, there is no true conflict between the government’s inability to regulate pure speech and the requirement that the government apply its laws equally to everyone. Losing a sense of security in one’s equal standing is not the same as actually losing that standing.

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5

Lie to me: the First Amendment in US v. Alvarez

The Supreme Court had a busy day yesterday, and in the wake of healthcare, there’s a risk of overlooking an important addition to this Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence: U.S. v. Alvarez.

In short, the Court found that Congress can’t send you to jail just for lying. Alvarez confirms that this Court is extremely reluctant to create new FirstAmendment exceptions, and has a speech-protective understanding of the marketplace of ideas. Alvarez also leaves open some interesting questions, both doctrinal and practical.

Alvarez was prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act (18 USC  s. 704) for lying about having received the Congressional Medal of Honor. What made this case particularly interesting, and probably what split the Court, is that Alvarez did not lie to gain money, or to get a job. He didn’t lie for any apparent reason. He just lied.

The Court split 4-2-3, with six affirming the Ninth Circuit and finding the Act unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote the plurality, Justice Breyer wrote the concurrence (joined by Justice Kagan), and Justice Alito rather unsurprisingly wrote the dissent.

The plurality forcefully reiterated what the Court articulated two years ago in U.S. v. Stevens (2010): content-based restrictions on speech are subject to strict scrutiny, with limited exceptions that have been clearly established in prior caselaw. What was (again!) at stake in this decision was whether the First Amendment protects all speech except for the familiar carveouts, or presents an “ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits” with each new proposed exception (at 4, quoting U.S. v. Stevens (2010)).

The plurality went the First-Amendment-protective route. Its “historic and traditional categories” of First Amendment exceptions present a familiar roster:  obscenity, fighting words, incitement, and the rest. False speech as false speech is not one of the historical exceptions, and the plurality made it perfectly clear that it does not plan to add to the list. In Stevens, then, the Court said what it meant about not intending to add to historical First Amendment exceptions. Future brief-writers would do well to keep this in mind.

Eugene Volokh in his Amicus brief feared that if the Court went the route of protecting false speech, the First Amendment would become a patchwork of under-theorized exceptions to that rule. The plurality proved him wrong. It both articulated theoretical underpinnings for existing exceptions that do involve false speech, and took the Government to task for advocating an overly restrictive understanding of the marketplace of ideas.

The plurality walked through two general categories of exceptions to First Amendment protection for false speech. These categories are effectively distinguished from most false speech as “false speech-plus.” Each is not just false speech, but has an additional element.

The first kind of false speech not subject to First Amendment protection is false speech where there is a legally cognizable harm to an individual, such as an invasion of privacy or legal costs. This category includes defamation and fraud (at 7). Robert Post might further add that these kinds of crimes and torts generally take place outside of the public sphere, and so are subject to less First Amendment protection because they involve individual relationships rather than public-facing speech.

The second kind of false speech not subject to First Amendment protection is false speech that impedes a government function (eg perjury or lying to a federal officer), or abuses government power without authorization (eg impersonating a Government officer). Here, no direct injury to an individual is required. The plurality found that these two types of laws are similar because both “protect the integrity of Government processes” (at 9).

The more serious and broad-sweeping theoretical debate resolved by the Alvarez plurality concerns a fundamental understanding of the marketplace of ideas.

In the historical understanding of the marketplace of ideas, speech competes with speech towards the pursuit of “truth” (although truth is more accurately understood as political truth, not just truth in the sense of non-falsity). Thus Volokh is probably correct when he writes that historically, false speech was considered of lower value in the marketplace of ideas than true speech.

However, the present-day understanding of the marketplace of ideas is that it’s impossible to determine which speech has high value, and which speech has low value. Speech competes, and listeners choose what to believe, but there’s no competition towards an absolute truth-in-the-sense-of-non-falsity, or towards higher values that have been officially designated as such. The Court acknowledged as much in Cohen v. California, which often gets misread as being a case about political speech, where it’s in fact about protecting traditionally low-value expression.

The Alvarez plurality explicitly rejects the proposal that false speech is low value speech and thus not subject to full First Amendment protections. “The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society.” (at 15)

The plurality thus articulates a speech-protective and autonomy-driven understanding of the marketplace of ideas, where the marketplace is self-correcting, and Congress has no place determining what is true, or good or bad, apart from protecting individuals from legally cognizable harms and from abuse of government structures and government power.

Both doctrinal and practical questions remain after Alvarez, unsurprisingly.

Doctrinally, the question is what type of scrutiny applies to false speech. The plurality employed strict scrutiny, while the concurrence used intermediate scrutiny. It is not clear what the Court will employ in the future.

Using intermediate scrutiny to strike down the Act, it should be noted, creates a strange tension between this case and commercial speech doctrine, which allocates First Amendment protection only to commercial speech that is not misleading. Intermediate scrutiny may also raise questions about trademark dilution, where no competition, commercial harm, or likelihood of confusion need be shown. The concurrence thus struggles with trademark dilution on pp 6-7, where the majority could probably get rid of —or at least restrict the scope of— the trademark problem by applying intermediate strutiny.

Practically speaking, the Act might survive on rewriting. The Act might be rewritten to require that the liar lie for the purpose of receiving a benefit. Alternatively, the Act could be rewritten to penalize lying where the liar benefited from the lie (ie, harm was accomplished as a result of the lie). If the Act were thus rewritten, it’s not clear how the plurality would treat it with respect to historic exceptions and their justifications. It also seems likely that the concurrence would switch sides.

It’s worth noting the implications of Alvarez for the ongoing discussion of anonymous speech, and the use of online personae. If Alvarez had gone the other way, the Court might have made it possible for Congress to prohibit the use of pseudonyms, or “fake names,” online. Lying about your identity is another way of describing choosing to hide your real identity, which would have brought the case into conflict with McIntyre v. Ohio and other doctrine on anonymous speech.  I’m not sure that a good doctrinal distinction could be developed between positively asserting that you are another person , and choosing a pseudonym for the purpose of hiding your identity. For now, at least, thanks to Alvarez, the distinction between legal and illegal pseudonymous behavior appears to rest clearly in the additional element of harm the Court noted must be shown for fraud, or the performance of some other tort or crime.

There is another fast-developing area potentially impacted by Alvarez that the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale has been working on all year: the regulation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, where states require the centers to explain that they are not actually doctors and do not actually provide medical services such as abortion. On this issue, though, I’ll defer to my colleague Jennifer Keighley, who has a piece forthcoming on the matter.

But leaving all this aside, there’s a very simple reason Alvarez was correctly decided.

As Kozinski noted below, people lie an awful lot.

 

 

Automated Arrangement of Information: Speech, Conduct, and Power

Tim Wu’s opinion piece on speech and computers has attracted a lot of attention. Wu’s position is a useful counterpoint to Eugene Volokh’s sweeping claims about 1st Amendment protection for automated arrangements of information. However, neither Wu nor Volokh can cut the Gordian knot of digital freedom of expression with maxims like “search is speech” or “computers can’t have free speech rights.” Any court that respects extant doctrine, and the normative complexity of the new speech environment, will need to take nuanced positions on a case-by-case basis.

Digital Opinions

Wu states that “The argument that machines speak was first made in the context of Internet search,” pointing to cases like Langdon v. Google, Kinderstart, and SearchKing. In each scenario, Google successfully argued to a federal district court that it could not be liable in tort for faulty or misleading results 1) because it “spoke” the offending arrangement of information and 2) the arrangement was Google’s “opinion,” and could not be proven factually wrong (a sine qua non for liability).
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4

Indecency and the Supreme Court

In FCC v. Fox, the Supreme Court once again took a pass on the first amendment questions raised by the regulation of indecent images or speech on broadcast television. It is a good thing that the justices want to take their time to get it right on the constitutional issues, but ten  years have passed since the case was first triggered by Cher’s use of the F-word at the Billboard Music Awards. And the Court’s decision today suggests it hopes the matter will just go away. As Justice Kennedy concluded for the majority, “this opinion leaves the [FCC] free to modify its current indecency policy.”

The Court’s discomfort with indecency is not surprising. The justices’ discomfort reflects that of much of society. Indeed, they could not bring themselves to actually say the F-word at oral argument.

But once again, it leaves us to wonder why our society seems to worry more about exposing children to even brief uses of profanity or depictions of nudity than it does about exposing kids to prolonged violence. The FCC does not restrict violence the way it does indecency on television, movie ratings are tougher on indecency than on violence, and the Court has a lower threshold for government regulation of violence than of indecency. Recall, for example, that last year, the Court invoked the first amendment to override California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, and two years ago, the Court rejected on first amendment grounds a federal statute that outlawed “crush” videos depicting the torture and killing of animals.

It may be correct to be as careful as we are about the harms to children from the media’s use of nudity and vulgar language. But we also should take more seriously the harm from the media’s depictions of violence.

Amazon’s Pawns

I sometimes speculate at the end of my copyright class that, years hence, we’ll stop using a statutory supplement and just refer to the Amazon, YouTube, Facebook, etc. service agreements to find sources of legal authority. The cultural power of Google & Facebook gets a lot of media attention, and now Amazon is under renewed scrutiny. Wired highlights the business acumen of Jeff Bezos; Mac McClelland has told the story of the sweat it’s based on. Now The Nation is featuring an intriguing series on the company, with pieces by Robert Darnton, Michael Naumann, and Steve Wasserman (along with the slide show on 10 reasons to avoid Amazon). A few reflections on the series below:

1) Wasserman compiles an array of stats: according to the revised 2012 edition of Merchants of Culture, “in 2011 e-book sales for most publishers were “between 18 and 22 percent.” “Two decades ago, there were about 4,000 independent bookstores in the United States; only about 1,900 remain.” Publishers stand to be disintermediated, since too many have been “complacent, allergic to new ideas, even incompetent.” Amazon stands triumphant:

[By 2011], it had $48 billion in revenue, more than all six of the major American publishing conglomerates combined, with a cash reserve of $5 billion. The company is valued at nearly $100 billion and employs more than 65,000 workers (all nonunion); Bezos, according to Forbes, is the thirtieth wealthiest man in America

The aggregator has triumphed over the aggregated, and its own workers. As exposes revealed, “in one of Amazon’s main fulfillment warehouses in Allentown, Pennsylvania . . . employees risked stroke and heat exhaustion while running themselves ragged [and] [a]mbulances were routinely stationed in the facility’s giant parking lot to rush stricken workers to nearby hospitals.”
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Search as Speech: Two Scenarios

Several privacy and antitrust complaints are now menacing Google. After gamely parrying these challenges, the search giant has now wheeled out its nuclear option: a First Amendment argument against any regulation of what appears in unpaid (aka “organic”) search results. A recent Google white paper by Eugene Volokh and Donald Falk has buttressed Eric Goldman‘s and Christopher Yoo‘s rationales for unfettered discretion in the exercise of search engines’ editorial judgment.

Volokh/Falk is the latest in a long string of Google filings describing search results as speech. It’s significant well beyond the search engine industry. If Google succeeds here, just about any information age company will start to make its selection and coordination of offerings “searchy” and thus “speechy” enough to avoid regulation.

Leading articles on the proper limits of the First Amendment include Fred Schauer’s The Boundaries of the First Amendment: A Preliminary Exploration of Constitutional Salience and Robert Post’s Recuperating First Amendment Doctrine. In Federal Search Commission?, Oren Bracha and I applied their arguments (among others) in the new technological contexts created by search engines (pages 1188-1201). I have also examined expressive dimensions of search in other work, in 2006, 2007, and 2008.

None of those prior efforts satisfied me as definitive. I wanted to write on the topic for years, but I couldn’t formulate a more general theory of search as speech. I now recognize the reason for my writer’s block: I was trying to impose a “one-size-fits-all” approach on multifarious phenomena. As Michael Carroll has shown, there are “uniformity costs” whenever we try to force a vast, sprawling array of human activities into Procrustean legal boxes. Those costs would be very high if courts were to accept the Volokh/Falk approach with respect to all the varied interactions between searchers and search engines. With that in mind, here are a few scenarios (or “test suites,” as Volokh might put it) to test the Volokh/Falk submission.
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0

Stanford Law Review, 64.4 (2012)

Stanford Law Review

Volume 64 • Issue 4 • April 2012

Articles
The Tragedy of the Carrots:
Economics and Politics in the Choice of Price Instruments

Brian Galle
64 Stan. L. Rev. 797

“They Saw a Protest”:
Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction

Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, Donald Braman, Danieli Evans & Jeffrey J. Rachlinski
64 Stan. L. Rev. 851

Constitutional Design in the Ancient World
Adriaan Lanni & Adrian Vermeule
64 Stan. L. Rev. 907

The Copyright-Innovation Tradeoff:
Property Rules, Liability Rules, and Intentional Infliction of Harm

Dotan Oliar
64 Stan. L. Rev. 951

Notes
Testing Three Commonsense Intuitions About Judicial Conduct Commissions
Jonathan Abel
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1021

Derivatives Clearinghouses and Systemic Risk:
A Bankruptcy and Dodd-Frank Analysis

Julia Lees Allen
64 Stan. L. Rev. 1079