Monday, July 22, 2013
In its opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, a sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source.
The underlying controversy involves James Risen's book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration and the prosecution of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling for various crimes related to his revealtions of classified information. As Chief Fourth Circuit Judge William Traxler, writing for the panel majority on this issue, describes it,
Chapter 9 of the book, entitled “A Rogue Operation,” reveals details about Classified Program No. 1. J.S.A. 219-32. In the book, Risen entitled the program “Operation Merlin” and described it as a “failed attempt by the CIA to have a former Russian scientist provide flawed nuclear weapon blueprints to Iran.” J.A. 722. Risen does not reveal his sources for the classified information in Chapter 9, nor has he indicated whether he had more than one source. However, much of the chapter is told from the point of view of a CIA case officer responsible for handling Human Asset No. 1. The chapter also describes two classified meetings at which Sterling was the only common attendee.
While the opinion involves two other issues, involving the suppression of the testimony of two other government witnesses and the withholding of the identities of several covert CIA operatives under the Classified Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), 18 U.S.C. app. 3 - - - issues on which Chief Judge Traxler wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion - - - the nonexistence of a reporters' privilege is the most central from a constitutional perspective. The majority opinion was unequivocal:
There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.
The majority reasoned that this result was mandated by the United States Supreme Court's 1972 opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes. It did not credit the argument that Justice Powell’s concurring opinion in Branzburg made Branzburg's holding less clear. Instead, it rejected Risen's contention that Powell's concurrence "should instead be interpreted as a tacit endorsement of Justice Stewart’s dissenting opinion, which argued in favor of recognizing a First Amendment privilege in criminal cases that could be overcome only if the government carries the heavy burden of establishing a compelling interest or need." The majority stated that just as in Branzburg, Risen has
“direct information . . . concerning the commission of serious crimes.” Branzburg, 408 U.S. at 709. Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury –- the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead.
That the crime is the leak itself does not seem to be noteworthy. The majority likewise rejected the notion that there was any common law privilege.
For Judge Robert Gregory, dissenting, principles of a free press as expressed in the First Amendment should include a reporter's privilege, that should then be evaluated under a balancing test:
Protecting the reporter’s privilege ensures the informed public discussion of important moral, legal, and strategic issues. Public debate helps our government act in accordance with our Constitution and our values. Given the unprecedented volume of information available in the digital age – including information considered classified – it is important for journalists to have the ability to elicit and convey to the public an informed narrative filled with detail and context. Such reporting is critical to the way our citizens obtain information about what is being done in their name by the government.
For Judge Gregory, Justice Powell's concurring opinion modifies the holding of Branzburg. Recognizing that the "full import of Justice Powell’s concurrence continues to be debated," Judge Gregory notes that appellate courts have subsequently hewed closer to Justice Powell’s concurrence – and Justice Stewart’s dissent – than to the majority opinion, and a number of courts have since recognized a qualified reporter’s privilege, often utilizing a three-part balancing test." He thus finds it "sad" that the majority "departs from Justice Powell’s Branzburg concurrence and our established precedent to announce for the first time that the First Amendment provides no protection for reporters." Judge Gregory would also recognize a "common law privilege protecting a reporter’s sources pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 501."
While there are statutory proposals and provisions aplenty, the continuing confusion over the meaning of Branzburg and the existence of a reporter's First Amendment or even common right to retain confidentiality of sources does call for resolution. The Fourt Circuit's divided opinion squarely presents the issue for the Supreme Court .
Friday, July 19, 2013
First Amendment Whistleblowers? Government Employees Reveal Trayvon Martin's Cell Phone and Tsarnaev's Surrender Photos
While the trial of famous whistleblower Bradley Manning continues and the fate of even-more-famous whistleblower Edward Snowden remains unresolved, two other government employee whistleblowers involved in high profile cases have been terminated from employment and possibly implicate Garcetti v. Ceballos. Decided in 2006, Garcetti denied First Amendment protections to a prosecutor who testified for the defense regarding his misgivings about the veracity of an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant and then suffered adverse employment actions. Recall that earlier this year the United States Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari in two cases presenting a conflict in the Circuits regarding interpretations of Garcetti.
The reported facts involving Ben Kruidbos, a director of information technology for the prosecutor's office in the racially-charged and controversial prosecution of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, are closely analogous to Garcetti.
[image of Trayvon Martin by Shepard Fairey via]
Kruidbos testified at an early June pre-trial hearing that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence extracted from Martin's cell phone to the defense and thus violated the mandate of Brady v. Maryland. After the prosecution's closing arguments, Kruidbos was terminated in a letter that mentioned numerous flaws, including wrongly retaining computer records. Kruibdos will reportedly bring a whistleblower action under state law; but if he raises a First Amendment claim, Garcetti will be an important obstacle.
The reported situation involving police photographer Sergeant Sean Murphy is less analogous to Garcetti and may even be closer to the classic 1968 case of Pickering v. Board of Education in which the teacher Pickering wrote a letter to the newspaper. Yet unlike Pickering, Sgt. Murphy was not acting as an ordinary citizen, but revealing hundreds of images that he possessed by virtue of his public employment.
[Rolling Stone Cover via]Murphy, reportedly "incensed by the controversial Rolling Stone magazine cover for a story about accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev," has reportedly now been relieved of his duties with a hearing pending. Whatever happens to the police photographer, it may now be that the controversial Rolling Stone cover photo (one that was also published on the front page of the NYT) has been eclipsed by even more controversial photos.
Both Kruidbos and Murphy would make terrific in-class exercises or discussions, especially if used together, as a means of exploring First Amendment protections for government employees.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, on behalf of a bevy of organizations, filed suit against the NSA in the Northern District of California to stop its surveillance program and to return any information retrieved. The complaint in First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA argues that the "Associational Tracking Program"--the surveillance program that received so much recent attention with the release of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Roger Vinson's ruling ordering the disclosure of domestic phone records--violates the organizations' and their members' First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.
We previously posted on EPIC's case taking a different route--a petition for a writ of mandamus directly with the Supreme Court.
Monday, July 15, 2013
Amy Feldman over at Constitution Daily writes that flashing headlights enjoy some First Amendment protection. In particular, Feldman says that courts in Florida, Utah, and Tennessee have all ruled that flashing headlights are protected speech, and that a headlight flasher can't be prosecuted for obstructing justice for flashing headlights to alert oncoming traffic of a speed trap.
Still, Feldman says that headlight flashers' civil claims against the police for money damages for violating their First Amendment rights have been far less successful.
Friday, July 12, 2013
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit upheld the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling in Liberty University v. Lew deals a significant blow to challengers of the Act's requirement that large employers provide affordable health care coverage to full-time employees and dependents or pay a fine. Unless and until it's appealed to the full Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court--and unless and until one or the other reverses--the ruling upholds the employer mandate.
The ruling is notable, because it says that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the employer mandate. (Recall that five Justices on the Supreme Court said last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the individual mandate.) What's the difference? See below.
The case is a hold-over from the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. Recall that the Court in that case held that the Anti-Injunction Act did not bar a the suit challenging the individual mandate, and that the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power. The Court also remanded Liberty University to the Fourth Circuit for a ruling consistent with NFIB. (The Fourth Circuit previously held that the Anti-Injunction Act deprived it of jurisdiction to rule on the merits and dismissed the case.)
The Fourth Circuit followed NFIB's lead and ruled that the employer mandate (like the individual mandate in NFIB) was not a "tax" for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. (The court also ruled that Liberty University had standing to lodge its pre-enforcement challenge of the employer mandate, and that the individual named plaintiffs had standing to challenge the individual mandate.)
On the merits, the court ruled that the employer mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's Commerce Clause authority. (Recall that five members of the Supreme Court in NFIB said that the individual mandate exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause authority, even if it fell within Congress's taxation power.) What's the difference between the employer mandate and the individual mandate? In short, unlike individuals who have not purchased health insurance, employers operate in interstate commerce, and health insurance is part of their employees' compensation package, which itself is regulable under the Commerce Clause. The Fourth Circuit explained:
To begin, we note that unlike the individual mandate . . . the employer mandate does not seek to create commerce in order to regulate it. In contrast to individuals, all employers are, by their very nature, engaged in economic activity. All employers are in the market for labor. And to the extent that the employer mandate compels employers in interstate commerce to do something, it does not compel them to "become active in commerce," [NFIB, emphasis in original]; it merely "regulate[s] existing commercial activity," id., i.e., the compensation of employees . . . .
Further, contrary to Liberty's assertion, the employer mandate does not require employers to "purchase an unwanted product." . . . Although some employers may have to increase employee compensation (by offering new or modified health insurance coverage), employers are free to self-insure, and many do.
(Interestingly, the court dropped a footnote, note 7, that says, "We express no opinion as to whether the limitation on the commerce power announced by five justices in NFIB constitutes a holding of the Court." We covered that topic here.)
Following NFIB, the court also upheld the individual mandate under Congress's taxing power, and applied that ruling to uphold the employer mandate under Congress's taxing power.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' religion claims--based on the First and Fifth Amendments (equal protection) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
July 12, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Should a for-profit corporation have free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment as the en banc Tenth Circuit held in Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius?
Hamilton ultimately contends that RFRA, at least as interpreted by the Tenth Circuit, is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause in that it means that "large for-profit employers, who may not discriminate in hiring based on religion, can still coerce their employees into following their religious beliefs."
Hamilton's even larger argument, however, involves the relationship between religion and capitalism in our constitutional democracy. Assume, she argues, that Hobby Lobby and similar companies
assert that they don’t mind losing money from those who don’t share their religious beliefs. Or to put it another way, they really only want business from those who share their religious beliefs. That is the slippery slope on which the Tenth Circuit has set free exercise reasoning.
That isn’t capitalism, which, when working as it should, is driven by the quality of products and competition on price, regardless of the political or religious beliefs of the producer and purchaser. It is Balkanization, and a first step on the path to the religious wars we in the United States have avoided so far.
Yet perhaps the owners of Hobby Lobby is not anticipating that consumers will actually know that it is an entity with specific religious beliefs rather than simply a store selling sequins?
Whatever the beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby, however, Hamilton's column is a must read on the contentious issue of recognizing religious freedoms of for-profit companies.RR
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
To register a handgun in the state of New York, the fee is $3-10. However, a New York statute, New York State Penal Law § 400.00(14), allows the City of New York and the adjoining county of Nassau on Long Island to set and collect a different fee. The challengers argued that this statutory provision violated equal protection. Additionally, the challengers argued that the fee set by New York City - - - $340 for a three year license - - - violated the Second Amendment. In its opinion in Kwong v. Bloomberg, a unanimous Second Circuit panel upheld both the state statute and the city regulation, affirming the district judge.
Judge Jose Cabranes rejected the argument that the $340 fee set by NYC Admin. Code § 10-131(a)(2) places too great a burden on their Second Amendment rights. Following the path set by other judges, the Second Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s First Amendment fee jurisprudence provides the appropriate foundation for analyzing the constitutionality of fees under the Second Amendment. Here, the court held that the "undisputed evidence" demonstrated that "the $340 licensing fee is designed to defray (and does not exceed) the administrative costs associated with the licensing scheme."
Moreover, the mere fact that the license is more expensive does not make it a substantial burden on one's Second Amendment rights. The opinion interestingly includes a "see also" and cites Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 874 (1992) including this quote in the parenthetical: (“The fact that a law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to [exercise the right] cannot be enough to invalidate it.”)
Even if the NYC law were subject to intermediate scrutiny - - - as the concurring opinion by Judge John Walker asserts - - - and as the Second Circuit previously applied to a concealed handgun law - - - the fee would still survive, as Judge Walker agrees.
As for the equal protection claim against the state statute allowing differential fees, the court rejected the argument that because a fundamental right is at stake, the state statute merited strict scrutiny. The court held that a fundamental right was not "burdened" and further that geographic classifications are not suspect. Applying rational basis, the court found it easily satisfied.
Again, Judge Walker concurring would apply intermediate scrutiny, and again, he found that the higher fee would survive the heightened level of scrutiny.
The disagreement amongst the judges regarding the standard is thus of no moment - - - at least in this case. But further litigation about what constitutes a burden on a Second Amendment rights will likely continue.
Monday, July 8, 2013
It's summer in North America and that means scholarship-time for legal academics. No matter what the subject of your in-progress/forthcoming/almost finished article, take time to read a brief essay by Ronald Collins and Lisa Lerman, Disclosure, Scholarly Ethics, and the Future of Law Reviews: A Few Preliminary Thoughts By Ronald K.L. Collins & Lisa Lerman, 88 Wash. L. Rev. 321 (2103), available here.
They argue that your author's footnote might need a bit of expansion to disclose any direct or indirect compensation or involvement in your subject. Disclosure is not the norm in law reviews, especially when it comes to academics as opposed to practioners. The comparison is even more stark when it comes to the practices in other disciplines.
But their suggestion, if rare, is hardly new. Indeed, they quote from the AALS "Statement of Good Practices by Law Professors in the Discharge of their Ethical and Professional Responsibilities":
A law professor shall disclose the material facts relating to receipt of direct or indirect payment for, or any personal economic interest in, any covered activity that the professor undertakes in a professorial capacity . . . . Disclosure of material facts should include: (1) the conditions imposed or expected by the funding source on views expressed in any future covered activity and (2) the identity of any funding source, except where the professor has provided legal representation to a client in a matter external to legal scholarship under circumstances that require the identity to remain privileged under applicable law. If such a privilege prohibits disclosure the professor shall generally describe the interest represented.
And, perhaps less surprising perhaps, it's something Justice William O. Douglas recommended almost half of a century ago.
They provide some scintillating examples worth consideration. These might make you reflect not only on your own ethical responsbility to disclose, but perhaps also upon the missing disclosures in sources upon which you rely, as in the Second Amendment area which we discussed.
And it is certainly worth passing on to your school's law review editors.
A Fourth Circuit panel issued its opinion in Sons of Confederate Veterans, Virginia Division v. City of Lexington, Virginia holding that Lexington's "flag pole" ordinance limiting flags to that of the nation, state, and city was constitutional under the First Amendment. The Sons of Confederate Veterans argued on appeal that the City was motivated in enacting the ordinance by its desire to bar the Confederate flag from its flagpoles. For the court, even if that were true, it was of no constitutional moment. The flag poles had been a "designated public forum," but the
Ordinance has the effect of closing a designated public forum — the perpetual availability of which was never guaranteed — to all private speakers. The City was entitled to listen to the public and to enact ordinances that are constitutional in text and in operation, and that are supported by the electorate.
The court quickly added, however, that
the Ordinance specifies that it does not “prohibit or curtail individuals from carrying flags in public and/or displaying them on private property.” Lexington City Code § 420-205(C) (2011). As a result, all private groups and individuals remain free to express their flag-bound messages in other ways.
The limitation of the flag poles - - - or flag standards - - - may or may not be operative in a reported plan by a Louisiana legislator to ban the rainbow flag (aka LGBT pride flag) from government property. The prompting incident was reportedly a rainbow flag that was "hoisted" on a government flag pole to less than universal acclaim.
If the Louisiana legislators need some advice about drafting a constitutional ordinance, they might have a look at Sons of Confederate Veterans. A ban on all nongovernmental flags, including the rainbow flag, on government property? Violative of the First Amendment. A ban on all nongovernmental flags on Government-owned flag poles? Likely to survive a First Amendment challenge. And - - - just to be clear - - - a ban on rainbow flags while allowing Confederate flags? Not constitutional.
And a government ban specifically on the "rainbow Confederate flag" ???
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The Fourth Circuit en banc today issued its opinion in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversing the district court's granting of a preliminary injunction against the ordinance requiring a limited-service pregnancy center "provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services." Essentially, the city's concern is that certain pregnancy centers can be mistaken (or even masquerade as) reproductive medical centers but only offer specific counseling that women not terminate their pregnancies.
The challengers argued that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor. For the en banc majority, however, "the summary judgment decision was laden with error, in that the court denied the defendants essential discovery and otherwise disregarded basic rules of civil procedure."
The majority opinion, authored by Judge King, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Motz, Duncan, Keenan, Wynn, Floyd, and Thacker joined, stressed that its conclusion was procedural and that it did not express a view on the ultimate merits. Nevertheless, as in most cases, the merits and procedural issues are intertwined. For example, one of the crucial issues here is whether the speech being regulated is commercial or not. As the majority stated,
The district court’s denial of discovery and failure to adhere to the summary judgment standard marred its assessment of, inter alia, the City’s contention that the Ordinance targets misleading commercial speech and thus is subject to rational basis (rather than strict) scrutiny. While the strict scrutiny standard generally applies to content-based regulations, including compelled speech, see Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641-42 (1994), less-demanding standards apply where the speech at issue is commercial. Disclosure requirements aimed at misleading commercial speech need only survive rational basis scrutiny, by being “reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.” Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985) (explaining that, “because disclosure requirements trench much more narrowly on an advertiser’s interests than do flat prohibitions on speech, warnings or disclaimers might be appropriately required in order to dissipate the possibility of consumer confusion or deception” (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1324, 1339-40 (2010).
There are two dissenting opinions. The first, by Judge Wilkinson, derides the majority for failing to acknowledge "the dangers of state-compelled speech." He notes that the Supreme Court "only recently reiterated" the importance of the doctrine in Agency for Int’l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int’l, Inc., the prostitution pledge case. Wilkinson accuses the majority of being enchanted with "extended procedures" and argues that it only authorizes a "fishing expedition" against the plaintiffs. The second dissent, authored by Judge Niemeyer, and joined by Judges Shedd, and Agee, as well as Wilkinson, contends that the ordinance governs noncommercial speech, mandates specific speech, and should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The judges did agree - - - amongst themselves and with the district judge - - - that St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation Incorporated and Archbishop William E. Lori lacked standing to be co-plaintiffs, but this issue is a divisive one. Indeed, there is an overdue Second Circuit panel opinion in the appeal of a district judge's conclusion that NYC's similar Local Law 17 was unconstitutional.
Moreover, the First Amendment challenges to pregnancy center "disclosures" as compelled speech mirror the First Amendment challenges to abortion provider "disclosures" as compelled speech, as in statutes from Kansas and South Dakota. The government's interest in preventing "misleading" speech or in providing full disclosure is exceedingly similar in both situations.
For scholars (including student scholars) looking for a terrific topic combining the First Amendment and reproductive rights, theses cases offer much.
Kansas' new abortion law that took effect July 1 - - - running 70 pages and known as Kansas HB 2253 - - - has already been the subject of a constitutional challenge. HB 2253 seeks to restrict abortion and other reproductive services in numerous ways in accord with the legislative finding that "the life of each human being begins at fertilization." The Complaint filed by the local Planned Parenthood organization, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid- Missouri, Inc. (CHPPKM) specifically challenges two provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds.
Planned Parenthood v. Rounds. Even though there was some "uncertainty" as to the reliability of the studies purporting to show a link between abortion and suicide ideation - - - including the very meaning of the word "risk" - - - the majority in Rounds found that the provision survived by giving great deference to South Dakota. One question will be whether the Tenth Circuit will be as deferential as the majority in its sister circuit or be as rigorous as the dissenting judges in Rounds.
Second, the complaint challenges the provision that compels CHPPKM "to place on the homepage of its public website both a hyperlink to a government website that contains the government’s viewpoint on abortion, and a scripted message of endorsement of the content on the government’s website, even where CHPPKM disagrees with the message." In light of last month's decision by the United States Supreme Court in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., - - - the prostitution pledge case - - - invalidating a requirement that organizations that received direct funding could not be compelled to espouse views that were not their own, this claim seems on firm First Amendment footing. The distinction is a factual one - - - the hyperlink - - - although interestingly CHPPKM contends in its complaint this further complicates the matter because it cannot be expected to constantly monitor the government site. Certainly, however, much of the language and reasoning in Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion for the Court solidifies compelled speech doctrine. And interestingly, compelled speech doctrine is being argued by anti-abortion organizations to challenge laws requiring "pregnancy crisis centers" to disclose the fact that they are not medical facilities. ( For example, a district judge held NYC's Local Law 17 unconstitutional in 2011; an opinion from the Second Circuit has been anticipated since oral argument over a year ago). UPDATE: The Fourth Circuit's en banc opinion July 3 on a Baltimore ordinance.
A popular discussion of the controversy, including some of my own thoughts, is available on "KC Currents" broadcast by KCUR, a local NPR station.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
District Judge Finds No Government Liability in "Occupy Everything" Jacket Arrest in Supreme Court Building
Federal District Judge for the District of Columbia, Amy Berman Jackson, has granted summary judgment for the government in her opinion in Scott v. United States in which Scott had alleged that the United States Supreme Court Police violated clearly established First Amendment principles when they arrested him for unlawful entry while he was wearing a jacket bearing the message “Occupy Everywhere” in the Supreme Court building.
Recall our discussion in January 2012 when Scott was arrested (including video). Since then, as we have also discussed, the federal statute prohibiting certain displays (including words) has been held unconstitutional by a different DC Federal District Judge, at least as to the plaza, and the Supreme Court quickly amended its regulation.
Scott sought damages and expungement of his record, alleging false arrest and imprisonment. Judge Jackson rejected this claim finding that there was probable cause to arrest Scott, and even if there was not, the officers had a reasonable good faith belief that there was probable cause. Jackson concludes that Scott's jacket "fell squarely" within the plain language of the "display clause" of 40 USC §6135:
he was displaying a device (his jacket) in the building which had been adapted to bring public attention to the “Occupy” movement. See Kinane v. United States, 12 A.3d 23, 25–26 (D.C. 2011) (affirming the conviction of protestors for violating the display clause of section 6135 where the protestors entered the Court with shirts that read, “Shut Down Guantanamo”); Potts v. United States, 919 A.2d 1127, 1130 (D.C. 2007) (holding that an article of clothing can be a “device” within the meaning of section 6135). Since Scott was violating the display clause, he had no authority to remain in the Supreme Court building after the Supreme Court Police told him to cover the display or leave. Therefore, Scott’s violation of section 6135 provided the “additional specific factor” that the Supreme Court Police needed to establish probable cause to arrest him for unlawful entry.
Judge Jackson rejected Scott's attempts to distinguish his situation and his reliance upon that other famous jacket case, Cohen v. California. The issue of whether the police officers could reasonably rely on the state of the law may make Scott's claim difficult to win on appeal. However, the future constitutionality of the so-called display clause criminalizing a person wearing a jacket with words such as "Occupy Everything" is far from settled.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Tenth Circuit Recognizes For-Profit Corporations as Having Religious Freedom and Free Exercise Rights
In the contentious and closely-watched case of Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius, the Tenth Circuit has rendered its opinion concluding that a for-profit corporation has free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment.
Hobby Lobby challenges the constitutionality of the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage to employees. We've previously discussed the issue and the circuit split here.
The federal district judge had rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, noting that it was a for-profit completely secular company - - - it is a corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states. The federal district judge also denied the injunction as to the for-profit corporation Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain, and to the family owning both the corporations through a management trust. Hobby Lobby sought extraordinary relief from the United States Supreme Court after a Tenth Circuit panel declined to issue a stay; Justice Sotomayor in her role as Tenth Circuit Justice then rejected the claim, ruling that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
The Tenth Circuit granted the request for initial en banc review - - - thus, there is no Tenth Circuit panel opinion - - - and issued a lengthy set of opinions from the eight judges, one judge being recused. The majority opinion on pages 8-9 details the rationales of the individual judges. But the essential division is 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under RFRA and the First Amendment. The majority concluded there was such a right and that the corporations demonstrated a likelihood of success for prevailing on the merits.
Judge Timothy Tymkovich's more than 65 page opinion for the majority concluded that
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.
Only a plurality of judges would have resolved the other two preliminary injunction factors - - - balance of equities and public interest - - - in Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s favor, thus the remand.
The majority, however, held
as a matter of statutory interpretation that Congress did not exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protections. Such corporations can be “persons” exercising religion for purposes of the statute. Second, as a matter of constitutional law, Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.
(emphasis added). The opinion often conflates RFRA (which recall, is only applicable as to federal laws) and First Amendment. However, in specifically considering First Amendment doctrine, the majority's argument derived from two strands. First, it noted that individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep their Free Exercise rights - - - such as churches, citing Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 525 (1993) (holding that a “not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law” prevailed on its Free Exercise claim). Second, it then noted that "unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights," citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982) (considering a Free Exercise claim of an Amish employer); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961) (plurality opinion) (considering a Free Exercise claim by Jewish merchants operating for-profit).
It then characterized the government's argument as being that these "Free Exercise rights somehow disappear" when "individuals incorporate and fail to satisfy Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3)." The majority found this distinction to be one that cannot be supported by First Amendment doctrine. It did, however, implicitly limit the facts under which for-profit corporations could be found to have free exercise rights:
The government nonetheless raises the specter of future cases in which, for example, a large publicly traded corporation tries to assert religious rights under RFRA. That would certainly seem to raise difficult questions of how to determine the corporation’s sincerity of belief. But that is not an issue here. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not publicly traded corporations; they are closely held family businesses with an explicit Christian mission as defined in their governing principles. The Greens, moreover, have associated through Hobby Lobby and Mardel with the intent to provide goods and services while adhering to Christian standards as they see them, and they have made business decisions according to those standards. And the Greens are unanimous in their belief that the contraceptive-coverage requirement violates the religious values they attempt to follow in operating Hobby Lobby and Mardel. It is hard to compare them to a large, publicly traded corporation, and the difference seems obvious.
Thus, the majority stated that it did not share any concerns that its holding would prevent courts from distinguishing businesses that are not eligible for RFRA’s - - - and presumably the First Amendment's - - - protections.
While the analysis of substantial burden that follows is important, it is the holding that a secular for-profit corporation has a sincerely held religious belief that entitles it to assert a free exercise claim is the centerpiece of the controversy.
Indeed, Chief Judge Briscoe, joined by Judge Lucero, call the majority's opinion on this point
nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law, as well as the law of corporations. But whatever one might think of the majority’s views, the fact remains that they are wholly unsupported by the language of the Free Exercise Clause or the Supreme Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and are thus, at best, “considerations for the legislative choice.”
The ability of for-profit corporations to have Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment - - - along with their Free Speech rights as articulated in the still-controversial Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010 and liberally cited in Hobby Lobby - - - is highly contested. This may certainly be going (back) to the United States Supreme Court.
June 28, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Congressional Authority, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Recall the lawsuits filed against the IRS alleging viewpoint discrimination prohibited under the First Amendment for targeting "conservative" and "tea party" groups' application under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c) for tax exempt status?
New developments may make those allegations much more difficult to prove. The IRS "Be On the Look Out" - - - BOLO - - - lists also included groups that could be described as "Progressives" :
Common thread is the word “progressive.” Activities appear to lean toward a new political party. Activities are partisan and appear anti-Republican. You see references to “blue” as being “progressive.”
And continues that "“progressive” activities appear to show that (c)(3) may not be appropriate."
There is more from the House Ways and Means Ranking Committee Member Sander Levin in an eleven page memo.
Without the viewpoint discrimination claim, there is little to support a First Amendment challenge. There seemingly cannot be a content challenge, for after all, content is at the heart of §501(c) tax exemptions, which may be why some advocate for the provision's repeal.
[image: Carl Guttenberg's 1778 engraving "The Tea-Tax-Tempest" via]
Monday, June 24, 2013
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in McCullen v. Coakley in which the First Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute creating a fixed thirty-five-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of abortion clinics.
The First Circuit rejected the argument that the First Amendment doctrine governing buffer zones had shifted after the Supreme Court's decisions in Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011); Snyder v. Phelps (2011); and Citizens United v. FEC (2010).
This grant of certiorari could signal a more robust recognition of First Amendment challenges to buffer zones.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The complaint in Raza v. City of New York details over 150 paragraphs of facts and alleges that NYPD practices have infringed upon the plantiffs' equal protection and First Amendment religion clauses rights, as well as state constitutional rights. The plaintiffs are United States citizens as well as Muslim community leaders, as well as two mosques and one chartitable organization. They allege that they have been "religiously profiled" and subject to surveillance, including infiltration of their organizations.
The complaint is worth reading for its specific facts of an extensive practice of surveillance of the named plaintiffs. Interestingly, the complaint does not include a Fourth Amendment claim but does include a First Amendment Establishment Clause claim, contending that the NYPD practice "fosters an excessive government entanglement with religion by, among other things, subjecting Plaintiffs to intrusive surveillance, heightened police scrutiny, and infiltration by police informants and officers." More predictable are the equal protection and free exercise of religion claims.
With the increasing public discussion of generalized surveillance, this challenge to a specific tageted practice within a city is worth watching. Of course, it is not the first time that the NYPD has been challenged for its practices of surveillance.
[image: logo of the plaintiff organization via]
June 23, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
A divided Second Circuit panel upheld the conviction of Harold Turner in its opinion in United States v. Turner for threats in a blog post against Seventh Circuit Judges Easterbrook, Bauer, and Posner. Turner objected to the judges' ruling in National Rifle Association of America v. Chicago holding that the Second Amendment was not incorporated as to the states (and municipalities), later reversed by the United States Supreme Court in McDonald v. City of Chicago.
killing of family members of United States District Judge Joan Lefkow in 2005.
The jury was instructed as to the First Amendment and nevertheless convicted. The panel majority concluded "based on an independent review of the record that the core constitutional fact of a true threat was amply established, and that Turner’s conduct was unprotected by the First Amendment."
Among Turner's arguments that his blog statements did not constitute a "true threat" was his use of the passive voice. For the majority, this was overly technical and belied the other statements regarding the location of these judges and the killing of another judge's family members. Syntax could be important - - - but not here.
Dissenting Judge Rosemary Pooler - - - who, coincidentally, was a member of a Second Circuit panel (along with Sonia Sotomayor) holding that the Second Amendment was not incorporated against the states - - -carefully considered the "true threats" doctrine as compared to incitement/advocacy doctrines. For Pooler,
Turner’s communications were advocacy of the use of force and not a threat. It is clear that Turner wished for the deaths of Judges Easterbrook, Posner, and Bauer. But I read his statements, made in the passive voice, as an exhortation toward “free men willing to walk up to them and kill them” and not as a warning of planned violence directed toward the intended victims. This reading is furthered by the fact that Turner’s words were posted on a blog on a publicly accessible website, and had the trappings of political discourse, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotation that “[t]he tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots,” Although vituperative, there is no doubt that this was public political discourse.
[citations omitted]. But Pooler continued that this did not mean that Turner's speech was constitutionally protected. Instead, the question should be whether Turner's speech was an incitement protected - - - or not - - - under Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969). She quotes the district judge on this point but concludes by noting that Turner was not charged under the incitement statute, but only the threat statute.
Judge Pooler seems to have the better view here, as the blog post was not directed to the persons threatened but exhorted others to act. But the majority would view such a construction as overly technical.
Senator Jon Tester this week introduced Senate Joint Resolution 18, a proposed constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United and revoke constitutional protections for corporations. The proposed amendment, in relevant part, reads:
The words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state, and such corporate entities are subject to such regulation as the people, through their elected State and Federal representatives, deem reasonable and are otherwise consistent with the powers of Congress and the States under this Constitution.
Here's Tester's press release, explaining the need; here he is on YouTube:
The Washington Times, among others, have pushed back, arguing that Tester's amendment sweeps too broadly--and would take media corporations out from under their First Amendment protections.
The Ninth Circuit this week upheld in part a lower court permanent injunction against the enforcement of a Montana statute making it a criminal offense for any political party to "endorse, contribute to, or make an expenditure to support or oppose a judicial candidate" in a nonpartisan judicial election.
The ruling in Sanders County Republican Central Committee v. Fox is no surprise, after the Ninth Circuit ruled last fall that Montana's ban, at Mont. Code Ann. Sec. 13-35-231, insofar as it restricted endorsements and expenditures, violated the First Amendment.
But the court also reversed the lower court's injunction against enforcing the ban on contributions. It ruled that the earlier case didn't address the constitutionality of the state's ban on contributions and that the contribution ban wasn't before the court here.
This week's ruling means that Montana cannot enforce its ban against political parties endorsing or spending money in support of or in opposition to a judicial candidate in a nonpartisan judicial election. But the state can enforce its ban against political parties making contributions to those judicial candidates.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The United States Supreme Court today decided United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., involving a First Amendment challenge to a provision of federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. It held the provision unconstitutional and affirmed the Second Circuit opinion, which the Circuit had refused to review en banc, and which conflicted with a Sixth Circuit opinion.
The Court's opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, is relatively brief - - - a mere 15 pages - - - first acknowledges that the provision in the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 would clearly violate the First Amendment's compelled speech doctrine if it were a direct regulation of speech. In terms of an attached condition to spending - - - the unconstitutional conditions doctrine - - - Roberts explained that
the relevant distinction that has emerged from our cases is between conditions that define the limits ofthe government spending program—those that specify the activities Congress wants to subsidize—and conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself.
He elaborated on this distinction by contrasting Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, decided in 1983 and upholding a requirement that nonprofit organizations seeking tax-exempt status under 26 U. S. C. §501(c)(3) not engage in substantial efforts to influence legislation, with FCC v. League of Women Voters of California, decided in 1984, holding unconstitutional a condition on federal financial assistance to noncommercial broadcast television and radio stations that prohibited all editorializing, including with private funds.
The opinion then both distinguished and relied upon Rust v. Sullivan, an opinion that was central to oral argument and the briefs. The Court noted that the Government's only positive precedent was Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, but held that it was essentially inapposite. Instead, although the lines could be difficult to draw, the Court held that
the Policy Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program. It requires them to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution.
The opinion closed by reciting West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette's famous quote:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
If some will not be surprised about Roberts' position given his expressions at oral argument, even fewer will be surprised by Justice Scalia. Dissenting, Justice Scalia - - - never a fan of unconstitutional conditions doctrine - - - joined by Justice Thomas finds Barnette a "distraction" from the real issues. He criticizes the majority's distinction between central and not, but also finds that there is no coercion. He analogizes to "King Cnut’s commanding of the tides" to conclude there is "no compulsion at all," simply "the reasonable price of admission to a limited government-spending program that each organization remains free to accept or reject." Of course, the majority, by considering whether or not a condition is central, essentially held that the price of admission was simply not "reasonable." But for Scalia, requiring an "ideological commitment" as a condition to government funding should be acceptable, and the "real evil" of the opinion is a type of floodgates argument: "One can expect, in the future, frequent challenges to the denial of government funding for relevant ideological reasons." More broadly, he extends his argument beyond funding, stating that while one may be a Communist or anarchist, members of the legislature, judiciary, and executive are bound by the Constitution to take an oath affirming it, Art. VI, cl. 3.