Thursday, March 20, 2014

Minnesota Supreme Court Reverses Conviction for Advising or Encouraging Suicide

The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday reversed a conviction for advising or encouraging another in committing suicide, ruling that the conviction violated the First Amendment.  At the same time, the court remanded the case to determine whether the defendant "assisted" suicides in violation of Minnesota law.

The case, Minnesota v. Melchert-Dinkel, involved the defendant's prosecution and conviction for violation of Minnesota Stat. Sec. 609.215, which makes it illegal to "intentionally advise[], encourage[], or assist[] another in taking the other's own life."  Melchert-Dinkel, posing as a depressed and suicidal young female nurse, responded to posts on web-sites related to suicide and encouraged two individuals, one in England and one in Canada, to take their own lives.  Melchert-Dinkel gained the trust of the victims and then urged them each to hang themselves, falsely claiming that he (as she) would also commit suicide.

Melchert-Dinkel was charged with violating Minnesota's ban on advising or encouraging suicide.  The trial court convicted him, specifically finding that he "intentionally advised and encouraged" both victims to take their own lives, and concluded that Melchert-Dinkel's speech was not protected by the First Amendment.

The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed.  The state high court said that the ban swept too broadly to meet strict scrutiny.  In particular, "advise" and "encourage" could include "speech that is more tangential to the act of suicide and the State's compelling interest in preserving life," even "general discussions of suicide with specific individuals or groups."

The court rejected the state's argument that Melchert-Dinkel's speech was unprotected because it was "integral to criminal conduct."  The court noted that suicide is no longer illegal in Minnesota, Canada, or the UK.  With no underlying criminal conduct, the speech couldn't be integral to it.

The court also rejected the state's argument that Melchert-Dinkel's speech was unprotected incitement.  That's because there was no underlying lawless action, imminent or not.

Finally, the court rejected the state's argument that Melchert-Dinkel's speech was unprotected "deceit, fraud, and lies."  The court (citing Alvarez) said that there was no such exception to the First Amendment.

At the same time, the court ruled that the portion of the statute that banned "assisting" another in taking his or her own life survived.  The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether Melchert-Dinkel's actions constituted "assisting" in the suicides.

March 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Daily Read: Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group

Writing for a unanimous Court in 1995, Justice Souter in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group held that the First Amendment rights of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (and its individual member John "Wacko" Hurley) allowed the exclusion of the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group (GLIB) from the St. Patrick's Day Parade, despite the Massachusetts' public accommodation law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Rainbow-shamrockJustice Souter famously opined that although the parade might seem not to have a particularized message that would be inconsistent with GLIB, its message was as particularized as "the unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll."

Some St. Patrick's Day parades continue to exclude identified sexual minority groups, including the Boston one - - - in which Boston's mayor will reportedly not participate this year, and the New York City one - - - in which NYC's mayor will likewise reportedly not participate this year.  Other St. Patrick's Day parades do not ban LGBT groups.

March 17, 2014 in Association, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daily Video: Edward Snowden Speaks

"I took an oath to support the Constitution, and I felt the Constitution was violated on a massive scale," Edward Snowden said in his video conference delivered from his asylum in Russia to the South By Southwest (sxsw) Interactive Festival. 

Here's the video:

 

 Some good analysis at LATimes.  [to be updated]

March 10, 2014 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Government Dismisses Bulk of Indictment Against Barrett Brown

In the controversial indictment by federal government of Barrett Brown (pictured below), one of the most startling First Amendment issues was the protection of "speech" consisting of hyper-linking.

Brown described himself in his court papers as "a thirty-two year old American satirist, author and journalist,"  who "founded Project PM, a collaborative web publication whose contributors conduct research using publically available materials such as information obtained from leakers and hackers" and that "came to focus on the private military and intelligence contracting industry. This transition came amidst a federal crackdown on leaks escaping Washington and an attempt to prosecute whistleblowers."  The indictment focused on the posting of a hyperlink to files from a third party, Stratfor, Strategic Forecasting, Inc., a "global intelligence" company.

Brown's  motion to dismiss the indictment included First Amendment arguments as well as arguments that his conduct did not satisfy the elements of the crime. 

Today the United States Government moved to dismiss  its own indictment, counts 1, and 3-12 - - - all the counts reliant on the hyper-linking.

220px-Barrett_Brown_2007

This leaves count 2 of the indictment: possession of stolen credit card account numbers and their CVVs (Card Verification Values), a count that Brown's own Motion to Dismiss similarly did not address.

This also leaves two other indictments against Brown. 

[image via]

 

March 5, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Speech, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ohio's Dangerous Animals Act

In its  opinion in Wilkins v. Daniels, a panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district judge and affirmed the constitutionality of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals and Restricted Snakes Act, which became effective January 1, 2014.  The Act prohibits possession of dangerous wild animals - - - including tigers, lions, bears, alligators, and pythons 12 feet or longer - - - without a permit.  The permit requirements include the implantation of a microchip under the animal's skin.  The Act includes an exemption for individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA).

The exemption in the Act's scheme and the "chipping" requirement give rise to the constitutional challenges.

Circus_Lion_Tamer
First, and perhaps most creatively, the challengers argued that the exemption for "individuals accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or the Zoological Association of America (ZAA)" constituted compelled speech prohibited by the First Amendment.  This compelled speech argument had two "distinct but interrelated" parts:  a compelled association claim because the Act "forces" them to join either the AZA or ZAA and a compelled speech claim because the Act requires them to "subsidize the speech of their purely private political and ideological rivals,” the AZA or ZAA.

The panel briefly and accurately set out the doctrine and classic First Amendment cases, but the court's analysis is digestable to its conclusion that there was no compulsion, by association or subsidy: "There are fifteen ways appellants can comply with the Act: the permitting requirement and fourteen exemptions."  As the panel concluded, "[m]ere unwillingness to conform their conduct to the permitting requirements or the other thirteen exemptions does not mean that the Act compels appellants to join the AZA or ZAA."

Second, the challengers argued that microchipping requirement violated the Takings Clause.  The panel found the challenge not ripe because there was no pursuit of state compensation.  But, on the merits, the panel found that there was not a taking, stressing the physical taking (rather than the regulatory taking) aspect that seemed to be the central argument.  The court analogized to other types of "property," accepting the State's argument that if the Act’s microchipping requirement to be ruled a taking, “laws requiring license plates on cars, warning labels on packaging, lighting on boats, handrails in apartment buildings, and ramps leading to restaurants” would be suspect.

The court rejected these constitutional challenges that, while innovative, seemed to have little support in the doctrine.  The arguments also had little political appeal - - - the court notes in its opinion that the Ohio Act was prompted by an incident in which "an Ohio man released over fifty exotic animals before committing suicide."

 [image via]

March 4, 2014 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 3, 2014

Court Grants Certiorari in Bearded Prisoner Religious Freedom Case

The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Holt [Muhammad] v. Hobbs, later issuing a clarifying order:

The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted limited to the following question: “whether the Arkansas Department of Correction’s grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc et seq., to the extent that it prohibits petitioner from growing a one—half—inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.”

455px-Meister_von_San_Vitale_in_Ravenna_013Recall that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act - - - RLUIPA - - - essentially reinstates the "strict scrutiny" standard of the pre-Smith  [Employment Div. Dep't of Human Resources v. Smith] cases to a more limited set of circumstances than Congress did with RFRA, held unconstitutional as applied to the states as exceeding §5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in City of Boerne v. Flores.   RLUIPA arguably gives prisoners more free exercise of religion protection than the general public, though in cases,  prison security often provides a sufficient compelling governmental interest that is being further by the least restrictive means and thus overcome a prisoner's religious freedom.

Many RLUIPA claims concern grooming as I discuss in Dressing Constitutionally.  For Muslim male inmates, the question of facial hair has been prominent.  While some circuits have rejected RLUIPA claims, crediting the administrative costs of special scissors necessary to not completely shave prisoners, other courts have upheld RLUIPA claims, finding that prison officials did not satisfy the compelling government standard achieved by the least restrictive means.

The Eighth Circuit's opinion in Holt v. Hobbs is typically cursory at three pages.  Here's the court's analysis:

we conclude that defendants met their burden under RLUIPA of establishing that ADC’s grooming policy was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling penological interest, see Fegans v. Norris, 537 F.3d 897, 903 (8th Cir. 2008) (absent substantial evidence in record indicating that response of prison officials to security concerns is exaggerated, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters), notwithstanding Mr. Holt’s citation to cases indicating that prisons in other jurisdictions have been able to meet their security needs while allowing inmates to maintain facial hair, see id. at 905 (although prison policies from other jurisdictions provide some evidence as to feasibility of implementing less restrictive means of achieving prison safety and security, it does not outweigh deference owed to expert judgment of prison officials who are more familiar with their own institutions).

The court's reliance on Fegans v. Norris, involving the Arkansas Department of Corrections restriction on hair length for male (but not female) inmates, is not surprising.  Fegans  is a particularly deferential decision by the Eighth Circuit - - - it almost seems as if the court applied rational basis rather than the strict scrutiny required by RLUIPA.

The Court's grant of certiorari in Holt v. Hobbs might bring some clarity to the religious freedom for prisoners in the grooming context.

[image via]

March 3, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Federalism, First Amendment, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fisk and Chemerinsky on the First Amendment and Union Fair Share

Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky (both of Cal Irvine) published an American Constitution Society Issue Brief last week that boldly sets out the implications of Harris v. Quinn, on public employee fair-share fees, and blows a hole (or three) in the Court's First Amendment jurisprudence as it continues its attacks on unions.  We posted on Harris here and here; we posted on Knox most recently here.

The Brief, titled Unequal Treatment? The Speech and Association Rights of Employees: Implications of Knox and Harris, pulls no punches in setting out the implications of those cases, starting with the doctrinal time-bombs that Justice Alito planted in Knox, which fed the petitioners' arguments in Harris:

In colloquial terms, the petitioners in Harris seek to have the Supreme Court declare that, as a matter of the First Amendment, all government employment must be on a "right-to-work" basis.

The petitioners' argument in Harris went beyond simply the payment of the employees' fair share of the cost of contract negotiation and administration.  They argued that bargaining on behalf of employees is petitioning the government and "political in nature" even when it addresses wages, and it violates the First Amendment to require dissenting employees to support the union's bargaining.  As the Justices recognized at oral argument, the logical extension of the petitioners' argument is that the First Amendment invalidates any statute allowing employees to bargain collectively on the basis of exclusive representation.

Fisk and Chemerinsky also carefully describe how the Court's approach in Knox, and the petitioners' arguments in Harris, cut against the Court's approaches to compelled speech, associational rights, and speech of government employees in other areas. 

The conclusion: The implications are serious, and Court's approach to fair share union fees is just the opposite of its approach in other cases, suggesting that the Court is just baldly beating up on unions.

March 2, 2014 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Watchdog Organization Can't Challenge IRS Rule Granting Nonprofit Status to Political Orgs

Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, challenging the IRS rule that allows donors to certain political organizations to remain under the radar. 

The ruling means that CREW's effort in this court to get the IRS to rewrite its rule on 501(c)(4) organizations fails, and that unless and until the IRS rewrites its rule, 501(c)(4) organizations can continue engaging up to 49% of their activity in political spending while keeping their donors hidden from public view.

The case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. IRS, challenged the IRS rule implementing Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.  That provision grants a tax exemption for organizations "not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare."  (Emphasis added.)  But the IRS rule implementing that provision applies to organizations that are "primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.  An organization embraced within this section is one which is operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements."

In short: The statutory "operated exclusively" became a regulatory "primarily engaged," giving 501(c)(4)s considerably more latitude to engage in electioneering.

That matters, because 501(c)(4) status allows organizations to spend money in politics while at the same time shielding the names of donors.  Some 501(c)(4)s have taken the position, based on the IRS rule, that they qualify for tax exemption if they engage 49% of less in political donations.  That's a lot of political donations--and a lot of shielding of donors--especially when the statute requires them to be "operated exclusively" for social welfare purposes.

So CREW sued, arguing that the IRS regulation let 501(c)(4)s get away with way more political spending, and shielding, than the Internal Revenue Code allowed.

But Judge Bates dismissed the case for lack of standing.  He ruled that CREW could not establish informational injury, because its injury--lack of information on donors--was hypohetical and speculative.  In particular, Judge Bates wrote that it wasn't the IRS regulation that prevented CREW from getting information on donors, but instead the organizations' decision on how to organize.  In other words, if the IRS rewrote its regulation to conform to the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(4)s might drop their tax-exempt status or reorganize under another tax-exempt provision to maintain donor confidentiality; but they wouldn't necessarily reorganize as 527s (which would require donor disclosure).  Judge Bates wrote that this also prevented CREW from showing causation and redressability.

Judge Bates also ruled that CREW did not have standing based on programmatic injury--the injury to its ability to collect donor information and fulfill its watchdog mission.  That's because CREW's injury isn't "fairly traceable" to the IRS decision not to rewrite its rule--there are other intervening causes of CREW's injury.

February 28, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Upholds School Ban of American Flag Shirt

In its opinion in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit rejected a claim by students that their constitutional rights were violated when school officials banned their American flag clothing during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Affirming the district judge, the panel applied Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) to the First Amendment claims, distinguishing Tinker:

In contrast to Tinker, in which there was “no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone,” id., there was evidence of nascent and escalating violence at Live Oak. On the morning of May 5, 2010, each of the three students was confronted about their clothing by other students, one of whom approached student M.D. and asked, “Why are you wearing that? Do you not like Mexicans[?]” Before the brunch break, [Principal] Rodriguez learned of the threat of a physical altercation. During the break, Rodriguez was warned about impending violence by a second student. The warnings of violence came, as the district court noted, “in [the] context of ongoing racial tension and gang violence within the school, and after a near-violent altercation had erupted during the prior Cinco de Mayo over the display of an American flag.” Threats issued in the aftermath of the incident were so real that the parents of the students involved in this suit kept them home from school two days later.

800px-Peter_Fonda's_American_Flag_Patch
Moreover, the school did not "embargo all flag-related clothing," but "distinguished among the students based on the perceived threat level" and allowed "two students to return to class when it became clear that their shirts were unlikely to make them targets of violence."

The court also rejected the students' equal protection claim, which seemed to rest upon viewpoint discrimination, and indeed the court again relied upon Tinker.  The court further rejected the facial due process challenge to the school dress code, which prohibited clothing that “indicate[s] gang affiliation, create[s] a safety hazard, or disrupt[s] school activities," finding that it need not be more specific:

It would be unreasonable to require a dress code to anticipate every scenario that might pose a safety risk to students or that might substantially disrupt school activities. Dress codes are not, nor should they be, a school version of the Code of Federal Regulations. It would be equally unreasonable to hold that school officials could not, at a minimum, rely upon the language Tinker gives them.

While school dress codes and their application can raise grave constitutional concerns, the context as the court explains it here seems to warrant the tailored of school officials, American flag or not.

[image: American Flag clothing patch from "Easy Rider" via]

February 28, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Video: A Camera and Protest in the United States Supreme Court

Here's the video:

 

 

 

Commentary available from Reuters  and NYT.

Our discussion of the oral arguments in McCutcheon and its relationship to Citizens United is here.

February 28, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Film, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ninth Circuit Orders "Innocence of Muslims" Video Taken Down

The intersection of First Amendment and copyright is not always well-marked and its certainly murky in the Ninth Circuit's divided opinion in Garcia v. Google, involving the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video posted on YouTube (owned by Google, Inc.). 

Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski sets the scene:

While answering a casting call for a low-budget amateur film doesn’t often lead to stardom, it also rarely turns an aspiring actress into the subject of a fatwa. But that’s exactly what happened to Cindy Lee Garcia when she agreed to act in a film with the working title “Desert Warrior.”

The film’s writer and producer, Mark Basseley Youssef—who also goes by the names Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile—cast Garcia in a minor role. Garcia was given the four pages of the script in which her character appeared and paid approximately $500 for three and a half days of filming. “Desert Warrior” never materialized. Instead, Garcia’s scene was used in an anti-Islamic film titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Garcia first saw “Innocence of Muslims” after it was uploaded to YouTube.com and she discovered that her brief performance had been partially dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”

These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, calling for the killing of everyone involved with the film, and Garcia soon began receiving death threats. She responded by taking a number of security precautions and asking that Google remove the video from YouTube.

The copyright issue seems to be whether an actor can copyright her performance and how issues such as fraud and work-for-hire fit into such an analysis.  Yet even if Garcia prevails in her copyright claim, a First Amendment issue arises with the relief - - - a preliminary injunction.  The majority gives short shrift to Google's First Amendment argument raising such an argument:

The problem with Google’s position is that it rests entirely on the assertion that Garcia’s proposed injunction is an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect copyright infringement. Cf. Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 219–220 (2003). Because Garcia has demonstrated a likelihood of success on her claim that “Innocence of Muslims” infringes her copyright, Google’s argument fails. The balance of equities therefore clearly favors Garcia and, to the extent the public interest is implicated at all, it, too, tips in Garcia’s direction.

(Recall that the Court in Eldred upheld the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and found copyright generally consistent with the First Amendment).

Dissenting, Judge N.R. Smith argued that the First Amendment should be weighed heavily as the public interest militating against a preliminary injunction - - - but only because he believes there is no statutory claim for copyright infringement:

The public’s interest in a robust First Amendment cannot be questioned. See Sammartano v. First Judicial Dist. Court, 303 F.3d 959, 974 (9th Cir. 2002). Opposite this vital public interest is Garcia’s allegation of copyright infringement. Properly enforcing the Copyright Act is also an important public interest. See Small v. Avanti Health Sys., LLC, 661 F.3d 1180, 1197 (9th Cir. 2011). Indeed, if Google were actually infringing Garcia’s copyright, the First Amendment could not shelter it. See Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 219–20 (2003).

But the case at bar does not present copyright infringement per se. Instead (in an unprecedented opinion), the majority concludes that Garcia may have a copyright interest in her acting performance. Maj. op. at 10. As a result, Google’s contention, that issuing a preliminary injunction on these facts may constitute a prior restraint of speech under the First Amendment, identifies an important public interest.

As Judge Kozinski's majority opinion notes, this is "a troubling case."  But while the majority is troubled by the deception of and possible harm to Garcia, others are more troubled by the First Amendment implications of ordering any material removed from YouTube.  YouTube has complied, but has availed itself of the oft-suggested remedy of "more speech" as in the image below:

Screen Shot 2014-02-27 at 12.17.45 PM

February 27, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Supreme Court in Apel: First Amendment is an Issue on Remand?

The Court issued its opinion today in United States v. Apel, a case involving a protest outside a military facility.  As to whether the protest involved the First Amendment, that issue is still unresolved.  As we noted about the oral argument, mentions of the First Amendment were rebuffed and they play little role in the opinion, which concentrates on the statutory interpretation issue. 

Nevertheless, Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion, joined by Sotomayor, is worth reading in its entirety: 400px-Ruth_Bader_Ginsburg_official_SCOTUS_portrait

I agree with the Court’s reading of 18 U. S. C. §1382: The military’s choice “to secure a portion of the Base more closely—be it with a fence, a checkpoint, or a painted green line—does not alter the boundaries of the Base or diminish the jurisdiction of the military commander.”  But a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus.

When the Government permits the public onto part of its property, in either a traditional or designated public forum, its “ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is very limited.” United States v. Grace, 461 U. S. 171, 177 (1983). In such venues, the Government may enforce “reasonable time, place, and manner regulations,” but those regulations must be “content-neutral [and] narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.” Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted).

The stated interest of the Air Force in keeping Apel out of the area designated for peaceful protest lies in ensuring base security. That interest, however, must be assessed in light of the general public’s (including Apel’s) permission to traverse, at any hour of the day or night, the highway located a few feet from the designated protest area. See Appendix to opinion of the Court, ante (displaying maps of the area). The Air Force also permits open access to the middle school, bus stop, and visitors’ center, all situated in close proximity to the protest area.

As the Air Force has exhibited no “special interes[t] in who walks [or] talks” in these places, Flower v. United States, 407 U. S. 197, 198 (1972) (per curiam), it is questionable whether Apel’s ouster from the protest area can withstand constitutional review. The Court has properly reserved that issue for consideration on remand.  In accord with that reservation, I join the Court’s opinion.

[citations to opinion and briefs omitted].

Does this mean that Apel may have a First Amendment challenge yet?

February 26, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brennan Center Launches Newsletter on Money in Politics

The Brennan Center at NYU launched its new newsletter Money in Politics last week.  According to the announcement, the newsletter "will highlight the latest news on the role of big money in politics, its potential impact on the 2014 election, and reform efforts nationwide."  Here's the first issue, published on February 20, covering New York's moves toward public financing, super-PAC donations from both sides of the aisle, a federal public financing bill, and various news related to spending and campaign finance reform.

February 24, 2014 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Alleging NYC Police Surveillance of Muslim Communities in New Jersey

In a terse ten page opinion today in Hassan v. City of New York, United States District Judge William Martini dismissed a complaint alleging that the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeted New Jersey Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The judge first found that there were not sufficient allegations to satisfy Article III standing.  He  relied upon Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1 (1972) to conclude that there was not an injury in fact because, as in Tatum, the allegations of a "subjective chill are not an adequate substitute for a claim of specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm."

Listening-post_at_Spyglass,_Gibraltar_Art.IWMARTLD3562
Listening-post at Spyglass, Gibraltar via

The judge also found that the causation requirement of standing was not met because any injury was not caused by the surveillance but by the revelation of the surveillance:

None of the Plaintiffs’ injuries arose until after the Associated Press released unredacted, confidential NYPD documents and articles expressing its own interpretation of those documents. Nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of the documents by the Associated Press. This confirms that Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the documents. The harms are not “fairly traceable” to any act of surveillance.

On the merits of the allegations, the judge applied the Iqbal "plausibility" and discriminatory "purpose" standard, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and concluded that:

Plaintiffs in this case have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion. The more likely explanation for the surveillance was a desire to locate budding terrorist conspiracies. The most obvious reason for so concluding is that surveillance of the Muslim community began just after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself. While this surveillance Program may have had adverse effects upon the Muslim community after the Associated Press published its articles; the motive for the Program was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but rather to find Muslim terrorists hiding among ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.

Copies of the complaint and other pleadings are available at the Center for Constitutional Rights. The dismissal is sure to be appealed.

February 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Third Circuit on Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law: Mostly Constitutional

Largely reversing a district judge's opinion that had found various provisions of Pennyslvania's Funeral Director Law unconstitutional on various grounds, the Third Circuit opinion in Heffner v. Murphy upholds the law except for its restriction on the use of trade names as violative of the First Amendment.

One key to the panel's decision is that it surmised that the district judge's conclusions regarding the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law (FDL), enacted in 1952, "stem from a view that certain provisions of the FDL are antiquated in light of how funeral homes now operate."  But, the Third Circuit stated, that is not a "constitutional flaw."

Anna_Ancher_-_A_Funeral_-_Google_Art_Project
"A Funeral" by Anna Archer via

The challenged statutory provisions included ones that:

(1) permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the Board;
(2) limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may possess an ownership interest;
(3) restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment;
(4) restrict the number of funeral establishments in which a funeral director may practice his or her profession;
(5) require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor;
(6) require funeral establishments to have a “preparation room”;
(7) prohibit the service of food in a funeral establishment;
(8) prohibit the use of trade names by funeral homes;
(9) govern the trusting of monies advanced pursuant to pre-need contracts for merchandise; and
(10) prohibit the payment of commissions to agents or employees.

The constitutional provisions invoked - - - and found valid by the district judge - - - included the Fourth Amendment, the "dormant" commerce clause, substantive due process, the contract clause, and the First Amendment, with some provisions argued as violating more than one constitutional requirement.

In affirming the district judge's finding that the trade names prohibition violated the First Amendment, the Third Circuit applied the established four part test from Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission regarding commercial speech and found:

The restrictions on commercial speech here are so flawed that they cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Indeed, the District Court correctly identified the pivotal problem concerning the FDL’s proscription at Central Hudson’s third step: by allowing funeral homes to operate under predecessors’ names, the State remains exposed to many of the same threats that it purports to remedy through its ban on the use of trade names.  A funeral director operating a home that has been established in the community, and known under his or her predecessor’s name, does not rely on his or her own personal reputation to attract business; rather, the predecessor’s name and reputation is determinative. Nor does a funeral home operating under a former owner’s name provide transparency or insight into changes in staffing that the Board insists is the legitimate interest that the State’s regulation seeks to further.

 [citation omitted]

ConLawProfs looking for a good review or even a possible exam question, might well take a look at the case.  It also seems that the Pennsylvania legislature might well take a look at its statutory scheme, which though largely constitutional, does seem outdated.

February 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fourth Circuit Declares North Carolina's "Choose Life" License Plate Offering Unconstitutional

In its unanimous  opinion today in ACLU of North Carolina v. Tata a panel of the Fourth Circuit has concluded that North Carolina's specialty license plate "Choose Life" is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Recall that in December 2012,  Senior United States District Judge James Fox found that while the the "choose life" specialty license plate was offered by the government, it was not the type of "government speech" to which the First Amendment would not apply. 

As the Fourth Circuit explained:

The Supreme Court and this Court have recognized individual speech interests in license plate messages. And in this case, too, the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights, and thus First Amendment protections apply.

But this did not mean the state had no responsibility.  Indeed, the court concluded:

North Carolina invites its vehicle owners to “[m]ake a statement” and “promote themselves”—but only if they are on the government’s side of a highly divisive political issue. This, North Carolina may not do. Because the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights and is not pure government speech, North Carolina’s authorizing a “Choose Life” plate while refusing to authorize a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.

Life


The court's opinion is an excellent rehearsal, in less than 30 pages, of what might be called the First Amendment doctrine of license plates, following from the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard.  We recently discussed the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate and Michigan's refusal of specific letters on a vanity license plate.

February 11, 2014 in Abortion, First Amendment, Reproductive Rights, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Calls for Congressional Action on Surveillance: "The Day We Fight Back"

Labeled "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance," February 11, 2014 has been designated as a day to "make calls and drive emails to lawmakers" regarding two pieces of legislation.

The activists support the USA Freedom Act, S 1599 ("Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act).  The Electronic Frontier Foundation supports the bill, but considers it a "floor not a ceiling" and discusses its limitations including not covering persons outside the US, encryption, and standing issues.  The ACLU legislative counsel "strongly supports" the legislation, noting that while it is not perfect, it is an "important first step," and highlights the fact that one of the sponsors in the House of Representatives is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who "was the lead author of the Patriot Act and now is the chair of the House's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Crime."

The activists urge the rejection of The FISA Improvements Act S 1631, most closely associated with the bill's sponsor, Dianne Feinstein.

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While focused on legislative action, many of the materials and arguments ground themselves in the First and Fourth Amendments.  Organizers state that the day commemorates Aaron Swartz, who also invoked constitutional norms.

February 11, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, State Secrets, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Restriction on Funding of Political Activities by Public Employees


The Eleventh Circuit last week in Alabama Education Association v. Governor of Alabama reversed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a state law prohibiting public employees from arranging salary deductions for payments to organizations for use for "political activities."  The ruling means that the case goes back to the district court, with a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of upholding the law against the plaintiffs' First Amendment challenge.

The law at issue, Alabama Code Sec. 17-17-5, prohibits public employees from "arrang[ing] by salary deduction or otherwise" for payments to (1) political action committees or (2) organizations that use any portion of the dues for "political activity."  (Emphasis added.)  The Act goes on to define "political activity" as

a. Making contributions to or contracting with any entity which engages in any form of political communication, including communications which mention the name of a political candidate.

b. Engaging in or paying for public opinion polling.

c. Engaging in or paying for any form of political communication, including communications which mention the name of a political candidate.

d. Engaging in or paying for any type of political advertising in any medium.

e. Phone calling for any political purpose.

f. Distributing political literature of any type.

g. Providing any type of in-kind help or support to or for a political candidate.

The Alabama Education Association, its political action committee A-VOTE, and some individual members brought a pre-enforcement challenge, arguing that the Act violated free speech on its face.  In particular, they claimed that the "or otherwise" language rendered the Act overly-broad (because it would limit private forms of payment, not facilitated by the government, for political activities), and that the phrase "political activity" was unconstitutionally vague.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the lower court's preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Act.  The Eleventh Circuit's ruling hinged on the answers to questions its certified to the Alabama Supreme Court, asking the state court to define "or otherwise" and "political activities."  According to the Alabama Supreme Court, the phrase "or otherwise" prohibited only the use of state mechanisms to support politically active organizations, and not private forms of payment not facilitated by the government.  Citing Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass'n, the Eleventh Circuit held that "[t]his compels the conclusions that the Act only declines to promote speech, rather than abridging it, and that the Act does not implicate any constitutionally protected conduct, much less a substantial amount."  The court said that the plaintiffs therefore were unlikely to succeed in their over-breadth challenge.

As to the vagueness challenge, the Eleventh Circuit said that whatever the meaning of "political activity," it at least included activity in which the plaintiffs were involved--that is, electioneering activities--and that therefore under Village of Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on their void-for-vagueness challenge.

February 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Town Hall Prayer Case in the Supreme Court - - - of Canada

Before the opening of each town hall meeting, the Mayor recites a prayer - - -

Almighty God, we thank You for the many favours that You have granted Saguenay and its citizens, including freedom, opportunities for development and peace. Guide us in our deliberations as members of the municipal council and help us to be well aware of our duties and responsibilities. Grant us the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that will enable us to preserve the advantages that our city enjoys, so that everyone can benefit from them and we can make wise decisions. Amen.

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Montage of the City of Saguenay, Quebec

Although a government official  - - - rather than someone selected by government officials - - - recites the prayer (in French), the similarties to Town of Greece v. Galloway, argued before the United States Supreme Court in November, are obvious.   However, the religious practice of the City of Saguenay in the province of Quebec, is going before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mouvement laïque québécois (MLQ)  v. City of Saguenay.   (Americans might analogize the Quebecois MLQ to American organizations such as Freedom from Religion). 

There's a terrific discussion of the case by Victor Yee over at "The Court," a blog from Osgoode Hall about the Supreme Court of Canada.

Any decision by the Supreme Court could have implications for Quebec's controversial attempt to regulate the wearing of "ostentatious" religious gear by public employees  and might draw on the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. N.S., involving the right of a witness in a criminal prosecution to wear a veil.   Although the challenge in City of Saguenay is akin to a US Constitutional "Establishment Clause" challenge and the Canadian doctrine of government religious neutrality.

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February 9, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Religion, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Ban: Petition for Certiorari After Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review

Liberty Counsel, the organization that challenged California's ban on reparative therapy, has filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court.

Recall that the Ninth Circuit upheld the California statute in Pickup v. Brown in August 2013.  The  panel concluded that on the continuum between speech and conduct, California's SB 1172 landed on conduct, "where the state's power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech."   Applying a rational basis standard, the court rejected the claim that California legislature acted irrationally.  

The Ninth Circuit has issued an opinion and rejected en banc rehearing over a dissent by Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Bea and Ikuta.  The dissenting opinion began with a forceful "issue statement" worthy of an oral argument:

May the legislature avoid First Amendment judicial scrutiny by defining disfavored talk as “conduct”? That is what these cases are really about.

Inside_my_head_croppedInterestingly, the original panel - - - Judge Susan Graber, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Morgan Christen - - - included an amended panel opinion accompanying the denial of the en banc rehearing.  This amended panel opinion adds two passages that discuss United States Supreme Court precedent on the "conduct" issue with which the dissenters disagreed. 

First, Judge Graber adds a brief discussion  [in italics below] before the more detailed discussion of Ninth Circuit precedent:

The first step in our analysis is to determine whether SB 1172 is a regulation of conduct or speech. “[W]ords can in some circumstances violate laws directed not against speech but against conduct . . . .” R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377, 389 (1992). “Congress, for example, can prohibit employers from discriminating in hiring on the basis of race. The fact that this will require an employer to take down a sign reading ‘White Applicants Only’ hardly means that the law should be analyzed as one regulating the employer’s speech rather than conduct.” Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc. (“FAIR II”), 547 U.S. 47, 62 (2006). The Supreme Court has made clear that First Amendment protection does not apply to conduct that is not “inherently expressive.” Id. at 66. In identifying whether SB 1172 regulates conduct or speech, two of our cases guide our decision: National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis v. California Board of Psychology (“NAAP”), 228 F.3d 1043 (9th Cir. 2000), and Conant v. Walters, 309 F.3d 629 (9th Cir. 2002).

Second, and more substantially, the amended opinion includes a discussion of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project upon which the dissenting opinion relied, as well as expanding the reliance on Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc. (“FAIR II”):

Plaintiffs contend that Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. 2705 (2010), supports their position. It does not.

As we have explained, SB 1172 regulates only (1) therapeutic treatment, not expressive speech, by (2) licensed mental health professionals acting within the confines of the counselor-client relationship. The statute does not restrain Plaintiffs from imparting information or disseminating opinions; the regulated activities are therapeutic, not symbolic. And an act that “symbolizes nothing,” even if employing language, is not “an act of communication” that transforms conduct into First Amendment speech. Nev. Comm’n on Ethics v. Carrigan, 131 S. Ct. 2343, 2350 (2011). Indeed, it is well recognized that a state enjoys considerable latitude to regulate the conduct of its licensed health care professionals in administering treatment. See, e.g., Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 157 (2007) (“Under our precedents it is clear the State has a significant role to play in regulating the medical profession.”).

In sharp contrast, Humanitarian Law Project pertains to a different issue entirely: the regulation of (1) political speech (2) by ordinary citizens. The plaintiffs there sought to communicate information about international law and advocacy to a designated terrorist organization. The federal statute at issue barred them from doing so, because it considered the plaintiffs’ expression to be material support to terrorists. As the Supreme Court held, the material support statute triggered rigorous First Amendment review because, even if that statute “generally functions as a regulation of conduct . . . as applied to plaintiffs the conduct triggering coverage under the statute consists of communicating a message.” Humanitarian Law Project, 130 S. Ct. at 2724 (second emphasis added).6 Again, SB 1172 does not prohibit Plaintiffs from “communicating a message.” Id. It is a state regulation governing the conduct of state-licensed professionals, and it does not pertain to communication in the public sphere. Plaintiffs may express their views to anyone, including minor patients and their parents, about any subject, including SOCE, insofar as SB 1172 is concerned. The only thing that a licensed professional cannot do is avoid professional discipline for practicing SOCE on a minor patient.

This case is more akin to FAIR II. There, the Supreme Court emphasized that it “extended First Amendment protection only to conduct that is inherently expressive.” 547 U.S. at 66 (emphasis added). The Court upheld the Solomon Amendment, which conditioned federal funding for institutions of higher education on their offering military recruiters the same access to campus and students that they provided to nonmilitary recruiters. The Court held that the statute did not implicate First Amendment scrutiny, even as applied to law schools seeking to express disagreement with military policy by limiting military recruiters’ access, reasoning that the law schools’ “actions were expressive only because the law schools accompanied their conduct with speech explaining it.” Id. at 51, 66. Like the conduct at issue in FAIR II, the administration of psychotherapy is not “inherently expressive.” Nor does SB 1172 prohibit any speech, either in favor of or in opposition to SOCE, that might accompany mental health treatment. Because SB 1172 regulates a professional practice that is not inherently expressive, it does not implicate the First Amendment.

It's fair to say that these passages - - - incorporating United States Supreme Court cases - - - are intended to communicate to the Supreme Court Justices why the Ninth Circuit panel opinion does not merit review.

A split in the circuits does not seem likely.  A New Jersey federal judge upheld the similar New Jersey statute prohibiting sexual conversion therapy under similar rationale.

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February 9, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)