Civil Rights Law & Policy Blog

Editor: Andrew M. Ironside

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Police order woman to remove 'Unmarked police car' bumper sticker

Professor Jonathan Turley lays out the basics of this disappointing story:

The two cars pulled over Konchinsky and one officer ordered her to stay in her vehicle. An officer then asked if the minivan was her vehicle and demanded her license and registration.” He then reportedly stated “With that bumper sticker, someone could think you’re impersonating a police officer.’” He then allegedly added that she could even be shot by someone who didn’t like police officers. They ordered her to pile off the bumper sticker if she wanted to go. She was late for work and later contacted the ACLU. She is the mother of one adult and one school-age child.

Read Prof. Turley's full post here.

July 3, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 27, 2014

'The Supreme Court Was Right to Allow Anti-Abortion Protests'

The LATimes may not have liked SCOTUS's decision in McCullen v. Coakley, but renowned constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe finds the decision "unquestionably" correct. In his NYTimes op-ed, he writes:

Cases like McCullen force us to balance competing constitutional values: free speech against the safety and autonomy of women. Here the balance tips unquestionably toward speech. A woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy under Roe v. Wade guarantees her protection from the state. This protection does not include a right to be shielded by the state from fellow citizens hoping to peacefully convince her that she’s making the wrong choice. In his opinion for the court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. affirmed the value of these personal conversations: “If all that the women can see and hear are vociferous opponents of abortion, then the buffer zones have effectively stifled petitioners’ message.”

He later adds:

In his quest to bring all his colleagues on board, Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion that implausibly described the Massachusetts statute as neutral as between anti-abortion speech and abortion rights speech — a neutrality that four conservative justices rightly dismissed as illusory, revealing a court sharply divided beneath its veneer of unanimity.

 

Justice Antonin Scalia, the most forceful of the conservatives, correctly criticized this sleight-of-hand in his concurrence with Chief Justice Roberts, arguing convincingly, as did Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., that the law at issue was anything but neutral toward the content of the speech at issue but represented a form of censorship. Justice Scalia and the justices joining him, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas, worried that a spurious unanimity by the court would encourage other jurisdictions to attempt, and get away with, similar sorts of discrimination favoring some kinds of speech over others.

 

This is not to say that other rights can never outweigh free speech. In 1992, the court upheld a buffer zone limiting political speech around a polling place. Thursday’s opinion sensibly distinguished between voting booths and abortion clinics, focusing on the difficulty of detecting low-visibility voter intimidation as compared with the “anything but subtle” harassment of women seeking abortions.

 

It focused as well on the deliberate exclusion of police officers near polling places in order to avoid the reality or appearance of official pressure on voters, an issue absent with abortion clinics, where the police are free to protect women from being pressured by others. The state has many alternative measures available to protect patient safety and autonomy, and the court’s decision rightly insists that the state must exhaust those alternatives before resorting to a blanket restriction of free speech.

 

Thursday’s opinion in no way restricts the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, in 1973, and reaffirmed, in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Nor does recognizing a duty to protect freedom of speech in this setting ask us to deny the genuine anguish suffered even by women who are confronted by quiet protesters rather than noisy agitators on their way to use reproductive health services. But neither empathy for their anguish, nor the need to protect the safety of women seeking such services, nor the clear need to guard against the rising tide of state laws designed to restrict access to abortions, can justify far-reaching measures that restrict peaceful conversation in public spaces.

June 27, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

LATimes editorial laments SCOTUS decision to strike down buffer zones around abortion clinics

Yesterday, SCOTUS announced its decision in McCullen v. Coakley striking down Massachusetts' law banning anti-abortion protesters from coming within 35 feet of abortion clinics as violative of the First Amendment. The LATimes Editorial Board isn't pleased. It writes:

The 1994 shootings may have been the impetus for Massachusetts to write its first law on the subject, but the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports the right to abortion, notes that clinics across the country continue to report bombings, vandalism, blockades, arson and violent protests. Just because some opponents of abortion are peaceful doesn't mean women don't need protection from others.

 

You'll hear no argument from us about how vital the right to free speech is. But that does not mean that all other rights must yield to it at all times.

June 27, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Few protections exist for the victims of online harassment

One needs to spend little time online to experience the wrath of easily and oft-slighted morons. Say something about anything on a message board and you're bound to draw the attention of someone looking for space and a target for their frustrations. Such tirades are usually humorous in their Internet_trollsimplicity, but occasionally their authors cross the line. However, as The Atlantic's Noah Berlatsky reports, a notable study by the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School finds that victims of online harassment find little relief from the law. Berlatsky writes:

[The study's authors] point to the case of United States v. Alkhabaz, in which the defendant described in detail on a Usenet message board violent sexual acts he imagined performing on one of his classmates. The case was eventually thrown out because the defendant did not email the story to his classmate, and did not intend her to see it. As the authors say, "Alkhabaz demonstrates that the burden to determine a 'true threat' is quite high, and presumably most hostile online speech would fail to meet the standard determined by the Sixth Circuit." In fact, [Alice] Marwick and [Ross] Miller found very few incidents in which a harasser faced criminal penalties. It hardly ever happens.

 

Despite such difficulties, it's not clear that it would be a good idea to make it easier to criminalize online speech. As the authors say, "People from all sides of the political, social, and economic spectrum use ‘internet vigilantism’ to target and shame those they disagree with, from Men’s Rights activists shaming feminist filmmakers to feminists shaming writers they believe to be sexist." There are already high-profile discussions which frame activism by women of color online as abusive. If online speech is criminalized, it seems likely that the most powerful speakers won't be targeted first.

 

So, if the police are unlikely to act, and the First Amendment makes most legal remedies impossible, what can you do? 

 

Practically, the path most victims have taken is to use the legal system not to win a judgment, but to subpoena IP records. Legal proceedings can allow victims to unmask and potentially publicize the names of their anonymous harassers. This is what Lori Stewart eventually did. After going to the police, she was able to discover the harasser's identity; Robin B. King, a 56-year-old Defense Department employee based in the Saint Louis suburbs. (In April, King pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of harassment through electronic communication, according to local news reports.)

 

Unfortunately, even identifying harassers doesn't necessarily stop them. As Marwick told me in an email: "Right now unmasking anonymous users is often seen as the best option by the harassed, often because it's very very difficult to pursue criminal proceedings and service providers are not legally required to remove content or reveal information about their users. However, that doesn't mean it's an effective solution. While the threat of revealing IP addresses and ‘real names’ can deter some harassers, it's certainly not true for all."

 

Marwick added that Lori Stewart's threat to reveal Robin King's identity didn't end his harassment. Stewart had to actually get a restraining order, and press charges. 

 

Ultimately, the best way to deal with harassment is probably not legal, but communal. Marwick told me that, "there are places on the internet where such harassment does not happen, whether due to the culture and norms of the site, or aggressive moderation." She pointed to Metafilter "which discusses all manner of controversial and personal issues. It costs $5 to set up an account, and postings can easily be flagged and removed." Another example (that Marwick doesn't mention) is Comic Book Resources, a comics website which revamped its message boards after one of its writers received rape and death threats.

 

Hiring moderators and policing comments can be expensive, and the logistics become very difficult when you're dealing with something as large as Twitter or Facebook. Still, Marwick and Miller suggest that getting Twitter and Facebook to deal more proactively with harassment is likely going to be easier, and more effective, than trying to pass new laws, or increase prosecutions. And smaller venues, too, have a responsibility to prevent harassment and protect users—all the more so since the government is not likely to do it for them.

June 18, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

'When it comes to politics, there's no need to outlaw lying'

The Los Angeles Times's editorial board today summarily dismisses the constitutionality of laws criminalizing false statements about political candidates. It claims that such laws chill speech otherwise protected by the First Amendment, writing:

In more than a dozen states it can be a criminal offense to make a false statement about a candidate for public office. But such laws are unnecessary, and open to abuse. On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision that could be the first step in doing away with them.

 

The justices ruled in favor of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group that wants to challenge an Ohio law making it a crime to utter a false statement "concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official." The issue before the court was whether the group had suffered a sufficient injury to have standing to sue.

 

During the 2010 election campaign, the Susan B. Anthony List planned to post an ad on billboards accusing then-Rep. Steven Driehaus (D-Ohio) of voting "for taxpayer-funded abortion" when he supported the Affordable Care Act. After plans for the ad were reported in the news, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, a panel of which determined that there was "probable cause" that the ad was false.

 

The ad never went up because the owner of the billboard space feared legal reprisals. Driehaus withdrew his complaint after losing the election and before final commission action or referral to prosecutors. But the Susan B. Anthony List persisted in challenging the constitutionality of the law. A federal appeals court ruled that the suit couldn't proceed because the issues were now moot and the plaintiffs no longer faced an "imminent threat" of prosecution.

 

The Supreme Court's decision to overturn that ruling is welcome because citizens who believe their freedom of speech is being chilled by an unconstitutional law shouldn't have to wait until they are prosecuted to challenge the law. Furthermore, the decision increases the likelihood that the court will eventually rule on whether laws like Ohio's violate the 1st Amendment.

 

We think they do. No one condones lying about (or by) politicians. But the price of criminalizing false statements in political campaigns is that candidates and citizens alike may be deterred from engaging in the "uninhibited, robust and wide-open" debate that the court has said is protected by the Constitution. And often it will be a matter of debate whether a characterization of a candidate's record is false or merely misleading.

 

In 2012, the justices struck down a federal law making it a crime for a person to falsely claim to have received military honors. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote: "The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true." That observation is especially applicable to the cut-and-thrust of a political campaign. The veracity of statements about a candidate's record is best policed by his opponents and by fact-checkers in the media, not by prosecutors.

June 18, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

First Amendment right to post mugshots online?

The First Amendment is the subject of considerable dispute, particularly as it relates to freedom of speech. The Founders left very little guidance as to what qualifies as speech, and thus SCOTUS and academics have been left to debate the merits of certain conduct as speech under the First Amendment on mostly theoretical grounds. Technological advances have drastically changed methods of communication, which, in turn, have made these inquiries even more difficult.

The Internet of course has increasingly drawn the attention of First Amendment scholars. The constitutionality of laws criminalizing revenge porn, for example, appears increasingly as the subject of debate. Many believe that these laws can be written narrowly enough so as to avoid infringing on otherwise valid First Amendment activity, while others feel that the very existence of such laws inevitably chills speech. 

Similarly, the propriety of posting mugshots online is being questioned, which some websites claim is protected First Amendment speech. The websites that publish the mugshots usually don't differentiate between persons convicted of crimes and those whose charges were later dropped. As Fox News's Dan Gallo reports:

At least seven states...recently pass[ed] laws to restrict websites from profiting off mugshots: Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Utah, Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming. Marc Epstein, a lawyer for Mugshots.com, told Fox News that such laws are unconstitutional and violate his client's First Amendment rights.

 

"Unpopular speech, unpopular actions are generally protected under the First Amendment, provided they're not illegal in other ways," Epstein said. "It's uncomfortable, perhaps. But it doesn't rise anywhere near the level of extortion. We threaten nobody."

 

Consumer attorney Brian Kabatek is suing one of the websites, which he accuses of legalized extortion.

 

"They're putting it out there not for some great public purpose," he said. "They're putting it out there for economic gain. And that's the only reason they're doing this."

May 7, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 25, 2014

N.Y. limit on contributions by independent groups violates First Amendment, says federal judge

A federal judge in New York did precisely what many knew he would do - he struck down the state's limit on campaign contributions by independent groups. According to the NYTimes:

Money_tunnel2In a five-page opinion, Judge Crotty lamented the influence of outsize donations in today’s political system. He wrote that the voices of regular citizens “are too often drowned out by the few who have great resources,” and disagreed with some of the Supreme Court’s analysis in the recent case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.

 

But despite his concerns, Judge Crotty wrote that he had no choice but to follow the Supreme Court’s lead in that case and in the landmark Citizens United campaign finance case, as well as the guidance of the Second Circuit.

 

“Our Supreme Court,” he wrote, “has made clear that only certain contribution limits comport with the First Amendment.” 

April 25, 2014 in Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Oregon judge holds flashing headlights to alert other drivers of law enforcement is protected under First Amendment

The AP reports that an Oregon judge has ruled that the First Amendment protects drivers who flash their headlights to alert other drivers of the presence law enforcement as free speech. According to the judge,  "The government certainly can and should enforce the traffic laws for the safety of all drivers on the road. However, the government cannot enforce the traffic laws, or any other laws, to punish drivers for their expressive conduct." 

Speed-trapAs the article explains:

Hauling a truckload of logs to a Southern Oregon mill last fall, Chris Hill noticed a sheriff's deputy behind him and flashed his lights to warn a UPS driver coming the other way.

 

The deputy pulled over Hill on U.S. Highway 140 in White City and handed him a $260 ticket for improperly using his headlights, saying another deputy had seen the flashing lights from behind the UPS truck and alerted him to stop the log truck because of the signaling.

 

Outraged, Hill decided to fight the ticket, and on Wednesday, a Jackson County Justice Court judge dismissed the citation, finding that motorists flashing their headlights amounts to speech protected by the Oregon Constitution.

 

Judge Joseph Carter determined the law covering the use of high beams was valid, but was unconstitutional as it was applied by the deputy.

First Amendment protection of such conduct seems entirely reasonable to me. SCOTUS has routinely extended speech protection to generalized expressions, even when the reasoning for such expressions is not known. For example, it has protected signatures on referendum petitions, the wearing of black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, and political yard signs. The Fourth Circuit recently even granted speech protection to support for a political candidate's campaign on Facebook by clicking the "Like" icon. Flashing one's headlights at another driver (for whatever reason) seems no less worthy of protection. 

The most compelling detail in this story is that the driver who originally received the ticket represented himself.  

As the article notes, Mr. Hill is an experienced driver who decided to fight the citation to protect himself against an increase to his insurance rate. So, he researched the issue and decided the free speech argument was applicable to the conduct for which he was ticketed. And the judge agreed.

Nicely played, sir! Nicely played indeed.

April 11, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, April 4, 2014

A brief summary of the development of campaign finance laws

Today, WaPo reporter Jaime Fuller provides this intriguing historical summary of political spending and attempts by federal and state governments to regulate campaign finance. She FreedmenVotingInNewOrleans1867begins by recounting the early efforts of a young George Washington to persuade voters by the then-common practice of treating--whereby candidates provided banquets of food and liquor at the polling place; she ends, of course, with the Supreme Court's decision earlier this week in McCutcheon v. FEC

After recounting Washington's electioneering efforts in 1757, Fuller jumps to the campaign finance law passed by Congress in 1867 making it illegal to solicit donations from naval yard workers. However, the intervening years were not bereft of efforts to curb seemingly excessive spending in campaigns.

Colonial assemblies and state goverments routinely attempted to reduce the influence of money in politics. As Chilton Williamson documents in his book American Suffrage From Property to Democracy, 1760- 1860, "Colonial assemblies tried to curb these electoral abuses by a spate of laws...against the treating of electors[.]" Richard Dinkin notes, for example, the Maryland colonial assembly's attempt to limit such practices, citing a 1768 election law:

[T]hat  on any petition for treating, this house will not take into consideration, or regard the greatness or smallness of any treat, but will in all cases, in which any person or persons,...directly or indirectly give, present, or allow to any person having a voice or vote in such election, any money, meat, drink, entertainment or provision, or make any present, gift reward, or entertainment,...whatsoever, in order to be elected, or for being elected, will declare the election of such person voice.

Additionally, the move from public to private voting by the adoption of the Australian ballot--or secret ballot--was often viewed as an effort to curtail campaign spending. In fact, the eventual popularization of the Australian ballot in the U.S. is commonly attributed to Henry George's 1883 article titled Money in Elections. Notably, he writes:

To begin with what I conceive would be the greatest single reform. By adopting the Australian plan of voting, now for some years in successful operation in England, we could abolish at one stroke all the expense of printing and distributing tickets, and all the expense and demoralization consequent on the employment of “workers,” and very much lessen the importance of party nominations and party machinery. Under that plan the ballots are printed at public expense, and contain names of all persons duly registered as candidates. When the voter approaches the poll he is handed one of these ballots. He enters a compartment, where a pencil or pen and ink are provided, and, concealed from observation, strikes off the names of those he does not which to vote for, or as in England, indicates by a mark those he prefers, and then folding up the ballot, presents it… [T]he corruption of primary politics, and the practice of selling votes in nominating convents, would be destroyed, and the practice of blackmailing candidates by the so-called indorsement of political clubs whose only object is to make money, would be destroyed…[T]he practice of buying votes, and that of coercing voters by error of discharge from employment, would be in large part, if not altogether, broken up by the difficulty of telling how a man voted. There would be no putting a ticket in a man’s hand and keeping an eye on it until deposited.

CRL&P related posts:

April 4, 2014 in Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Right to Vote | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ninth Circuit declines to reconsider decision upholding CA law banning gay-conversion therapy

The Ninth Circuit said today that it will not reconsider its decision upholding California's ban on gay-conversion therapy. In August, a three-judge panel of the court held that the law did not violate the First Amendment because it regulated conduct, not speech. Indeed, the court wrote:

We conclude that the First Amendment does not prevent a state from regulating treatment even when that that treatment is performed through speech alone... [T]alk therapy does not receive special First Amendment protection merely because it is administered through speech. That holding rested on the understanding of talk therapy as the treatment of emotional suffering and depression, not speech. (citations and internal quotations omitted).

Today, the Courthouse News Service reports:

5-Things-to-Know-About-Gay-Conversion-Therapy-2California's continued ban on gay-conversion therapy effectively hands the government a "powerful tool to silence expression," a dissenting 9th Circuit judge warned Wednesday.

 

Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain made the remarks as his colleagues refused to hold an en banc rehearing after a three-judge panel with the federal appeals court upheld California's SB 1172.

 

The law prohibits state-licensed psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors from using sexual-orientation change therapy on patients younger than 18.

 

O'Scannlain argued Wednesday that the San Francisco-based panel who decided the issue in 2013 had improperly side-stepped the First Amendment by labeling as conduct what was essentially speech.

 

"In so doing, the panel contravenes recent Supreme Court precedent, ignores established free speech doctrine, misreads our cases, and thus insulates from First Amendment scrutiny California's prohibition - in the guise of a professional regulation - of politically unpopular expression," O'Scannlain wrote.

 

Empowered by this ruling of our court, government will have a new and powerful tool to silence expression based on a political or moral judgment about the content and purpose of the communications," he added.

The strength of our commitment to First Amendment principles occasionally is tried by the deplorable crusades of bigots and twits, and I find the promotion of gay-conversion therapy to fall sqaurely within that category. Nevertheless, the First Amendment protects such speech, so I'm happy to shrug off folks promoting such beliefs when I encounter them in public. However, the mental health treatment of teenagers is a horse of a different color, so to speak. Indeed, as Ken White commented at Popehat after the release of the Ninth Circuit's initial decision:

The persuasive force of the Ninth Circuit's ruling comes from two key points. First, you can't logically object to this law in particular without objecting to the entire structure of medical regulation that the courts have permitted. In other words, if you argue that parents have a fundamental right to inflict conversion therapy on their children, I think you have to argue they have a fundamental right to select "doctors" without medical degrees or doctors who will prescribe Laetrile or even doctors who will use therapies that could be affirmatively harmful to kids, like (for instance) unregulated rebirthing therapy.

 

Second, the law does not prohibit conversion therapy of adults, and does not prohibit speech endorsing or encouraging conversion therapy. As the Ninth Circuit acknowledges, California licensed therapists can lobby and agitate for conversion therapy, tell patients and their parents they support it (and that the patient should seek it elsewhere), express their views about homosexuality and conversion therapy, recommend the therapy once the patient reaches adulthood or in other jurisdictions, and even refer minors to unlicensed persons like ministers who are free to inflict conversion therapy.

 

In short, I'm not sure how you can logically strike down this law — or even subject it to strict scrutiny — without striking down every law and regulation of medical practice that touches on any remotely controversial practice.

January 29, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Criminalizing Revenge Porn

The title of this post comes from this fascinating paper by Professors Danielle Citron and Mary Anne Franks, the abstract of which states:

The non-consensual publication of non-newsworthy sexually graphic images deserves criminal punishment. It produces grave emotional and dignitary harms, exacts steep financial costs, and increases the risks of physical assault. A narrowly and carefully crafted criminal statute can comport with the First Amendment. Criminalization of revenge porn is necessary to protect against devastating privacy invasions that chill self-expression and ruin lives.

Profs. Citron and Franks explain that history affirms a willingness to occasionally criminalize invasions of privacy, writing:

Criminal law should have a role in deterring and punishing egregious privacy invasions like revenge porn. Criminalizing privacy invasions is not new. In their seminal article The Right to Privacy, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis argued that “[i]t would doubtless be desirable that the privacy of the individual should receive the added protection of the criminal law.”Since 1890, state and federal lawmakers have criminalized privacy invasions, such as the non-consensual recording of individuals in contexts where they enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

Indeed, they observe that courts have rejected claims that the First Amendment protects "certain non-consensual disclosures of private communications, such as sex tapes, on the grounds that such communications are not matters of legitimate public concern." Yet, few states have been willing to pursue the criminalization of revenge porn--i.e., the non-consensual release of private sexual communication. So far, only New Jersey and California have passed such laws. Profs. Citron and Franks argue that the ambivalence persists because (1) people don't appreciate its real harms, and (2) they misconceive the scope of the victim's consent. They claim:

One reason for society’s acceptance of non-consensual pornography is the failure to recognize the grave individual and societal harms it inflicts. Until recently, non-consensual pornography seems to have been viewed as a tolerable embarrassment. Brave victims are now speaking out to describe the physical attacks, stalking, financial costs, and psychic damage caused by this conduct. 

 

Another explanation for our inattention is the faulty assumption that a victim’s consensual sharing of a sexually explicit photograph with a trusted confidante equals a wide-ranging permission to share those images with the public. Said another way, a victim’s consent in one context is taken as consent in all contexts. Consent, however, is context-specific. Individuals who agree to being photographed or filmed for one purpose do not necessarily agree to have their images used for another. 

 

The contextual nature of consent is a staple of information privacy law. The Fair Information Practice Principles, reflected in privacy regulation and best practices, make clear that permitting an entity to use information in one context does not confer consent to use it.

Profs. Citron and Franks suggest that federal law should criminalize revenge porn--indeed, Prof. Franks is even working on federal legislation that would make internet companies liable for revenge porn posted by users. They also conclude that "[s]tates should craft narrow statutes that prohibit the publication of non-consensual pornography."

CRL&P related posts:

January 22, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Defense of 'Super PACs' and of the First Amendment

I have made a habit of posting papers debating various aspects of the post-Citizens United (pre-McCutcheon?) world of campaign finance under the First Amendment. Last week, I posted Outside Influence by Professor Anthony Johnstone, in which he explores the possibility of states and local communities regulating Campaign-finance-4outside campaign spending through the "structural constitutional principles of political community"; and, yesterday, in The Last Rites of Public Campaign Financing?, Professor James Sample ponders the apparently desolate future landscape for proponents of campaign public financing.  The title of today's campaign finance contribution is also the title of this post. In In Defense of 'Super PACs' and of the First Amendment, Professor Joel Gora  argues that Super PACs are not actually the "threats to democracy" claimed by their opponents, but rather they serve as a "[boon to] speech and debate in our political process[.]" Here's the abstract:

This article is a defense of “Super PACs” and of the First Amendment principles that they embody, namely, that we need a robust, wide-open and uninhibited discussion of politics and government in order to make our democracy work. Like the famous Citizens United ruling in 2010, Super PACs have gotten a bad press and have been widely condemned as threats to democracy. But Super PACs are really nothing new. They trace their origins back to Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1976 free speech ruling which rejected any justification for limiting the independent expenditures for political speech. Thus, the day after Buckley, individuals and groups were free to spend whatever they wished to support or oppose political candidates.  Whether they were allowed to join together for such purposes was less clear. But Citizens United removed any lingering doubt by holding that any speaker – individual, corporate, union, non-profit – was free to make independent expenditures without prohibition or limitation. Based on those principles, a federal appeals court easily and unanimously ruled that what one person or group could do individually, several people or groups could do cooperatively, namely, pool their resources to get out their common message. That is a Super PAC.

As a result, Super PACs played a noticeable role in the 2012 federal elections. But despite popular misconception, they did not dominate or control those elections, accounting for only 10 percent of the campaign spending, almost all contributions to them were fully and publically disclosed, and almost no corporations played any role in any such Super PAC spending. Indeed, so far as is known, extremely few Fortune 500 companies have contributed to support a Super PAC. Rather, Super PACs enabled more speech and debate in our political process, a result to be desired most significantly under the First Amendment. So, rather than being a threat to democracy, Super PACs have been a boon.

CRL&P related posts:

January 21, 2014 in Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Last Rites of Public Campaign Financing?

The title of this post comes from this paper from Professor James Sample arguing that the current state of the Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence as to campaign finance has created likely overwhelming legal and political obstacles to the viability of public financing options. Here's the abstract:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett, this Article asserts the current predicament of public campaign financing is such that options that are still on the table under the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence are, with only rare and idiosyncratic exceptions, fiscal and political non-starters. Conversely, options that would be, and indeed previously had been, fiscally and politically viable, are now, even after years of their routine practice in varied jurisdictions, no longer constitutional. It is, in short, simultaneously a legal and practical dilemma. 

Short of highly unlikely swings of the Supreme Court pendulum, and absent an even more unlikely constitutional amendment, cities, states, and federal government actors, who might otherwise consider allowing candidates for office to opt for voluntary public financing, now find themselves between a legal rock and a fiscal hard place: unless a jurisdiction adopts, via extraordinarily high initial lump sum funding that grossly overspends the people’s money to the point of fiscal ruin, any candidate opting in is effectively volunteering only to play the role of a sitting duck. 

On the more promising side, this Article asserts that systems that operate based on offering funding as a multiple for small-donor donations offer one potential solution to the dilemma. However, the Article ultimately contends that such systems are particularly vulnerable in jurisdictions with small populations insofar as moneyed interest groups from outside the jurisdiction can easily overwhelm, for example, even the multiplied donations of the citizens of largely rural states or jurisdictions.

January 20, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Citizens United exception permits state regulation of 'outside influence' in domestic politics

In Outside Influence, Professor Anthony Johnstone argues that states could curtail "outside influence" in state and local politics without violating "the otherwise universal speaker-neutrality rule of Citizens United" under protection of "the structural constitutional principles of political community." Here's the abstract:

By what rights do outsiders influence state or local politics? "Outsiders" include an array of persons other than the citizens of the community, including non-resident individuals, corporations, and various other organizations that channel the influence of those outsiders into a state or local political process. "State or local politics" include all politics, including elections held by states for federal officials. The question recurs in voting, petitioning, campaign finance regulation, and lobbying, as well as other areas related to political activity such as corporate governance. Relatively recent developments have accelerated the nationalization of American politics. These nationalizing forces, including the strengthening of non-party national political interest groups by federal legislation and judicial decisions, and national efforts to counter those groups' interests, pose the question more urgently now. 

This article considers how much outside influence matters to the constitutional analysis of state politics. It defends the principle applied in Bluman v. FEC as an exception to the otherwise universal speaker-neutrality rule of Citizens United, applicable at the state as well as the national level, and to out-of-state as well as foreign outside interests. It does so by drawing parallels between legal efforts to police national and state boundaries in politics, and assessing the competing rights claims of outsiders to cross those boundaries and participate fully in domestic politics. The article suggests that the structural constitutional principle of political community supports certain state regulations, but not prohibitions, of outside influence across a range of political activities.

January 17, 2014 in Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Old School/New School Speech Regulation

The title of this post comes from this intriguing paper by Professor Jack M. Balkin arguing that the development of "the digital infrastructure of communication" has expanded the opportunities for private expression, and thus has required governments to create new methods of regulating speech. Here's the abstract:

In the early twenty-first century the digital infrastructure of communication has also become a central instrument for speech regulation and surveillance. The same forces that have democratized and decentralized information production have also generated new techniques for surveillance and control of expression.

Unknown-3“Old-school” speech regulation has traditionally relied on criminal penalties, civil damages, and injunctions directed at individual speakers and publishers to control and discipline speech. These methods have hardly disappeared in the twenty-first century. But now they are joined by “new-school” techniques, which aim at digital networks and auxiliary services like search engines, payment systems, and advertisers. For example, states may engage in collateral censorship by threatening Internet intermediaries with liability to induce them to block, limit, or censor speech by other private parties.

Public/private cooperation and co-optation is often crucial to new-school techniques. Because the government often does not own the infrastructure of free expression, it must rely on private owners to assist in speech regulation and surveillance. Governments may use a combination of carrots and sticks, including offers of legal immunity in exchange for cooperation. States may also employ the “soft power” of government influence. Owners of private infrastructure, hoping to reduce legal uncertainty and to ensure an uncomplicated business environment, often have incentives to be helpful even without direct government threats.

Finally, governments have also devised new forms of digital prior restraint. Many new-school techniques have effects similar to prior restraints, even though they may not involve traditional licensing schemes or judicial injunctions. Prior restraints are especially important to the expansion of government surveillance practices in the expanding National Surveillance State. Gag orders directed at owners of private infrastructure are now ubiquitous in the United States; they have become fully normalized and bureaucratized elements of digital surveillance, as routine as they are invisible, and largely isolated from traditional first amendment protections.

(h/t Balkinization)

January 13, 2014 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Where Free Speech Collides With Abortion Rights

The New York Times's Adam Liptak reports today on McCullen v. Coakley, on which the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this Wednesday. The Court is tasked with determining the Abortion-6constitutionality of Massachusetts's law prohibiting anti-abortion protesters from entering a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics--a challenge to the Court's 2000 decision in Hill v. Colorado. The title of this post comes from Liptak's article, which begins:

A couple of mornings a week, Eleanor McCullen stakes out a spot outside the Planned Parenthood clinic here and tries to persuade women on their way in to think twice before having an abortion.

 

But she has to watch her step. If she crosses a painted yellow semicircle outside the clinic’s entrance, she commits a crime under a 2007 Massachusetts law.

 

Early last Wednesday, bundled up against the 7-degree cold, Ms. McCullen said she found the line to be intimidating, frustrating and a violation of her First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday in her challenge to the law.

 

The state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, who is the lead defendant in the suit, said the 35-foot buffer zone created by the 2007 law was a necessary response to an ugly history of harassment and violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts, including a shooting rampage at two facilities in 1994.

 

“This law is access balanced with speech balanced with public safety,” Ms. Coakley said. “It has worked extremely well.”

Last week, CRL&P commented on Floyd Abrams's related op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

January 13, 2014 in Abortion, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Abrams's unsatisfying WSJ column on the 'most indefensible First Amendment ruling' this century

On January 15, SCOTUS will hear oral argument in  McCullen v. Coakley--the challenge to Massachusetts' law prohibiting anti-abortion protesters from coming within 35 feet of an abortion clinic. The case calls into question the Court's 2000 decision in Hill v. Colorado, in which it upheld a Colorado statute that banned protesters from coming within 100 feet of abortion clinics--or from coming within eight feet of persons approaching the facility. Yesterday, in The Wall Street Journal,  renowned litigator Floyd Abrams called Hill the Court's "most indefensible First Amendment ruling so far this century."  Abrams writes:

According to the state, the 2007 legislation was enacted in response to antiabortion protesters blocking entrances to abortion clinics, harassing women who were seeking abortions, and otherwise impeding their efforts to do so. Both federal and state legislatures had previously sought to deal with such misbehavior. Federal law punishes as a crime those who "by physical obstruction" attempt to "intimidate or interfere" with any person "obtaining or providing reproductive health services." A pre-existing Massachusetts law, passed in 2000, makes it criminal to "knowingly obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block another person's entry to or exit from a reproductive health facility." These statutes are narrowly drafted and do not raise any plausible First Amendment objections.

 

In contrast, the 2007 Massachusetts law, with its 35-foot exclusion zone, is anything but narrow in its impact. It effectively prevents Eleanor McCullen and her colleagues from engaging in entirely peaceful, nondisruptive antiabortion advocacy via the distribution of leaflets and oral advocacy at the very places it is most likely to be effective. This is what First Amendment law refers to as "overbreadth"—laws that in the course of criminalizing constitutionally unprotected speech or activities limit or impair speech that is fully protected.

Sadly, Abrams failed even to acknowledge perhaps the most relevant precedent in this case: Burson v. Freeman.  In Burson, the Court considered a challenge to a Tennessee statute that prohibited among other things "the display of campaign posters, signs or other campaign materials, [or the] distribution of campaign materials" within 100 feet of a polling place. The Court concluded that the exercise of First Amendment rights at the polling place "[conflicted] with another fundamental right, the right to cast a ballot in an election free from the taint of intimidation and fraud." Thus, the statute was constitutional.

Like the right to vote, the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade confirms that abortion is a fundamental right.* In both cases, the law restricts First Amendment speech in places where illegal activity has been shown to disrupt the exercise of another fundamental right; the Court's decision in Burson also "effectively prevents...entirely peaceful, nondisruptive [political] advocacy via the distribution of leaflets and oral advocacy at the very places it is most likely to be effective." 

Perhaps Abrams opposes Burson, too. Perhaps not. Or, perhaps he would distinguish the two cases. We don't know, because he didn't say. It would have been helpful for "[t]he dean of the First Amendment bar" to clarify his position.

* Although calling the right to vote fundamental, the Court's jurisprudence makes clear either 1) it is not fundamental; or 2) the Court is confused as to what the right's fundamental status means. But more on this later.

(h/t WSJ's Law Blog)

January 6, 2014 in Abortion, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Speak! If you're into that sort of thing...

Today in Forbes, columnist Doug Bandow enters the Free Speech/'Duck Dynasty' kerfuffle by way of his request from Santa to "stop people from confusing the First Amendment with free expression." He starts off well, too. He correctly notes: 

Images-4The A&E network suspended Robertson, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, which protects against government suppression of speech. Instead, if I don’t like something you say and don’t want to work or even associate with you, that is just life. In a free society that should be my right—both of expression and association—as basic as your right to voice your opinion.

 

Of course, your family then can threaten to stop working with me, as Robertson’s family has warned A&E. And viewers and potential viewers can decide whether they want to watch or not, which seems to be what most of the country is talking about at the moment. But this battle has nothing to do with the Constitution and the essential framework for a free society. 

All's good and well. I'm in total agreement. Great.

But then Bandow goes further by asking people to refrain from speaking out against speech they find offensive. He writes:

A separate wish, but highlighted by the Duck Dynasty imbroglio, is that people would stop turning every little controversy into a matter of high moral outrage. Why should anyone get excited about what someone on a silly television show says off the set? In a large, complex society like our own, lots of people will believe things and behave in ways which irritate and even outrage us. Life will be better if we generally tolerate the opinions and actions of others.

 

But there’s no reason to turn the world upside down in response to those who believe ObamaCare will make medicine affordable, consider homosexuality to be a sin, think Republicans are terrible people, don’t like atheists or Catholics (or both), make stupid gender-, race-, or ethnic-based remarks, or are generally obnoxious and clueless. You don’t like what they said/did? Minimize your contact at work. Avoid them at the Christmas party. Don’t visit their barbershop. Refuse to respond to their provocations.

 

But don’t try to drive everyone you disagree with from the public square. We all benefit from a diverse, vibrant, and provocative public environment despite the irritations and offenses caused by some. A world turned ever more intolerant, nasty, and threatening by zealous PC police of all sorts will be a truly depressing place. Not to mention that we might end up as victims of the new public Star Chamber as well.

First, A&E is not "public square." Robertson's opponents want his microphone taken away, not the suppression of his ideas. That is, Robertson may continue to say exactly what he believes, but his opponents prefer that he do so from a street corner. The right to free speech is not the right to amplified speech.

Second, the First Amendment envisions precisely the type of confrontation from which Bandow wishes people to shirk. It contemplates the need for individuals to speak out against ideas and opinions with which they disagree, and to offer the solutions they believe will best serve society.

The First Amendment's protection of free and open discussion of ideas is further premised on the understanding that such freedom promotes the social good. That is, only in a free and open marketplace of ideas can citizens make the best judgments about the direction of society and its government. As First Amendment scholar Thomas Emerson wrote:

[Human judgment] can seldom rest at the point any single person carries it, but must always remain incomplete and subject to further extension, refinement, rejection or modification. Hence an individual who seeks knowledge and truth must hear all sides of a question, especially as presented by those who feel strongly and argue militantly for a different view. He must consider all alternatives, test his judgement by exposing it to opposition, make full use of different minds to sift the true from the false...

 

More importantly, the same reasons which make open discussion essential for an intelligent individual judgment make it imperative for rational social judgments. Through the acquisition of new knowledge, the toleration of new ideas, the testing of opinion in open competition, the discipline of rethinking its assumptions, a society will be better able to reach common decision that will meet the needs and aspirations of its members.

How is the marketplace served if people refrain from entering it?

It's not. And calls for people to refrain from entering that space are no less confused than those from people claiming Robertson's suspension oppresses his freedom to speak. 

The Founders imagined a couragous people, not a cowardly one.

December 23, 2013 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 14, 2013

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

California law enforcement arrest operator of revenge porn site

San Diego police yesterday arrested the operator of a revenge porn site and charged him with "31 counts of conspiracy, identity theft, and extortion." According to The Los Angeles Times:

A 27-year-old San Diego man was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of operating a "revenge porn" website and demanding up to $350 to remove sexually explicit photos of women that were often posted by angry former boyfriends or ex-husbands.

 

Kevin Christopher Bollaert was arrested by California Department of Justice agents and is being held at San Diego County jail on $50,000 bail. He faces 31 felony counts of conspiracy, identity theft and extortion.

 

"Online predators that profit from the extortion of private photos will be investigated and prosecuted for this reprehensible and illegal internet activity," said Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris.

 

Bollaert allegedly created a website in December 2012 that allows the anonymous posting of nude and sexually explicit photos. The website required that the poster include the subject's name, location, age and Facebook profile.

 

Prosecutors said more than 10,000 images were posted, from California and other states.

As I have said, I believe that laws that subject to criminal liability people who send sexually explicit images of an ex-lover without their consent could be crafted so as to conform to the First Amendment.  This case, however, raises the more difficult question as to whether online publishers of revenge porn ought to be subject to prosecution.

In Bartnicki v. Vopper, the Supreme Court held that the publication of material illegally obtained by a third party is protected by the First Amendment. The Court said: "In this case, privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest of publishing matters of public importance...We think it clear that a stranger's illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern." 532 U.S. 514, 536 (2001). However, the Court emphasized that its ruling applied narrowly to matters of "public concern," and it is still unclear what qualifies as such. One would think that revenge porn wouldn't qualify...

Further, assuming that revenge porn is a matter of public concern, there is the question as to whether revenge porn could be considered to have been illegally obtained by a third party. Arguably, revenge porn generally is not obtained illegally; the third party presumably received the image (or took it himself) from its subject. 

In this case, the site operator charged the victims of revenge porn to have pictures of them removed from his site, which perhaps makes this case easier. But, suppose he took the pictures down willingly; and/or suppose he did not include the names or locations of the victims... 

These issues and others will continue to arise as more states criminalize revenge porn. Lawyers and legislators will have to draw lines differentiating the legal from the illegal, which will make these debates increasingly interesting for legal scholars--but painful for victims. 

CRL&P related posts:

December 11, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn | Permalink | Comments (2)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 11, 2013

NSA takes advantage of 'cookies' used for advertising to track surveillance targets.

Federal judge rejects California AG's request for dismissal in case challenging law requiring 10-day waiting period for gun owners.

Cruel and unusual punishment suit after prisoner placed in solitary confinement for one month could cost taxpayers.

American man claims discrimination after the California Department of Corrections denied him a job because he had previously used a false SSN, while in Illinois this guy still has a job.

Amendment aimed at protecting sexual assault victims scrapped as Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act.

Bill introduced in the Senate to eliminate state laws regulating the sexual activity of people with HIV.

Chinese Law Prof is expelled for criticizing China's one-party government.

Man convicted of a hate crime after attacking a Sikh cab driver to serve more than three years in prison. 

And, a six-year old is suspended after kissing a classmate on the cheek. I wonder if he would have received similar punishment if had hit her.

 

December 11, 2013 in Civil Rights Litigation, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Prisons and Prisoners, Theories of Punishment, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The New Software Jurisprudence and the Faltering First Amendment

In his upcoming article, Professor Liam O'Melinn explores the First Amendment's applicability to computer code and finds that "the new software jurisprudence" is seriously jaundiced because of misunderstandings about the free software movement. The title of this post comes from his article, of which the abstract states:

Courts have recently begun to respond to the call to provide First Amendment protection for software, with ominous results. A debate has raged over the past several years over whether or not computer code should be considered “speech” and therefore be entitled to the full protection of the First Amendment. An examination of important decisions in recent cases attempting to settle this debate requires a revision of the basic assumption that the First Amendment will offer effective protection to programs, their authors, and their users. While there have been judicial decisions which lend credence to the view that the Constitution can be invoked to protect software, subsequent developments in this area, which I term “the new software jurisprudence,” cast severe doubt on the ability of the First Amendment to shield software effectively. These developments include the faults of previous strains of First Amendment analysis and then add more,with the ironic result that the First Amendment may now be used to justify the suppression of expression rather than to prohibit such suppression. 

 

This line of jurisprudence for software threatens a legal revolution premised on the belief that the specter of copyright infringement represents a perpetual emergency. At the same time, it is evident that this legal revolution will have to contend with a counter-revolution brought about by the free software movement. DeCSS represents only the tip of an iceberg which has thus far escaped real notice by the law, but the movement is becoming so important that it will force itself to be recognized. Indeed, it has already mounted a vigorous and to this point successful assault on the trade secret status of the technology which the movie industry has chosen to protect its content. A full investigation of the importance of this phenomenon lies well beyond the scope of this article; for the moment it must suffice to note that the character of open source software and the people who produce it will challenge the legal and economic assumptions at the heart of the law of intellectual property. Free software is not the product of pirates who steal from others and vend their wares in dark corners. Nor is it brought about by the incentives which, according to conventional thinking, are necessary conditions to creativity. The creation of free software, moreover, is an expressive activity which will leave its impress on the law. 

 

As time goes on, the free software programmers will require a revision of the now familiar role of equity in copyright law. The high quality of the software they create, coupled with its truly democratic rights of access, will provide the most telling challenge to the notion that only monopolistic economic incentives can lead to creative excellence. Finally, as their favorite mode of expression works a revolution not only in the way we communicate but in our very conception of property, they will effect fundamental changes in the way in which the law links expression and function . Unfortunately, it is not clear that the First Amendment will help them in their work. The courts have promised to develop legal and constitutional standards appropriate to the character of software, but in this effort they have largely failed. When they begin to focus less on the specter of piracy and more closely on the nature of software and the democratic access to information which it promotes, they will come closer to developing a novel and vital jurisprudence and to fulfilling their promise.

December 10, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 10, 2013

Allegedly illegal strip searches in Milwaukee jail could cost the city millions; man acquitted of drug charges files a civil rights suit against FBI alleging malicious prosecution; police face civil rights suit after officer pleads guilty to child porn; jail staff knew diabetic woman in their care needed insulin perhaps days before she died; Miami Gardens police allegedly used excessive force and denied medical treatment to arrestee; and, man was killed by a police officer who had accidently been tased by another officer.

Atlantic says Obama misled MSNBC's Chris Matthews on NSA surveillance; Guardian reflects on how the debate over surveillance has changed since Snowden's leaks; Nobel-winning writers say NSA surveillance is compromising freedom; Bill Clinton worries about the NSA's collection of economic data; and, NSA makes tech companies worry about profits.

Federal judge holds journalists have no constitutional right to be embedded with military; and, ACLU says prison officials violated the First Amendment by denying reporters access to prisoners after a riot.

Gun manufacturers doing better than before Newtown.

Same-sex couples race to challenge Texas's same-sex marriage ban; and, this graph shows geographical online efforts to promote gay-rights.

 

December 10, 2013 in Civil Rights Litigation, Excessive Force, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Prisons and Prisoners, Same-sex marriage, Strip Searches, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pennsylvania lawmaker expected to introduce bill criminalizing revenge porn

Pennsylvania may be the next state to consider whether to enact legislation criminalizing revenge porn--generally, the non-consensual distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos or videos with the intent to cause emotional distress. State Sen. Judy Schwank (D) is expected to introduce a bill that would make revenge porn a second-degree misdemeanor:

"The nature of these acts is particularly personal and malignant, and the abuse can be devastating to victims, who nationally have lost jobs, had relationships with family and friends severely damaged and found themselves stalked by strangers," Democratic state Sen. Judy Schwank wrote in a memo to other senators seeking co-sponsors for her bill.

 

Currently, authorities can try to punish people through existing laws such as harassment, but Schwank said that isn't always easy and doesn't carry enough penalties.

 

"Even harassment charges apparently would apply only if there is a repeated course of conduct despite the reality that a single Internet posting can result today in an infinite number of viewings," Schwank wrote in her co-sponsorship memo.

 

She said her legislation would make posting such images a second-degree misdemeanor, which is a grade higher than harassment. If the victim is a minor, the penalty would be steeper, a third-degree felony.

Last week, Delegate-elect Marcus Simon introduced a revenge porn bill in the Virginia General Assembly, which the House of Delegates is expected to consider in January. Several other states are considering similar bills, but only California and New Jersey actually have passed such laws. 

With websites peddling revenge porn reportedly growing, these bills seek to provide protection to victims for whom remedies are usually inadequate.

Victims of revenge porn are typically women--like this teacher who was recently suspended from teaching after the school discovered a nude photo of her on a revenge porn site. However, this is not always the case. Recently, a male doctor was the victim of a vengeful ex-lover who retaliated by posting pictures he had sent her. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer:

He was a doctor having an affair with a married patient he was treating for depression.

 

He sent her lewd pictures and videos of himself. When their affair ended, she accused him of retaliating by getting her fired. She responded by posting online the explicit pictures and videos he’d sent her. Then, he asked a judge to force her to keep his pictures private.

 

The case, playing out before Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel, illustrates the new privacy battles being waged after bitter breakups and relationships forged in an increasingly online world. Similar cases have helped spawn a new catch phrase – “revenge porn” – and have caused legislators to change laws in some states.

 

“The reason for its increase is convenience,” said lawyer John Garon, director of the Northern Kentucky University Law + Informatics Institute. “The camera has become part of the bedroom.”

 

Amelia’s Dolly Beattie is suing Terrence McCoy. She accuses McCoy of taking advantage of his status as her doctor while having sex with her.

Opponents of such legislation typically are concerned that these laws chill protected speech. But, as CRL&P has argued, such forecasts seem improbable. Revenge porn is capable of such narrow defintition that carefully crafted legislation likely would not affect protected First Amendment speech.

CRL&P related posts:

December 9, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn | Permalink | Comments (0)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 9, 2013

Senate likely to extend ban on plastic guns, but nexus of gun-control debate has shifted to the states; and, four of five members of the city council in rural Rhode Island town face recalls after recommending changes to process for issuing concealed weapons permits.

Obama about ready to announce changes to NSA surveillance program; major tech companies submit open letter to Obama and Congress demanding new limits on NSA's freedom-harming surveillance; Snowden might testify before the EU Parliament's committee on civil liberties; local law enforcement is using software in NSA-style monitoring of cellphone data, and here's how it does it; and, Sen. Paul calls for a renewed commitment to the Fourth Amendment.

Rutger's basketball player alleges civil rights violations against former coach for allegedly repeated verbal and physical abuse; and, New Orleans settles civil rights lawsuit alleging man was falsely arrested and held for five months.

Editorial lambasts New Mexico prison for placing 71-year-old in solitary confinement for one month on suspicion of bringing meth into the facility.

Internet companies speak out against former Cincinatti Bengals cheerleader's defamation suit after federal judge allows it to proceed.

Lexington facing protests after booking for its New Years Eve party a DJ who previously ran a revenge porn site.

 

December 9, 2013 in Civil Rights Litigation, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Prisons and Prisoners, Revenge Porn, Universities and Colleges, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 7, 2013

Thursday, December 5, 2013

School suspends teacher after receiving tip that her photo appeared on revenge porn site

A Cincinnati-area school has placed one of its teachers on administrative leave after receiving a tip that a nude photo of her had been posted on a revenge porn site, according to USA Today. Although the Female-victim-of-domestic-001school has not released the teacher's name, it did send email to staff and parents of its students explaining the situation. Thus, by simply deducing which faculty member has been absent, the school community could easily determine her identity.

Several states are considering whether to enact laws criminalizing revenge porn, but only California and New Jersey have actually passed such laws. Anti-revenge porn activists also will ask Congress to enact federal laws to protect victims of revenge porn.

Opponents have expressed concerns that such laws will chill protected First Amendment speech on the internet, while others worry that such laws  will reach "fine art." But, narrowly tailored legislation criminalizing only the nonconsensual posting of nude images likely would not have that affect.

CRL&P related posts:

December 5, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 4, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 2, 2013

Sunday, December 1, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Dec. 1. 2013

Saturday, November 30, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 30, 2013

Three-judge panel reverses dismissal favoring City of Chicago in case alleging it responds more slowly to 911 calls made by Blacks and Hispanics.

WaPo explains how recent abortion decisions affected the Senate's debate over the filibuster.

Columbus Dispatch explores Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles panel criteria for reviewing vanity plates.

Voting rights activists claim Los Angeles County redistricting discriminates against Latinos; and, Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board says pending voting bills restricting early voting and mandating ballot uniformity are voter suppression measures.

French parliament wants to impose new fines on solicitors of prostitution services.

 

November 30, 2013 in Abortion, Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Right to Vote | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 27, 2013

Revelations about the extent of the NSA's surveillance program could put international data-sharing agreements at risk; federal judge hears arguments regarding the release of DOJ documents on the legality of NSA's surveillance program; The Atlantic explores the inception of the NSA; and, Microsoft will change encryption to prevent NSA surveillance.

Texas National Guard will allow same-sex couples to apply for benefits immediately; gay teen banned from mall at which he allegedly was attacked; Kentucky couple fined one cent for remaining in county clerks office after closing time to protest same-sex marriage ban; and, judge okays terminally ill woman's request to marry her female partner before Illinois same-sex marriage law becomes effective.

Colorado Democrat resigns after gun-rights advocates successfully petition for her recall; and, Plain Dealer guest columnist argues that Ohio legislature should pass gun-safety laws to prevent children from accessing guns.

Voters claim Lousiana segregated African Americans into one racially-gerrymandering congressional district.

SCOTUS to hear arguments as to constitutionality of ACA's contraceptive rule; and, it will consider the First Amendment rights of Bush protesters alleging official's attempts to disperse them were not supported by valid security interests.

 

November 27, 2013 in Department of Justice, Election Law, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Press, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Same-sex marriage | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 25, 2013

The New Speech

The title of this post comes from this fascinating article inquiring into the potential for First Amendment challenges as technological developments produce new speech platforms. Here's the abstract:

Could the government prevent Facebook from deleting an individual’s Facebook account without first following government-prescribed procedures? Intervene to require Google to conduct its search engine rankings in a certain manner, or subject Google to legal liability for wrongful termination or exclusion? Require social networks and search engines to prominently reveal the criteria by which their algorithms sort, order, rank, and delete content? Demand that some user information or data be deleted, withheld, made inalienable, non-transferable, ungatherable or uncollectable? Engage in detailed regulation of the intellectual property and privacy relationships that inhere between individual users and the platforms they engage?


6373_K0wXihVG_o-600x424Each of these questions implicates the First Amendment, and as each question reveals, the same stresses that strained the institution of property when Charles Reich wrote The New Property in 1964 confront digital speech in 2014. The most important “speech” of the next century will be generated, intermediated, transformed, and translated by massive computers controlled by powerful institutions: petitions in front of the shopping mall replaced with “Likes” on Facebook and “Votes” on Reddit; sports leagues replaced by leagues of Counter-Strike and Call of Duty; broadcast and cable news replaced by interactive, algorithmically-generated, computer-curated granularly distributed news memes spread via blogs and aggregators.

As more of the activities that were once exclusively the province of the physical world become the province of the digital, more of the issues that once confronted the distribution and allocation of rights in property will confront the distribution and allocation of rights in speech. While the great speech debates of the twentieth century were about the content of speech — that is, what one could say — the great speech debate of the twenty-first century will be about what counts as speech and whose speech counts. Will it be that of institutions and algorithms, or individuals and organic communities?

These are questions courts are already confronting and they are getting the answers wrong. In contrast to scholars who by turns either deemphasize the transformative nature of the New Speech or argue that courts will have little impact on its growth, this Article argues that potentially critical judicial missteps are already occurring. Just as the needs of modern industrial society were delayed and often stymied by the judiciary of the early twentieth century, if we fail to consider the implications of the speech decisions courts make now, the needs of the modern information society may be delayed and stymied by the judiciary of the early twenty-first.

This Article is an effort to explore the ways in which speech platforms represent a new challenge to the First Amendment, one that will require it to bend if we are to prevent the Lochnerization of the Freedom of Speech. It ties together various threads — the power of automation, the centrality and power of Internet media platforms, the doctrines developing in the courts, the actual acts of censorship in which these platforms regularly engage, and the core purposes the First Amendment was designed to serve — to make a sustained argument that we must think seriously about restructuring and dejudicializing the First Amendment if we are to avoid seeing the First Amendment transformed into a powerful shield for the very sorts of censorship it was written to prevent.

 

November 25, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remembering Tinker: The right to vote as expressive conduct

A CRL&P reader recently brought to my attention the Tinker Tour, an ongoing event by the Student Press Law Center to educate students about their First Amendment rights. The tour commemorates Unknown-2the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503, in which the court affirmed the First Amendment right of high school students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

On Tuesday, Mary Beth and John Tinker visited their former high school to speak to students. The Des Moines Register reports:

The Tinkers were among five Des Moines students suspended in December 1965 for wearing the black armbands.

The siblings received hate mail after their 1965 suspension. The window of the family car was shattered by a brick. Someone threatened to bomb their home. But with the help of American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Johnston, they continued to fight for their rights.

After attempts to repeal the decision were shot down by the local school board, the Tinkers, along with then-16-year-old Roosevelt High School student Christopher Eckhart, took their case to court.

The resulting 7-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteed that students today have the right to express their opinions without fear, said Mike Hiestand, an attorney with the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center, a sponsor of the Tinker Tour.

Tinker is particularly interesting for what the case says--or doesn't say--about what expressive conduct qualifies as speech under the First Amendment, which, of course, depends on context. Writing for the Court, Justice Fortas found "that the wearing of an armband for the purpose of expressing certain views is the type of symbolic act that is within the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment"; the wearing of the bands "was closely akin to 'pure speech.'" Ibid. at 505. Specifically, the Court observed that the students wore the "black armbands...to exhibit opposition to this Nation's involvement in Vietnam" at a time when the justness of that involvement was being hotly debated. Ibid. at 510-11. ("They wore [the armbands] to exhibit their disapproval of the Vietnam hostilities and their advocacy of a truce, to make their views known, and, by their example, to influence others to adopt them." Ibid. at 514. ). "[W]e do not confine the permissible exercise of First Amendment rights to a telephone booth or the four corners of a pamphlet," wrote Justice Fortas. Ibid. at 513.

CRL&P readers know that I believe that the right to vote ought to be protected First Amendment speech. The Tinker case is another example of protected expressive activity that does not materially differ from public voting.

Although voters today choose candidates on the basis of a complicated set of policy issues, this certainly was not the case in the American colonies and the early American Republic. In Voting in Provincial America, Robert J. Dinkin emphasizes "the major concerns of the state were confined to providing defense against external enemies and keeping internal order." As such, the task of voters "was to choose from among rival candidates the men he believed to be the best leaders[.]"

At that time, voting itself had persuasive value. As Richard R. Beeman describes in his book The Varieties of Political Experience in Eighteenth-Century America, viva voce voting commenced with the most prominent men voting first. As such, candidates hoping to win elections would court these men in hope that their support on Election Day would convince voters down the line to support them. George Washington learned this lesson the hard way, losing his first election badly. But, he changed his strategy, and several years later won a seat in the House of Burgesses. As Beeman wrote: "The strategy of marshaling a prominent display of support early in the election was, at least in this case, highly successful, as Washington raced to an early lead that only grew as the day wore on."

Public voting evinced voters' support for candidates and parties, and such practices continued until the end of the 19th century. The Court has granted First Amendment protection to similar expressive acts, as it did in Tinker. Now, the Court ought to extend such protection to the right to vote as well.

For more on the Tinker's story, see Kali Borkoski's commentary on SCOTUSblog.

CRL&P related posts:

 

November 21, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Right to Vote, Schools | Permalink | Comments (1)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 21, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Criminalizing revenge porn need not violate the First Amendment

Here's one woman's account of her experiences with revenge porn. Notably, her former boyfriend started an eBay auction with nude photos of her, and he linked the auction to several of her employer's Facebook pages. Because she was a professor, co-workers were not alone in viewing the images--several students saw them too.

A year and half later, the images appeared on a porn website.

 

Eventually, she was diagnosed with PTSD and her therapist recommended that she request medical leave. She did. But, her employer was not sympathetic.

The article begins:

UnknownIn February 2010, my ex-boyfriend, Joey (name changed) and I had a fight over a skirt I wore to work. He deemed the skirt too short. He shamed me, called me a hooker, and accused me of sleeping with all my male friends. After watching his jealousy and possessiveness steadily increase over our seven-month relationship, I was at my breaking point. We were over.

The day after the fight, Joey called me at 11:53pm. He was livid. He said he was looking on my Facebook page and from what he could see it was clear I was sleeping with at least three other guys. I tried to rationalize with him, to convince him he was mistaken. But he was too far-gone to hear me.

He threatened to start an eBay auction. If I didn't tell him the truth about how many other guys I was sleeping with, he said he was going to auction off a CD of 88 naked images of me that I allowed him to take after three months of relentless pressure. He said he would send links to the auction to my friends and family, to people at the college where I teach. I shook with desperate fear. I knew no words would change his mind. Joey had flown into a rage, uncontrollable and impervious to reason. I knew my fate, and my only defense was to call the police. I begged and pleaded for him not to carry out his threat.

Then he said the words that would change the course of my life: "I will destroy you."

I called the Baltimore County police and through my sobs tried to explain what was happening and why I needed help. The dispatcher sent an officer to my home who looked down on me as I explained that I wanted him to stop a threat. It was the first of many times I would be told, "There is nothing I can do. No crime had been committed." And at that point, no crime had been committed. I was frantic over a threat, which to the bored officer was nothing to worry about. To me, it was a portent of the misery I'd soon suffer.

The auction went live the following afternoon. I received about three emails from eBay informing me that, "Joseph Mann thought you might like this item on eBay" The link read: (Name of college)MD English Professor Nude Photos!

The concern with revenge porn is not the image, as such. In Jenkins v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that nudity was not obscene (one of the original exceptions to protected First Amendment speech): "There are occasional scenes of nudity [in the film Carnal Knowledge], but nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene[.]" 418 U.S 153, 161 (1974).

As always, context matters. Screaming "fire" in a crowded theater is not protected First Amendment speech when there is no fire. But, if the concession stand has erupted in flames...

In Brandt v. Bd. of Education of City of Chicago, 480 F.3d 460 (6th Cir. 2007), Judge Posner observes:

Although freedom of speech and of the press...are often loosely paraphrased as "freedom of expression," and clothes are certainly a way in which people express themselves, clothing as such is not--not normally at any rate--constitutionally protected expression...Self-expression is not to be equated to the expression of ideas or opinions[.]

Whether clothing is protected speech, of course, comes down to the context in which the clothes are worn. "Merely wearing clothes inappropriate to a particular occasion could be a political statement," writes Judge Posner; or, "If Irish people were forbidden to wear green on St Patrick's Day, a natural form of protest would be to wear green on that day."

Because revenge porn legislation deals with the non-consensual publication of images and/or videos, the context is different from pornography that is protected by the First Amendment. 

The principle concern with revenge porn legislation is that it will chill protected speech. As Wisconsin Public Radio reported when revenge porn legislation was introduced there, "[S]tate Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, is concerned the bill is too broad and might restrict people's freedom of expression by limiting the creation and distribution of fine art."

This is a stretch. Revenge porn legislation would forbid the non-consensual publication of nude images, not the publication of nude images. Just as an artist could not yell "fire" in a crowded theater and then claim First Amendment protection for video taken as people flee to safety, an artist should not be able to invoke an ambiguous art justification for the non-consensual publication of nude images. Artists using such images are not producing art, they're creating pain. It's a "scouge." As Justice Scalia has written, "[A] physical assault discloses that the attacker dislikes the victim[,]" but that does not transform the assault into protected First Amendment expression. Nevada Comm'n on Ethics v. Carrigan, 131 S.Ct. 2343, 2350 (2011).

Indeed, as UCLA professor Eugene Volokh has written

I do think that a suitably clear and narrow statute banning nonconsensual posting of nude pictures of another, in a context where there’s good reason to think that the subject did not consent to publication of such pictures, would likely be upheld by the courts. While I don’t think judges and juries should be able to decide, on a case-by-case basis, which statements about a person aren’t of “legitimate public concern” and can therefore be banned, I think courts can rightly conclude that as a categorical matter such nude pictures indeed lack First Amendment value.

I agree. I, too, dislike granting judges the authority to determine what constitutes valid artistic, literary, or political expression. Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). But, what would be (or should be) forbidden by legislation criminalizing revenge porn is not the value of nude images. 

CRL&P related posts:

 

November 20, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn | Permalink | Comments (1)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 20, 2013

NSA ignored courts on conduct of domestic surveillance; Supreme Court won't hear challenge to NSA domestic surveillance; and, Rep. Sensenbrenner claims NSA's surveillance program threatens America's economy.

Albuquerque voters reject ban on abortions after 20 weeks; and, Supreme Court won't block Texas abortion law that has caused some clinics to close.

Divided Ohio Supreme Court upholds school district's firing of teacher who refused to remove religious materials from his classroom.

Ohio House committee approves new 'stand your ground' law; gun owners in San Fancisco claim city's large-capacity magazine ban violates the Second Amendment; and, Ohio city looks to repeal several gun laws after legal challenge by gun-rights advocates.

Christian Science Monitor explains how voter ID laws affected 2013 elections; PolitiFact Texas labels claims that no problems resulted from state's new voter ID law 'mostly false'; and women are more likely to be disenfranchised under North Carolina's new voter ID law.

Iowa city required to release records from closed meetings.

Juveniles file a federal lawsuit against Florida county and private prison contractor alleging extremely harsh conditions and overuse of pepper spray.

Governor expected to sign Illinois's law legalizing same-sex marriage later today.

Iowa woman wrongfully terminated for alleging workplace discrimination wants her job back.

 

November 20, 2013 in Abortion, Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Right to Vote, Same-sex marriage, Science, Voter ID | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 19, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 17, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Federal judge suspends Ohio's restriction on petition circulators

Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich (R) signed into law a new restriction requiring circulators of candidacy petitions to be residents of Ohio. The law states:

Except for a nominating petition for presidential electors, no person shall be allowed to circulate any petition unless the person is a resident of this state and is at least eighteen years of age. O.R.C. 3503.06(C)(1)(a).

In September, the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law challenged the law on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, and last week the Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) joined the suit.

Today The Columbus Dispatch reports that a federal judge has suspended this provision:

A federal judge late yesterday blocked enforcement of an Ohio law that said only Ohioans can collect signatures to qualify issues or candidates for the ballot.


In granting a preliminary injunction, Judge Michael Watson of the Columbus division of the Southern District said the law is a First Amendment violation.


“It is well established that even a temporary violation of First Amendment rights constitutes irreparable harm,” Watson said.


The court respects the state’s prerogative to regulate petition circulation, Watson wrote, but that does not permit legislation that violates the Constitution.


“Plaintiffs have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits,” Watson wrote.

The Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) and the 1851 Center had requested the preliminary injunction preventing Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) from enforcing the provision citing the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Nader v. Blackwell, in which the court held that requiring circulators of candidacy petitions to reside in the state violated the First Amendment. 545 F.3d. 459, 475 (6th Cir. 2008).

Yesterday's decision comes just a week after Gov. Kasich signed into law further restrictions on the ability of minor parties to gain access to the ballot. The new restrictions would require minor party candidates to obtain 28,000 signatures to be placed on the ballot in 2014, and the criteria for ballot access would increase after 2015.

The LPO's lawsuit includes allegations that the new law impermissibly restricts it from holding a party primary. The party seeks a preliminary injunction preventing Sec. Husted from removing the LPO from Ohio's primary and general election ballots in 2014.

CRL&P related posts:

 

November 15, 2013 in Election Law, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 15, 2013

Ten homeless people file civil rights lawsuit to keep city from evicting them from a local landfill.

NYC's stop-and-frisk policy results in conviction in just 3 percent of cases.*

Disabled man sues city under ADA for right to keep his service dog--a pit bull.

California judge rejects challenge to local ordinance banning the use of 'sign waver' advertisements.

Pennsylvania judge rejects request to block challenge to the state law banning recognition of same-sex marriages; Hawaii judge upholds state's new same-sex marriage law; and, transgender woman's employment discrimination case is tossed.

Victims call for legislation criminalizing revenge porn.

Jimmy Carter says the U.S. should abolish the death penalty.

* Correction: A helpful reader observed that the second link above was incorrect. It previously stated that New York City's stop-and-frisk policy leads to sentences of 30 days or more in just 1.5 percent of the cases, but the rate is actually much lower than that. In fact, the AG's report states on page 3:

Less than one in seventeen SQF arrests, or 0.3% of stops, resulted in sentences of more than 30 days of imprisonment.

 

November 15, 2013 in 14th Amendment, Civil Rights Litigation, Equal Protection Clause, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn, Same-sex marriage | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Occupiers file civil rights claim against Philadelphia PD

Members of Occupy Philadelphia recently filed a lawsuit against the city's police commissioner and a number of officers alleging violations of their civil rights.

Nearly two years ago, police arrested 31 protesters after shutting down the camp they inhabited across from City Hall. After the protesters dispersed, police reportedly followed a group of them and arrested them in the early morning on the grounds that they would disrupt traffic.

Last year, a Municipal Court judge aquitted the protesters of all charges.

The members claims include false arrest and violations of their First Amendment rights.

The Philadelphia Daily News reports:

One of the more active of scores of protest encampments that arose in fall 2011 to protest income inequality and related issues, Occupy Philadelphia camped out in Dilworth Plaza adjacent to City Hall for 55 days. The city shut down the camp - which numbered several hundred Occupiers at the peak - to make room for renovation work.


After police raided the Dilworth site on Nov. 30, 2011, cops - including mounted officers - followed Occupy protesters for several hours and finally arrested the group just before 5 a.m. on 15th Street near Callowhill, claiming the demonstrators would snarl rush-hour traffic.


Since then, other Occupy members who were arrested over the 55 days - including 12 busted at a sit-in at a Wells Fargo branch lobby in Center City - have been found not guilty.


Krasner said the 26 plaintiffs are seeking economic damages for their allegedly false arrest, as well as changes in city policy to allow protesters to exercise their right of free assembly in the future. The group is also represented by Lloyd Long and Paul Hetznecker.


 

November 14, 2013 in Civil Rights Litigation, First Amendment, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 14, 2013

Northern Illinois University student has been arrested after police discovered an AR-15 rifle and a handgun in his dorm room; federal agents claim gun made by a 3-D printer could threaten security; Iowa gun store owner has been arrested after selling fully automatic machine gun; Milwaukee youth help city officials develop strategies to reduce gun violence; and a Florida woman pulls a gun on a journalist.

Sen. Rubio is scheduled to speak at a conference led by an anti-gay activist; Indiana woman has been denied access to her partner who is currently unconscious in the hospital; and five Senagalese women could face as much as five years in prison because they are lesbians.

Supreme Court considers whether law enforcement officials violate the Fourth Amendment when they search an apartment after one roomate denies them entry but another later permits it; and TSA's profiling program is ineffective.

Students decry lack of diversity at UCLA; and federal court hears oral argument on University of Texas's addmission policy that considers race.

Former Dolphin's offensive lineman Jonathan Martin might sue the team for harassment and discrimination.

ProPublica documents China's efforts to censor Twitter messages.

 

November 14, 2013 in Affirmative Action, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Gun Policy, Same-sex marriage, Search, Seizure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

School officials decide not to censor student shirts commemorating late classmate

Officials in one Michigan school district have reversed their decision forbidding students to wear T-shirts honoring a classmate who recently died of leukemia. School administrators originally had told the students that they could not wear the shirts because of the emotional impact--the shirts might have exacerbated the grief felt by some students. But, students and parents complained, and the school district acquiesced.

The article begins:

A southern Michigan school district has reversed its decision to bar students from wearing T-shirts honoring a 12-year-old classmate who died over the weekend following a long battle with cancer.


At least a dozen students showed up to Lakeview Middle School in Battle Creek on Monday wearing blue or orange T-shirts to honor sixth-grader Caitlyn Jackson, who died Saturday after fighting leukemia for years, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported[]. Blue was Caitlyn's favorite color and orange is worn to honor those like her with leukemia, and some of the shirts were from various benefits for Caitlyn over the years.


When students arrived at school, administrators asked them to change out of the shirts, turn them inside-out or tape over Caitlyn's name.

Notably, district officials originally justified the prohibition under measures created to deal with crises. As the Associated Press reports:

[The school's finance director] said the district decided Sunday to not allow the T-shirts in keeping with its crisis management plan, which bars permanent memorials on the belief that they can remind students of their grief and make it worse. Parents weren't informed of the decision.

I doubt that student-made T-shirts qualify as "permanent memorials" (although a more pointed definition of the terms might be necessary), and I question the virtue of the district's policy.

Schools not only teach intellectual skills, but they also serve to socialize students for future integration into society and the workforce. Dealing with grief and loss are necessary components of that socialization process.

Further, emotionally trying experiences often are not private matters. Many people will have to deal with the loss of a co-worker or a classmate. Natural disasters often disrupt whole communities; and, as the 9-11 attacks demonstrated, the pain and trauma of a single event can significantly impact entire regions, even the country.

After completing primary and secondary school, students hopefully have developed the intellectual and emotional skills to manage their future education and/or careers even in difficult circumstances. I find it difficult to believe that ignoring grief is the best way to prepare students for that eventuality.

Moreover, the administrator's ban on the shirts likely violated the First Amendment speech rights of the students who wore them. Some students certainly feel grief due to the death of a classmate, but the T-shirts probably do not detract from their educational experiences.

Sorrowful students will continue to feel the attendant pain of losing a friend. But, the now-empty desk creates that sadness. Not the T-shirts.

 

November 12, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Schools | Permalink | Comments (0)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 12, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 7, 2013

WaPo breaks down Senate votes for and against Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Florida Supreme Court rules that the woman who donated her egg to her partner has equal rights to the child after the relationship later dissolved.

Supreme Court hears "unusually testy oral-argument session" over right of a town council to pray before meetings.

Iowa State Bar Assocation president defends judge currently under fire for a recent ruling blocking ban on Planned Parenthood's use of teleconferences to administer abortion pills.

Brown University may punish students who booed NYPD commissioner.

Case Western Law School dean embroiled in scandal over allegations that he sexually harrassed faculty has taken a leave of absence.

 

November 7, 2013 in Abortion, First Amendment, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 3, 2013

Honolulu PD follows growing national trend banning visible tattoos.

Snowden claims increasing scrutiny of NSA and calls for its reform prove he was right to leak collected surveillance information.

Sen. Booker will enthusiastically support ENDA.

NYPD will not reform its stop-and-frisk policy until city's appeal is heard sometime next year by a new judge.

Guardian column argues that 'indoor prostitution' should be legalized.

 

November 3, 2013 in First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Stop-and-frisk | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 2, 2013

Employment Non-Discrimation Act (ENDA) has bipartisan support in the Senate, but It's unlikely to come up for a vote in the House. Since Supreme Court struck down parts of DOMA, gay rights activists have increased efforts in state legislatures and courts.

Snowden claims the U.S. 'seeks to criminalize political speech' and says he wants to testify before Congress.

Alabama inmate alleges that warden ignored assaults and rape.

Texas court strikes down ban on sexually explicit online conversations with minors as unconstitutionally overbroad.

 

November 2, 2013 in First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Prisons and Prisoners, Same-sex marriage | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Abortion clinic noise law survives challenge

The title of this post comes from this article reporting that a federal judge has rejected the challenge by anti-abortion protesters to a noise zoning ordiance. The article begins:

Anti-abortion protesters cannot enjoin a law that regulates noise around health care facilities, a federal judge ruled.


In response to public comments regarding the effects of amplified sounds on patients, West Palm Beach has a law that creates a quiet zone around health care facilities.


The ordinance bans shouting and use of a loud speaker among other loud noises within 100 feet of the property line, including private property within that distance.


Mary Susan Pine and Marilyn Blackburn are a part of group that assembles outside the Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach to protest against abortions and educate women about other alternatives.


Under an older version of the ordinance, Pine was fined $250 for using a bull horn in the quiet zone.


They sought an injunction, but U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks shot them down Tuesday.

 

November 1, 2013 in Abortion, First Amendment, Freedom of Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

CRL&P Daily Reads: Nov. 1, 2013