Thursday, December 1, 2016

Eleventh Circuit Denies Immunity in Police Officer's Free Speech Case

The Eleventh Circuit ruled earlier this week that a police major was not entitled to qualified immunity for issuing a be-on-the-lookout (BOLO) advisory for another officer, recently fired for complaining about racial profiling and other constitutional violations by the local police department.

The ruling means that the officer's First Amendment case can move forward on the merits.

The case arose when Derrick Bailey, then an officer in the Douglasville Police Department, complained to his chief that other Douglasville officers and Douglas County Sheriff's Office deputies engaged in racial profiling and other constitutional violations. Bailey, who had an above-average record, was fired and harassed by other officers. Then Major Tommy Wheeler of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office issued the BOLO, saying that Bailey was a "loose cannon" who presented a "danger to any [law-enforcement officer] in Douglas County," and directing officers to "act accordingly." (According to the court, there was no evidence of any of this.)

Bailey sued for civil rights violations, and Wheeler moved to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. The Eleventh Circuit rejected Wheeler's defense. It ruled that Bailey's speech was protected (Wheeler didn't contest this), that Wheeler's conduct adversely affected Bailey's speech, and that there was a causal connection between Bailey's speech and Wheeler's actions.

As to the second part, adversely affected, the court explained:

Let's pause for a moment to appreciate just how a reasonable law-enforcement officer may have understood that [BOLO] instruction. Under Georgia law, when a subject is armed and dangerous, an officer may shoot the subject in self-defense--a term Georgia construes as having justifiable intent to use such force as the officer reasonably believes to be necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury. So, in other words, Wheeler's BOLO gave all Douglas County law-enforcement officers a reasonable basis for using force--including deadly force--against Bailey if they reasonably misconstrued a single move Bailey made--such as reaching into his pocket when confronted by law-enforcement officers--as imperiling themselves or anyone else. We think that this situation, which potentially seriously endangered Bailey's life, easily would deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights.

The court also ruled that Bailey's right to be free from retaliation for his speech was clearly established at the time that Wheeler issued the BOLO.

The court also denied Wheeler absolute immunity on Bailey's state-law defamation claim.

The ruling sends the case back to the trial court to go forward on the merits.

December 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Seventh Circuit Issues Mixed Ruling in Important Prisoner-Rights Case

The Seventh Circuit today dismissed a state prisoner's First Amendment claim, but ruled that his Eighth Amendment claim can go forward.

Each part of the ruling is important: the free speech ruling creates a circuit split; and the Eighth Amendment ruling implicates questions of supervisor liability for civil rights violations and access to justice for victims--issues now before the Supreme Court (in a different context).

The case arose when state prisoner Seyon Haywood alleged that his auto mechanic teacher attacked him. Guards charged Haywood with making a false statement, and a disciplinary panel found him guilty and sentenced him to two-month's segregation and revoked one month of good-time credit.

Haywood filed a federal civil rights case against the warden, alleging that his punishment violated his free speech rights, and that his segregated confinement violated the Eighth Amendment.

The Seventh Circuit dismissed the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that under Heck v. Humphrey and Edwards v. Balisok, Haywood couldn't bring a Section 1983 case for relief that would necessarily imply the invalidity of his disciplinary sentence, at least until he successfully challenged that disciplinary sentence. The court rejected Haywood's argument that Heck and Edwards don't apply, because he disavowed any challenge to the duration of his confinement. Haywood's argument drew on a Second Circuit ruling, Peralta v. Vasquez, which said just that. The Seventh Circuit's rejection of Haywood's claim sets up a circuit split on the question whether a prisoner can bring a 1983 case without successfully challenging a sentence, if the prisoner waives that challenge.

As to the Eighth Amendment claim, the court held that Haywood produced sufficient evidence to show that the warden (the only defendant in the case) was deliberately indifferent to Haywood's conditions of confinement to satisfy Ashcroft v. Iqbal and Farmer v. Brennan for direct (not vicarious) liability.

Judge Easterbrook dissented on this latter point. He argued that Haywood only showed that the warden knew of the conditions of his confinement, and, under Iqbal, knowledge is not enough. Judge Easterbrook also noted that the Supreme Court will weigh in on this soon enough, in the consolidated Turkmen cases, testing whether former AG Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller, among others, can be held liable for detention of alien detainees at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York, soon after 9/11.

November 29, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Daily Reminder: Of Flag Burning and Loss of Citizenship for Criminal Conviction

The United States Supreme Court has held that flag burning as expressive speech is protected by the First Amendment and that loss of citizenship is not a constitutional punishment for a crime.

In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Court declared:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . . In short, nothing in our precedents suggests that a State may foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.. . . There is, moreover, no indication -- either in the text of the Constitution or in our cases interpreting it -- that a separate juridical category exists for the American flag alone. Indeed, we would not be surprised to learn that the persons who framed our Constitution and wrote the Amendment that we now construe were not known for their reverence for the Union Jack. The First Amendment does not guarantee that other concepts virtually sacred to our Nation as a whole -- such as the principle that discrimination on the basis of race is odious and destructive -- will go unquestioned in the marketplace of ideas. . . .

We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag's deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today. Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism such as Johnson's is a sign and source of our strength. Indeed, one of the proudest images of our flag, the one immortalized in our own national anthem, is of the bombardment it survived at Fort McHenry. It is the Nation's resilience, not its rigidity, that Texas sees reflected in the flag -- and it is that resilience that we reassert today.
The way to preserve the flag's special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong.

To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to bee applied is more speech, not enforced silence.


Whitney v. California(1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring). And, precisely because it is our flag that is involved, one's response to the flag-burner may exploit the uniquely persuasive power of the flag itself. We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one's own, no better way to counter a flag burner's message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by -- as one witness here did -- according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

During the oral argument in Texas v. Johnson, the late Justice Scalia, who joined the Court's opinion, expressed scorn for the notion that the flag should be insulated from the First Amendment protections of speech. In a colloquy with the attorney for the State of Texas, Justice Scalia wondered if Texas could similarly criminalize desecration of the state flower, the blue bonnet.  Scalia then remarked:

Well, how do you pick out what to protect?

I mean, you know, if I had to pick between the Constitution and the flag, I might well go with the Constitution.

As for the constitutionality of  "loss of citizenship" as punishment for a criminal violation, the United States Supreme Court, in Trop v. Dulles (1958), declared that "Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior."  In considering a statute that revoked citizenship for desertion by a member of the armed forces, the Court stated that the

use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment. There may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself. While any one country may accord him some rights, and presumably as long as he remained in this country he would enjoy the limited rights of an alien, no country need do so because he is stateless. Furthermore, his enjoyment of even the limited rights of an alien might be subject to termination at any time by reason of deportation. In short, the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.

This punishment is offensive to cardinal principles for which the Constitution stands. It subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people. He is stateless, a condition deplored in the international community of democracies. It is no answer to suggest that all the disastrous consequences of this fate may not be brought to bear on a stateless person. The threat makes the punishment obnoxious. 

The civilized nations of the world are in virtual unanimity that statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment for crime.

[footnotes omitted].

Thus it seems that the president-elect's sentiment is at odds with our constitutional precedent.



November 29, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Complaint and TRO Motion Filed on Behalf of Standing Rock Water Protectors

complaint alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments by North Dakota officials has been filed on behalf of "water protectors" at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest at Standing Rock.  The plaintiffs in Dundon v. Kirchmeier have also filed a motion and memo for a Temporary Restraining Order "enjoining Defendants from curtailing their First and Fourth Amendment rights by using highly dangerous weaponry, including Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM, also known as Kinetic Impact Projectiles or KIP), explosive “blast” grenades, other chemical agent devices, and a water cannon and water hoses in freezing temperatures, to quell protests and prayer ceremonies associated with opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

As to the First Amendment, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have sought to eliminate protected First Amendment activity in a public forum.  Additionally, even if there were an "unlawful assembly" not protected by the First Amendment, the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of excessive force.  Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that the activities of the government officials have become a custom warranting government liability.

800px-Dakota_Access_Pipeline_-Elder_Addressing_Crowd-
Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site,
photo by Shane Balkowitsch, via


The factual claims in the complaint and memo supporting the TRO are troubling; some of the accounts will be familiar from reporting, but the legal documents compare the use of force at Standing Rock to other situations. 

For example, on the water cannon:

The use of water cannons in riot control contexts also can lead to injury or death. Potential health effects include hypothermia and frostbite, particularly if appropriate medical and warming services are not easily accessible. High-pressure water can cause both direct and indirect injuries. Direct injuries may include trauma directly to the body or internal injuries from the force of the water stream. Eye damage resulting in blindness as well as facial bone fractures and serious head injuries have been documented. Ex. V at 59; Anna Feifenbaum, White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses, Open Democracy (Feb. 25, 2014); https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/anna-feigenbaum/white-washingwater-cannon-salesmen-scientific-experts-and-human-rights; https://web.archive.org/web/20070221053037/http://newzimbabwe.com/pages/mdc44.15976.html (fatalities reported in Zimbabwe in 2007, when water cannons were used on peaceful crowd, causing panic); http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=49009 (fatalities reported in Turkey in 2013, when water cannon water was mixed with teargas); https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine-politics/activist-watered-by-police-diedbecause-of-pneumonia-335885.html (fatality reported in Ukraine in 2014, when businessman Bogdan Kalynyak died from pneumonia after being sprayed by water cannon in freezing temperatures). There is no current caselaw on the use of water cannons against protesters in the United States because, along with attack dogs, such use effectively ended in the U.S. in the 1960s amidst national outcry over the use of these tactics on nonviolent civil rights protesters.

More information is available from the Water Protectors Legal Collective  and National Lawyers Guild.

 

November 28, 2016 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, History, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Can a School Board Ban Wearing Safety Pins?

The safety pin has been recognized as an expression of support for the "vulnerable," becoming popular in the UK in response to xenophobic incidents after the Brexit vote and now in the US after reports of similar incidents. While some deride it as being a mere (and insufficient) fashion accessory without accompanying actions, the Shawnee Mission School District in Kansas has issued a message to its employees essentially prohibiting them from wearing safety pins as a form of expression. Here is the statement from the school district's Facebook page, seemingly crafted in consultation with its local NEA chapter:

"Recent events require us to remind our employees of their rights and responsibilities. As a staff member, you do not give up your first amendment right to free-speech on matters of public concern. However, your communication inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district and there is a limitation on that speech.
The wearing of a safety pin as a political statement is the latest example of such political speech. Although wearing the safety pin as political speech is not the problem, any disruption the political statement causes in the classroom or school is a distraction in the education process. We ask staff members to refrain from wearing safety pins or other symbols of divisive and partisan political speech while on duty--unless such activity is specifically in conjunction with District curriculum.
Further, the use of district owned devices and accounts is strictly forbidden for anything other than District business. If you have questions regarding appropriate use, please see BOE policies IIBF and GAT.
NEA-SM and the Board of Education are committed to the safety of every student. Thank you in advance for your careful review of this statement and for working with all students of the Shawnee Mission community.”


Safety-Pins_29789-480x360_(4816852799)The Kansas ACLU has sent a letter to the school district urging it to "reconsider the prohibition on the wearing of safety pins."   The ACLU letter argues that the safety pin is not partisan political speech and is "highly vulnerable to legal challenge" under the classic case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969).   In Tinker, involving students wearing black armbands to protest the Viet Nam war, the Court ruled that public schools could not curtail students' symbolic speech unless the speech would "materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school," or infringe on the rights of others.  The Supreme Court famously stated that "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," and the Tinker standard has been applied to teachers as well as students.

The ACLU has the better argument here.  As I've written in Dressing Constitutionally, the Tinker standard has been applied to teachers as well as students.  Moreover, the school district's contention that  teachers' expression "inside the classroom on school time is considered speech on behalf of the school district," is an overstatement (and is at odds with doctrine limiting government liability for teacher speech unless it is official policy).  Importantly, the school's communication recognizes the "safety pin" as conveying a specific meaning  - - - contrasted with cases involving teacher dress in which the expression is debatable (e.g., long hair or mustaches for male teachers) - - - and thus the First Amendment clearly applies to the safety pin as expression.  As for disruption, the Tinker standard requires the school officials "had reason to anticipate" a substantial disruption rather than merely "an urgent wish to avoid the controversy which might result from the expression."  There do not seem to be any facts indicating that there would be disruption - - - again, contrasted with cases in which there was a history of racial violence and student Confederate flag attire could be banned - - - and thus the Tinker standard is not satisfied.

The school board is on shaky First Amendment ground in its banning of safety pins as symbolic expression.

November 26, 2016 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Federal Three-Judge Court Finds Wisconsin's Gerrymander Scheme Unconstitutional

In its opinion in excess of 100 pages in Whitford v. Gill, the majority of a three judge court has concluded that Wisconsin's "gerrymandering" of districts was unconstitutional. 

The factual predicate for the case does not involve the most recent election.  Writing for the majority, Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple began by explaining:

The plaintiffs have brought this action alleging that Act 43, the redistricting plan enacted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2011, constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Specifically, they maintain that the Republican-controlled legislature drafted and enacted a redistricting plan that systematically dilutes the voting strength of Democratic voters statewide. We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats. Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.

In its discussion of "foundational case law," the court begins its discussion with the equal protection case of Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and concludes with League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (“LULAC”) (2006), although interestingly it does not cite Bush v. Gore (2000).  In considering the "close relationship between equal protection and associational rights," the court found Williams v. Rhodes (1968) especially instructive.  The court concluded:


We therefore believe that there is a solid basis for considering the associational aspect of voting in assessing the gravamen of the harm allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs. Indeed, in this case, the associational harm is especially important to the analysis because the testimony of the defendants’ witnesses as well as the plaintiffs’ demonstrate that, given the legislative practice and custom of Wisconsin, legislative action is controlled, as a practical matter, solely by the majority caucus. In such a circumstance, when the state places an artificial burden on the ability of voters of a certain political persuasion to form a legislative majority, it necessarily diminishes the weight of the vote of each of those voters when compared to the votes of individuals favoring another view. The burdened voter simply has a diminished or even no opportunity to effect a legislative majority. That voter is, in essence, an unequal participant in the decisions of the body politic.

It therefore rejected the notion that equal protection "must be limited to situations where the dilution is based on classifications such as race and population."

The court summarized the applicable doctrine as follows:

the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause prohibit a redistricting scheme which (1) is intended to place a severe impediment on the effectiveness of the votes of individual citizens on the basis of their political affiliation, (2) has that effect, and (3) cannot be justified on other, legitimate legislative grounds.

512px-1865_map-WisconsinThe court then exhaustively applied these standards to the complex facts, concluding that the plaintiffs had carried their burden.  As to remedy, however, the court deferred because the parties had not had the opportunity to completely brief the matter and ordered simultaneous briefs within 30 days with 15 days thereafter to respond.

The dissenting judge, William Griesbach, relied on Davis v. Bandemer (1986) (plurality), in which the Court refused to invalidate Indiana's redistricting scheme, to support his conclusion that "partisan intent is not illegal, but is simply the consequence of assigning the task of redistricting to the political branches of government," and interestingly notes that

"It was only a term ago that the Court held by a 5 to 4 vote that it was constitutionally permissible to remove redistricting from the political branches. Ariz. State Legislature v. Ariz. Indep. Redistricting Comm’n (2015). Adoption of the majority’s standard may well compel States to do so."

The incessant issue of gerrymandering may be headed to the United States Supreme Court yet again.

Appendix 2

 [image 1, Wisconsin map 1865 via; image 2, Appendix 2 to the court's opinion]

November 22, 2016 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Daily Reminder: Equal Media Time Mandate Violates First Amendment

In Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo (1974), a unanimous Supreme Court held that Florida's "right of reply" statute granting a political candidate a right to equal space to answer criticism and attacks on his record by a newspaper violated the First Amendment.

As the opinion by Chief Justice Burger phrased it:

the Court has expressed sensitivity as to whether a restriction or requirement constituted the compulsion exerted by government on a newspaper to print that which it would not otherwise print. The clear implication has been that any such a compulsion to publish that which "reason' tells them should not be published" is unconstitutional. A responsible press is an undoubtedly desirable goal, but press responsibility is not mandated by the Constitution, and, like many other virtues, it cannot be legislated. . . . Governmental restraint on publishing need not fall into familiar or traditional patterns to be subject to constitutional limitations on governmental powers.

Thus, while the President-Elect may simply be requesting "equal time" for "us," his widely reported tweet implicates serious constitutional concerns.

 

November 20, 2016 in Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

District Judge Halts Phoenix Fire at Washington Monument

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied the group Catharsis on the Mall a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service from enforcing its regulation against certain bonfires on Park Service land in D.C.

The ruling, though preliminary, means that Catharsis on the Mall didn't get to burn its wooden Phoenix this weekend--symbolic speech in support of veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.

The case arose when Catharsis sought permission to hold its second annual 72-hour vigil near the Washington Monument, which was to culminate in the burning of a 24-foot tall Phoenix. The group sought to show its support for veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.

The NPS denied permission, however, citing a new regulatory scheme for outdoor events, including a regulation that bans burning structures by size.

But here's the problem: NPS granted a permit to the group to burn a structure during its vigil last year that was even bigger than this year's Phoenix. And the D.C. Fire Department didn't think the Phoenix burning would have been a problem.

Still, the court ruled that Catharsis didn't show a likelihood of success on the merits. In particular, the court wrote that the new bonfire regulation was a content-neutral time, place, manner regulation on speech in a public forum; that it was narrowly tailored to maintain safety; and that Catharsis had other ways to convey its message.

The ruling is only on Catharsis's motion for a preliminary injunction, but given the court's approach to the likelihood-of-success question, the final ruling will almost certainly be the same.

November 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

No Free Speech for Officer Criticizing Operations, Superiors

The D.C. Circuit ruled this week in LeFande v. D.C. that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department did not violate an officer's First Amendment rights when the MPD fired the officer for internal e-mails critical of MPD operations and officers, and refusing to respond to a superior's request.

The ruling puts an end to this very long-running dispute, and the very long-running, and highly contentious, relationship between the officer, LeFande, and the MPD.

This piece of the case arose when Matthew LeFande, police reserve officer with the MPD (a volunteer position designed to assist full-time officers), wrote a series of internal e-mails highly critical of certain MPD operations and MPD officers, and declining to comply with a superior's request. (The case actually started much earlier, with a suit LeFande filed against the MPD, and the MPD fired him. He raised a First Amendment claim to his termination (based on his free speech in bringing the suit), but the MPD said it actually fired him for the e-mails--thus opening this latest chapter of the case.)

The court ruled that it didn't have to say whether the e-mails constituted citizen speech on matters of public concern (under Pickering), because the MPD's interest  in efficiency outweighed LeFande's interests in free speech, anyway. The court held that LeFande's free-speech interest in sending e-mails criticizing MPD operations and officers "cannot outweigh the fact that their 'disruptive force' . . . threatens workplace efficiency." It further held that LeFande's interest in sending e-mails declining a superior's request were outweighed by the MPD's interest in efficiency, because "[i]f police department leadership faced opposition from employees after every routine request, the machinery of law enforcement would grind to a halt."

The court conceded that some of LeFande's speech (especially those e-mails criticizing MPD operations) implicated matters of public concern--perhaps more than the survey questions in Connick. But it ruled that the MPD's interest outweighed LeFande's, especially "given the 'special degree of trust and discipline required in a police force.'"

November 12, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Colorado Federal District Judge Enjoins State's Ballot Selfie Ban

In her opinion in Hill v. Williams, United States District Judge Christine Arguello enjoined Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1), which prohibits a voter from “show[ing] his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” In late October, the Denver District Attorney issued a news release reminding voters that posting an image of a completed ballot - - - a "ballot selfie" - - - was a misdemeanor.  Two separate sets of plaintiffs thereafter sued to enjoin the Colorado statute as a violation of the First Amendment.

 As Judge Argeullo explains,

Colorado uses an all mail-in ballot election. Every registered voter who registered to vote on or before October 31, 2016, has received a mail-in ballot to complete at home. Individuals who did not register by that date are allowed to register at the polling places and vote up to, and including, Election Day. Moreover, voters who have obtained ballots in the mail are still allowed to vote in person on Election Day. . . . The Deputy Secretary of State testified that she anticipates between 100,000 and 750,000 Coloradans will vote in person on November 8, 2016.

The ballot selfie prohibition thus included photographs at polling places as well as photographs of ballots completed for mailing.

The judge first rejected the state's arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing or that the case was already moot.  The judge likewise rejected the argument that an injunction would alter election laws and procedures immediately before an election.  Despite the timing, the judge stated that the plaintiffs' request (and her injunction) was narrowly crafted, and further noted that "if local rules at polling places prohibit the use of cameras due to privacy concerns, nothing in this Court’s Order prohibits the enforcement of those rules."

In the discussion of the First Amendment merits, the judge applied intermediate scrutiny for purposes of the preliminary injunction and concluded that the statute failed.  The judge also accepted that voter fraud was a significant government interest.  However, the judge found the means chosen were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve that interest: the statute prohibits a wide range of conduct and does not include a mens rea related to voter fraud. Moreover, other extant laws could achieve the purpose of preventing voter fraud.

Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction against the defendant prosecutors

from enforcing Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1) by prosecuting, referring for prosecution, and/or investigating violations thereof, or instructing any person to remove from publication any photograph or image of that person’s voted ballot, unless such violations or publication is in connection with violations of other criminal laws. Nothing in this Order shall alter the ability of Defendants or other officials to enforce any other laws, rules, or regulations related to the administration of the election, including those rules in effect at polling places.

This opinion contrasts with the opinion regarding the New York statute.  Like the New York statute, the Colorado statute is longstanding (section § 1-13-712 was passed in 1891, but was most recently amended in 1980), and both lawsuits were filed close to the pending election.  However, Judge Arguello balanced the First Amendment interests in favor of the individuals and issued a narrow but effective injunction.

800px-Wojciech_Gerson-W_Tatrach

[image via]

November 4, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

NY Federal Judge Declines To Enjoin Prohibition of Ballot-Selfie

In the opinion in Silberberg v. Board of Elections of New York, United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against NY Election Law §17-130(10), originally enacted 126 years ago, which makes it a misdemeanor for a person to "show" a ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person. 

Judge Castel's central rationale for denying the motion relied on the age of the statute compared with the litigation:

This action was commenced 13 days before the presidential election, even though the statute has been on the books longer than anyone has been alive. Selfies and smartphone cameras have been prevalent since 2007. A last-minute, judicially-imposed change in the protocol at 5,300 polling places would be a recipe for delays and a disorderly election, as well- intentioned voters either took the perfectly posed selfie or struggled with their rarely-used smartphone camera. This would not be in the public interest, a hurdle that all preliminary injunctions must cross.

630px-PSM_V21_D054_The_binocular_cameraThe age of the statute also figured into Judge Castel's First Amendment analysis, distinguishing the NY statute from the ballot-selfie prohibition of New Hampshire the First Circuit recently declared unconstitutional in Rideout v. Gardner. The New Hampshire statute had been recently enacted: it would be difficult for the state to provide evidence of what would happen should the statute be invalidated and the statute was not directed at any specific technology.

While Judge Castel's First Amendment analysis is cogent, it is not entirely convincing. It may be that New York's statute violates the First Amendment, but the judge made it clear that a preliminary injunction this close to an election was not the vehicle to do so.

November 3, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Film, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Rejects Republican Challenge to "Poll-Watcher" Limits

In his opinion in Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Cortes, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Gerald Pappert has rejected the Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment constitutional challenges to the state election code provision §2687(b) requiring poll watchers to be qualified electors of the county in which they serve.

The challenge argues that the code provision violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by hampering poll watchers’ fundamental right to vote.  The "crux of this argument," as Judge Pappert states, is "that if a qualified, registered voter casts a valid ballot in one county and a fraudulent ballot is cast for a different candidate in another county, the fraudulent ballot effectively negates the valid ballot, and the qualified, registered elector’s vote is diluted."  But Judge Pappert rejected any applicability of Reynolds v. Sims's vote-dilution, noting that the vote-dilution theory here is "based on speculation that fraudulent voters may be casting ballots elsewhere in the Commonwealth and the unproven assumption that these alleged instances of voter fraud would be prevented by the affected poll watchers were they not precluded from serving at these locations."  Additionally, the challengers argued that the code provision arbitrarily distinguished between voters by county, a classification which the challengers conceded in the hearing would merit only rational basis scrutiny.  Indeed, Judge Pappert found that the entirety of the Fourteenth Amendment challenge to the code provision was subject to rational basis scrutiny given that the fundamental right to vote was not actually being burdened.

Judge Pappert also rejected the claim that Section 2687(b) infringes on the rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment by narrowing the pool of potential watchers at any polling place to the county level.  The judge noted that plaintiffs cited no authority for the proposition that poll-watching is protected by the First Amendment or that it constitutes "core political speech."  Instead, it is a state-created function and is subject to limitations by the state.  It is distinguished from petition-circulators, for example, because "poll watchers do not discuss or advocate for a political candidate or viewpoint, either explicitly or implicitly."  Instead, poll watchers, whatever their private motivations may be, are "performing a public function delegated by the state."

In addition to finding that the constitutional claims failed to satisfy the likelihood of success on the merits necessary to warrant a preliminary injunction, Judge Pappert also found the other factors for preliminary injunction lacking.  Additionally, Judge Pappert noted that the Plaintiffs "waited until eighteen days before the election to bring the case":  "There was no need for this judicial fire drill and Plaintiffs offer no reasonable explanation or justification for the harried process they created."  Moreover, should the code be enjoined, "poll watchers would be allowed to roam the Commonwealth on election day for the first time in the Election Code’s seventy-nine year history—giving the Commonwealth and county election officials all of five days’ notice to prepare for the change."

'The_Peaceable_Kingdom',_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Edward_Hicks,_1826,_Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art

Judge Pappert, a former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, has authored a very well-reasoned 28 page opinion likely to withstand any appeal.  And although the opinion does not mention it, election-watchers are well aware of the context of the Pennsylvania situation: As reported, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has exhorted people in the more rural portions of the state to "Go down to certain areas and watch and study make sure other people don't come in and vote five times."  Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed a complaint  against the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Trump Campaign for voter intimidation violating the Ku Klux Klan Act.

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November 3, 2016 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in First Amendment Rights of Sex Offenders to Access Social Media

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Packingham v. North Carolina involving the constitutionality of a state statute, NCGS § 14-202.5, making it a felony for registered sex offenders to access certain commercial social networking sites.

In its opinion the Supreme Court of North Carolina, reversing the court of appeals, concluded that the statute was constitutional on its face and as applied to Packingham, a registered sex offender, who had a Facebook.com page.

The opinion for the majority by Justice Robert Edmunds,  found that the North Carolina statute was content-neutral.  The court reasoned that the "limitations imposed by the statute are not based upon speech contained in or posted on the site," but simply on the character of the site as one that is available for use by minors.  Thus the court applied "intermediate scrutiny" under United States v. O'Brien (1968), with the O'Brien factors. Perhaps most interesting is the court's analysis of the availability of  ample alternatives for expression:

[t]he Web offers numerous alternatives that provide the same or similar services that defendant could access without violating N.C.G.S. § 14-202.5. For example, defendant would not violate N.C.G.S. § 14-202.5 by accessing the Paula Deen Network, a commercial social networking Web site that allows registered users to swap recipes and discuss cooking techniques, because its Terms of Service require users to be at least eighteen years old to maintain a profile. Paula Deen Network Terms of Service, http://www.pauladeen.com/terms-of-service/ (last visited 5 November 2015) (“This website is designed for and targeted to Adults. It is intended solely and exclusively for those at least 18 years of age or older.”). Similarly, users may follow current events on WRAL.com, which requires users to be at least eighteen years old to register with the site and, as a result, is not prohibited. Capitol Broadcasting Company Terms of Use, http://www.capitolbroadcasting.com/terms-of-use/ (last visited 5 November 2015) (“[Y]ou must be at least 18 years old to register and to use the Services.”). A sex offender engaging in an on-line job search is free to use the commercial social networking Web site Glassdoor.com, which prohibits use by individuals under the age of eighteen. Glassdoor Terms of Use, http://www.glassdoor.com/about/terms.htm (last visited 5 November 2015) (“To access or use Glassdoor, you must be 18 years of age or older . . . .”). Finally, sex offenders permissibly may access Shutterfly to share photos, because that site limits its users to those eighteen and older. Shutterfly Terms of Use, http://shutterfly- inc.com/terms.html (last visited 5 November 2015) (“In order to create a member account with any of our Sites and Apps, you must be at least 18 years of age.”).

 On the as-applied challenge, the court similarly rejected Packingham's First Amendment claims, finding that the incidental burden on Packingham's speech was no greater than was essential to the furthering the government's interest in protecting children.  Similarly, the court concluded that the statute was not overbroad and that Packingham could not raise a vagueness challenge given that he was within the purview of the statute.


Facebook_imageThe dissenting opinion, authored by Justice Robin Hudson and joined by Justice Cheri Beasley, contended that O'Brien was not the correct standard because the statute "primarily targets expressive activity usually protected by the First Amendment," and should be more properly considered as content-based under Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  However, Justice Hudson argued that even under O'Brien, the statute burdened substantially more speech than necessary" because it sweeps too broadly in the sex offenders it includes and in the speech (activity) it prohibits, including social networking sites that allow minors (such as newspapers and Amazon). 

Other courts have ruled on the issue of sex offender bans from social media. Recall the Seventh Circuit's opinion finding Indiana's sex offender ban from social media unconstitutional.  And also recall the 2012 decision by a federal district judge finding Louisiana's broad prohibition unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  If one were to make a wager, it would seem that the North Carolina statute would similarly be declared unconstitutional.

[image via -cropped]

 

October 28, 2016 in First Amendment, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Divided Eighth Circuit Upholds Nursing Student's Dismissal for Facebook Posts

In its opinion in Keefe v. Adams, a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a student from the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Minnesota.  Other students had complained about posts on Craig Keefe’s Facebook page and he was eventually removed from the program for :behavior unbecoming of the profession and transgression of professional boundaries."  Keefe challenged the constitutionality of the dismissal based on the First Amendment and procedural due process.  The district judge granted summary judgment for the university officials and the majority opinion, authored by Judge James Loken for the Eighth Circuit panel, affirmed.

The concerning posts involved other students in the class and group projects, including his objection to a fellow student changing the group presentation - "Not enough whiskey to control that anger" and calling another student a "bitch" for presumably reporting his Facebook posts.

Principles_of_modern_biology_(1964)_(20711036786)There was also this:

Doesnt anyone know or have heard of mechanical pencils. Im going to take this electric pencil sharpener in this class and give someone a hemopneumothorax with it before to long. I might need some anger management.

In a footnote, the court helpfully explains:

a hemopneumothorax is a “trauma” where the lung is punctured and air and blood flood the lung cavity; it is not a medical procedure.

College officials discussed the posts and Keefe originally deflected.  He was dismissed from the program under specific provisions in the Nursing Program Student Handbook which also refers to the Nurses Association Code of Ethics, including professional boundaries and "behavior unbecoming."  He appealed within the the college, citing failures of procedural due process, but his appeal was denied.

On the procedural due process issue, the majority concluded:

Viewing the summary judgment record as a whole, we conclude that Keefe was provided sufficient notice of the faculty’s dissatisfaction, an explanation of why his behavior fell short of the professionalism requirements of the Program, an opportunity to respond to the initial decision-maker, and an opportunity to appeal her adverse decision. Nothing in the record suggests that Keefe’s removal from the Nursing Program was not a careful and deliberate, genuinely academic decision.

Dissenting in part, Judge Jane Kelly argued that the dismissal decision was not "academic."  Instead, it was a disciplinary dismissal for which he argued the due process standard should be higher.  Judge Kelly highlighted one of the meetings with Keefe in which he was not given all the posts beforehand with "time to review the posts and formulate a response."  However, Judge Kelly contended that the college administrators were entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim.

The First Amendment issue is the central one.  As Judge Loken's opinion for the majority notes, Keefe frames the issue categorically: "a college student may not be punished for off-campus speech," unless that speech is "unprotected by the First Amendment."  Judge Loken characterized this as an "extreme position" not adopted by any court.

The Eighth Circuit majority rehearsed some of the cases involving academic requirements for professionalism and fitness, including cases such as Ward and Keeton involving professional students' failure to comply with anti-bias requirements.  These principles, the court held, were equally pertinent to off-campus speech, especially given that the off-campus speech was "directed at classmates, involved their conduct in the Nursing Program, and included a physical threat related to their medical studies."

For the dissenting judge, it was important that Keefe's Facebook posts "were not made as part of fulfilling a program requirement and did not express an intention to break specific curricular rules."  As to the "threat," the dissenting judge argued that the district judge had failed to make findings that Keefe's statement qualified as a true threat.  For the dissenting judge, summary judgment was improper.

The split opinion might indicate that the case is a good candidate for en banc review and there were First Amendment groups as amici on behalf of the dismissed student.  Nevertheless, the Eighth Circuit opinion does comport with the trend of allowing professional educational programs latitude to "professionalize" students and to dismiss those who do not conform.

October 26, 2016 in First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Federal Judge Enjoins Michigan's Ballot-Selfie Ban

In her order in Crookston v. Johnson, Federal District Judge Janet Neff has issued a preliminary injunction regarding Michigan's ban on the so-called ballot-selfie.  Michigan's ban is expressed in two statutes, MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 168.579, 168.738(2), which require rejection of the ballots for "exposure" and Secretary of State rules prohibiting photographs and use of cell phones by voters in the voting station.

Not surprisingly, Judge Neff relied on the First Circuit's opinion last month in Rideout v. Gardner invalidating New Hampshire's prohibition of the ballot-selfie. Judge Neff assumed that the Michigan scheme was content-based - - - prohibiting only speech about marked ballots - - - and that even if there were compelling government interests such as coercion, the means chosen was not narrowly tailored. However, even if the Michigan scheme was deemed content-neutral, Judge Neff found that it failed intermediate scrutiny.  Again, part of the problem is that there is little if anything to show that the coercion and vote-buying is related to the ballot-selfie, and even if there were a sufficient interest, Michigan's ban is not sufficiently focused.

Camera-Stencil-Graffiti
Image by Andreas Schwarzkopf via

One relatively novel government interest raised by Michigan is protection of  “the rights of other voters in the exercise of their right to vote by causing intimidation, disruption, and long lines at the polls.”  This interest is not extensively discussed Judge Neff, but the specter of long lines caused by "photographers" could be important.  However, in North Carolina where early voting has begun, the lines are reportedly related to the decrease in voting places rather than to voter-conduct.

With the election imminent, Michigan may spend its time seeking review from the Sixth Circuit - - - or it may simply concede that the trend seems to be toward ballot-selfies as protected by the First Amendment.

 

October 25, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Backpage Lacks Standing to Challenge Ban on Advertising Sex Trafficking

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled today in Backpage.com v. Lynch that Backpage lacked standing to challenge a federal law criminalizing ads for sex trafficking.

The ruling ends this case, unless and until Backpage successfully appeals.

Backpage, an on-line classified ad service that hosts an "adult services" section, challenged the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015, which amended the existing sex-trafficking prohibition and created a criminal penalty for advertising sex trafficking, including trafficking of minors. Backpage brought a pre-enforcement challenge to the SAVE Act, arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that it violated Backpage's free speech. To establish standing, Backpage argued that it intended "to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest."

The court rejected that argument. The court said that Backpage only "intends to continue hosting third party advertisements, including advertisements that are adult-oriented and concern escort services," but not advertisements that (even arguably) violate the SAVE Act (which, according to the court, wouldn't be constitutionally protected, anyway). Because Backpage didn't "allege[] an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest," and that is "proscribed by [the] statute [it] wishes to challenge," it lacked standing for its pre-enforcement challenge.

The court distinguished the several other cases that Backpage won, writing that those cases were different.

October 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ninth Circuit Upholds California's Disclosure Statute Regulating Crisis Pregnancy Centers

In its opinion in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Harris, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, the FACT Act. The FACT Act mandates that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, including crisis pregnancy centers that specifically discourage abortion and employ "deceptive advertising and counseling practices" related to the availability of abortion, disseminate a notice stating the availability of publicly-funded family-planning services that include contraception and abortion.  Additionally, the FACT Act requires unlicensed clinics provide notice that they are not licensed.

Bodleian_Libraries,_Ticket_of_Shanes_Castle,_announcing_Shanes_Castle_masqueradeRecall that mandatory disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers has previously been considered in Circuit opinions.  In The Evergreen Association, Inc. d/b/a Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers v. City of New York, a divided panel of the Second Circuit in 2014 ruled that only one of the three major provisions of NYC's Local Law 17 seeking to mandate disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers was constitutional.  The en banc Fourth Circuit has also rules: First, in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, it reversed the granting of a preliminary injunction finding fault with the application of the summary judgment standard by the district judge, and second in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County,  affirmed a finding that one of the mandated disclosures was constitutional and the other was not.

The Ninth Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, rejected the argument that the mandated notice of other services available for pregnancy to be afforded by licensed facilities (the "Licensed Notice")  should be subject to strict scrutiny because "all" content-based regulations should be subject to strict scrutiny, notwithstanding  the United States Supreme Court's decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015).  Judge Nelson's opinion noted that abortion regulation and the practice of medicine have been subject to "reasonable regulation" even when speech is involved. Instead, the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel took as precedent its ruling in Pickup v. Brown regarding prohibition of sexual conversion therapy and the concept of "professional speech":

We now turn to the correct level of scrutiny to apply to the Licensed Notice and conclude that under our precedent in Pickup, intermediate scrutiny applies. Licensed Clinics are not engaging in a public dialogue when treating their clients, and they are not “constitutionally equivalent to soapbox orators and pamphleteers.” Pickup. Thus, it would be inappropriate to apply strict scrutiny. And, unlike in Pickup, the Licensed Notice does not regulate therapy, treatment, medication, or any other type of conduct. Instead, the Licensed Notice regulates the clinics’ speech in the context of medical treatment, counseling, or advertising.

Because the speech here falls at the midpoint of the Pickup continuum, it is not afforded the “greatest” First Amendment protection, nor the least.  It follows, therefore, that speech in the middle of the Pickup continuum should be subject to intermediate scrutiny.

 In applying intermediate scrutiny, Judge Nelson found that

California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally-protected medical services like abortion. The California Legislature determined that a substantial number of California citizens may not be aware of, or have access to, medical services relevant to pregnancy. * * * *

We conclude that the Licensed Notice is narrowly drawn to achieve California’s substantial interests. The Notice informs the reader only of the existence of publicly-funded family-planning services. It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest, or imply that women should use those state-funded services. The Licensed Notice is closely drawn to achieve California’s interests in safeguarding public health and fully informing Californians of the existence of publicly-funded medical services. And given that many of the choices facing pregnant women are time-sensitive, such as a woman’s right to have an abortion before viability, we find convincing the AG’s argument that because the Licensed Notice is disseminated directly to patients whenever they enter a clinic, it is an effective means of informing women about publicly-funded pregnancy services.

Additionally, the panel found that the Unlicensed Notice - - - the mandated disclosure that a facility is not licensed - - - survives every level of scrutiny, even strict scrutiny.

The Ninth Circuit panel opinion acknowledged that it was in agreement with the Second and Fourth Circuits on the Unlicensed Notice provision, but that the Second and Fourth Circuits had applied a higher level of scrutiny to similar mandated disclosures and found that they were not constitutional.

There is thus an arguable split amongst the circuits on the subject of mandated disclosures by so-called pregnancy crisis centers, with the Ninth Circuit's conceptualization of "professional speech" again ripe for a certiorari petition to the United States Supreme Court.

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October 14, 2016 in Abortion, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welsh v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law.  Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.

The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:

Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case.  Recall that Welsh itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute.  The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.

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October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Eleventh Circuit Upholds PAC-to-PAC Transfer Ban

The Eleventh Circuit this week rejected a First Amendment challenge to Alabama's ban on PAC-to-PAC political contributions. The ruling upholds Alabama's ban and deepens a split in the circuits.

The Alabama Democratic Conference, an Alabama PAC perhaps best known for its yellow sample ballot that it distributes to voters, brought the case, arguing that Alabama's law that bans political contributions between PACs violates free speech. The ADC gets money from individual contributors, other PACs, and even candidates; it spends money in support of particular candidates and independent advocacy. The ADC uses separate bank accounts for candidate contributions and its own independent expenditures. Still, the state's PAC-to-PAC transfer ban prohibited the ADC from receiving money from other PACs. So it sued.

The Eleventh Circuit upheld the state's transfer ban. The court ruled that the state enacted the ban in response to a concern by state voters that PAC-to-PAC transfers were being used to conceal the true identity of political contributors--and raised the appearance of quid pro quo corruption. Moreover, the court said that the ADC didn't do enough to segregate its two accounts to reduce the appearance that it might use other PACs' contributions for candidate contributions. Because the ban was closely drawn to address the appearance of corruption, the Eleventh Circuit upheld it.

The ruling aligns with the Second and Fifth Circuits, but against the Tenth, on the question whether a PAC-to-PAC transfer ban violates free speech, when a PAC has two separate accounts, one for candidate contributions and the other for independent expenditures.

September 30, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

SCOTUS Adds Two First Amendment Cases to Docket: Trademarks and Surcharge Laws

The United States Supreme Court has added two notable First Amendment speech cases to its docket of constitutional law cases.

In Lee v. Tam, the Court will consider whether the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, violates the First Amendment.  Recall that the en banc Federal Circuit held the provision invalid in  In Re Simon Shiao Tam, in which the central issue was the denial of a trademark registration to "The Slants" by the applicant Simon Shiao Tam, on behalf of the Portland, Oregon "all Asian American dance rock band."  Looming large but in the background are controversies regarding the names of athletic teams that many believe are disparaging.

In Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, the Court will consider a New York state law prohibiting credit-card surcharges infringes free speech.  Recall that while the expressive element in the challenge to pricing regulation is not immediately obvious, one articulation of the issue is that while "price" is not expressive, the statute actually bans an expressive label it disfavors ("credit-card discount") while permitting one a label it approves ("cash discount").  The district judge found this persuasive and held the law unconstitutional, while the Second Circuit reversed.  Moreover, similar issues have reached the Eleventh and Fifth Circuits, with a split amongst the courts.

September 29, 2016 in First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)