Category: Supreme Court

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FAN 124 (First Amendment News) Ellen DeGeneres raises First Amendment defense in defamation case

Under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and under well-established Georgia law, courts have consistently recognized that humor, parody, name-calling and other forms of ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ are simply not actionable as defamation or under any other legal theory. — Thomas Clyde, Warner Bros. lawyer (Sept. 16, 2016)

Thomas Clyde

Thomas Clyde

Thomas M. Clyde is a partner at the Atlanta, Georgia law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend. He has has “extensive experience in defending publishers, broadcasters and other information providers against claims alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, infringement of intellectual property rights and newsgathering misconduct. . . . Mr. Clyde was recognized in The Best Lawyers in America for First Amendment Litigation in 2017 and the four years immediately preceding. He was also named a 2017 ‘Atlanta Lawyer of the Year’ in the area of First Amendment Law by The Best Lawyers in America. Mr. Clyde was recognized as a Georgia ‘Super Lawyer’ for First Amendment, Media and Advertising Law in 2012 and 2013, for Constitutional Law in 2014, and again for Media and Advertising Law in 2015 and 2016 by Super Lawyers magazine.” He is also the past co-chair of the Media Law Letter Committee of the Media Law Resource Center.

Now his First Amendment expertise is being summoned to defend TV comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres who is being sued for defamation. Here is how it happened: Seems that on one of her national TV shows Ms. DeGeneres referred to Ms. Titi (pronounced ‘TEE TEE) Pierce as “Titty Pierce.”

According to LawNewz,  “[d]uring a segment of her daily talk show called, ‘What’s Wrong with These Signs? Ellen showed a photograph of a real estate sign advertising broker Titi Pierce, and pronouncing the name ‘titty’ instead of the phonetic ‘tee-tee.’ Ellen made the ‘Titty’ wisecrack right after showing a sign that read ‘Nipple Convalescent Home,’ and continued to joke, “Titty Pierce, sounds like she might have spent some time in that nipple home, I don’t know.’

 “It was all in good fun,” reported Elura Nanos, “until Ms. Pierce’s phone blew up with harassing calls and messages. And to make matters worse, she was on her way to a family funeral. Comedic timing really is everything.” In light of that, on “Ms. Pierce filed a lawsuit in Georgia Federal Court against  DeGeneres, alleging Invasion of Privacy, Misappropriation of Likeness, Defamation, and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.”

As Mr. Clyde sees it, “This was silly, lighthearted fun,” and nothing more. Even so, his response to the complaint raised a First Amendment defense.

The Plaintiff is being represented by Stacey Godfrey Evans.

See video clip, courtesy of LawNewz, here.

Copy of Complaint here.

Katie Couric, film company & distributor sued for defamation

Katie Couric

Katie Couric

This from Larry Iser writing in Forbes: “Back in May, Katie Couric faced a heap of controversy over an edited scene in the 2016 documentary Under the Gun. This week, Couric, along with the documentary’s director Stephanie Soechtig, Soechtig’s company Atlas Film LLC and the film’s distributor Epix were named defendants in a $12 million defamation lawsuit filed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a gun rights activist group appearing in the documentary, and two of its members, licensed firearms dealer Patricia Webb and Daniel Hawes, a firearms and personal defense litigator. Couric is the narrator and an executive producer of Under the Gun. According to the complaint, Couric’s interviews of VCDL members were heavily edited and portrayed them in a false light.At one point in the documentary, Couric asks members of the group, ‘If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”The film portrays the activists as speechless and apparently unable to answer the question for about eight or nine seconds. However, the complaint alleges that audio tapes prove that the activists had, in fact, provided an immediate, substantive six-minute response to Couric’s query. . . .'”

Larry Iser (the author of the Forbes piece) is a litigator at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert. He frequently litgates defamation and intellectual property disputes, and has represented music artists including The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Jackson Browne.

→ See also Bob Ownes, Katie Couric Sued for $12 Million For Defamation In Anti-Gun Documentary, Bearing Arms, September 13, 2016

Headline: “Some defendants dismissed in BPI-ABC defamation case”

In an article by Nick Hytrek, writing in the Sioux City Journal, it was reported that “in the wake of the dismissal of five defendants in Beef Products Inc.’s $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC, court officials believe they do not need to move the trial out of the Union County Courthouse.The dismissal means fewer lawyers will be present at the trial, scheduled for June 5, and courthouse facilities should be adequate after some minor modifications, said Kim Allison, First Circuit court administrator. . . .”

unknown“In August, lawyers filed a stipulation to voluntarily dismiss ABC News, David Kerley, Gerald Zirnstein, Carl Custer and Kit Foshee as defendants in the lawsuit. The suit will now focus on what BPI’s attorney said are the three main defendants: American Broadcasting Companies Inc., former ‘World News Tonight’ anchor Diane Sawyer and news correspondent Jim Avila.’

“Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering entered an order dismissing the defendants on Aug. 24.”

“‘BPI’s decision to dismiss some of the other defendants does not release the primary targets of the litigation, nor does it have anything to do with the merits of our case,’ BPI attorney, Erik Connolly, of Chicago, said in a written statement. . . .”

“BPI sued ABC, its correspondents, federal officials and a former employee in September 2012 in Union County Circuit Court and will attempt to prove that a series of stories and broadcasts that began in early March 2012 defamed the company’s Lean Finely Textured Beef. . . .”

Headline: “Anti-Defamation League Boosting Presence In Silicon Valley” Read More

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FAN 123 (First Amendment News) When you think of free speech, think of “45” — New book by Stephen Solomon explains why

It is said that the dead live on the lips of the living.  And so it was at the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School last Friday when it co-hosted the tenth First Amendment Salon.

The discussion centered around Professor Stephen D. Solomon’s new book Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (2016).

Stephen Solomon, Nadine Strossen & Akhil Amar

Stephen Solomon, Nadine Strossen & Akhil Amar

Speaking before a full house at YLS, Professors Akhil Amar and Nadine Strossen joined in the exchange with Professor Solomon. The event was introduced by Floyd Abrams and was video-cast live to audiences at the offices of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in New York and Washington, D.C.

Much of the lively discussion focused on dissenting speech (including symbolic expression) in the revolutionary era. In the course of an animated, opinionated, and sophisticated dialogue, there were several references to the number “45” and its significance in the history of free speech. So why?

Here is where Professor Solomon’s well-researched book came into play (as the excerpts below reveal):

“[T]he number forty-five [was] symbolically linked to John Wilkes, a member of Parliament who gained renown for going to jail after criticizing the king in the forty-fifth issue of the newspaper [The North Briton] he published” in 1763.

“First in England and then in America, those who sympathized with Wilkes began engaging in an endless variety of symbolic protests with the number forty-five as the common theme.”

unknown-1 “On the evening of March 14, 1770, a prison guard opened the doors of Alexander McDougall’s jail cell so that visitors could enter.  There were forty-five visitors, to be exact, and all of them were women. . . . For publicity sake — and all of this was for publicity sake — the forty-five women had been described to the public as virgins. McDougall had been jailed for criticizing the royal governor and the New York general assembly, and his supporters aimed to to draw attention to him as a martyr for the cause of liberty.”

“In 1769, the Boston Gazette noted that forty-five ladies engaged in spinning linen and cotton, providing cloth to replace the British goods boycotted in the non-importation agreements. The Sons of Liberty in Boston made a procession of forty-five carriages, while . . . [at] an orchard outside Charleston, patriots decorated their Liberty Tree [see above] with forty-five lights and fired forty-five rockets.”

There is more, to be sure, but you’ll have to read Revolutionary Dissent to find out what you’re missing.

One more notable point: The text of the First Amendment contains, yes, 45 words!

Amar & Strossen channel Madison 

One of the high moment of the event came toward the end when Amar began to recite portions of James Madison’s November 27, 1794 speech in Congress. As soon as he begun to mouth the opening words, Strossen joined in memorized unison and harmony: “If we advert to the nature of republican government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.”

A video of this salon will be posted in an upcoming issue of FAN.

The next salon will be held in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, December 8th and will involve a dialogue between David Cole (the new National Legal Director for the ACLU) and Jess Bravin (the WSJ Supreme Court correspondent).

Headline: “Supreme Court won’t block Senate subpoena for Backpage.com” Read More

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FAN 122 (First Amendment News) Alito’s prophesy? Cert. petition in Gov. Speech case raises questions about future of doctrine

The Supreme Court’s government speech doctrine offers a constitutional escape hatch — a means by which government and courts may disregard the boundaries that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment would otherwise impose. — Harvard Law Review (2015)

There may be situations in whichit is difficult to tell whether a government entity is speaking on its own behalf or is providing a forum for private speech. –Justice Samuel Alito for the Court in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum  (2009)

Unknown-1It’s not easy teaching the government speech doctrine these days. Why? Because, as indicated by Justice Alito’s quip, there is uncertainty about when the government is and is not speaking on its own behalf. However difficult it was to read the doctrinal tea leaves in 2009 in the Summum case, it became even more difficult after the Court handed down its 5-4 ruling in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. (2015) (the Confederale licence-plate case). Dissenting in Walker, Justice Alito asked:

Suppose that a State erected elec- tronic billboards along its highways. Suppose that the State posted some government messages on these billboards and then, to raise money, allowed private entities and individu- als to purchase the right to post their own messages. And suppose that the State allowed only those messages that it liked or found not too controversial. Would that be constitutional?

What if a state college or university did the same thing with a similar billboard or a campus bulletin board or dorm list serve? What if it allowed private messages that are consistent with prevailing views on campus but banned those that disturbed some students or faculty? Can there be any doubt that these examples of viewpoint discrimination would violate the First Amendment? I hope not, but the future uses of today’s precedent remain to be seen.

UnknownAgainst that backdrop comes the cert. petition in Mech v. School Board of Palm Beach CountyThe issue in the case is this: “Does the decision in Walker allow the government to place an imprimatur on private advertising and thereby render the advertisement government speech, stripping it of all First Amendment protection?” Truer still to Justice Alito’s hypothetical, the Mech case involves a school board, one which oversees the Palm Beach County School District.

The constitutional controversy arouse in connection with a pilot program that allowed schools to hang banners on their fences to recognize the sponsors of school programs. The petitioner David Mech (a/k/a The Happy/Fun Math Tutor) sued the School Board for violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when three of the County’s public schools removed Mech’s math tutoring business banner advertisements from their fences, while permitting other private banners to remain. The Petitioner’s banners were removed after some parents complained that Mech’s tutoring business shared a mailing address at a private postal center with his former adult media business, Dave Pounder Productions. An Eleventh Circuit three-judge panel denied Mech’s First Amendment claims: “the banners for The Happy/Fun Math Tutor are government speech.”

Enter James K. Green, counsel of record for the Petitioner. As Mr. Green sees it:

  1. “The decision below presents the important unanswered question posed by the four dissenters in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans,” and 
  2. “The decision below conflicts with Walker and In re Tam, 808 F.3d 1321 (Fed. Cir. 2015), petition for cert. filed sub nom. in Lee v. Tam (April 20, 2016) (No. 15-1293) which limit the applicability of the government speech doctrine.

Gary S. Edinger filed an amicus brief in support of the Petitioner on behlaf of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, the Free Speech Coalition, and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. Amici argue:

  1. “The ‘government speech’ doctrine mustbe narrowly defined and carefully applied so that this exception to the First Amendment does not swallow the free speech rights of all,” and
  2. “The decision below illustrates exactly what can go wrong when the government speech doctrine is applied in an imprecise manner.”

Shawntoyia Bernard, representing the School Board, counters:

  1. “The Eleventh Circuit’s decision below does not present the unanswered question(s) posed by the four dissenters in Walker
  2.  “The Eleventh Circuit’s decision below doe not conflict with the Federal Circuit’s decision in In re Tam, as the two cases are factually distinguishable,” and
  3. “The Eleventh Circuit’s decision below does not conflict with the Court’s decision in Walker or present the simple roadmap about which Mech warns.”

 One possible problem for the Petitioner is that the four dissenters in Walker (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy & Alito) are no longer four. But will that fact be decisive?

The case was distributed for Conference of September 26, 2016.

CJ Roberts  temporarily blocks subpoena over sex ads Read More

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FAN 121 (First Amendment News) New York law to combat Citizens United is “constitutionally unsound” says NYCLU

The headline on the official website of New York State reads: “Governor Cuomo Signs First-in-the-Nation Legislation to Combat Citizens United.” The news story begins by noting:  “Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed first-in-the-nation legislation (S.8160/A.10742) to curb the power of independent expenditure campaigns unleashed by the 2010 Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The legislation also takes significant steps to strengthen disclosure requirements for political consultants and lobbyists who provide services to sitting elected officials or candidates for elected office by requiring them to register with the state and reveal their clients.”

Unknown“This new legislation,” the news release continues, “will work to restore the people’s faith in government by instituting the strongest anti-coordination law in the country and explicitly prohibiting coordination in New York State election law for the first time. The legislation expressly identifies which activities constitute prohibited coordination, and strictly prohibits coordination in egregious scenarios, such as the ‘independent’ spender being an immediate family member of the candidate, as well as in subtle scenarios, such as the dissemination of a candidate’s campaign material by supposedly ‘independent” groups.'”

“Additionally, the legislation increases penalties for lobbying violations, while providing enhanced due process for individuals under investigation for potential violations.”

NYCLU Opposes Law

Robert A. Perry, the Legislative Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, took issue with the law shortly before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation. “The bill,” he stressed, “is not only constitutionally unsound; it would promote public policies that are inimical to the mission of not-for-profit organizations that operate in the public interest.”

nyclu-logoThe legislation, he added, “includes several provisions that would regulate activity that is unrelated to electoral campaigns — including lobbying, as well as communications outside the definition of lobbying that addresses matters of public concern. Nevertheless, if enacted in law, the proposed legislation would direct government officials to regulate, and circumscribe, New Yorkers’ rights of speech and association.” Mr. Perry summarized his the NYCLU’s opposition to the measure this way:

  1. “[G]overnment regulation of lobbying and the imposition of disclosure requirements are consistent with the First Amendment only if they are limited to ‘direct communication’ with elected officials to influence legislation.”
  2. “[T]he legislation as well ast the state’s lobbying law and rules require the disclosure of information on contributors to organizations that engage in lobbying, even if the contributed funds are never utilized for that purpose.”
  3. [T]he mandated disclosure of personal information about contributors will undoubtedly have a ‘chilling effect’ on the exercise of protected speech and petition activities,” and
  4. [T]he First Amendment requires that the proposed regulations provide for exemptions for controversial organizations upon a showing of a ‘reasonable’ likelihood of harm from the disclosures.”

For those reasons and others, “the NYCLU objects to the legislation.”

[NB: The proposed measure was not amended after the NYCLU filed its letter of opposition to Governor Cuomo.]

See generally: National ACLU amicus brief (July 29, 2009) in support of Appellant in Citizens United.

Liberal Groups “Strongly” Oppose Legislation

Opposition to the New York law was also expressed by the following groups:

In an August 22, 2016 letter to Governor Cuomo, the groups stated:

“This poorly constructed bill will seriously harm some of New York’s most prestigious institutions, and infringe upon the rights of many public-minded New Yorkers to engage in their constitutionally protected right to comment and criticize. As a result, rather than advancing the public good, the legislation ends up as a secretly developed, clumsily drafted piece of legislation that in the end does little to advance meaningful reform other than dealing directly with problems caused by Citizens United. In fact, the legislation causes more problems than it solves by trying to solve a problem that wasn’t defined publicly and doesn’t really exist. We strongly urge you to veto” the measure.

* * *  *

See also David Keating, New York vs. the First Amendment: New ‘campaign finance’ legislation is an assault on political speech rights, New York Daily News, June 30, 2016 (“The legislation creates expansive new definitions of what constitutes illegal coordination between independent groups and candidates, and forces unprecedented reporting to the state by advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association.”)

Citizens United Group Loses Charitable Solicitation Suit  Read More

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FAN 120 (First Amendment News) Snapshots of David Cole #2: Chipping Away at Citizens United

If Citizens United is overturned, it will be because of the sustained efforts of critics in civil society to critique it, educate the public about why it’s wrong, and show through local initiatives that alternative reforms are possibleDavid Cole, August 22, 2016

This is the second post concerning  David Cole, the ACLU’s New National Legal Director (first post here).  In this post the focus is on Professor Cole’s views on the First Amendment and campaign finance laws, with a particular focus on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

This past April Professor Cole published an article in The Atlantic entitled “How to Reverse Citizens United.” Here are a few excerpts from that article (subheadings were added):

Change in the Court: New Opportunities & Challenges 

Professor David Cole

Professor David Cole

“Now, with a new Justice in the offing, the prospect of reversing Citizens United, among other Roberts Court decisions, seems suddenly larger, more plausible: For campaign-finance-reform proponents, the brass ring seems within reach.”

“But the matter is not so simple. Even if Scalia is replaced by a more liberal justice, the Court’s campaign-finance rules will not be easily reversed. The precedents extending First Amendment protection to campaign spending date back to 1976, long before Scalia became a judge. The Court generally follows precedent, and overrules past decisions only rarely, even as justices come and go. A new justice will not be sufficient.”

Incremental Steps: The Slow March to Victory

“If campaign-finance reform similarly succeeds, it will not be through dramatic measures like the current proposals to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Nor will it be through a quixotic presidential campaign, like Lawrence Lessig’s short-lived run on a platform devoted almost exclusively to electoral reform. Constitutional law is more typically changed through a long process of smaller, incremental steps. If the various groups now seeking to fix the problem of money in politics are to prevail, they would do well to take a page from the gun-rights and marriage-equality playbook.”

Start with the States

“Some promising campaign-finance initiatives are already appearing at the state and local levels. Maine, Connecticut, Arizona, Seattle, and New York City have each adopted generous public-financing schemes to reduce the influence of private wealth. New York City, for example, matches small donations six-to-one for those candidates who agree to contribution and spending limits. Maine offers a public grant to candidates who raise a qualifying number of $5 donations and then agree to abstain from further private fund-raising. In November, Seattle voters approved a first-of-its-kind ballot initiative that will provide every voter with four $25 “democracy vouchers,” to be distributed as they wish among candidates who agree to abide by spending limits. By amplifying the contributions of ordinary citizens, reducing candidates’ reliance on Big Money, and enticing candidates to accept voluntary limits on their spending, these laws are meant to encourage politicians to pay attention to all their constituents, not just the wealthy ones.”

The Role of Scholarship

“Scholarship could similarly lay the groundwork for a new approach to campaign finance. One promising critique of the Court’s recent rulings concedes that spending restrictions limit First Amendment rights, but maintains that the constitutional interest in protecting speech is outweighed by other compelling considerations. Although the Court’s most recent rulings assert that the only legitimate basis for restricting campaign spending is curtailing bribery—what the Court calls ‘quid pro quo corruption’—a number of scholars are persuasively pressing a broader understanding of the state’s interests. For example, Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham, has shown that the Constitution’s framers expressed an active desire to fight corruption, a category they understood to include, beyond mere bribery, the undue influence of wealth on politics. Robert Post, the dean of Yale’s law school, argues that ensuring ‘electoral integrity’ is essential to a functioning democracy, and justifies limits on the free flow of campaign cash. And in an important new book, Plutocrats United, Richard Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine, maintains that the state’s interest in equality can justify rules aimed at countering money’s distortion of politics. Each of these arguments could provide a path toward a constitutional jurisprudence that allows states and Congress more leeway in regulating campaign spending.”

Related Articles by David Cole

  1.  The Supreme Court’s Billion-Dollar Mistake, New York Review of Books, January 19, 2015
  2. How Corrupt Are Our Politics?, New York Review of Books, September 25, 2014
  3. The Roberts Court vs. Free Speech, New York Review of Books, August 19, 2010

See also Jameel Jaffer, How Constitutional Change Happens: Q&A With David Cole, ACLU, April 4, 2016:

Cole: “My own sense is that incrementalism is pretty much all there is. The NRA, the gay rights groups, and the human rights groups all succeeded in significant part by acting incrementally. Campaign finance reform today is similarly proceeding incrementally, introducing clean election and public financing and disclosure reforms in the most receptive states first, and then seeking to spread those wins to other states. A full-frontal attack on Citizens United is unlikely to prevail, but attacking it around the edges shows more promise.”

 See generally, Jeffery Rosen Interview with David Cole: How Citizen Activists Can Make Constitutional Law, National Constitutional Center, April 18, 2016 (on YouTube) (discussion focuses on activist and litigation strategies)

Proposed Federal Law Would Ban Revenge Porn Read More

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The Next Supreme Court Term

We are within six weeks of the start of the Court’s next Term, which promises to be two terms in one.  The first will consist of eight Justices.  The second will consist of nine, though when and by whom is unclear.

This leads me to wonder if next year the Court will have to forego its traditional custom of issuing all of its merits opinions by the end of June.  If there are deadlocks in cases in the first portion of the Term, presumably those cases will be held over for another argument in the second portion. If there are several of those (or if the new Justice is not confirmed until later in the Spring), can the Court finish its business by the end of June?  Seems doubtful.

It’s worth noting that Judge Merrick Garland is currently on one of the world’s longest paid vacations, as he must by tradition be recused from all cases so long as his nomination is pending.  I wonder what he does all day.

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UCLA Law Review Vol. 63, Issue 6

Volume 63, Issue 6 (August 2016)
Articles

President Nixon’s Indian Law Legacy: A Counterstory Carole Goldberg 1506
Principles of International Law That Support Claims of Indian Tribes to Water Resources Reid Peyton Chambers & William F. Stephens 1530
Crime and Governance in Indian Country Angela R. Riley 1564
Recentering Tribal Criminal Jurisdiction Addie C. Rolnick 1638
The Politics of Inclusion: Indigenous Peoples and U.S. Citizenship Rebecca Tsosie 1692

 

Comments

Tribal Sovereignty, Tribal Court Legitimacy, and Public Defense Lindsay Cutler 1752
The Double-Edged Sword of Sovereignty by the Barrel: How Native Nations Can Wield Environmental Justice in the Fight Against the Harms of Fracking Geneva E.B. Thompson 1818
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FAN 119 (First Amendment News) — Snapshots of David Cole, the ACLU’s New National Legal Director

Professor David Cole

Professor David Cole

Now that Professor David Cole has been named the new national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, I plan to do several posts on him and some of his views on the First Amendment.

As some may know, David Cole was the main author of the briefs in two landmark flag-burning cases:  Texas v. Johnson (1989); and United States v. Eichman (1990). William Kunstler, who argued both cases, commented that as the author of those briefs Cole was “the intellectual architect of the courtroom victories.” (See also Collins & Chaltain, We Must not be Afraid to be Free.)

David Cole likewise argued Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (1999) (First Amendment challenge to the selective enforcement of the immigration law against Palestinian immigrants based upon their political associations and activities). National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley (1998) was another First Amendment case Professor Cole argued (First Amendment challenge to NEA’s politically-based denial of federal funding to four performance artists whose works address issues of sexuality, and to the 1990 statutory provision requiring NEA grants to made “taking into consideration general standards of decency.”) He also served on the Advisory Board of The Free Expression Policy Project.

His most recent book, Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law (2016) (see also his remarks at Politics & Prose Bookstore, April 2016) (YouTube)

* * * * 

For now, let us turn to Professor Cole’s arguments to the Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010), the “material support” to terrorist organizations case.  Below are some selected excerpts from the oral arguments in that case:

Core political speech

Mr. Cole: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: This as-applied challenge asks whether the government can make it a crime for Ralph Fertig and the Humanitarian Law Project to speak in association with the Kurdistan Workers Party.

Specifically, they seek to advocate for legal reform in Congress and the UN, to write and distribute articles supportive of Kurdish rights, to inform the Kurds of their international human rights and remedies, and to advise them on peaceful conflict resolution.

It is undisputed that the Kurdistan Workers Party engages in a wide range of lawful activities and that plaintiffs seek to support only lawful ends.

The government has a concededly compelling interest in combatting terrorism, yet it has not even tried to defend these prohibitions under strict scrutiny.

Instead, it rests its entire case on the proposition that criminalizing plaintiffs’ speech is a regulation of conduct, not speech, and therefore can be upheld under O’Brien. . . .

Justice Stevens: But, Mr. Cole, don’t you agree that some of the speech could be regulated?

Mr. Cole: –Some of my clients’ speech?

Justice Stevens: Some of the speech of your client.

Mr. Cole: I don’t think — I don’t think any of it could be prohibited, Your Honor, unless the government can satisfy the stringent scrutiny that this Court applies when Congress seeks to prohibit pure speech. . . .

Justice Stevens: You think all of the speech at issue is protected?

Mr. Cole: –I think that certainly all of the speech that I’ve just identified, which is the core–

 . . . . It’s core — and I think the reason, Your Honor, is it is core political speech on issues of public concern.

It is advocating only lawful, peaceable activities.

This Court has never upheld the criminal prohibition of lawful speech on issues of public concern.

“Money is different”

Justice Kennedy: Well, could the government, I assume — I assume you will say NGO or other organization or person from giving tsunami aid to one of these organizations, from giving them money?

Mr. Cole: I think money is different, Your Honor.

Justice Kennedy: Could they — could the government prohibit that?

Mr. Cole: I think money is different because it’s  . . . conduct, not speech.

Make Distinctions: Aid, support & membership

Justice Scalia: Any assistance you provide to these organizations cannot be separated from assistance to their terrorist activities.

Mr. Cole: Well, Your Honor, that is precisely the argument that the United States made to this Court in Scales.

And here I’m quoting from the government’s brief:

“Active membership can be proscribed even though the activity be expended along lines not otherwise illegal, since active support of any kind aids the organization in achieving its own illegal purposes. “

That was with respect to an organization that Congress spent 10 years studying, made findings that it was an international conspiracy directed and controlled by the Soviet Union with the aim of overthrowing the United States by force and violence, using terrorism.

And, nonetheless, this Court in Scales held you’ve got to distinguish between that aid and support and membership which is furthering the lawful activities and that which is furthering the illegal activities; otherwise you are penalizing the exercise of lawful speech.

The Court said the same thing in De Jonge.

Justice Ginsburg: Mr. Cole, as I remember, Scales upheld a conviction, wasn’t–

Mr. Cole: It did, Justice Ginsburg, but only because it interpreted the statute to be — to be limited to specific . . . members — active membership that is specifically intended to further the illegal ends of the group, precisely–

. . . .

Speech Tantamount to Material Support

Justice Kennedy: Suppose the speech is tantamount to material support in that it legitimizes, encourages, or strengthens the organization.

Mr. Cole: Well, two things in response to that, Justice Kennedy.First, that is what the United States argued in Scales. And, again, the Court, not only in Scales but in a host of cases striking down Communist Party statute, said you have to distinguish between aid that’s intended to further lawful activity and aid that’s intended to further illegal activity when it’s in the form of protected activity — association, here speech and association.

And, secondly–

Justice Stevens: In those cases, the real question was whether membership was enough, wasn’t it?

Mr. Cole: Active membership . . .  which the government says constitutes more than mere nominal membership.

Justice Kennedy: And this is support. It’s different.

Mr. Cole: Well, Your Honor, in De Jonge, one of these cases, one of this Court’s first First Amendment cases, the government argued that Mr. De Jonge aided the Communist Party in its illegal ends by conducting a meeting for them and being their lead speaker at the meeting.

And this Court said: We’ve got to look at what he did, and what — yes, he conducted the meeting; yes, he was a member of the Communist Party; yes, he solicited people to join the Communist Party.

But what did he do? He advocated lawful peaceable activities.

Justice Kennedy: But there wasn’t a statute on the books that prohibited material support–

Mr. Cole: Well, I don’t think it would–

Justice Kennedy: And here there is, and this is in aid of that prohibition.

Mr. Cole: Right, but Your Honor, what would — if Congress came along after the Communist Party cases and said, okay, you’ve said we can’t make it a crime to criminalize membership in the Communist Party; we are now going to make it a crime to speak in conjunction with the Communist Party — do you think the decisions would have come out any differently?I don’t think so, because this Court has said that speech is different from money, that it–

Justice Scalia: I think it’s very unrealistic to compare these terrorist organizations with the Communist Party. Those cases involved philosophy. The Communist Party was — was — was more than a — than an organization that — that had some unlawful ends. It was also a philosophy of — of — of extreme socialism.And — and many people subscribed to that philosophy. I don’t think that Hamas or any of these terrorist organizations represent such a philosophical organization.

Mr. Cole: Your Honor, this Court accepted Congress’s findings.Congress’s findings were not that this was a philosophical debating society, but that it was an international criminal conspiracy directed by our enemy to overthrow us through terrorism. . . .

Justice Scalia: They joined it for philosophical reasons. These terrorist organizations have very practical objectives. And the only reason for joining them or assisting them is to assist those practical objectives.

Mr. Cole: Well, I don’t think that’s — I don’t think that’s fair, Justice Scalia. The Humanitarian Law Project has no interest in furthering terrorism, but the Kurdistan Workers Party are the principal representatives of the — of the Kurds in Turkey. They do have an interest in protecting the rights of the Kurds. They do have an interest in encouraging the Kurdistan Workers Party to — to disavow violence and engage in lawful peaceful means of resolving their disputes . . . .

*  * Additional Materials  * * 

David Cole on the ‘Material Support’ Law and the Constitution, American Constitution Society, November 30, 2010 (YouTube)

David Cole, “The First Amendment’s Borders: The Place of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in First Amendment Doctrine,” 6 Harv. L. & Pol. Rev. 147 (2012)

James Bamford, David Cole & Margaret Russell — PATRIOT Acts I & II: New Assault on Liberty?, The Independent Institute, November 2003 (YouTube)

Ron Rotunda: “The ABA Overrules the First Amendment” Read More

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The Future of the Supreme Court

Every four years the tired claim is trotted out that the winner of the presidential election could appoint three or four Justices. In fact, no President has appointed this many Justices in a single term since Richard Nixon, but this may be the year where hyperbole is true.

We know that there is one vacant seat on the Court, but consider what might happen if Hillary Clinton is elected.  Justices Ginsburg and Breyer would have to doubt seriously that the Democrats would win a fourth consecutive term in the White House, something that last occurred in the 1940s. Thus, they would have a strong incentive to retire in the next few years rather than wait until 2020 or beyond.  That would create a total of three vacancies without including any unexpected change (say, if Justice Kennedy also decides to retire). Of course, Breyer and Ginsburg could decide to go with the example of Justice Stevens and stay until they are 90 years old, but that is unlikely.

Note that if Ginsburg and Breyer retire (say over the next two years), that would make Justice Sotomayor the senior member of the liberal bloc–a rather amazing development for someone who joined the Court only seven years ago.

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FAN 118.1 (First Amendment News) Seasoned SCOTUS Appellate Lawyer Files Cert. Petition in “Public Official” Defamation Case

Here is what Tony Mauro once said of him: “Few lawyers — including the nine lawyers who wear robes to work — know the Supreme Court’s docket as well as” he does. “He is generally regarded,” observed Georgetown Law Professor Steven Goldblatt,  “as one of the best [Supreme Court lawyers] in the country.”

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

His name: Roy T. Englert, Jr. That name is known among those seasoned few in the Supreme Court Bar. He has argued 21 cases before the Court, including United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (1989), a Freedom of Information Act case concerning privacy exemption. He won, this while he was Assistant to the Solicitor General.

Later, when he was at Mayer, Brown & Platt, he filed an amicus brief in United States v. Eichman (1990) (First Amendment challenge to Flag Protection Act of 1989)), this on behalf of Senator Joesph Biden, Jr. and in support of the Petitioner. There is, of course, more, much more.

One of Mr. Englert’s latest cert. filings is in Armstrong v. Thompson, submitted earlier this month. The issue in the case is whether all (or nearly all) law enforcement officers are “public officials” under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Here is how his cert. petition opens:

“This case presents a recurring First Amendment question: whether a garden-variety law enforcement officer, with little or no role in setting public policy, must establish ‘actual malice’ to recover for harm caused by tortious statements. A number of Circuits and state courts of last resort—where many issues relating to the First Amendment and defamation are decided—have held that every law enforcement officer is a ‘public official’ under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Accordingly, those courts, including the court below, require each and every law enforcement officer to show ‘actual malice’ before recovering for any tort carried out through speech. In this case, despite an otherwise-error-free trial resulting in a jury verdict establishing that respondent had committed an established common-law tort, the court of appeals joined those courts and reversed on federal constitutional grounds after determining that Armstrong was a public official and that he had failed to prove ‘actual malice.'”

 Later, he argues that the “Court has . . . never determined how far down the government ranks the ‘actual malice’ standard applies. It has, however, unequivocally stated that not every public employee is a ‘public official.’ Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 119 n.8 (1979). And it has made clear that the category ought to be limited to ‘those among the hierarchy of government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.’ Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 86 (1966); accord Gertz, 418 U.S. at 345 (equating ‘public official’ with someone who has “accepted public office’).”

Furthermore, Mr. Englert maintains that a “number of state courts have taken heed and held that low-ranking law enforcement officers are not public officials for purposes of the First Amendment. Kiesau v. Bantz (Iowa 2004); McCusker v. Valley News (N.H. 1981); Tucker v. Kilgore (Ky. 1964). Nevertheless, until 2013, there was an ‘overwhelming and entirely one-sided’ consensus among federal courts of appeals (as well as a number of other state courts) that ‘police officers are public officials for defamation purposes’—regardless of rank or role—because ‘there is a strong societal interest in protecting expression that criticizes law enforcement officers.’ Young, 734 F.3d at 553-54 (Moore, J. dissenting). In 2013, the Sixth Circuit stated (albeit in dicta) that courts holding the ‘consensus’ view ‘have misinterpreted federal law on the issue.’ Id. at 549 (opinion of the court). . . .”

“Certain state courts,” he notes, “have developed their own idiosyncratic, fact-based inquiries into whether police officers are public officials. . . .”

“Finally, there are courts that have (correctly) determined that there is nothing talismanic about the designation of ‘law enforcement.’ These courts have applied to ‘law enforcement’ employees the same rule that they would to any other government employee.” . . . . “

In light ion the above, Mr. Englert urged the Justices to “establish a clear rule that low-level law officers are not ‘public officials.'”

Other counsel for the Petitioner are: Lanora C. Pettit and Peter B. Siegal.

The time for filing on a response is on or before September 6, 2016.