Wednesday, October 11, 2017
In an Order of denial of en banc review in CTIA- The Wireless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley, a concurring opinion by the original majority judges and a dissenting opinion demonstrate the continuing controversies surrounding the constitutionality of compelled commercial speech.
Recall that the original panel opinion in April upheld the constitutionality of Berkeley's mandated notice to purchasers of cell phones regarding exposure to RF radiation. The First Amendment issue was the controversial choice of standards in compelled disclosure in a commercial context: is the correct standard the commercial speech test of Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of New York (1980) or the more lenient test for disclosure of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio (1985)? A majority of the panel, affirming the district judge, held that Zauderer applied.
In the denial of rehearing and the denial of en banc review, the original panel judges in the majority, Fletcher and Christen,wrote briefly to rearticulate their views. While they stated their panel opinion "largely speaks for itself," they stressed that their opinion was consistent with other circuits. The opinion has a thorough yet succinct list of the cases in this area. They concluded that:
Our colleague would have us create a circuit split with the D.C., First, Second and Sixth Circuits. We decline to do so on two grounds. First, circuit splits are generally to be avoided. Second, and more important, we believe that our four sister circuits got it right.
Writing a dissenting opinion from the denial of en banc was not Judge Friedland of the original panel - - - who did vote for rehearing - - - but Judge Kim Wardlaw, who wrote that although she does not ordinarily file "dissentals" (quotes in original), she believes that the Ninth Circuit should clarify that Zauderer's rational basis standard should apply only when the government compels speech to prevent consumer deception. She discussed the recent Ninth Circuit panel decision finding warnings about sugary drinks violated the First Amendment. She argued that there was the potential for conflicting results as "district judges to make essentially factual judgments about a disclosure’s veracity and its burden on a business even before the parties have developed an evidentiary record."
Judge Wardlaw concluded by stating that she is "looking forward" to the next compelled disclosure case. Most likely, she will not have too long to wait as this continues to be a contentious issue.