Tagged: Constitutional Law

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FAN 83.2 (First Amendment News) Court Declines to Hear Compelled Disclosure Case

This morning the Supreme Court declined to hear Center for Competitive Politics v. HarrisThe issues in the case were twofold:

  1. Whether a state official’s demand for all significant donors to a nonprofit organization, as a precondition to engaging in constitutionally-protected speech, constitutes a First Amendment injury; and
  2. whether the “exacting scrutiny” standard applied in compelled disclosure cases permits state officials to demand donor information based upon generalized “law enforcement” interests, without making any specific showing of need.

UnknownThe case involved a California law that requires tax-exempt charitable organizations to file reports with the state Registry of Charitable Trusts. Pursuant to that law, California Attorney General Pamela Harris required such charities to submit a list of the names and addresses of its major donors. Thus, all charities soliciting donations in California must provide the state A.G. with a copy of their IRS 990 form, which contains such donor information. That information is not made public but is used by the state A.G. to ensure compliance with the law and to safeguard against fraud and illegality.

The California law was challenged by the Center for Competitive Politics (a 501(c)(3) that works on election law). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Center sought to enjoin the California Attorney General from requiring it to disclose the names and contributions of its “significant donors.”

A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected the Center’s claims that such compelled disclosure violated its First Amendment associational rights.

Today the Supreme Court denied the Center’s petition for a writ of certiorari, which had been filed by the Center’s legal director Allen Dickerson.

Amicus briefs in support of the Petitioner were filed by the Cato Institute (Ilya Shapiro), American TargetAdvertising, Inc. and 57 Nonprofit and Other Organizations (Mark Fitzgibbons), Institute for Justice (Diana K. Simpson), Pacific Legal Foundation (Timothy Sandefur), Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence (John. C. Eastman), The Philanthropy Roundtable (Allyson N. Ho), and the States of Arizona, Michigan, and South Carolina (John R. Lopez, IV).

Commentaries

  1. George Will, “The Supreme Court’s opportunity to tackle sinister trends,” Washington Post, November 4, 2015 (urging review)
  2. Editorial, “Show Us Your Donors,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2015 (urging review)
  3. Lyle Denniston, “Group seeks privacy for donor list,” SCOTUSblog, May 15, 2015
  4. Edward Pettersson, “Koch Group Gets to Keep Donors Secret in California Lawsuit,” Bloomberg Business, February 17, 2015 (discussing District Court ruling by Judge Manuel Real in favor of Petitioners).
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FAN 83.1 (First Amendment News) Momentum Builds in Right of Publicity Case — Volokh & Rothman File Amicus Brief Urging Review

Professor Jennifer Rothman

Professor Jennifer Rothman

The momentum is building in Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Davis, the Right of Publicity case in which Paul M. Smith recently filed a cert. petition. In what may be shaping out to be the most important First Amendment case of this Term, Smith has just received some impressive support by way of an amicus brief to be filed later today by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh and Loyola, Los Angeles, Law Professor Jennifer Rothman. Twenty-nine noted scholars signed onto their brief (see listing below).

If ever there was cert-worthy case — a case in which the cert. stars seem to be aligning — the EAI case is the one. The circuit and state courts are all over the conceptual map with assorted and conflicting tests being used in the SecondThirdFifthSixthEightNinthTenth, and Eleventh Circuits and in the FloridaKentucky, and Missouri Supreme Courts. Confusion abounds, and this as asserted First Amendment rights twist in the varying doctrinal winds.

Enter Volokh and Rothman, two scholars quite familiar with this intersection of tort law and the First Amendment.  Here is how they open their brief: “The right of publicity affects a vast range of fully constitutionally protected speech. Right of publicity lawsuits are routinely brought over books, films, songs, paintings and prints (in traditional media or on T-shirts or cards), and video games that mention someone’s name, likeness, or other ‘attributes’ ‘of identity.’ The First Amendment must often protect such references to people, whether in news, entertainment, or art. Courts throughout the country have therefore recognized First Amendment defenses in many right of publicity cases involving expressive works.” (notes omitted)

“Unfortunately,” they add, “there are now five different First Amendment tests that lower courts use in right of publicity cases (setting aside cases involving com- mercial advertising, which is less constitutionally protected than other speech). Unsurprisingly, these different tests often lead to inconsistent results, which leave creators and publishers uncertain about what they may say.” (note omitted)

Professor Eugene Volokh (credit: UCLA Magazine)

Professor Eugene Volokh (credit: UCLA Magazine)

Because of the confusion in the lower courts, Volokh and Rothman argue that this “state of uncertainty is especially dangerous not for major enterprises such as Electronic Arts, but for smaller authors and publishers that lack the money to litigate such cases (even when their First Amendment defense is very strong). Many such small speakers are likely to be chilled into following the most restrictive standards, and the most restrictive interpretations of those (often vague) standards. If this situation is left uncorrected by this Court, a wide range of expression in movies, plays, novels, songs, video games, documentaries and more will be deterred.”

The rulings in Davis v. Electronic Arts, Inc. (9th Cir. 2015) and Keller v. Electronic Arts, Inc. (9th Cir. 2013), they stress, “also treat the First Amendment defense to the right of publicity as weaker than the First Amendment defense to trade- mark law. This too merits this Court’s review.”

Below is the list of scholars who signed onto the amicus brief:

  1. Jack Balkin
  2. Barton Beebe
  3. Erwin Chemerinsky
  4. Stacey L. Dogan
  5. Jay Dougherty
  6. Gregory Dolin
  7. Eric M. Freedman
  8. William K. Ford
  9. Brian L. Frye
  10. William T. Gallagher
  11. Rick Garnett
  12. Jon M. Garon
  13. Jim Gibson
  14. Eric Goldman
  15. Stacey M. Lantagne
  16. Mark A. Lemley
  17. Raizel Liebler
  18. Barry P. McDonald
  19. Tyler Ochoa
  20. Aaron Perzanowski
  21. Lisa P. Ramsey
  22. Kal Raustiala
  23. Martin H. Redish
  24. Betsy Rosenblatt
  25. Steven H. Shiffrin
  26. Christopher Jon Sprigman
  27. Geoffrey R. Stone
  28. Rebecca Tushnet
  29. David Welkowitz
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FAN 83 (First Amendment News) Paul Smith Files Cert. Petition in Right of Publicity Case

It would be dangerous for persons trained only in the law to constitute themselves the final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations, outside of the narrowest and most obvious limits. — Justice HolmesBleistein v. Donaldson Lithographing Co. (1903)

If there is a legal principle that unites these rulings [concerning the right of publicity], it is hard to discern. — Adam Liptak (2013)

 Paul M. Smith: Most people know him as the man who successfully argued Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which overruled Bowers v. HardwickIn the First Amendment world he is known as the lawyer who successfully argued Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011). There is, of course, more to the vita of Mr. Smith, the man at Jenner & Block who chairs the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice there, and co-chairs the Media and First Amendment, and Election Law and Redistricting Practices. So you get the idea — he’s a seasoned and highly skilled appellate lawyer.

Paul M. Smith

Paul M. Smith

In case you missed it, Mr. Smith’s latest case is Electronic Arts, Inc. v. Davis, in which he filed a cert petition in the Supreme Court last September. The issue in the case is “whether the First Amendment protects a speaker against a state-law right-of-publicity claim that challenges the realistic portrayal of a person in an expressive work.” The controversy stemmed from the depiction of  former NF players in the “Madden NFL” video game franchise.

9th Circuit Ruling: In an opinion by Judge Raymond Fisher writing for a three-judge panel, the Ninth Circuit denied the First Amendment claim. “EA has not shown,” wrote Judge Fisher, “that its unauthorized use of former players’ likenesses in the Madden NFL video game series qualifies for First Amendment protection under the transformative use defense, the public interest defense, the Rogers test or the incidental use defense. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s denial of EA’s motion to strike.”

The Cert Petition 

“This case involves the collision of the First Amendment and the state-law ‘right-of-publicity’ tort, an issue that has engendered conflict and disarray among the lower courts to the detriment of free expression. The right of publicity is a modern tort, first recognized in 1953” in the case of Haelan Labs., Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 202 F.2d 866 (2d Cir. 1953). Thus does Mr. Smith begin his brief and his discussion of the “modern tort” that gave rise to the First Amendment defenses raised in EAI. 

 Conflict in the Circuits

The Supreme Court has not addressed the question, and decisions from the lower courts are a conflicting mix of balancing tests and frameworks borrowed from other areas of free-speech doctrine. — Judge Diane Sykes (2014)

As argued in the Petitioner’s cert. petition, the Supreme Court’s “only contribution came nearly forty years ago in Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co., (1977), in which the Court held [by a 5-4 vote] that the First Amendment did not bar a right-of-publicity claim against a television station that broadcast an entertainer’s entire human-cannonball act. . . . Thus, Zacchini offers little or no guidance in cases involving mere depictions of individuals, as opposed to appropriation of their actual performances in full.” On that score, and as discussed by Mr. Smith, there is a conflict among the lower courts as how to analyze such cases.

“The lower courts’ various and conflicting constitutional tests,” Smith maintains, “have resulted in numerous irreconcilable outcomes.” For example, in his brief he identifies the following conflicts:

  1. Transformative-Use Test: Used by the Third and Ninth Circuits.
  2. Rejection of Transformation-Use Test: The Second, Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh Circuits, along with the Florida and Kentucky Supreme Courts, have “held that the First Amendment protects non-commercial speech depicting well-known people even if the depiction is not transformed.” (See below re Rogers test).
  3. Case-Specific Balancing Test: Used by the Eight and Tenth Circuits.
  4. Predominate Purpose Test: Used by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Suggested Approach

The test used in Rogers v. Grimaldi (2nd Cir., 1989), Smith argues, “allows the right-of-publicity tort only when the speaker has used a depiction of, or reference to, a celebrity to sell something — either by falsely claiming a celebrity commercial endorsement or by including a celebrity image in a publication gratuitously, just to attract attention. Confined to these circumstances, the right of publicity does not raise constitutional concerns. Speech that falsely claims a commercial endorsement is akin to the category of fraudulent speech that the government has long regulated without any First Amendment concerns. And the gratuitous use of a celebrity’s image to attract attention, unrelated to any expressive content in the work, likewise falls outside First Amendment protection altogether. Thus confined, the right-of- publicity tort raises little constitutional concern.”

The brief closes with this admonition: “Unless and until this Court intervenes, a great deal of valuable and protected expression will be chilled.”

Related Articles, Events & Blogs

 → Rebecca Tushnet, “A Mask that Eats into the Face: Images and the Right of Publicity,” Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts (2015)

 Eugene Volokh,” Freedom of Speech and theRight of Publicity,” 40 Houston Law Review 903 (2003)

 Rothman’s Roadmap to the Right of Publicity: a 50-state interactive survey of right of publicity laws, plus breaking news.

→ On October 17, 2015, the Abrams Institute hosted a workshop entitled “Right of Publicity: Closed Workshop.” Participatants included Floyd Abrams, Paul M. Smith, Rebecca Tushnet, Jennifer Rothman, Mark Lemley, Jack M. Balkin, Bruce Keller, Stacey Dogan, and Lee Levine.  The following issues were addressed:

  1. Current state of right of publicity law;
  2. Introduction to the current relationship of right of publicity to copyright, trademark and privacy principles;
  3. First Amendment theories relevant to thinking about right of publicity;
  4. The nature of the “right”;
  5. How is the “right” to be reconciled with the First Amendment?;
  6. Relationship to Copyright law; Relationship to Trademark law; and
  7. Practical issues

11th Circuit finds Georgia State psychologists have no First Amendment right to complain Read More

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Can We Tolerate Tolerance?  

This is the third in a series of occasional short essays about free speech in America. Earlier installments can be found here and here.

We live in a tolerant society. Of course, that is an exaggeration. But when it comes to so many flashpoint issues – ranging from blasphemy to race-hate speech – we are far more tolerant than almost all other nations, so much so that we are routinely criticized for being too tolerant. It is our badge of honor . . . and dishonor.

Professor Mark Lilla

Professor Mark Lilla

Mindful of the events in France and Denmark earlier this year, I wonder: Will we continue to tolerate toleration if our world takes a terrible turn? My question has less to do with what is being tagged as the “terrorist’s veto” than with a more complex problem, and one therefore even more difficult to resolve. This problem occurred to me when I first read an eye-opening essay by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books, an essay entitled “France on Fire.” Here is a very brief excerpt:

“For the past quarter-century a political and intellectual culture war over the place of Islam in French society has been bubbling along, and every few years some event — a student wears a burka to school, riots erupt in a poor neighborhood, a mosque is attacked, the National Front wins a local election — renews hostilities.”

I want to extrapolate from that essay (at once insightful and provocative) in order to outline a phenomenon that may be hurling our way, a phenomenon related to toleration and dissident speech.

Before I do, however, let turn to the glorious side of the toleration equation by way of a well-known case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). Recall the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ flag-salute case, the one with that liberty-inspiring majority opinion by Justice Robert Jackson. In words that should be fixed in every lawmaker’s consciousness, Jackson declared: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.” The judgment in that case affirming First Amendment freedom is all the more amazing given that it was rendered in wartime and involved a religious sect that was then very much hated in various quarters of American society. (See Shawn Francis Peters, Judging Jehovah’s Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2000).)

The (Hypothetical) Problem

Against that backdrop, imagine the following scenario. Assume that the editors of a respectable libertarian magazine elected to publish several satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in order to make a First Amendment point and to take a stand against the “terrorist’s veto.” Assume thereafter that the Charlie Hebdo incident replayed itself in Cincinnati (the headquarters of my hypothetical magazine). Ten people who work for the magazine are murdered and two Muslim extremists take credit. Both of the terrorists are later killed in a shootout with police that also results in the deaths of two local police officers.

Here is where I begin to extrapolate from Professor Lilla’s essay. Now assume the following additional scenarios, replete with a few quotations from the Lilla essay”

  1. The Governor of Ohio calls for a moment of mourning with heads bowed on the day following the tragedy (say, the time is 11:00 a.m.);
  2. A “noticeable number” of Muslim public high school students in Cincinnati refuse, on religious and political grounds, to bow their heads;
  3. “And not only that. Some [tell] their teachers that the victims got what they deserved because no one should be allowed to mock the Prophet”;
  4. “Others celebrate the killers on social media, and circulate rumors that the entire crisis was manufactured by the government and/or Zionist agents”; and
  5. The parents (some of whom work for state and local governments) of some of these Muslim-American students speak openly (though not at work) to defend their children and endorse the positions they took.

Note that the Muslim-Americans in the above scenarios were otherwise peaceful and law abiding. And some Muslim-American leaders sought to counteract the messages of the violent extremists among them. That said, let me stir the pot a bit more with a few more scenarios and related questions:

  1. So far as government entities are involved, how far are we willing to go to accommodate (culturally, statutorily, and constitutionally) the religious views of the more observant and separatist Muslim-Americans who harbor what we would see as extreme views concerning homosexuality, female purity, and Jews and Israel?
  2. Finally, let me again from quote Professor Lilla to raise a final question: Some “students and their parents demand separate swimming hours or refuse to let their children go on school trips where the sexes might mix. . . . There are fathers who won’t shake hands with female teachers, or let their wives speak alone to male teachers. There are cases of children refusing to sing, or dance, or learn an instrument, or draw a face, or use a mathematical symbol that resembles a cross. The question of dress and social mixing has led to the abandonment of gym classes in many places. Children also feel emboldened to refuse to read authors or books that they find religiously unacceptable: Rousseau, Molière, and Madame Bovary. Certain subjects are taboo: evolution, sex ed, the Shoah. As one father told a teacher, ‘I forbid you to mention Jesus to my son.’” Does our commitment to religious freedom extend that far so as to accommodate the genuine religious views of those who hold them?

Let me be clear: I do not mean to demean Muslim-Americans as a class, nor do I wish to be understood as saying the above scenarios mirror the sentiments of most Muslim-Americans . I trust they are not. Then again, I may disagree with some of them, and sometimes vigorously, on several of the issues flagged above. But I also believe in toleration, and the ever-present need to be sensitive to the plight of minorities of all ideological, political, and religious stripes.

So where does that leave us?

Testing Our Tolerance Read More

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FAN 81.1 (First Amendment News) Floyd Abrams, “Beyond the Reach of Government”

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams

The following remarks were delivered at Yale Law School on Saturday, October 24, 2015 on the occasion of Floyd Abrams receiving the Yale Law School Association Award of Merit. Previous recipients include Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton. The remarks below are posted with Mr. Abrams’ permission.  

* * * * 

My ticket of admission to this party today appears to be the First Amendment so I thought I’d distill all my learning on the subject into a five minute presentation. Draw what conclusions you choose from my presumption in doing so – the notion of a five-minute tour of the First Amendment may be a first in and of itself – but here we go.

First, we’re lucky, really lucky, to have it. Not just because it’s a good thing that we have a First Amendment, although of course it is, but because we came so perilously close to not having it at all. It’s worth recalling that the states that met in Philadelphia in 1789 to draft a Constitution unanimously voted not to have a bill of rights at all. Why, Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 84, “declare that things should not be done which there is no power to do”? “Why,” he asked, “should it be said that liberty of the press should not be restrained when no power is given by which such restrictions may be imposed?” Only the unyielding position by Jefferson and others that, in Jefferson’s words, “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth” led to the adoption of any bill of rights, let alone one with a First Amendment.

imagesSecond, for all of its 18th century lineage, the First Amendment may be best understood – I know Justice Scalia would not approve – as a 20th century, even second half of the 20th century, document. It wasn’t seriously cited in any number of Supreme Court opinions as a bulwark against government overreach until the enduring Holmes and Brandeis opinions (often in dissent) in the 1920’s; it wasn’t applied to the states until the 1920’s; and the first federal law held to be unconstitutional based on the First Amendment did not occur until 1965.

Third, the First Amendment is negative in nature. It says “Congress shall make no law” on purpose. It doesn’t promise freedom of the press; it promises that the government will not abridge it. That leaves lots of room for interpretation. But it does not permit the conclusion – sorry about this, Justice Breyer – that “first and foremost, the First Amendment seeks to facilitate self-government” by “encouraging the exchange of information and ideas which are necessary for citizens themselves to shape “public opinion” No.

The First Amendment certainly facilitates self-government. It certainly helps in the shaping of public opinion. But first and foremost, it does so by putting free speech and free press, as Madison put it, “beyond the reach of this Government.”

Over half a century ago, the essayist Norman Cousins put it this way: It is not “that democracy lacks affirmative values. The affirmative values are many and varied, but they all rest on a solid bedrock of restraints upon government.”

Fourth, any bill of rights and any First Amendment is only meaningful if the government it purports to limit is prepared to obey it – to treat it as binding law. Consider this alternative to the First Amendment: “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and of association.” Not bad, right? But that’s to be found in Article 67 of the Constitution of North Korea, one of the world’s truly despotic, murderous and freedom-destroying nations. Its asserted protection of free speech is a lie, nothing less, since, it is rooted neither in any concept of law, let alone individual liberty.

To return to my beginning: We are a lucky people in so many ways. I am lucky and so are you to have attended this great institution. And we’re all lucky to live in a nation in which freedom of speech is so rightly revered.

© Floyd Abrams, 2015

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What does it mean to vindicate a First Amendment right of free expression?

The following short essay is substituting for this week’s issue of First Amendment News, which will resume next week.

* * * *

In times past if you wanted to get a real sense of the Supreme Court’s record on civil liberties you prepared charts indicating the Justices’ voting record in sustaining a claim of right. Take, for example, C. Herman Pritchett’s The Roosevelt Court: A Study in Judicial Politics and Values (1948). In chapter 9 of that book (p. 254, table 23) he calculated the percentage of times each Justice voted “pro” in civil liberties cases. Likewise in Civil Liberties and the Vinson Court (1954), he did something of the same. In chapter 10 of that book (p. 225, table 10), he calculated the percentage of times each Justice voted to “support . . . libertarian claims.” Justices Frank Murphy and Wiley Rutledge were at the top with a 100% record, while Chief Justice Fred Vinson and Justice Stanley Reed were well below at the bottom.

imagesHelpful as such studies were in past times, I wonder about their value in today’s tug-and-pull First Amendment world of free expression cases. Consider, for example, the record of the Roberts Court in the 41 such cases its has decided since 2006. It has upheld a First Amendment claim of right in 17 of 41 cases (in one case, a per curiam, the Court vacated and remanded the matter). That is a 41% record. But is it a 41% record of vindicating such First Amendment rights?

In one sense, the answer is simple: yes. The parties raised a First Amendment claim and a majority of the Court sustained it. End of story. Or is it?

To raise this question is to raise a more puzzling one. What exactly does it mean to vindicate a First Amendment freedom of expression claim? In today’s volatile atmosphere of supercharged liberalism and fortified conservatism, it can mean almost anything depending on which side of the ideological fence one stands. If you have a collective or “democratic” political-theory view of the Amendment — e.g. like that of Justice Stephen Breyer or Dean Robert Post or Professor Burt Neuborne — then that very much informs your constitutional calculus as to whether a First Amendment right has been vindicated or violated. By that collective constitutional measure, the “fairness doctrine” and he “net neutrality” one are formulas for vindicating First Amendment rights. But that view is radically different from, say, an atomistic understanding of the First Amendment like the one championed by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Floyd Abrams, and the Cato Institute.

Perhaps this is a modern-day version of an old debate. Merely consider the thinking displayed by Justice Byron White in his dissent in Gertz v. Welch (1974): “It is not at all inconceivable that virtually unrestrained defamatory remarks about private citizens will discourage them from speaking out and concerning themselves with social problems. This would turn the First Amendment on its head.” Likewise, analyzing the relationship between the First Amendment and copyright law created a sharp division in the Court in Harper & Row v. Nation Enterprises (1985) owing to the similar problem of a constitutional guaranty at war with itself. What makes such “constitutional tension unusual, as Professor Eugene Volokh once tagged it in a slightly different context,” is the conflict between opposing views of the First Amendment as to what it means to vindicate that right. After all, the tension here is not between the First Amendment and other rights (such as equal protection or a right to a fair trial), but between the First Amendment and itself.

To return to the free-speech mindsets of Breyer, Post , Neuborne and company, cases such as McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010) — both of which sustained rights claims — cannot be listed in the “pro” First Amendment column. Worse still, they are listed as “anti” First Amendment rulings. Much the same could be said of Harris v. Quinn (2014) where the Court divided 5-4 along conservative-liberal lines and struck down a compulsory collection of union fees provision. By the same new liberal norm, a case such as Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (2015) (denying a claim of right) might be seen as a “pro” First Amendment case.

Phrased another way, one First Amendment “right” is being swapped out for another but in the same case. Of course, this may seem strange because one thinks of rights on one side and the government on the other. And remember: rights runs against the government. So how can there be any swapping since the government does not have rights? — it has only constitutionally authorized powers.

This riddle might be “solved” in two ways: (1) by the government siding with one conception of First Amendment rights (e.g., with labor unions in compulsory support cases), or (2) by a third party entering a suit to assert its own version of a First Amendment right (e.g., invoking an argument in line with Breyer’s dissent in McCutcheon). To be sure, such moves might, among other things, implicate Article III standing issues. There is also the peculiar specter of the government siding with one conception of First Amendment in order to defeat another. In the old world, the government could abridge a First Amendment right, whereas in the new world it “vindicates” a right (depending on which side of the constitutional divide one is on).

In all of this there is more at work than dethroning a once-recognized constitutional right (as in the case of the demise of economic due process). There is, I think, a move to both defeat certain tenets of First Amendment law (e.g., campaign finance) and to erect others (net neutrality). In the case of the latter, the goal is to develop new notions of First Amendment law (e.g., in the compulsory support of unions line of cases and in the fairness doctrine area).

The old paradigm: Liberals demanded the vindication of First Amendment claims while conservatives tendered reasons why societal interests should trump such claims.

The new paradigm: Conservatives demand the vindication of certain First Amendment claims while liberals tender reasons why societal interests should override such claims.

The result: Conflicting norms of First Amendment rights. In this new constitutional environment, the conflict-of-rights dilemma of the Religion Clauses (Establishment vs Free Exercise) is destined to become the rights-in-conflict dilemma of the Free Speech and Press Clauses.

imagesOf course, this remove-and-restructure constitutional mindset is still in its theoretical phase and has yet to garner any formal recognition by a majority of the current Court. But now that this cat is out of its conceptual bag, might it begin to influence the way lawyers litigate free expression First Amendment cases? (Something of that very thing has already occurred, though not in entirely explicit way, in an amicus brief filed on behalf of Norman Dorsen, Aryeh Neier, Burt Neuborne and John Shattuck (“Past leaders” of the ACLU) in the Williams-Yulee case.)

What are we to make of this new way of considering whether a First Amendment right has been upheld or not? How are we to gauge whether our rights are being vindicated or violated? Will First Amendment law begin to change, both jurisprudentially and operationally?

While you ponder such questions, step back and ask yourself one more question: Have we entered some postmodern maze in which we have lost our constitutional bearing . . . or we are struggling to find our way out in the hope of discovering a new one?

______________

A sequel to this essay appears in the Boston University Law Review Annex symposium and is titled “The Liberal Divide & the Future of Free Speech” (commentary on Danielle Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace).

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FAN 81 (First Amendment News) Parody Prevails, Copyright Challenge Fails — the Play Goes On

David Adjmi

David Adjmi

David Adjmi is an accomplished playwright. Three years ago one of his plays, 3C, was performed at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. The New York Times described it as a “darkly comic deconstruction of the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company.” But DLT Entertainment Ltd., (the sitcom’s copyright owner) didn’t appreciate the humor, so its lawyers sent out a  cease-and-desist letter. The claim was that Mr. Adjmi had borrowed too much. Though the play went on, the suit did too. The question was whether there was a First Amendment parody and fair use privilege to do what Adjmi did.

That question was answered recently by United States District Court Judge Loretta A. Preska who ruled that “despite the many similarities between the [play and the sitcom], 3C is clearly a transformative use” and thus can be performed, published, and licensed.

Bruce Johnson

Bruce Johnson

At first Mr. Adjmi was tempted to give in to DLT Entertainment Ltd’s demands because he lacked the money to stay in the legal fight. The plot then thickened: Patrick Healy, then theatre reporter for the New York Times, was incensed, so he “started a petition on Adjmi’s behalf, which was signed by many in the industry, including some fancy people, too, like Stephen Sondheim and Aaron Sorkin and Tony Kushner.”

Enter Bruce Johnson, a noted First Amendment lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine. The turning point came when Mr. Johnson and his firm took on the case, pro bono. They won it. As Mr. Johnson told American Theatre“We took this on a pro bono basis because we care deeply about the theatre,” and felt that “meritless legal claims should not be used to block free speech.” As he saw it, “DLT was hoping that its greater financial resources would overmatch whatever legal help David [Adjmi] could find, if anyone.” That disturbed Johnson “because it was clearly intended to have an effect on David and his efforts to protect his free speech rights.”

In the words of the Bard, “all’s well that ends well.” (See below)

Performance & Panel Discussion ←

The Arts Integrity Initiative at The New School College of Performing Arts, School of Drama, will present the first public reading of David Adjmi’s 3C, following the work’s landmark legal victory. Directed by Jackson Gay, this is the first public performance of 3C following the landmark legal victory.

A panel discussion hosted by playwright and New School faculty member Jon Robin Baitz will include attorney Bruce Johnson and David Adjmi, speaking publically for the first time, about 3C’s journey since its world premiere in June of 2012 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

WHEN: 

WHERE: The New School Auditorium – 66 W. 12th Street New York City, New York

REGISTER: here

Abortion Buffer Zone Ordinance Invalidated Read More

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FAN 80 (First Amendment News) Coming Soon: Philippa Strum’s Book on Whitney v. California

Those familiar with American legal history, including its free-speech history, know the name Philippa Strum. The senior scholar at the Wilson Center is the author of, among other books, Louis D. Brandeis: Justice for the People (1984) and When the Nazis Came to Skokie (1999). Her latest book comes out early next month and is entitled Speaking Freely: Whitney v. California and American Speech Law. The book is being published by the University Press of Kansas and is part of the Landmark Law Cases and American Society. Here is the publisher’s abstract of the book:

51N0zk7v72L._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_“Anita Whitney was a child of wealth and privilege who became a vocal leftist early in the twentieth century, supporting radical labor groups such as the Wobblies and helping to organize the Communist Labor Party. In 1919 she was arrested and charged with violating California’s recently passed laws banning any speech or activity intended to change the American political and economic systems. The story of the Supreme Court case that grew out of Whitney’s conviction, told in full in this book, is also the story of how Americans came to enjoy the most liberal speech laws in the world.”

“In clear and engaging language, noted legal scholar Philippa Strum traces the fateful interactions of Whitney, a descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims; Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, a brilliant son of immigrants; the teeming immigrant neighborhoods and left wing labor politics of the early twentieth century; and the lessons some Harvard Law School professors took from World War I-era restrictions on speech. Though the Supreme Court upheld Whitney’s conviction, it included an opinion by Justice Brandeis — joined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. — that led to a decisive change in the way the Court understood First Amendment free speech protections. Speaking Freely takes us into the discussions behind this dramatic change, as Holmes, Brandeis, Judge Learned Hand, and Harvard Law professors Zechariah Chafee and Felix Frankfurter debate the extent of the First Amendment and the important role of free speech in a democratic society. In Brandeis’s opinion, we see this debate distilled in a statement of the value of free speech and the harm that its suppression does to a democracy, along with reflections on the importance of freedom from government control for the founders and the drafters of the First Amendment.”

“Through Whitney v. California and its legacy, Speaking Freely shows how the American approach to speech, differing as it does that of every other country, reflects the nation’s unique history. Nothing less than a primer in the history of free speech rights in the US, the book offers a sobering and timely lesson as fear once more raises the specter of repression.”

Philippa Strum is arguably the leading Brandeis scholar of the last fifty years. Justice Brandeis’s opinion in Whitney v. California is arguably the most inspiring and enduring judicial account ever of the reasons for a strong free speech principle. It seems only natural that Philippa Strum should write the definitive book on Whitney v. California. And she has done just that, uncovering much new material about Anita Whitney and those who prosecuted and defended her. This fascinating book is truly worthy of Brandeis, who relished resourceful factual investigation, instructive analysis, and lucid writing. — Vincent Blasi

Other books in the Landmark Law Cases and American Society series dealing with free speech include:

  1. Whitney Strub, Obscenity Rules: Roth v. United States and the Long Struggle over Sexual Expression (2013)
  2. Max Lender, Gitlow v. New York: Every Idea an Incitement (2012)
  3. Kermit Hall & Melvin Urofsky, New York Times v. Sullivan: Civil Rights, Libel Law, and the Free Press (2011)
  4. Robert Justin Goldstein, Flag Burning and Free Speech: The Case of Texas v. Johnson (2000)
  5. John W. Johnson, The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v. Des Moines and the 1960s (1997)

Guns on Campus — Free Speech Under Fire? 

Justice Scalia in District of Columbia v. Heller: “[The Court’s decision] “should not be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools or government buildings.

Oregon is one of the seven states that now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses. (See Auyero commentary below)

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Guns-and-Free-Speech Tyler Kingkade, “Texas Professors Warn Allowing Guns In Class Will Inhibit Free Speech,” Huffington Post, Oct. 5, 2015

Greg Piper, “‘Ad hominem’ attacks on gun-rights supporters convince University of Texas student to back concealed carry,” The College Fix, Oct. 6, 2015

Mike Spies, “Texas Professor Warns That Guns in Classrooms Could Dumb Down Provocative Lessons,” The Trace, Oct. 6, 2015

Anthony Hennen, “UT chancellor: Removing gun-free zones will “inhibit our freedom of speech,” Red Alert Politics, Oct. 5, 2015

→ Javier Auyero, “What the ‘campus carry’ law means for higher education,” Fortune, Oct. 5, 2015

Jim Vertuno, “University of Texas holds forum on concealed guns on campus,” Washington Times, Sept. 30, 2015

Jennifer Sinor, “Guns on Campus Have Already Curtailed Free Speech,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 27, 2014

Court sustains First Amendment claim in occupational licensing case Read More

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Joel Gora, The Roberts Court & the Future of Free Speech

Below is a post by a guest blogger, Professor Joel M. Gora. He is on the faculty of the Brooklyn Law School where he teaches constitutional law and related courses and has written extensively on First Amendment issues. He served as a lawyer for the national ACLU for nearly a decade and worked on dozens of United States Supreme Court cases, including many landmark rulings (see e.g., herehereherehere, and here). Chief among them was Buckley v. Valeo (1976). He worked on behalf of the ACLU on most  of the important campaign finance cases to come before the Court. He also served for more than 25 years on the board of directors of the New York Civil Liberties Union and was one of its general counsel. The views expressed here are his own. — rklc

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The new Supreme Court Term that begins today marks the tenth anniversary of “the Roberts Court,” which reached full complement in January 2006. That was when Associate Justice Samuel Alito joined the Court, which Chief Justice John G. Roberts had been appointed to lead a few months earlier. The resulting coalition of a five-Justice “conservative majority” has had significant impact on the Court’s jurisprudence in a number of areas, and this has been especially evident in its rulings on the crucial First Amendment right of freedom of speech. In my view, “the Roberts Court” may well be the most speech-protective Court in a generation – if not in the Nation’s history – reaffirming and expanding extraordinary protection for free speech in a variety of settings. In the process, the Court has rebuffed numerous attempts by government and its allies to restrict established free speech protections or create new free speech limitations.

Professor Joel Gora

Professor Joel Gora

First, in a series of cases, the most well-known of which is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the Court has been insistent that protecting political speech is at the heart of the First Amendment’s purposes in a democracy and that limits on political spending are limits on political speech and can rarely be justified. The Court’s theory, echoing earlier rulings, is that government restrictions on how much can be spent to speak about politics and government and what individuals or groups can do the spending and speaking are fundamentally anathema to the essence of political freedom of speech and association.

In these campaign finance cases, the Court has also reaffirmed a theme that transcends politics: that another core purpose of the First Amendment is to guarantee that the people, not the government, get to determine what they want to say and how they want to say it. This liberty-affirming concept, which celebrates the autonomy of each person and group and condemns censorship of thought and speech by government, has application well beyond the political realm and guarantees the strongest protection to free speech in a number of settings, including protection for artistic, corporate and commercial speech as well. In all of these areas the Roberts Court has insisted that the First Amendment presumption against government censorship is but another recognition of individual and group freedom.

Applying these principles, the Court has steadfastly refused to declare speech that many deemed socially worthless to be beyond the pale of the First Amendment’s protection. In rejecting government efforts to criminalize depictions of animal cruelty, regulate the sale of violent video games to young people, punish those who lie about receiving military honors, unduly regulate those who protest near abortion clinics, and permit damages to the targets of even hateful and hurtful homophobic slurs and insults, the Court has reaffirmed that it is the individual, not the government, who must judge the worth of such speech. In those cases the Court emphatically refused to expand the very short list of “non-speech” exceptions from First Amendment protection, such as, obscenity and fighting words.

To be sure the Roberts Court has not invariably ruled in favor of free speech claims. It has allowed government, in some circumstances, to censor student speech, government employee speech, certain forms of campaign funding associated with elections to judicial office, and speech supporting terrorist organizations. It has also given government some leeway to control speech on or utilizing government’s own property. But these few exceptions help prove the rule that, outside these few instances, the Court has insisted on preserving the vital individual and societal First Amendment values served by affording the most rigorous protection to free speech.  The same regard for the individual can also found in a number of significant cases where the Court has protected religious freedom against the demands of government, including safeguarding the rights of a church to determine whom to hire as a teacher, a family-held company to resist providing health care insurance against its religious convictions, a Muslim prisoner to wear a beard for religious reasons despite prison security concerns, and an employee to wear a religious head scarf despite a company’s dress code appearance rules.

What does the future hold for free speech in the Roberts Court? The Court’s free speech docket for the upcoming Term is a modest one at this point, though involving an important case about whether non-union public employees can be compelled to pay the union for representing them against their will. Also, the court has just agreed to hear a government employee free speech case. So, time will tell whether the Roberts Court will continue to be the surprisingly powerful voice for free speech that it has become.

Dissenting Justices and prominent legal scholars have suggested that the Roberts Court has gone too far in overprotecting freedom of speech and not properly taking account of, and balancing the needs of, government which have been advanced to justify the particular restrictions on speech at issue. Other critics write off the Court’s free speech jurisprudence as simple right-wing favoritism of the rich and the powerful, insisting instead that the First Amendment should mainly protect just the deserving “lonely pamphleteer” or “soapbox orator” of an earlier era.

Ironically, liberals who usually led the fight for free speech a generation ago are more likely to be leading the charge to restrict free speech today. The current Court, however, has strongly maintained that the First Amendment must be available to every person or group who would seek to exercise its rights and has refused to means-test free speech protection. In taking that position, the Roberts Court is relying on free speech themes sounded in earlier, more “liberal” eras of the Court and building upon and strengthening the foundational pillars of free speech erected by the great Justices like Holmes, Brandeis, Black, Douglas and Brennan.

And, that is all to the good for one final, troubling, albeit ironic reason.  In a time when the Supreme Court seems to be affording more free speech in its rulings than any predecessor Court has done, in everyday life, these are trying times for free speech. Censorship seems to reign, both at home and abroad, in what sometimes seems to be a war on free speech. Whether it be the instantaneous condemnation and punishment of fraternity members for singing racially offensive lyrics at a social event, the brazen murder of journalists for producing anti-Muslim cartoons and commentary, or the cancelling of celebrity contracts for making offensive remarks or expressing unpopular views, free speech in everyday life seems often under attack and in jeopardy.

Enhanced by technology, and “going viral,” one slip of the tongue, caught on camera or recorder, can ruin an individual’s career or life prospects. Technology has also facilitated unprecedented surveillance of citizens, which can create a new form of chilling effect to suppress criticism of government. And, too often, our campuses, rather than being sanctuaries of free speech, thought and inquiry, are venues for suppression and censorship of “hurtful” ideas.

In the face of these various suppressions of speech, it is imperative that at least where the law is concerned the Supreme Court continues to make it quite clear that free speech must be the rule and government censorship the rare exception.

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FAN 79 (First Amendment News) Conduits and Communication: Is “Mere” Transmission Speech? — Gov. Says No in Net Neutrality Case

“[T]here is no real basis for contending that mere transmission of bits is ‘speech.'”

Stuart Minor Benjamin (2014)

Assistant Attorney General William J. Baer

Assistant Attorney General William J. Baer

The above statement (by a former FCC distinguished scholar and now a Duke Law professor) is quoted approvingly in the government’s brief in United States Telecom Association, et al v. Federal Communications Commission. The government began its brief by declaring: “This case is about whether the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to ensure that the Internet, the central means of communication in the 21st Century, remains open to all Americans.” To that end the government’s lead lawyers, William J. Baer and Jonathan Sallet, made the following arguments in Part VI of their brief:

“The Open Internet Rules are Consistent with the First Amendment”

  •  “[T]he rules do not impair broadband providers’ First Amendment rights at all . . . because broadband providers are not acting as speakers but instead as conduits for the speech of others. . . .”
  • “The [FCC] Order does not curtail broadband providers’s free speech rights because providers of Broadband Internet Access Service are not acting as speakers delivering their own messages, but instead serve as conduits for the speech of others.”
  • “For conduct to possess “sufficient communicative elements to bring the First Amendment into play,” it must manifest “an intent to convey a particularized message” and “be understood [as a message] by those who viewed it.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397, 404 (1989) (internal quotation marks omitted). The provision of broadband service lacks these essential  characteristics. . . . Nor is there anything in the record to suggest that companies providing mass-market retail broadband  service as defined in the Order are seeking to convey any particularized message to their users. Instead, when providing Broadband Internet Access Service, broadband providers function (and are understood by their users to function) simply ‘as conduits for the speech of others, not as speakers themselves.'”
  •  “By simply delivering content as requested by their customers, broadband providers are no different from telephone companies or FedEx. See Benjamin, 127 HARV. L. REV. F. at 348-49.”
  • Alamo’s First Amendment challenge thus fails here for the same reason as the challenge in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47 (2006). In FAIR, universities argued that a law requiring them to allow military recruiters to use their job-recruiting facilities violated the First Amendment by requiring the universities to carry the military’s speech. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected that claim, explaining that the access requirement “regulates conduct, not speech. It affects what law schools must do—afford equal access to military recruiters—not what they may or may not say.” Id. at 60. Thus, ‘the schools are not speaking when they host interviews and recruiting receptions.’ Id. at 64. Here, as in FAIR, the Open Internet rules ‘regulate[] conduct, not speech,’ because they address only what broadband providers ‘must do . . . not what they may or may not say.’ Id. at 60. The rules therefore fall outside the ambit of the First Amendment.”

On December 4, 2015 the case will be argued in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The FCC Order can be found here

→ For links to the various Orders and Briefs  in the case, go here.

Another View re First Amendment Coverage?

Electronic Frontier Foundation & ACLU amicus brief

The [FCC’s] Order implicates the competing First Amendment interests of individual  users to speak and seek speech online, and of ISPs to transmit speech without undue government interference. 

UN Commission Calls for Web Censorship

Caitlin Dewey

Caitlin Dewey

This from Caitlin Dewey writing in the Washington Post: “It may not have intended to, precisely, but the United Nations just took sides in the Internet’s most brutal culture war.On Thursday, the organization’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development released a damning “world-wide wake-up call” on what it calls ‘cyber VAWG,’ or violence against women and girls. The report concludes that online harassment is “a problem of pandemic proportion” — which, nbd, we’ve all heard before.”

“But the United Nations then goes on to propose radical, proactive policy changes for both governments and social networks, effectively projecting a whole new vision for how the Internet could work.”

“Under U.S. law — the law that, not coincidentally, governs most of the world’s largest online platforms — intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook generally can’t be held responsible for what people do on them. But the United Nations proposes both that social networks proactively police every profile and post, and that government agencies only ‘license’ those who agree to do so. . . .”

The Commission’s Report can be found here.

Reporters Committee Levels Objections to “Right to be Forgotten” Order

UnknownIn a letter dated September 14, 2015, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 29 other media and news organizations wrote to President Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin of the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés. Here are some excerpts from that letter:

“The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the undersigned news and journalism organizations write to express concerns regarding the notice given by CNIL to Google Inc. on May 21, 2015 ordering the company to apply new delisting requirements to all domains of the search engine and not merely to its domains in the European Union. In making its order public, CNIL referred specifically to its desire to ‘inform . . . content publishers . . . of the scope . . . of the right to obtain erasure of personal data.’ It is in that spirit of dialogue that we offer these objections.”

In their letter the groups raised four basic objections:

  1. “CNIL’s action raises concerns about encroachment on speech and press freedoms worldwide as well as on the right of access to information.”
  2. “Mere accessibility of content on the Internet is not a standard; it’s a surrender to an Internet governed by the least protective speech laws around the world.”
  3. “Search engines must be able to notify publishers of delisting,” and
  4. “he CNIL order does not adequately protect other fundamental rights, including the fundamental right of free expression and access to information.”

The groups closed by stating: “We recognize France’s right to weigh the competing interests between promoting personal privacy and data protection and protecting free expression and access to information in a way that reflects its values. But when CNIL seeks to compel Internet users outside of the EU to live with the balance it has struck in this area, it crosses a line and creates an ominous new precedent for Internet censorship that jeopardizes speech and press freedoms worldwide. . . .”

Into the “Weeds” with Posner 

Pic of native Illinois weeds

Pic of native Illinois weeds

Two days ago a Seventh Circuit panel handed down its decsion in Discount, Inn, Inc. v. City of Chicago. In that case a Chicago agency ruled that the Petitioner violated two city ordinances — a weed ordinance and a fencing ordinance. Among other claims, the Petitioner alleged that the weed ordinance “is vague and forbids expressive activity protected by the First Amendment. The concern is that native plants, while sharing with weeds the property of not having to be planted, are, unlike weeds, beautiful and nondestructive when properly managed.”

Photos of said Illinois native plants are included in Judge Richard Posner’s opinion. On that score Judge Posner noted: “A legitimate concern of property owners who grow native plants is that enforcers of the weed ordinance will mistake native plants for ‘weeds,’ an undefined term in the ordinance . . . .” But that point did not save the day for the Petitioner: “Even if we assume (as is plausible) that the weed ordinance does not embrace native‐plant gardens, this can do nothing for Discount Inn, because it does not argue that its properties contain gardens of native or other decorative plants. Instead it argues that the ten‐inch ceiling on weeds violates the free‐speech clause of the First Amendment.”

Pic of community garden in which the gardeners cultivate Illinois native plants,

Pic of community garden in which the gardeners cultivate Illinois native plants

Turning to the merits of the First Amendment issue, Posner observed: “Though plants do not speak, this need not exclude all gardens from the protection of the clause, for the clause has been expanded by judicial interpretation to embrace other silent expression, such as paintings. . . . The gardens of Sissinghurst Castle and of Giverny might well be recognized as works of art were they in the United States. There may be gardens in Chicago, whether consisting of native or other plants, that are or should be recognized as works of art. . . . But the plaintiff’s claim that the free‐speech clause insulates all weeds from public control is ridiculous. It’s not as if the plaintiff invented, planted, nurtured, dyed, clipped, or has otherwise beautified its weeds, or that it exhibits or intends or aspires to exhibit them in museums or flower shows. Its weeds have no expressive dimension. The plaintiff just doesn’t want to be bothered with having to have them clipped.”

Posner then turned to his garbage-and-Beethoven argument:

Taken to its logical extreme, the plaintiff’s defense of the weed would preclude any efforts by local governments to prevent unsightly or dangerous uses of private property. Homeowners would be free to strew garbage on their front lawn, graze sheep there, and broadcast Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony 24 hours a day through outdoor loudspeakers — all in the name of the First Amendment.

[ht: Howard Bashman, How Appealing]

KY Campaign Donations Law Challenged

A recent story in the  Lexington Herald-Leader reported on a new challenge to campaign finance laws, one that relates to political bribes or their equivalent. Here is an excerpt: 

“Republican state Sen. John Schickel and two Libertarian political candidates are suing to overturn state laws limiting campaign donations to $1,000 and prohibiting gifts to legislators from Frankfort lobbyists.”

“The politicians say the laws violate their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection by restricting their access to people who want to help them. But state regulators say the laws are meant to prevent bribery at the state Capitol. Most were enacted after Operation BOPTROT, an FBI investigation in 1992 that exposed 15 current or former legislators who sold their votes. Don Blandford, the House speaker, was among those sent to prison. . . .”

“They are challenging the state’s $1,000-per-election contribution limit to individual candidates. They also want the court to strike down ethics rules prohibiting Frankfort lobbyists from donating campaign money to legislators or legislative candidates; barring the employers of lobbyists from donating while the General Assembly is in session; and outlawing gifts from lobbyists to legislators, including private meals.”

The case is Schickel v. Dilger (Dist. Ct., E. Dist. KY). The complaint can be found here.

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