Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate Accommodation

The Sixth Circuit today denied a preliminary injunction to a group of religious employers and religious nonprofits challenging the exemption from and the accommodation to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act.  The ruling is just the latest in a line of challenges to the accommodation.  We posted most recently here.  (These cases are different than the Hobby Lobby case now before the Supreme Court: these cases involve religious nonprofits that take issue with the accommodation to the contraception mandate, where the Hobby Lobby case involves a corporation's challenge to the mandate itself.) 

The cases are unusual, even surprising, in that the plaintiffs challenge the government's attempt to accommodate their religious beliefs as itself a violation of their religious rights.

The organizations challenged the exemption from and the accommodation to the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment (speech and religion clauses).  The court ruled that they failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits and thus affirmed the lower court's denial of a preliminary injunction.

The court noted that some of the plaintiffs were religious employers who qualified for the exemption from the mandate.  Because the exemption exempts them, and because it does not require any particular act on the part of the organizations, the court said that the exemption didn't violate the organizations' speech or religious rights.

As to the religious non-profits, the court said that they qualify for the accommodation by simply certifying that they object to the mandate--and that this didn't interfere with their religious or free speech rights.  The court rejected the plaintiffs' arguments that the certification itself somehow implicated the organizations in providing contraception in violation of their religious rights or free speech rights.  In language shy of, but no less certain than, the almost hostile ruling by Judge Posner in the Seventh Circuit rejecting a similar claim the court said,

The appellants are not required to "provide" contraceptive coverage. . . .  The appellants are not required to "pay for" contraceptive coverage. . . .  Moreover, the appellants are not required to "facilitate access to" contraceptive coverage. . . .  Submitting the self-certification form to the insurance issuer or third-party administrator does not "trigger" contraceptive coverage; it is federal law that requires the insurance issuer or the third-party administrator to provide this coverage.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

D.C. Circuit Rejects Guantanamo Detainees' Mistreatment Claims

The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a variety of claims by Guantanamo detainees for mistreatment by government officials and guards even after they had been cleared for release by the Combat Status Review Tribunal.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to remand the case to amend their complaint.

The case, Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, involved detainee claims of "forced grooming, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced medication, transport in 'shackles and chains, blackened goggles, and ear coverings,' and the disruption of . . . religious practices," even after some of the plaintiffs were cleared for release by the CSRT.  The plaintiffs brought claims against government officials and Guantanamo guards under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As to the ATS, the court held that the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, which, under the Westfall Act, transforms their ATS claim into a Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the government.  But the plaintiffs didn't pursue administrative remedies under the FTCA, so their case was dismissed.

As to the Vienna Convention, the court said that the Convention confers a private right of action.

As to the other, Bivens claims, the court held, citing its second Rasul ruling, that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, or, alternatively, that the case raised special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Daily Read: Ellen Katz on Hobby Lobby and Citizens United

Image_facbioIn her relatively brief essay Hobby Lobby and the Pathology of Citizens United, available on ssrn, Professor Ellen Katz (pictured) advances a doctrinal and jurisprudential argument - - - rather than political or consequentialist ones - - - for the "danger" of Citizens United v. FEC.

Katz contends:

Citizens United read a number of prior decisions to adopt rules those decisions deliberately chose not to espouse. This is not an entirely new move for the Court as it has previously cast off a decision’s doctrinal limits and stated normative claims. The contribution of Citizens United, however, was to normalize this stance. The Roberts Court seems increasingly comfortable approaching precedent just as it did in that case. This Essay identifies this move as a consistent practice across a number of decisions, and explains both why it is likely to be used in the pending ACA cases and beyond, and why it is cause for deep concern.

It is a phenomenon Katz labels "fanciful precedent."  She contends it was operative in last Term's controversial Shelby County v. Holder.

She argues that it was prominent in Citizens United related to the Court's use of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (an issue of footnotes as we discuss here and here), in a manner that might foreshadow any Robert Court opinion in Hobby Lobby "relying" on United States v. Lee and Braunfeld v. Brown

Katz's short piece is worth a read as we await the Court's decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (and Conestoga Woods Specialties, Corp. v. Sebelius) argued in March. 

June 5, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Eighth Circuit Says Missouri Flag Desecration Law Unconstitutional, No Qualified Immunity

The Eighth Circuit ruled in Snider v. City of Cape Girardeau that Missouri's statute banning flag desecration was facially unconstitutional.  The court held that the statue was overbroad in violation of the First Amendment, and that there was no possible narrowing construction.  The court also rejected the arresting officer's claim of qualified immunity.

The case arose when a Cape Girardeau police officer arrested an individual for desecrating an American flag, in violation of Missouri law.  The officer made the arrest pursuant to a warrant issued by a local judge and based upon the officer's statement of probable cause to the county prosecuting attorney.

The ruling couldn't have been a surprise to anyone, except possibly the officer and the county prosecutor.  (The ruling included this telling sentence: "Both Officer Peters and [the prosecuting attorney] stated that they were unaware of the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which struck down statutes criminalizing flag desecration as unconstitutional.")  The court ruled that Missouri's statute was facially unconstitutional under those cases.

The court also ruled that the officer did not enjoy qualified immunity.  The officer argued that he should be entitled to qualified immunity, because the prosecutor and judge signed off on a warrant.  He cited Messerschmidt v. Millender, where the Supreme Court granted qualified immunity to an officer who executed a search warrant unsupported by probable cause because, in part, a neutral magistrate issued the warrant. 

But the Eighth Circuit noted that the Messerschmidt Court said that the neutral magistrate's involvement did "not end the inquiry into objective reasonableness."  The court also noted that the standard in Malley v. Briggs survived Messerschmidt.  The Malley standard says that there's no qualified immunity where "if it obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue."  Here, it was obvious.

The ruling upholds a lower court ruling granting attorney's fees to the plaintiff.

June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Denies Certiorari in James Risen's "Reporter's Privilege" Case

The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the closely watched case of Risen v. United States (13-1009).

Jamesrisenap-10-25-2011
NYT Reporter James Risen via

Recall our analysis of the sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, that 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. 

 

June 2, 2014 in Books, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Speech, State Secrets, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Unanimous Supreme Court in Wood v. Moss: Secret Service Agents Have Qualified Immunity in First Amendment Challenge

In a relatively brief  opinion in Wood v. Moss, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Court, reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that Secret Service officers had qualified immunity in a First Amendment challenge based on viewpoint discrimination against anti-Bush demonstrators.

Recall that the challenge in Wood v. Moss involved an allegation that the Secret Service removed anti-Bush protestors to a location farther from the then-President while he ate dinner while allowing pro-Bush demonstrators to remain in their location. 

MAPThe Court decided that any viewpoint discrimination was not the "sole" reason for the change in location and thus the agents had qualified immunity.  The Court agreed with the agents that the map provided by the protesters, and included in the Court's opinion [image at right]

undermines the protesters’ allegations of viewpoint discrimination as the sole reason for the agents’ directions. The map corroborates that, because of their location, the protesters posed a potential security risk to the President, while the supporters, because of their location, did not.

 The Court rejected the protestors arguments, including the White House Manual that stated that protestors should be designated to zones "preferably not in view of the event site" and that Secret Service agents have engaged in viewpoint discrimination in the past.  Here, however, the Court stressed that "this case is scarcely one in which the agents acted 'without a valid security reason.'"  Emphasis in original, quoting from Brief. 

While reaffirming that a Bivens action "extends to First Amendment claims" - - - a question at oral argument - - - the Court nevertheless noted that individual government officials cannot be held liable in a Bivens suit unless they themselves acted unconstitutionally:

We therefore decline to infer from alleged instances of misconduct on the part of particular agents an unwritten policy of the Secret Service to suppress disfavored expression, and then to attribute that supposed policy to all field- level operatives.

Under the Court's rationale, future Bivens claimants of First Amendment viewpoint discrimination must demonstrate that the viewpoint discrimination is the sole reason for the action by these particular (and presumably "bad apple") Secret Service agents.

While not one of the Court's more prominent First Amendment cases this Term, Wood v. Moss is important.  It further narrows the space for claiming First Amendment violations by Secret Service officers - - - especially combined with the 2012 decision in  Reichle v. Howards  (holding that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejecting the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man exercising First Amendment rights at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance).  However, it does preserve some room for claimants to proceed (and perhaps even prevail) on a First Amendment Bivens action against individual Secret Service officers engaged in viewpoint discrimination. 

May 27, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Daily Read: Lithwick on Murphy on Scalia

Scalia bookDahlia Lithwick highlights the problematics of religion in her review in The Atlantic of the new biography of Justice Antonin Scalia, Scalia: A Court of One, by Bruce Allen Murphy. 

Lithwick highlights the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the constitutionality of  Christian prayers at a town board meeting and the upcoming decision in Hobby Lobby on the claims of a for-profit corporation to an exemption from the federal requirement that employer insurance coverage include contraception benefits. 

She is very complimentary of the biography:

In Bruce Allen Murphy, Scalia has met a timely and unintimidated biographer ready to probe. A professor of civil rights at Lafayette College, Murphy refuses to be daunted by the silence that surrounds most discussions about religion and the Court. In his view, understanding one of the most dazzling and polarizing jurists on the Supreme Court entails, above all, examining the inevitably murky relationship between judicial decision making and religious devotion.

Indeed, she writes

Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court.

From Lithwick's review, A Court of One is  a must-read this summer. But Lithwick's review is also a must-read; she conjectures that "Murphy misses the moral of his own story."

May 23, 2014 in Books, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Contribution Disclosure Requirement

The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman.  The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.

The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed.  The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.

The court rejected the challenges.  It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest.  As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:

A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day.  Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits.  As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests.  In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day.  Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations.  And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.

As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe.  Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.

 

May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seventh Circuit Enjoins Portions of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law

The Seventh Circuit this week issued a sweeping ruling on Wisconsin's campaign finance requirements and permanently enjoined a good part of the law.  The ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Barland marks the end of the second round of this broadside challenge to Wisconsin's law.  The first round ended with a Seventh Circuit ruling overturning the state's $10,000 cap on contributions under the First Amendment.

The ruling this week is long and detailed.  That's because Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, challenged "a dizzying array of statutes and rules" as vague, overbroad, violative of free speech.  It's also because Wisconsin law, according to the court, is "labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law," and "has not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine . . . ."

Portions of the ruling were unsurprising.  Thus the court ruled that Wisconsin's ban on corporate speech and its cap on corporate fundraising for an unaffliated PAC violated the First Amendment under Citizens United

Other portions required a little more work:

Disclaimer Requirement.  The court held that Wisconsin's regulatory disclaimer requirement for independent political communications, as applied only to 30-second radio ads (because that's all that was challenged), was unconstitutional.  Wisconsin law required a certain disclaimer, but regulations went 50 words beyond that disclaimer, adding nothing to it, with no apparent good reason, and cutting into ad time.

Definitions of "political purposes" and "political committee."  The court ruled that the statutory definition of "political purposes" and the regulatory definition of "political committee," which trigger certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, imposing PAC duties on nearly any political communication.  The court gave Wisconsin law a narrowing construction, ruling that "[a]s applied to political speakers other than candidates, their campaign committees, and political parties, the definitions are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley and Wisconsin Right to Life II."

PAC Registration and Reporting Requirements.  The court ruled that the Wisconsin regulation that treats issue advocacy during the preelection period as fully regulable express advocacy if it mentions a candidate is unconstitutional.  It also ruled that the regulation that "imposes PAC-like registration, reporting, and other requirements on all organizations that make independent disbursements, is unconstitutional as applied to organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose."

In short, the court said that the Wisconsin legislature failed to keep up with changes in the doctrine--in particular, the change that Citizens United wrought--and that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's attempts to fill in the gaps through regulations simply swept too broadly.

The court's ruling directs the lower court to permanently enjoin the above-mentioned provisions.  The ruling is a sharp kick in the pants to the Wisconsin state legislature to update its campaign finance law.

May 16, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Academic Freedom in Saskatchewan

Can a tenured professor, serving as a dean (or executive director) of the university's school of public health be terminated for publicly criticizing the university's restructuring plans?

University of saskatchewan logoThis does not involve the new Kansas social media policy for academics, but the question that arose at the University of Saskatchewan this week;  there's a good overview and links to the letter itself in this article from the Globe & Mail.

For Americans the situation seems close to the famous letter to the editor protected by the First Amendment in  Pickering v. Board of Education.  But recall Mr. Pickering was merely a teacher while Professor Buckingham at University of Saskatchewan was a dean charged with implementing the very policies he was criticizing, a situation akin to the one the Sixth Circuit confronted in Dixon v. University of Toledowhen considering a university human resources officer who made public statements inconsistent with the university's anti-discrimination policy that she had to enforce.

In recognition of this distinction, it seems now Buckingham has only been relieved of his duties as an administrator and may return to campus, seemingly complete with tenure.

Canadian ConLawProf Michael Plaxton (at the University of Saskatchewan) has a nuanced discussion in the Globe and Mail today.

 

May 15, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, First Amendment, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Academic Freedom in Kansas

Prompted by an incident last September involving the tweet of a journalism professor at the University of Kansas linking the NRA's Second Amendment advocacy to a gun shooting that left thirteen people dead - - - and the university's strong reaction to it - - - the Kansas Board of Regents engaged in a reconsideration of its "social media" policy.

An amended policy has finally been adopted.

It includes suggestions of a workgroup emphasizing academic freedom and the First Amendment. 

LogoAdditionally, the new policy also attempts to digest the current state of First Amendment law:

3.  The United States Supreme Court has held that public employers generally have authority to discipline their employees for speech in a number of circumstances, including but not limited to speech that:

i.  is directed to inciting or producing imminent violence or other breach of the peace and is likely to incite or produce such action;

ii.  when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the employer;

iii.  discloses without lawful authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or

iv.  subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the employer, or otherwise adversely affects the employer's ability to efficiently provide services.

In determining whether an employee’s communication is actionable under subparagraph iv, the interest of the employer in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees must be balanced against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern.

While the policy may be a fair attempt to articulate Garcetti v. Ceballos, such an articulation does little to clarify the rights of publicly employed academics to speak - - - on social media or otherwise - - - about controversial issues.  The current case before the United States Supreme Court, Lane v. Franks, is not likely to address the broader issues.  

Returning to the journalism professor's tweet, now that there is an amended policy, is it any more clear that he could (or could not) be disciplined?  Or will the policy merely chill speech?

 

May 15, 2014 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Daily Video: Glenn Greenwald on Colbert Report

Promoting his new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State,

NoPLace

Glenn Greenwald appeared on The Colbert Report.

Here's a video excerpt, worth a watch:

Continued here:

 

May 13, 2014 in Books, Current Affairs, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Stays Ruling Enjoining Wisconsin Investigation

The Seventh Circuit yesterday stayed Judge Randa's ruling preliminarily enjoining further criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  We posted on Judge Randa's ruling here.

The Seventh Circuit said that because the defendants filed a notice of appeal before Judge Randa issued his injunction, Judge Randa had to show that the appeal was frivolous before acting.  This he did not do.  Here's from the short opinion:

Apostol v. Gallion, 870 F.2d 1335 (7th Cir. 1989), holds that, once a litigant files a notice of appeal, a district court may not take any further action in the suit unless it certifies that the appeal is frivolous.  The district court failed to follow that rule when, despite the notice of appeal filed by several defendants, it entered a preliminary injunction.  This court accordingly stays the injunction, and all further proceedings in the district court, until the judge has ruled definitively on the question posed by Apostol.

The ruling puts the ball back in Judge Randa's court, allowing him to certify that the appeal is frivolous and resume the case there.  If he does not, then proceedings in the district court are stayed pending appeal on the merits.

The Seventh Circuit also stayed the portion of Judge Randa's ruling that required the defendants to return or destroy documents "as long as proceedings continue in this court." 

May 8, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

District Court Halts Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

Judge Rudolph T. Randa (E.D. Wis.) this week granted a preliminary injunction against a criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  The criminal investigation sought information related to WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign committee and other 501(c)(4) groups, in violation of Wisconsin law, to promote the passage of Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker's (successful) effort to sharply restrict union strength in the state (among other things).  Judge Randa's ruling means that the investigation must stop, at least for now.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a long-running story involving Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker, and advocacy (and spending) around both. 

Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated free speech, because it "was commenced and conducted 'without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.'"  According to Judge Randa, that's because it was based on an interpretation of Wisconsin law that would have banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not candidate contributions)--something that the First Amendment does not allow.

Judge Randa said that WCFG's issue advocacy was core political speech, and that its coordination with other 501(c)(4)s, and even with the Friends of Scott Walker, did not raise any risk of quid quo pro corruption.  Therefore the state could not criminalize it.

Judge Randa rejected the defendants' argument that WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign created a quid pro quo problem.  He said that that approach "would mean transforming issue advocacy into express advocacy by interpretative legerdemain and not by any analysis as to why it would rise to the level of quid pro quo corruption."  He said WCFG simply held the same views that Governor Walker already held, and that therefore there was no risk of corruption.

Judge Randa cited McCutcheon throughout and made a special point of quoting Justice Thomas's concurrence on Buckley's demise:

Buckley's distinction between contributions and expenditures appears tenuous.  As Justice Thomas wrote, "what remains of Buckley is a rule without a rationale.  Contributions and expenditures are simply 'two sides of the same First Amendment coin,' and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere 'word games' rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law."  Even under what remains of Buckley, the defendants' legal theory cannot pass constitutional muster.  The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians.  This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.

Op. at 25.

May 7, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New Hampshire Supreme Court: Vanity License Plate "Not Offensive to Good Taste" Requirement Violates First Amendment

Relying on its state constitution, the New Hampshire Supreme Court's opinion today in Montenegro v. New Hampshire DMV held that the regulation prohibiting vanity license plates that are "offensive to good taste" was unconstitutional.

David Montenegro, who represented himself, appealed an order denying him a vanity registration plate reading "COPSLIE" and argued that the "offensive to good taste" exclusion in the regulation violated his speech rights under Part I, Article 22, New Hampshire Constitution as well as the First Amendment. 

New_Hampshire_License_Plate

The unanimous court considered the relationship between vagueness and overbreadth, which it contended may certainly overlap, but ultimately settled on vagueness.  The court ultimately concluding that

Because the "offensive to good taste" standard is not susceptible of objective definition, the restriction grants DMV officials the power to deny a proposed vanity registration plate because it offends particular officials’ subjective idea of what is “good taste.”

This vague standard thus violated the New Hampshire guarantee of free speech according the supreme court.

From the news report, Montenegro seems as "colorful" as his predecessor George Maynard, whose challenge to New Hampshire's "live free or die" motto on its license plates was resolved by the United States Supreme Court in Wooley v. Maynard (1977).  And this case will take its place in developing "license plate jurisprudence":  the "infidel" license plate denial; the unsucessful challenge to the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate; and the unconstitutional "choose life" license plate offering.

May 7, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Speech the Justices Agree With

Supreme Court justices are opportunistic supporters of free speech, according to a study by Profs. Lee Epstein (Southern California/Washington University), Christopher M. Parker (Centenary College), and Jeffrey A. Segal (Stony Brook), reviewed by Adam Liptak in the NYT.  That is, "liberal (conservative) justices are supportive of free speech when the speaker is liberal (conservative)."

The study looked at 516 free speech cases from 1953 to 2011, "from Hugo Black to Elena Kagan," involving "liberal" and "conservative" speech and concluded that "the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker." 

Among sitting justices, the study found that Justice Scalia had the largest gap between votes for liberal and conservative speech, followed closely by Justice Thomas. 

The liberals "present a more complex story."  The study found that the gap for Justice Ginsburg was small, and for Justice Breyer "negligible."  The study did not include Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, due to lack of meaningful data.

May 5, 2014 in First Amendment, News, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Divided Supreme Court Finds Town Board Prayer Does Not Violate Establishment Clause

Rrphoto

Professor Ruthann Robson, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law


In a sharply divided opinion today in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the United States Supreme Court has decided that religious prayers at the beginning of a town board meeting do not violate the Establishment Clause.

Recall that the Second Circuit had concluded that the Town of Greece's practice of prayer since 1999 "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity." At oral argument, the discussion centered on an application of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Nebraska legislature's employment of a chaplain to lead a legislative prayer, and the question of whether the "town board" a "hybrid" body making adjudicative findings as well as engaging in legislative acts.  Recall also that the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in support of the Town of Greece.

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The Virgin Orans ("praying" in Greek) via

Writing for the majority - - - except for Part II-B in which Justices Scalia and Thomas did not join - - - Justice Kennedy concluded that there was no Establishment Clause violation based upon Marsh v. Chambers.  First, the majority opinion held that Marsh v. Chambers does not require nonsectarian or ecumenical prayer.  Instead, it is acceptable that while a

number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes, as by celebrating the changing of the seasons or calling for a “spirit of cooperation” among town leaders.

Additionally

Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissi­ ble government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation. Marsh, indeed, requires an inquiry into the prayer opportunity as a whole, rather than into the con­tents of a single prayer.

In the plurality section, Justice Kennedy rejected the relevance of the "intimate setting of a town board meeting" to a finding that the prayer "coerces participation by nondaherents."  Rather, the principle audience for the prayers "is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves."  The analysis, Kennedy writes, "would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person's acquiescence in the prayer opportunity."

Justices Thomas and Scalia did not join Part II-B; they essentially reject the coercion test ("peer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion").  Justice Thomas also (as he has done in the past) rejects the incorporation of the Establishment Clause to the states, and certainly to a municipality.

In the major dissent authored by Justice Kagan - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer (who also authored a separate dissent) and Sotomayor - - -the emphasis is on the factual record.  Kagan distinguishes Marsh v. Chambers and argues the situation in the Town of Greece is outside its "protective ambit." 

the chaplain of the month stands with his back to the Town Board; his real audience is the group he is facing— the 10 or so members of the public, perhaps including children. And he typically addresses those people, as even the majority observes, as though he is “directing [his] congregation.”  He almost always begins with some version of “Let us all pray to­ gether.”  Often, he calls on everyone to stand and bow their heads, and he may ask them to recite a common prayer with him.  He refers, constantly, to a collective “we”—to “our” savior, for example, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in “our” lives, or to “our brother the Lord Jesus Christ.”  In essence, the chaplain leads, as the first part of a town meeting, a highly intimate (albeit relatively brief) prayer service, with the public serving as his congregation.

[citations omitted].

Further, Justice Kagan writes, "no one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s Town meetings as anything other than explicitly Chris­tian—constantly and exclusively so."   Because of these practices, she concludes, the Town of Greece has "betrayed" the "promise" of the First Amendment: "full and equal membership in the polity for members of every religious group."

The Supreme Court's divided opinion illustrates that religion in the town square - - - or the town board meeting - - - remains divisive.

May 5, 2014 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Law Requiring Candidate Petition Circulators to Disclose Employers

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction against an Ohio law that requires candidate petition circulators to disclose their employers against a First Amendment challenge.  The ruling in Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Husted means that the requirement stays on the books through the primary election on Tuesday, and that candidates of the plaintiff Libertarian Party of Ohio (LPO) will not appear on that primary ballot.  This in turn means that those candidates won't appear on the general election ballot, and that therefore the LPO will likely not receive the required number of votes in the general election to retain its recognition as a political party in Ohio.

This, in turn, means that the LPO will likely have to re-qualify as a political party in Ohio.  That's no easy task: it would have to get more than 38,500 signatures from at least one-half of the congressional districts in the state, meeting the very petition requirement (and others) that was at issue in this case.

The case involves Ohio's requirement that petition circulators--in this case, candidate petition circulators--disclose their employer on the petition form.  The LPO challenged that requirement, arguing that it violated the First Amendment on its face, after its petition circulator failed to disclose, causing the state to discard those petitions (and causing the candidates not to appear on the primary ballot).

The Sixth Circuit disagreed.  The court applied the "exacting scrutiny" test for disclosure requirements and determined that the strength of the governmental interest reflected the seriousness of the burden on First Amendment rights.  In particular, the court said that Ohio's requirement has but a "scant" chill on First Amendment freedoms.  Op. at 18.  On the other hand, the court said that the state's interest in the requirement is "substantial and legitimate."  Op. at 20.  That interest is in combating fraud in candidate petition circulation--a problem that came to a head, according to the court, during the circulation of petitions for Ralph Nader in the 2004 presidential election.

The court distinguished Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation, Inc., where the Supreme Court struck a Colorado law requiring paid circulators to wear identification badges stating their names and their employers' names and phone numbers.  The court said that ACLF involved an initiative campaign, where this case involved a candidate petition (where the risk of corruption is higher); that the ACLF record contained no evidence that paid circulators were more apt to commit fraud than volunteers, but where this record contains that evidence; that the Colorado law required more disclosure of information; and that Colorado had other measures to deter fraud and diminish corruption.

The court also distinguished McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, where the Supreme Court struck an Ohio law that prohibited the distribution of campaign literature that did not contain the name and address of the person or campaign offiical issuing it.  The court said that the Ohio law in McIntyre outlawed an entire category of speech (anonymous political speech), where the Ohio circulator requirement only required disclosure.

The court also ruled that the LPO did not establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its due process (vagueness) challenge to the requirement.

The court recognized the practical significance of its ruling for the LPO:

Without a gubernatorial candidate on the general election ballot . . . the LPO in all likelihood will lose its status as a ballot-qualified party in Ohio.  We note that the LPO has struggled to become and remain a ballot-qualified party in Ohio, and we acknowledge that this decision entails that their efforts must continue still.  But we also note that we decide one case at a time, on the record before us.  In so doing, we preserve the First Amendment's primary place in our democracy over the long run.

May 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oral Argument in Lane v. Franks on First Amendment rights of employees

The argument in Lane v. Franks in the Supreme Court sounded like the argument was occurring in the Eleventh Circuit.  But the Eleventh Circuit resolved the case on its nonargument calendar; that's precisely the problem.

Here's my discussion over at SCOTUSBlog.

 

April 29, 2014 in First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Oral Argument Preview: Employee Speech at the Supreme Court and the Amicus Brief of Law Professors

As we explained when certiorari was granted in Lane v. Franks, the case involves a public employee's First Amendment rights in the context of retaliation and raising questions about the interpretation of Garcetti v. Ceballos.  My preview of Monday's oral argument is at SCOTUSBlog here. 

The Brief of Law Professors as Amici Curiae in Support of the Petitioner, the employee Edward Lane, available on ssrn, advances two basic arguments. 

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroom

The first argument is essentially that the Eleventh Circuit's opinion was a clearly erroneous expansion of Garcetti to include Lane's subpoened testimony in a criminal trial.  Here's an especially trenchant paragraph:

But the Garcetti Court took great pains to distinguish Mr. Ceballos from Mr. Pickering [in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968)], who spoke about what he observed and learned at his workplace and identified himself as a teacher in doing so, and Ms. Givhan [in Givhan v. Western Line Consolidated School District (1979)], who spoke to her own supervisors about what she observed at her workplace and did so while at work. Neither of these employees could have prevailed if any speech they would not have made but for their employment were excluded from the First Amendment’s protections. The sole fact distinguishing Mr. Ceballos from these other two defendants was that neither Mr. Pickering nor Ms. Givhan was required by their employment contracts to engage in the speech for which they were punished. Petitioner was not required by his job duties to testify in court, so his speech is as protected as Ms. Givhan’s and Mr. Pickering’s.

(emphasis in original).  There are similar arguments in the merits briefs, but advancing this doctrinal clarity in the law professors' brief is not misplaced, given that the Eleventh Circuit's summary opinion had so little specific analysis. 

Perhaps more common to an amicus brief are the policy arguments raised here regarding the importance of protecting testimony by public employees from retaliation by their government employers.  The brief's "judicial integrity" argument seeks to draw an interesting parallel, arguing it is

crucial that public employees be able to speak freely and truthfully about government malfeasance so that the judicial process is not distorted. Distortion of the litigation process occurs when public employees do not feel free to testify in various legal proceedings for fear of losing their jobs. This Court expressed analogous concerns in Legal Services Corp. v. Velazquez, 531 U.S. 533 (2001), where the Court struck down as violative of the First Amendment a federally imposed restriction prohibit- ing Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”)-funded attorneys, as a condition of the receipt of federal funds, from challenging the legality or constitutionality of existing welfare laws. . . . No less than in Velazquez, “[t]he restriction imposed by the [lack of protection for public employee testimonial speech] threatens severe impairment of the judicial function.” Id. at 546.

The brief argues in favor of a bright line rule that testimony is "citizen speech" and thus protected by the First Amendment.  Whether the line should be so bright might be a topic at oral argument given the arguments in the other briefs.

The named authors of the law professors brief, ConLawProfs  Paul Secunda, Scott Bauries, and Sheldon Nahmod, and the signatories, provide a terrific model of "engaged scholarship" and advocacy, and all in approximately 25 pages.

April 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)