Category: First Amendment

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Albany Law Review Symposium “What Are We Saying? Violence, Vulgarity, Lies . . . And The Importance Of 21st Century Free Speech”

The Albany Law Review had a terrific symposium on free speech. Here is their description of the symposium and the links to the excellent pieces.

In recent years, the United States Supreme Court has issued a number of head-turning decisions regarding freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Taken as a whole, some might say that the Roberts Court appears somewhat schizophrenic on free speech and expression issues. This is the Court that stretched the boundaries of free speech, recognizing First Amendment protections for selling violent video games to minors, lying about receiving military honors, protesting at the funerals of soldiers, and–perhaps most controversially of all–contributing to political campaigns through independent expenditures by corporations and unions. Yet this is also the Court that constrained free speech by saying that the First Amendment did not protect a district attorney who criticized a policy set by his supervisor, that the First Amendment did not protect high school students punished for posting remarks on the Internet outside school grounds, and that the First Amendment did not protect a humanitarian aid organization that provided non-violent educational materials to a group deemed by the U.S. government to be a threat. Clearly, a split record with some interesting lines that appear to be drawn. This symposium examines these recent decisions by the Roberts Court, exploring both the impact of these decisions and the direction in which the Supreme Court really seems to be going on matters of free expression. Leading First Amendment scholars and advocates grapple with some of the major modern issues in this area: academic freedom, modern-day limits on “hate speech,” government stifling of political dissent, restrictions on free expression on the Internet and on television, First Amendment problems in  criminal conspiracy laws. Additionally, the symposium includes two transcripts of lively discussions on free speech issues: a debate between First Amendment heavyweights Floyd Abrams and Alan B. Morrison on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and a panel discussion about the Roberts Court’s free speech jurisprudence moderated by NY Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak. Through these articles and transcripts, we provide a look through the eyes of experts at what the Roberts Court really is saying about contemporary freedom of speech, and a series of viewpoints on whether this direction really is favorable for our modern society.”

Ronald K.L. Collins……Foreword: Exceptional Freedom—The Roberts Court, the First Amendment, and the New Absolutism

Robert M. O’Neil ………Hate Speech, Fighting Words, and Beyond–Why American Law is Unique

Rodney A. Smolla……..Categories, Tiers of Review, and the Roiling Sea of Free Speech Doctrine and Principle: A Methodological Critique of United States v. Alvarez

Jeffery C. Barnum………Encouraging Congress to Encourage Speech: Reflections on United States v. Alvarez

Marjorie Heins……….The Supreme Court and Political Speech in the 21st Century: The Implications of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project

R. George Wright………Are There First Amendment “Vacuums?”: The Case of the Free Speech Challenge to Tobacco Package Labeling Requirement

Robert D. Richards & David J. Weinert………Punting in the First Amendment’s Red Zone: The Supreme Court’s “Indecision” on the FCC’s Indecency Regulations Leaves Broadcasters Still Searching For Answers

Marvin Ammori & Luke Pelican………Media Diversity and Online Advertising

Martin H. Redish & Michael J.T. Downey………Criminal Conspiracy as Free Expression

Owen Fiss……..The Democratic Mission of the University

Welcome & Opening Remarks…….Benjamin P. Pomerance

Debate on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission…….Floyd Abrams and Alan B. Morrison, moderated by Ronald K.L. Collins

Panel Discussion on Recent U.S. Supreme Court Free Speech Cases and Their Implications……Adam Liptak (moderator), Ronald K.L. Collins, Susan N. Herman, Alan B. Morrison, Robert M. O’Neil, Robert D. Richards

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Free speech rights and free speech pedagogy

I am working on a paper about student speech rights in public school that has me vacillating about whether the classic Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) is a brilliant exercise in linedrawing or an utter failure. Many readers will remember that Tinker held that students could wear black armbands to school in silent protest of American involvement in hostilities in Vietnam; school officials may interfere with or punish speech only if  they reasonably forecast that it will “materially or substantially interfer[e] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or collide with the rights of others.”  The Tinker rule has the nice feature of explaining why a student cannot answer a teacher’s question “What were the results of Irish potato famine?” with “US Out of Vietnam!” while she can say the same thing in the hallway. More broadly, Tinker establishes a certain kind of pedagogical regime for the hours that students spend in-school-but-not-in-class, one where students can learn how to exercise constitutional rights by practicing them, up to the point of disruption.

Tinker’s flaws were made vivid once again this week by yet another case, this one from the Fourth Circuit, involving students being prohibited from and punished for wearing to school clothing that bears the likeness of Confederate flags. Such behavior seems initially very similar to wearing a black armband to protest Vietnam; but the courts of appeals have fairly consistently held that such speech can be barred under Tinker because histories of racial tension make it reasonable for school authorities to expect disruption to result from such displays. The new case, Hardwick v. Heyward, is quite emphatic on this score, emphasizing that the mere fact that the shirts did not lead to disruption is immaterial, because it was reasonable for school officials to predict disruption; moreover past racial disputes in the school were material, because they made the prediction more reasonable. The Hardwick rationale pretty clearly means that, had there once been fistfights in the Des Moines schools about the Vietnam War, or perhaps even World War II, then the armbands could have been banned in the present. Thus Tinker is deployed to create a particularly strong kind of hecklers’ veto.

My gut reaction to this case is — who is fooling whom? Read More

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Netflix, Facebook, and Social Sharing

Just as Neil Richards’s The Perils of Social Reading (101 Georgetown Law Journal 689 (2013)) is out in final form, Netflix released its new social sharing features in partnership with that privacy protector, Facebook. Not that working with Google, Apple, or Microsoft would be much better. There may be things I am missing. But I don’t see how turning on this feature is wise given that it seems to require you to remember not to share in ways that make sharing a bit leakier than you may want.

Apparently one has to connect your Netflix account to Facebook to get the feature to work. The way it works after that link is made poses problems.

According to SlashGear two rows appear. One is called Friends’ Favorites tells you just that. Now, consider that the algorithm works in part by you rating movies. So if you want to signal that odd documentaries, disturbing art movies, guilty pleasures (this one may range from The Hangover to Twilight), are of interest, you should rate them highly. If you turn this on, are all old ratings shared? And cool! Now everyone knows that you think March of the Penguins and Die Hard are 5 stars. The other button:

is called “Watched By Your Friends,” and it consists of movies and shows that your friends have recently watched. It provides a list of all your Facebook friends who are on Netflix, and you can cycle through individual friends to see what they recently watched. This is an unfiltered list, meaning that it shows all the movies and TV shows that your friends have agreed to share.

Of course, you can control what you share and what you don’t want to share, so if there’s a movie or TV show that you watch, but you don’t want to share it with your friends, you can simply click on the “Don’t Share This” button under each item. Netflix is rolling out the feature over the next couple of days, and the company says that all US members will have access to Netflix social by the end of the week.

Right. So imagine you forget that your viewing habits are broadcast. And what about Roku or other streaming devices? How does one ensure that the “Don’t Share” button is used before the word goes out that you watched one, two, or three movies on drugs, sex, gay culture, how great guns are, etc.?

As Richards puts it, “the ways in which we set up the defaults for sharing matter a great deal. Our reader records implicate
our intellectual privacy—the protection of reading from surveillance and interference so that we can read freely, widely, and without inhibition.” So too for video and really any information consumption.

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“Mutual Adjustment” as (merely) congruence delayed

I am delighted by and grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Concurring Opinions symposium on Jim and Linda’s engaging, important, and challenging new book, Ordered Liberty.  And, the contributions so far have managed the tough task of enriching what was already the very welcome opportunity to read and think about the book.

I have — like Linda and Jim, though I’m sure not with their success — tried to think and write about “civil society” and “seedbeds of virtue” (here), about the tension and even conflicts between liberty and equality (here), and about the moral and legal rights of parents to direct and control — within some limits — the education of their children (here). Ordered Liberty has given me a needed opportunity to re-visit and re-think some of what I’ve said and thought, and I’m sure that process will continue.

At the end of the day, and at the end of the book, I suppose there’s no avoiding the fact that I continue to have doubts about “constitutional liberalism” as Jim and Linda present and defend it; I continue to think that the Constitution is best regarded primarily, and more prosaically, as a mechanism for (limited-purpose and limited-reach) lawmaking, the operation of which is constrained by “negative” rights-protections; I think that the claims of families, associations, and churches to remain out-of-sync with current political majorities, or with liberalism more generally, are even stronger than Jim and Linda acknowledge; and I think that those scholars who “are preoccupied with the limited institutional capacities of courts” are, well, probably right to be so.  But, it probably does not add much to this symposium simply to report my hard-headedness or general reservations.

So, a more focused thought on a particular part of the book:  In Chapter 6 (“Conflicts between Liberty and Equality”), Linda and Jim use four familiar cases (Roberts, Dale, Bob Jones, and Christian Legal Society) to “illustrate the struggles between the formative projects of civil society and government and between competing visions of diversity and pluralism.”  Fair enough — these case do indeed illustrate these struggles.  But, at the end of the chapter, and at the end of book, I didn’t feel like I had been given or had found what I thought was promised, i.e., “a framework for resolving clashes of rights so as to promote ordered liberty and equality citizenship for all.”  That is, despite the use of the term “mutual adjustment”, it did not appear to me that what was presented in the concluding pages and paragraphs of the chapter was so much a “framework” for resolving the described clashes through pluralism-appreciating “adjustment” as it was a declaration that the ultimate and to-be-desired resolution of these clashes in favor of the “liberal” position will often be facilitated by “prudential” “interim” strategies like religious exemptions.  To be told by the liberal-constitutional state that — not to worry — it is willing to go slow in bringing dissenting or just different associations into congruence will not, I imagine, be very comforting to those who wonder why that state assumes it has the legitimate authority to insist on congruence now or later.

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Call for Papers: the First Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference at YLS

Exciting scholarly opportunity from the Yale Information Society Project:

The Information Society Project at Yale Law School will host the first Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference (FESC) at Yale Law School on May 4-5, 2013. The FESC is sponsored by the Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression.The conference brings scholars together to discuss their works-in-progress concerning freedom of speech, expression, press, association, petition, assembly, and related issues of knowledge and information policy.

The conference offers participants an opportunity to receive substantive feedback through group discussion. Each accepted paper will be assigned a discussant, who will lead discussion and provide feedback to the author. Participants will be expected to read papers in advance, and to attend the entire conference.

Participation in the conference is by invitation only. Titles and abstracts of papers should be submitted electronically to bryan.choi@yale.edu no later than February 22, 2013. Those interested in serving as discussants should also contact bryan.choi@yale.edu. Workshop versions of papers are due on April 5, 2013 so that they can be circulated to people attending the conference.

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Stanford Law Review Online: Privilege and the Belfast Project

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Will Havemann entitled Privilege and the Belfast Project. Havemann argues that a recent First Circuit opinion goes too far and threatens the idea of academic privilege:

In 2001, two Irish scholars living in the United States set out to compile the recollections of men and women involved in the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland. The result was the Belfast Project, an oral history project housed at Boston College that collected interviews from many who were personally involved in the violent Northern Irish “Troubles.” To induce participants to document their memories for posterity, Belfast Project historians promised all those interviewed that the contents of their testimonials would remain confidential until they died. More than a decade later, this promise of confidentiality is at the heart of a legal dispute implicating the United States’ bilateral legal assistance treaty with the United Kingdom, the so-called academic’s privilege, and the First Amendment.

He concludes:

Given the confusion sown by Branzburg’s fractured opinion, the First Circuit’s hardnosed decision is unsurprising. But by disavowing the balancing approach recommended in Justice Powell’s concurring Branzburg opinion, and by overlooking the considerable interests supporting the Belfast Project’s confidentiality guarantee, the First Circuit erred both as a matter of precedent and of policy. At least one Supreme Court Justice has signaled a willingness to correct the mischief done by the First Circuit, and to clarify an area of First Amendment law where the Court’s guidance is sorely needed. The rest of the Court should take note.

Read the full article, Privilege and the Belfast Project at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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The Yale Law Journal Online: Lawrence Meets Libel

The Yale Law Journal Online has just published Lawrence Meets Libel: Squaring Constitutional Norms with Sexual-Orientation Defamation, an essay by Anthony Michael Kreis. Kreis identifies a trend in defamation law: many state statutes and judicial opinions continue to treat false allegations of homosexuality as actionable libel despite the growing acceptance of homosexuality nationwide. He argues that, “[w]hile defamation law functions as a legitimate governmental mechanism for vindicating harm to one’s reputation, it cannot constitutionally do so if it irrationally intertwines state action with class-based animus.” In his view, “recent sexual-orientation jurisprudence . . . stands for the clear proposition that government-backed stigmatization of gay and lesbian people is inconsistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” 

Preferred citation: Anthony Michael Kreis, Lawrence Meets Libel: Squaring Constitutional Norms with Sexual-Orientation Defamation, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 125 (2012), http://yalelawjournal.org/2012/11/12/kreis.html.

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Stanford Law Review Online: Software Speech

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Andrew Tutt entitled Software Speech. Tutt argues that current approaches to determining when software or speech generated by software can be protected by the First Amendment are incorrect:

When is software speech for purposes of the First Amendment? This issue has taken on new life amid recent accusations that Google used its search rankings to harm its competitors. This spring, Eugene Volokh coauthored a white paper explaining why Google’s search results are fully protected speech that lies beyond the reach of the antitrust laws. The paper sparked a firestorm of controversy, and in a matter of weeks, dozens of scholars, lawyers, and technologists had joined the debate. The most interesting aspect of the positions on both sides—whether contending that Google search results are or are not speech—is how both get First Amendment doctrine only half right.

He concludes:

By stopping short of calling software “speech,” entirely and unequivocally, the Court would acknowledge the many ways in which software is still an evolving cultural phenomenon unlike others that have come before it. In discarding tests for whether software is speech on the basis of its literal resemblance either to storytelling (Brown) or information dissemination (Sorrell), the Court would strike a careful balance between the legitimate need to regulate software, on the one hand, and the need to protect ideas and viewpoints from manipulation and suppression, on the other.

Read the full article, Software Speech at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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The Contraception Mandate Part II

In my last post, I argued that the requirement that religiously affiliated organizations include contraception in their health insurance plans does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That’s not such a hard argument to make given the Employment Division v. Smith rule that neutral laws of general applicability are constitutional, no matter what kind of burden they may create for religious practices.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), on the other hand, is easier to violate. RFRA was passed in reaction to Employment Division v. Smith. Congress wanted to restore the more demanding (at least on paper) pre-Smith test for religious liberty claims. The Supreme Court struck down RFRA  as applied to the states but not as applied to the federal government. Under RFRA, a federal law cannot impose a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion unless it passes strict scrutiny.

Saving the question of whether the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden for another post, would it pass strict scrutiny? Does the contraception mandate advance a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored way? It is not hard to come up with compelling reasons why women who do not want to become pregnant should have access to contraception. Women’s ability to control their reproduction is essential to their wellbeing, their bodily integrity, and their ability to participate as equals in the social, economic, and political life of the nation. In fact, the failure to cover contraception may well amount to sex discrimination if a health insurance plan covers all basic preventive care except for pregnancy-related preventive care like contraception. (While pregnancy discrimination is not considered sex discrimination for equal protection purposes thanks to Geduldig v. Aiello, it is sex discrimination for Title VII purposes thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.) Promoting women’s health, liberty, equality, and equal access to health care are all compelling state interests.

Nevertheless, at least one court has concluded that the contraception mandate was not motivated by a compelling interest because it contains too many exceptions, such as the ones for grandfathered plans and small employers. So, while the court acknowledged that “the promotion of public health” is generally a compelling state interest, it held that “any such argument is undermined by the existence of numerous exceptions to the preventive care coverage mandate. . . . A law cannot be regarded as protecting an interest of the highest order when it leaves appreciable damage to that supposedly vital interest unprohibited.” I disagree. The number of exceptions might matter if there were some question about whether the state’s interest really was compelling or not. If we are not sure about the importance of uniform appearance among police officers, numerous exceptions to grooming requirements might lead to the conclusion that it is not as important as the state claims. However, such exceptions should not matter when the state’s goals have long been recognized as compelling — and surely we are past the point of debating whether promoting women’s liberty and equality and preventing sex discrimination are compelling state interests.

Perhaps, then, it could be argued that the law is not narrowly tailored. How strict the tailoring must be under RFRA in not clear. If RFRA is meant to reinstate the pre-Smith test as practiced, then it is not very demanding, since the Supreme Court rarely found that laws failed strict scrutiny in Free Exercise Clause challenges. In any case, one argument that should be rejected is that the law is not sufficiently tailored because the government could provide contraception instead. But that can’t be right. Imagine a bookstore that refused admittance to Hispanics. Or imagine an employer whose insurance covered cancer screenings for white employees but not Asian ones. Now imagine the bookstore or employer arguing that a law banning race discrimination in places of public accommodation or in the provision of employment benefits fails strict scrutiny because the state could sell the books or provide the benefits instead. Such a claim is a distortion of strict scrutiny and should fail.

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The Contraception Mandate Part I

The Affordable Care Act is changing the health care landscape. Among the changes is that employers that provide health insurance must cover preventive services, including contraception. Although the requirement does not apply to religious organizations, it does apply to religiously affiliated ones. This “contraception mandate” has generated a huge outcry from some religious leaders, most notably the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They insist that forcing Catholic hospitals, schools, or charities to include contraception in their employee insurance plans violates religious liberty.

It doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t violate the Free Exercise Clause. After Employment Division v. Smith, neutral laws of general applicability are constitutional, regardless of the burden they may impose on religious practices. Indeed, the law upheld in Smith banned a religious sacrament. But it was neutral, in that it did not intentionally target religion, and it was generally applicable, in that it was neither riddled with exceptions nor grossly underinclusive. The regulation requiring employers who provide health insurance to include contraception in that coverage is likewise a neutral law of general applicability.

While a recent Supreme Court decision (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC) carved out an exception to this “neutral-generally-applicable-laws-do-not-violate-the-Free-Exercise-Clause” rule, it does not apply here. This exception — which holds that religious institutions are immune from neutral, generally applicable anti-discrimination laws when they are sued by their ministers — was designed to protect churches’ ability to pick their leaders without interference from the state. However, the provision by religiously-affiliated organizations of health insurance to their employees, many of whom do not belong to the same faith as their religious employer, clearly does not involve ministers or internal church governance. In short, there is no valid Free Exercise Claim.

What about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Stay tuned.