Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Daily Video: Chemerinsky & Volokh Discuss the First Amendment and the Roberts Court

Worth a watch:

A dialogue between ConLawProfs Erwin Chemerinsky & Eugene Volokh on the topic of  "THE FIRST AMENDMENT & THE ROBERTS COURT," moderated by Kelli Sager, and sponsored by The First Amendment Salon, spearheaded by ConLawProf Ron Collins and in association with the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School.

Chemerinsky and Volokh agree with each other more than might be anticipated.

 

The First Amendment and the Roberts Court

 

September 29, 2015 in First Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Upholds New York's Credit Card Surcharge Prohibition

Reversing United States District Judge Jed Rakoff who had declared unconstitutional New York General Business Law § 518 prohibiting sellers from imposing a surcharge on customers who use credit cards, the Second Circuit's opinion in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman held that the law does not violate either the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause. [UPDATE: The Second Circuit issued an  AMENDED OPINION on December 11, 2015].

The expressive element in the challenge to pricing regulation is not immediately obvious.  But as Judge Debra Ann Livingston's opinion for the unanimous panel explains:

Section 518 does not prohibit all differentials  between the price ultimately charged to cash customers and the price ultimately charged to credit‐card customers; it forbids charging credit‐card customers an additional amount above the regular price that is not also charged to cash customers, but it permits offering cash customers a discount below the regular price that is not also offered to credit‐card customers. (That is, it allows what we have termed “cash discounts.”) To illustrate, if a seller’s regular price is $100, it may not charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100, but if the seller’s regular price is $103, it may charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100.

Plaintiffs’ submissions reveal that they are claiming First Amendment protection for two distinct kinds of pricing schemes. First, Plaintiffs aver that they would like to post only a single price for their goods and services and charge more than that price to credit‐card customers, but are prohibited from doing so by Section 518.  (Five Points Academy: “It is not our intention to display two separate prices for each good and service that we offer, but rather to display—with roughly equal prominence—a single set of prices and the credit card surcharge amount.”); (Expressions Hair Design: “We would like to . . . characterize the price difference as  a 3% credit‐card surcharge on top of the listed cash price.”). In other words, Plaintiffs are seeking First Amendment protection for the kind of straightforward single‐sticker‐price scheme that Section 518 clearly prohibits. Second, Expressions Hair Design (the only Plaintiff to do so) currently posts two different prices for its services—one for credit‐card customers and one for cash customers—and fears being prosecuted for characterizing this price differential as a “surcharge,” or for telling its customers that credit costs “more.”

The court is clear that prices are not expressive.  It also rejects the argument that the statute actually bans an expressive label it disfavors ("credit-card discount") while permitting one a label it approves ("cash discount").  As the court explains,

Plaintiffs’ chief error—or, perhaps more accurately, the central flaw in their argument—is their bewildering persistence in equating the actual imposition of a credit‐card surcharge (i.e., a seller’s choice to charge an additional amount above the sticker price to its credit‐card customers) with the words that speakers of English have chosen to describe that pricing scheme (i.e., the term “credit‐card surcharge”).

Yet this was also the error of the district judge who applied the test from Central Hudson and concluded the NY law failed it.

The court also rejected the arguments that the NY statute is unconstitutional as applied to Expressions Hair Design's "dual price" scheme and an overbreadth challenge to other "hypothetical" pricing schemes.  The court found that the New York courts had not ruled on such questions and that Section 518 was "readily susceptible" to a narrowing construction that would eliminate the constitutional issues.  The court declined to certify the question to the New York Court of Appeals.

Finally, the court very succinctly resolved the due process vagueness challenge by finding that the statute had a "core meaning that can reasonably be understood."

Thus, sellers doing business in New York are again constitutionally prohibited from imposing credit card surcharges.  Cash discounts, however, remain permissible.

Prices

September 29, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchisers' Constitutional Challenges to Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

Affirming the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in International Franchise Ass'n v. City of Seattle rejected all of the constitutional challenges to a Seattle provision that deemed franchises included in the definition of "large employers" and thus subject to the new $15 minimum wage.  Recall that the complaint challenged  the provision under the (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), and state constitutional provisions.

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Photo by Steve Rhodes via

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel's opinion found that there was not a likelihood of success on any of the constitutional claims, devoting most of its analysis to dormant commerce clause doctrine.  The panel first rejected the argument that the franchise regulation expressly discriminated against franchises as interstate commerce and was thus not "facially neutral." The panel also rejected the argument that the Seattle provision had a discriminatory purpose, noting that while there was some evidence that some persons involved in considering the issue were critical of franchise employment practices, even the strongest evidence of this (in an email), did not show that even this person "intended to burden out-of-state firms or interfere with the wheels of interstate commerce," and "[m]ore importantly, they also do not show that City officials wished to discriminate against out-of- state entities, bolster in-state firms, or burden interstate commerce."  Lastly, the panel rejected the argument that the Seattle provision discriminatory effects, agreeing with the district judge that the United States Supreme Court's decisions on dormant commerce clause can be "difficult to reconcile" and noting:

 We lack Supreme Court authority assessing whether a regulation affecting franchises ipso facto has the effect of discriminating against interstate commerce. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed whether franchises are instrumentalities of interstate commerce that cannot be subjected to disparate regulatory burdens. While regulations that expressly classify based on business structure or impose disparate burdens on franchises present interesting questions, our review is limited to considering whether the district court applied improper legal principles or clearly erred in reviewing the record.

 The footnote to this paragraph includes an extensive citation to lower courts that have considered the issue of whether measures that affect national chains violate the dormant Commerce Clause.  The Ninth Circuit panel concluded:

[T]he evidence that the ordinance will burden interstate commerce is not substantial. It does not show that interstate firms will be excluded from the market, earn less revenue or profit, lose customers, or close or reduce stores. Nor does it show that new franchisees will not enter the market or that franchisors will suffer adverse effects.

The Ninth Circuit panel dispatched the Equal Protection Clause claim much more expeditiously.  The Ninth Circuit applied the lowest form of rational basis scrutiny  - - - citing F.C.C. v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc. (1993) sometimes called "anything goes" rational basis - - - and finding there was a legitimate purpose (without animus) and the law was reasonably related to that purpose.

The court's discussion of the First Amendment claim was similarly brief, not surprising given that the court found the Speech Clause's threshold requirement of "speech"  was absent: "Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct."

Additionally, the court agreed with the district judge that there was no preemption under the Lanham Act and no violation of the Washington State Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit panel did disagree with the district judge regarding some minor aspects of the non-likelihood to prevail on the merits preliminary injunction factors.  But on the whole, the opinion is a strong rebuke to the constitutional challenges to the Seattle laws.

Given the stakes (and the attorneys for the franchisers) a petition for certiorari is a distinct possibility.  Meanwhile, as we suggested when the case was filed, for ConLawProfs looking for a good exam review or exam problem, International Franchise Ass'n v. Seattle has much potential.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Deputy Sheriff Gets No First Amendment Protection from Political Reprisal

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that a deputy sheriff does not enjoy First Amendment protection from retaliation in employment for her political beliefs. That's true, the court held, even when local law bans political retaliation against certain covered employees, including the deputy sheriff. The court also rejected the deputy sheriff's Equal Protection claim for gender discrimination.

The case arose when John Darr beat incumbent Sheriff Johnson in the sheriff race in Columbus, Georgia. Darr substantially reorganized the staff, including taking away significant responsibilities from Deputy Sheriff Terri Ezell. According to the court, Ezell "has a long and path-breaking record of law enforcement service for [the Columbus Consolidated Government]." She also supported Johnson (against Darr) in the sheriff race.

Ezell brought a First Amendment claim against Darr and the CCG for retaliating against her based on her political affiliation. Recognizing that circuit law said that a deputy sheriff enjoyed no First Amendment rights against political retaliation (because "the nature of the sheriff-deputy relationship is such that a sheriff must be able to require absolute loyalty from his deputies for his office to be effective"), Ezell argued that local law classified her position within the CCG civil service and prohibits employment decisions based on political patronage. In other words, she said that the CCG civil service system changed the nature of her position for First Amendment purposes in a way that gave her protection against political retaliation, notwithstanding circuit law.

The court rejected this argument. The court said that the touchstone of First Amendment protection for retaliation is the relationship between the deputy sheriff and the sheriff--a question of law--and that this isn't changed by the CCG civil service system. The court said that nothing in the local law could change the fundamental relationship between the offices for First Amendment purposes. This meant that Ezell was subject to circuit law, and that she enjoyed no First Amendment protection.

The court also rejected Ezell's Equal Protection claim based on gender discrimination. The court held that there was no factual dispute that Darr shifted Ezell's responsibilities in order to address problems in the local jail (which Ezell previously supervised)--a non-discriminatory explanation--and that Ezell couldn't show that this was a pretext.

September 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

No Constitutional Claim for Former Embed Journalist

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Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The D.C. Circuit this week dismissed a case of a former embed journalist against Defense Department officials for terminating his embed status in violation of the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling may reveal a rift on the court over the sweep of sovereign immunity in a constitutional case for non-monetary, specific relief against government actors in their official capacity--that is, over the meaning or sweep of Clark v. Library of Congress (D.C. Cir.). The issue is critically important for access to justice.

The case arose when NATO officials terminated Wayne Anderson's embed status after he posted pictures that violated the Ground Rules for embeds. Anderson sued the Secretary of Defense and DoD officials in their individual and official capacities, seeking reversal of the memo terminating his embed status and declaratory relief (but no monetary damages).

Anderson appealed the lower court's dismissal, but only as to the defendants in their official capacities. He alleged a claim for retaliation under the First Amendment and a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. (Anderson's precise arguments were a little muddied, and maybe included a procedural due process claim, too.)

The D.C. Circuit ruled that the government enjoyed sovereign immunity against a suit against the defendants in their official capacities, and did not waive it through the APA. (The APA might have provided a statutory waiver of immunity, except that it exempts "military authority exercised in the field in time of war.")

The court went on to say that Anderson's claim was also moot. That's because the Afghanistan mission was drawn down, and NATO (not a party to the suit) led the embed program. In other words, the court said that it couldn't grant any relief to Anderson. But the court noted that Anderson could re-apply for the current embed program.

Judge Srinivasan concurred and dissented. He argued that the government did not enjoy sovereign immunity, citing Clark v. Library of Congress (D.C. Cir.). In that case, the court declined to apply sovereign immunity to shield the government from suit for non-monetary, specific relief for officials' unconstitutional behavior. The Clark court wrote, "Clark's claims for non-monetary, specific relief are not barred by sovereign immunity. It is well-established that sovereign immunity does not bar suits for specific relief against government officials where the challenged actions of the officials are alleged to be unconstitutional or beyond statutory authority."

Judge Srinivasan also argued that the case was not moot, given that the "government has not shown that the transition to a NATO-led mission has made it impossible for the court to provide any relief bearing on a United States journalist's ability to embed."

September 22, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sixth Circuit Finds Standing in "Juggalo" Constitutional Challenge to Gang Designation

In its opinion in Parsons v. Department of Justice today, a panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed the district judge's dismissal of a complaint for lack of standing by individuals who identify as "Juggalos"  a group the FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) has identified as a "hybrid gang."  The individuals alleged that "they subsequently suffered violations of their First and Fifth Amendment constitutional rights at the hands of state and local law enforcement officers who were motivated to commit the injuries in question due to the identification of Juggalos as a criminal gang."

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                                                                                                                 image via

As the court explained, Juggalos are fans of Insane Clown Posse, a musical group, and its record label, Psychopathic Records, who often wear or display Insane Clown Posse tattoos or insignia, as well as paint their faces. The complaint alleged various actions by law enforcement, including detentions and inference with performances, as a result of the gang designation.

The court found that while their allegations of chilled expression were insufficient to rise to the requisite "injury in fact" required under standing doctrine,

The Juggalos’ allegations that their First Amendment rights are being chilled are accompanied by allegations of concrete reputational injuries resulting in allegedly improper stops, detentions, interrogations, searches, denial of employment, and interference with contractual relations. Stigmatization also constitutes an injury in fact for standing purposes.  As required, these reputational injuries are cognizable claims under First Amendment and due process causes of action.

[citations omitted].  Thus, the court held that the injury in fact requirement was satisfied as to the First Amendment and due process claims.

As to causation, the court held that the Juggalos’ allegations "link" the gang report to their injuries "by stating that the law enforcement officials themselves acknowledged that the DOJ gang designation had caused them to take the actions in question."   Thus, at this initial stage of the case, the Juggalos’ allegations sufficed.

On the question of redressibility, the remedy sought included a finding that the gang report is invalid.  The court rejected the government's argument that such information about the Juggalos was available from other sources by stating that the test is not that the "harm be entirely redressed." "While we cannot be certain whether and how the declaration sought by the Juggalos will affect third-party law enforcement officers, it is reasonable to assume a likelihood that the injury would be partially redressed where, as here, the Juggalos have alleged that the law enforcement officers violated their rights because of" the government report.  The court seemingly found it pertinent that the DOJ's report gave the gang designation an impressive "imprimatur" of government authority.

As the Sixth Circuit made clear, the complaint remains subject to the motion to dismiss on other grounds, but this is an important victory for the Juggalo quest to remove its gang-identification.

September 17, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Constitution Day 2015

It's Constitution Day - September 17 - and federal law mandates that

Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.

Eleventh Amendment Department of Education regulations provide that the law

requires that Constitution Day be held on September 17 of each year, commemorating the September 17, 1787 signing of the Constitution. However, when September 17 falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday, Constitution Day shall be held during the preceding or following week.

In President Obama's proclamation this year, he states:

On this day and throughout this week, let us honor the values for which the Framers stood by rededicating ourselves to carrying forward the spirit first embodied in their achievements -- that what makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that we can face our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake our Nation to more closely align with our highest ideals.  With time, courage, and the participation of our citizenry, we can pay tribute to those who shaped the land we love today while working to secure everlasting peace, prosperity, and opportunity for all who call America home.

 

It's quite possible that Constitution Day is itself unconstitutional. One of the classic discussions is from ConLawProf Kent Greenfield in 2005 where he argues:

The right to be free of government-compelled speech - even speech that is worthwhile and beneficial - has been a "fixed star in our constitutional constellation" for over sixty years. That quote comes from Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the Supreme Court striking down a law expelling students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Even though the country was in the middle of World War II at the time, the Court recognized that patriotism must be voluntary to be meaningful. Jackson did not mince words: "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters."

The same is true now. Though we are at war, if we have to mandate patriotism or respect for the constitution, then we have already lost.

And whether it is September 17 that should be "Constitution Day" is also subject to critique.  LawProf Colin Starger and others argue that the commemorative day should be February 3:

On that date in 1870, our nation ratified the last of the Civil War Amendments. That date symbolizes our commitment to reconstruct the Founders’ immoral compromise and place under national protection the inalienable rights of all the nation’s people.

 

 

September 17, 2015 in Current Affairs, First Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Federal Judge Finds Arrest for Obscenity Violates First Amendment - - - and Denies Prosecutorial Immunity

In her decision from the bench in Barboza v. D'Agata, federal district judge Cathy Seibel has not only found that the arrest of William Barboza violated the First Amendment but has granted summary judgment against a state prosecutor for a First Amendment violation and allowed a claim against the village to proceed.

0b0d6031e6e41dfbaf5986c2c98f3915After Barboza received a speeding ticket from Liberty, New York, he not only paid the fine but returned the form with "Liberty" in "Liberty Town Court" crossed off and replaced with "tyranny" and with the phrase "fuck your shitty town bitches" written in all caps and underlined.  (photo here).  An assistant district attorney, Robert Zangala, made a decision that the statement constituted "aggravated harassment" under NY Penal Law 240.30 (1) (a). While New York courts had rejected facial challenges to the subsection,  New York's highest court had found the statute unconstitutional as applied in a 2003 case in which the defendant had "left five voice messages on the Village of Ossining Parking Violations Bureau's answering machine in which the defendant rained invective on two village employees, wished them and their family ill health, and complained of their job performance as well as the tickets that she had received."  Judge Seibel found that decision was "on all fours" with the present case.

Importantly, the prosecutor not only charged Barboza, but participated in the plan to arrest Barboza when he came to court about the speeding ticket; a judge having ordered Barboza to appear. While Judge Seibel found that the prosecutor was entitled to absolute immunity for the decision to charge Barboza, he was not entitled to absolute immunity for the decision to have him arrested.  Moreover, Judge Seibel found that the prosecutor was not entitled to qualified immunity.  However, she did find that the police officers who actually made the arrest were entitled to qualified immunity.

Regarding the reasonableness of their actions, Judge Seibel's discussion about the differences between the police officers executing the arrest and the prosecutor is illuminating.   She stated that the precedent "distinguishing police officers from lawyers, which helps the officers, hurts Zangala," the prosecutor.

If cops are not expected to know what a lawyer would learn or intuit from researching case law, an assistant district attorney certainly is. And  there surely is nothing unfair or impracticable about holding a trained lawyer to the standard of trained lawyer. While it is reasonable for a police officer to rely in certain circumstances on the legal advice of a prosecutor, the prosecutor himself must be held to the standard of a trained lawyer.

And given that the assistant district attorney was a "trained lawyer," she held that he is "not saved by his getting approval from the District Attorney in the way that the officers are saved by complying and getting approval from an assistant district attorney."  Indeed, the prosecutor's actions are not reasonable "given that he had the time to do the relatively simple legal research but did not."  Additionally, Judge Seibel intimates that the prosecutor may have known that the arrest suffered from First Amendment infirmities and simply chose to continue.

Finally, Judge Seibel decided that the claim against the village could proceed on the issues of whether there was a sufficient pattern of similar violations, the obviousness of the risk of a violation (under a single incident theory), and whether the village's failure to train caused the arrest.

She also directed the parties to discuss settlement.

September 16, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Federal District Judge Finds Town Ordinance Prohibiting Day Labor Solicitation Unconstitutional

In his opinion in Centro de La Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley v. Town of Oyster Bay, United States District Judge Dennis Hurley held the town's ordinance prohibiting day labor solicitation unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

The ordinance, Chapter 205-32 of the Code of the Town of Oyster Bay, sought to prohibit "any person standing within or adjacent to any public right-of-way within the Town of Oyster Bay to stop or attempt to stop any motor vehicle utilizing said public right-of-way for the purpose of soliciting employment of any kind from the occupants of said motor vehicle," and to similarly prohibit "the operator of any motor vehicle utilizing a public right-of-way within the Town of Oyster Bay to stop or stand within or adjacent to said public right-of-way or any area designated as either a traffic lane or a no-standing or no-stopping zone for the purpose of soliciting employment or accepting a solicitation of employment from a pedestrian."

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Masonry circa 1425 via


After first discussing preliminary matters including standing, Judge Hurley's description of the parties' arguments offers a good illustration of the types of doctrinal choices available under the First Amendment:

Plaintiffs maintain that the Ordinance must be stricken as violative of the First Amendment. First, it is a content-based enactment, presumptively unconstitutional and not justified as narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Second, if viewed as a “time, place or manner restriction” and not content- based, it is not narrowly tailored to serve “legitimate, content-neutral interest.” Third, even if viewed as restricting purely commercial speech, it is not narrowly tailored.

Defendants offer several arguments in response. First, the Ordinance does not affect expressive speech; rather, it regulates conduct. Second, day labor solicitation is commercial speech. As such, it is entitled to no protection because it relates to illegal activity; alternatively, the ordinance is a constitutional restriction of commercial speech. Finally, to the extent it is viewed as a time, place or manner restriction, it is narrowly tailored.

 Judge Hurley decided that the ordinance was a content-based regulation of commercial speech.  He thus applied the well-established four prong Central Hudson test, Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Service Comm’n of New York (1980), as "adjusted" by Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011).

In deciding that the ordinance was content-based, Judge Hurley quoted the Court's recent decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015), including the passage that regarding the "commonsense" meaning of the phrase.  Here, Judge Hurley noted, to enforce the ordinance the Town authorities would have to "examine the content of the message conveyed."

Not surprisingly then, Judge Hurley found that the ordinance failed the fourth prong of Central Hudson - - - “whether the regulation is more extensive that necessary to serve the governmental interest” - - - given that the content-based restriction should be "narrowly tailored" and that there were "less speech-restrictive alternatives available."  He wrote:

Because of its breath, the ordinance prohibits speech and conduct of an expressive nature that does not pose a threat to safety on the Town’s streets and sidewalks. It reaches a lone person standing on the sidewalk, away from the curb, who attempts to make known to the occupants of vehicles his availability for work even if it does not result in a car stopping in traffic or double parking. It reaches children selling lemonade at the end of a neighbor’s driveway (which is, after all, “adjacent to” a public right of way), the veteran holding a sign on a sidewalk stating “will work for food,” and students standing on the side of a road advertising a school carwash. Even a person standing on the sidewalk holding a sign “looking for work - park at the curb if you are interested in hiring me” would violate the ordinance as it contains no specific intent element and no requirement that the “attempt to stop” result in traffic congestion, the obstruction of other Vehicles, or double parking. The Ordinance applies to all streets and roadways in the Town regardless of traffic flow and in the absence of any evidence that the traffic issues the Town relies on to support its interest exist elsewhere in the Town.

In support of this final observation, Judge Hurley quotes the Court's buffer-zone decision in McCullen v. Coakley (2014).

Interestingly, although Judge Hurley did not reach the Equal Protection challenge because he found the Ordinance unconstitutional under the the First Amendment, he provides a glimmer of the Equal Protection difficulty in the Town's position:

Nor is it any comfort that the Town’s safety officers will use their discretion, or be “trained” on how to determine whether a person is soliciting employment or attempting to stop a vehicle to solicit employment. Such discretion may surely invite discriminatory enforcement. . . . . Will safety officers be instructed and/or use their discretion to ignore the students advertising a school car wash and the child selling lemonade on the sidewalk and to ticket the group of Latino men standing on a corner near a home improvement store?

Moreover, he concludes that other ordinances are more than adequate to address the specific problem of traffic safety.

Judge Hurley's conclusion that the Oyster Bay day labor solicitation violates the First Amendment is similar to the Ninth Circuit's 2013 decision in Valle Del Sol Inc. v. Whiting that the Arizona day labor solicitation provision in SB1070 was unconstitutional.  Should the Town appeal, the Second Circuit would most likely find Valle Del Sol persuasive, especially since the Court's subsequent opinions provide even more support.

September 11, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Third Circuit Finds Teacher's Blog Comments About Students Not Protected By First Amendment Issue

In its opinion in Munroe v. Central Bucks School District, a divided panel of the Third Circuit found that a public school teacher's blog posts about students did not "rise to the level of constitutionally protected expression" under the First Amendment and thus they could be the basis of her termination.  Agreeing with the district judge, the majority thus concluded that the balancing test of  Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) was not satisfied.

The majority's opinion, authored by Judge Robert Cowen and joined by Judge Jane A. Restani of the United States Court of International Trade, sitting by designation, details the offending blog posts including one in which Munroe stated she was "blogging AT work," (capitalization in original), and offered alternative "canned" comments for student evaluations including:  "Sneaking, complaining, jerkoff"; "Whiny, simpering grade-grubber with an unrealistically high perception of own ability level"; and "Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)"  

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Schoolroom circa 1896 via

Later posts were equally unflattering about students and teaching.  And while the blog was originally subscribed to by a handful of people, some posts circulated and attracted the interest of the press.  Termination was contemplated, Munroe took a scheduled maternity leave, and also did her own interviews with the press. 

The majority's opinion "reluctantly" concludes that Munroe's speech implicated a matter of public concern, but then diminishes any public concern, and then reinstates it and states that: 

Given our assessment of the interests of Munroe and the public in her speech, Defendants were not required to make an especially vigorous showing of actual or potential disruption in this case. However, even if we were to assume arguendo that her speech “possesses the highest value,”  we would still conclude that Defendants met their burden. Simply put, “Plaintiff’s speech, in both effect and tone, was sufficiently disruptive so as to diminish any legitimate interest in its expression, and thus her expression was not protected.”

Interestingly, the majority also seems to hold teachers to a higher standard - - - despite the fact that Pickering itself involved a school teacher.  While recognizing that the parents objecting to Munroe's speech cannot constitutionally be a "heckler's veto" to protected speech, the court states:

However, there is a special (perhaps even unique) relationship that exists between a public school teacher (or other educators, like a guidance counselor), on the one hand, and his or her students and their parents, on the other hand. Simply put, neither parents nor students could be considered as outsiders seeking to “heckle” an educator into silence—“‘rather they are participants in public education, without whose cooperation public education as a practical matter cannot function.’”

 This notion could seriously erode teachers' First Amendment rights.   

 The dissent of Judge Thomas Ambro from the affirmance of summary judgment in favor of the defendant school district concludes:

In short, I have no doubt the School District was well aware that firing Munroe for her blog posts and media tour would land it in constitutional hot water. More than enough evidence suggests that firing her on performance grounds was a pretext for its real reason—she had spoken out to friends on a blog, it became public, School District officials were upset and proposed her termination, they decided to wait, the once- sterling evaluations of Munroe immediately became negative, and she was fired. The bottom line: too many signs suggest this was all a set-up that a jury needs to sort out.

A petition for en banc review is presumably forthcoming.

September 7, 2015 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ninth Circuit OKs Jesus Statute on Public Land

A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit today upheld a U.S. Forest Service decision to renew a permit for the Knights of Columbus's Jesus statute on public land. The ruling means that Jesus stays on the USFS's Big Mountain.

Judge Owens wrote that the statute didn't violate the Establishment Clause, because the USFS's decision to renew the statute's permit reflected a primarily secular purpose (despite its portrayal of Jesus), and because USFS's permit didn't endorse religion. (According to Judge Owens, several factors suggest that the permit didn't endorse religion, including "the flippant interactions of locals and tourists with the statute [including] decorating it in mardi gras beads, adorning it in ski gear, taking pictures with it, high-fiving it as [mountain-goers] ski by, and posing in Facebook pictures.") Judge Owens also distinguished Trunk v. City of San Diego, where the court ruled that a giant cross violated the Establishment Clause.

Judge N.R. Smith concurred, but argued that the case should be analyzed as private speech in a public forum. Judge Smith wrote that the permit should be upheld so long as the government didn't discriminate in granting it, and it didn't. Moreover, the Knights (not the government) maintains the statute.

Judge Pregerson dissented, arguing that "a twelve-foot tall statute of Jesus situated on government-leased land cannot realistically be looked upon as 'predominantly secular in nature,'" and that "a 'reasonable observer would perceive' the statute situated on government land 'as projecting a message of religious endorsement.'"

September 1, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

District Judge Finds "Obamacare" Contraception Mandate Unconstitutional as applied to "March for Life"

In an opinion that essentially extends religious protections to a nonreligious organization, Judge Richard Leon has ruled in March for Life v. Burwell that the so-called contraceptive mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare") cannot constitutionally be applied to a nonprofit anti-abortion employer.  While portions of Judge Leon's opinion predictably relied upon the Supreme Court's closely divided 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Judge Leon notably found that the contraception mandate's exclusion of religious organizations - - - but not other organizations - - - violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.

Judge Leon applied rational basis review, but declared that

Were defendants to have their way here, rational basis review would have all the bite of a rubber stamp!

He continued:

Defendants contend that March for Life is not “similarly situated” to the exempted organizations because it “is not religious and is not a church.” Rational basis review is met, they argue, because the purpose served, “accommodating religious exercise by religious institutions,” is “permissible and legitimate.”  This not only oversimplifies the issue—it misses the point entirely! The threshold question is not whether March for Life is “generally” similar to churches and their integrated auxiliaries. It is whether March for Life is similarly situated with regard to the precise attribute selected for accommodation.  For the following reasons, I conclude that it most assuredly is.

[citations omitted]. 

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image via "March for Life" about us



In short, Judge Leon found that "March for Life" was similarly situated to religious organizations given the HHS rationale for excluding religious organizations from the contraception mandate:

HHS has chosen to protect a class of individuals that, it believes, are less likely than other individuals to avail themselves of contraceptives. It has  consequently moored this accommodation not in the language of conscientious objection,  but in the vernacular of religious protection. This, of course, is puzzling. In HHS’s own  view, it is not the belief or non-belief in God that warrants safe harbor from the Mandate.  The characteristic that warrants protection——an employment relationship based in part on a shared objection to abortifacients—is altogether separate from theism. Stated  differently, what HHS claims to be protecting is religious beliefs, when it actually is  protecting a moral philosophy about the sanctity of human life. HHS may be correct that  this objection is common among religiously-affiliated employers. Where HHS has erred,  however, is in assuming that this trait is unique to such organizations. It is not.

In other words, the HHS's rationale - - - the government interest - - - was not specifically religious and thus should not be limited to religious organizations in keeping with principles of equal protection.  Some of this reasoning is reminiscent of Hobby Lobby, of course, but there the level of scrutiny under RFRA was strict (or perhaps even stricter than strict) scrutiny, while Judge Leon is applying rational basis scrutiny. 

Interestingly, Judge Leon states that  "'religion' is not a talisman that sweeps aside all constitutional concerns," and quotes the classic conscientious objector case of Welsh v. United States (1970) for the "long recognized" principle that  “[i]f an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content . . . those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons.”  Taken to its logical conclusion, this reasoning has the potential to eliminate - - - or at least ameliorate - - - the "special" protection of religious freedom.

In his application of RFRA, Judge Leon's opinion is on more well-plowed ground.  He notes that while "March for Life is avowedly non—religious, the employee plaintiffs do oppose the Mandate on religious grounds."  This brings the case within the purview of Hobby Lobby.  As Judge Leon phrases it:

The final question the Court must ask under RFRA is whether the current Mandate is the least restrictive means of serving this governmental interest. Assuredly, it is not!

While Judge Leon dismissed the free exercise claim,  based upon the DC Circuit's opinion and denial of en banc review in Priests for Life v HHS, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the Equal Protection and RFRA claims (as well as a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act).  

When this case reaches the DC Circuit, it will be interesting to see how the court - - - as well as religious organizations and scholars - - - views Judge Leon's potentially destabilizing equal protection analysis.

September 1, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 28, 2015

DC Circuit Finds No First Amendment Violation in Statute Limiting Expression at Supreme Court

In its substantial opinion in Hodge v. Talkin, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit upheld the constitutionality of statutory prohibitions of assembly and display of flags or signs on the United States Supreme Court plaza.  

40 USC §6135 provides:

It is unlawful to parade, stand, or move in processions or assemblages in the Supreme Court Building or grounds, or to display in the Building and grounds a flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization, or movement.

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image of SCOTUS Building included in the opinion

Recall that almost two years ago, district judge Beryl Howell had found the statute unconstitutional in a well-reasoned and extensive opinion.  Judge Howell's ruling prompted the United States Supreme Court to swiftly respond by promulgating a new regulation that seemingly responded to at least some of the more problematical examples that Judge Howell identified such as preschoolers wearing a tee-shirt.  However, the DC Circuit's opinion reverses Judge Howell's decision without reliance on the limitations in the new policy.

Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Sri Srinivasan notes that the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Grace (1983) left the constitutional status of the plaza, when it decided that the sidewalks surrounding the perimeter of the Supreme Court building are public forums. However, Srinivasan relies on Grace for the distinction between the plaza and the sidewalks to conclude that the plaza is a nonpublic forum:

In marked contrast to the perimeter sidewalks considered in Grace, the Supreme Court plaza distinctively “indicate[s] to the public”—by its materials, design, and demarcation from the surrounding area—that it is very much a “part of the Supreme Court grounds.” [Grace.; Id. at 183.].  The plaza has been described as the opening stage of “a carefully choreographed, climbing path that ultimately ends at the courtroom itself.” Statement Concerning the Supreme Court’s Front Entrance, 2009 J. Sup. Ct. U.S. 831, 831 (2010) (Breyer, J.). For that reason, the Court’s plaza—unlike the surrounding public sidewalks, but like the courthouse it fronts—is a “nonpublic forum,” an area not traditionally kept open for expressive activity by the public. The government retains substantially greater leeway to limit expressive conduct in such an area and to preserve the property for its intended purposes: here, as the actual and symbolic entryway to the nation’s highest court and the judicial business conducted within it.

The opinion devotes attention to architectural description, which it admits in one case has "perhaps" a "degree of romanticism," and also likens the public forum characterization of the Supreme Court plaza to "the treatment of courthouses more generally" and to the controversial Lincoln Center plaza case; interestingly now-Justice Sotomayor was a judge on that panel.

As a nonpublic forum subject to the "lenient" First Amendment standard of reasonableness, the DC Circuit has little difficult in finding that the statute is "reasonable."  Interestingly, the United States Supreme Court's closely divided opinion last Term in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar occupies a prominent role in this reasoning.  The opinion is discussed numerous times to support a conclusion that the government interests put forward here - - -  "the decorum and order befitting courthouses generally and the nation’s highest court in particular" and "the appearance and actuality of a Court whose deliberations are immune to public opinion and invulnerable to public pressure" - - - are both valid and being appropriately served.  Essentially, the DC Circuit's opinion embraces the "judiciary is special" sentiment and correctly notes that this prevailed in the strict scrutiny context of Williams-Yulee, so should suffice under the reasonableness standard.  

The DC Circuit's opinion similarly rejects the overbreadth and vagueness arguments that the statute is unconstitutional.

In essence, the DC Circuit finds the inclusion of the "grounds" in the statute as a place where assembly or "display" of opinion can be prohibited is appropriate line-drawing:

In the end, unless demonstrations are to be freely allowed inside the Supreme Court building itself, a line must be drawn somewhere along the route from the street to the Court’s front entrance. But where? At the front doors themselves? At the edge of the portico? At the bottom of the stairs ascending from the plaza to the portico? Or perhaps somewhere in the middle of the plaza? Among the options, it is fully reasonable for that line to be fixed at the point one leaves the concrete public sidewalk and enters the marble steps to the Court’s plaza, where the “physical and symbolic pathway to [the] chamber begins.” [citation to architectural work]

While the odds are increasingly low that the United States Supreme Court will accept any case on certiorari, the odds seem to approach nil that the Court will exercise its discretion to review this opinion.

August 28, 2015 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sixth Circuit Refuses Stay in Kentucky Court Clerk Case

The Sixth Circuit's brief  Order in Miller v. Davis refused to stay the district court's preliminary injunction mandating that a court clerk in Kentucky issue same-sex marriage licenses (or any marriage licenses) despite her claim of free exercise of religion.

Here's the essence of the Sixth Circuit panel opinion:

The request for a stay pending appeal relates solely to an injunction against Davis in her official capacity. The injunction operates not against Davis personally, but against the holder of her office of Rowan County Clerk. In light of the binding holding of Obergefell, it cannot be defensibly argued that the holder of the Rowan County Clerk’s office, apart from who personally occupies that office, may decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution as interpreted by a dispositive holding of the United States Supreme Court. There is thus little or no likelihood that the Clerk in her official capacity will prevail on appeal.

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This should be the end of this litigation?

August 27, 2015 in Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

D.C. District Applies Reporter's Privilege to Non-Confidential Information

Judge Amit Mehta (D.D.C.) on Friday granted a reporter's motion to quash a subpoena by a drug manufacturer for non-confidential information related to the reporter's article recounting a critical study on one of the manufacturer's cancer drugs. (This was a bit piece of a larger shareholder class-action against the manufacturer, Amgen.)

The ruling applied the reporter's privilege under the First Amendment to non-confidential information in a civil suit. That part of the ruling aligns with other circuits that have ruled on the issue, even though the D.C. Circuit has yet to rule on it.

Judge Mehta also concluded that Amgen did not sufficiently seek the information through other sources before it issued its subpoena to reporter Paul Goldberg.

August 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Divided D.C. Circuit Again Finds Conflict Minerals Disclosure Violates the First Amendment

In its opinion on rehearing, a divided panel of the DC Circuit in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Comm'n has held that 15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E), part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, requiring a company to disclose if its products were not "DRC conflict free" violated the First Amendment. 

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Rough diamonds from DRC via

In its previous decision more than a year ago in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM),  a majority of the same panel, in an opinion authored by Senior Judge Raymond Randolph and joined by Senior Judge David Sentelle, found the conflict mineral disclosure was a First Amendment violation.  In that 2014 opinion, Judge Srinivasan dissented on the First Amendment issue and contended that this opinion should be held in abeyance "pending the en banc court’s decision" in American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, regarding a  First Amendment challenge to requiring country of origin labeling (COOL) of meat and meat products.  In the DC Circuit's en banc opinion a year ago, a divided court upheld the constitutionality of the COOL requirements.  The rehearing of the conflict minerals disclosure was prompted by that intervening en banc decision in American Meat Institute (AMI).  The panel majority essentially concluded that its mind was not changed by en banc opinion. [Neither of the senior judges in the panel majority participated in the en banc opinion in AMI].

Central to the controversies in both NAM and AMI is a choice of precedent: should the constitutionality of the labeling requirements be analyzed under  Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel  or under the more demanding standard of Central Hudson v. Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission of New York.  The DC Circuit's divided en banc opinion in AMI found that Zauderer should be applied.  In this rehearing in NAM, the panel majority (again) found that Zauderer had no applicability, but, as the opinion states, "for a different reason."  However, in sum this panel majority found that Zauderer is limited to "advertisements" at point of sale and seemed to contradict AMI.     

The panel majority did "hedge its bets":

But given the flux and uncertainty of the First Amendment doctrine of commercial speech,15 and the conflict in the circuits regarding the reach of Zauderer,  we think it prudent to add an alternative ground for our decision. It is this. Even if the compelled disclosures here are commercial speech and even if AMI’s view of Zauderer governed the analysis, we still believe that the statute and the regulations violate the First Amendment.

In applying Central Hudson, the panel majority found that the disclosure of conflict minerals has a merely speculative relationship to addressing the interest of the government in ameliorating conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a source of such minerals.  Instead, the disclosure is akin to political propaganda.  The majority interestingly cites George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four for its passages regarding government redefinition ("WAR IS PEACE"), and concludes that the disclosure is not only not factual but also controversial: it compels "an issuer to confess blood on its hands." 

In dissent, Judge Srinivasan argues that any Scarlet Letter comparison is inapt: "requiring a company to disclose product information in the commercial marketplace is not the same as requiring Hester Prynne to “show [her] scarlet letter in the [town] market- place.”  He asserts that the majority is misreading Zauderer and that the en banc opinion in AMI controls.  Interestingly, he also contends that to the extent the court is requiring "proof" that disclosure of conflict minerals be linked to amelioration of the DRC conflict, the court should be deferring to executive judgments in this commercial context at least as much as the Court did in the political speech context involved in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. 

It seems likely that government attorneys are preparing its en banc petition. 

August 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kentucky Court Clerk's "No Marriage License Policy" Going to Sixth Circuit

A few months after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, reversing the Sixth Circuit's opinion, and declaring that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the issue of same-sex marriage is again reaching the Sixth Circuit. 

This time, however, the issue is whether a government employee, a court clerk in Kentucky, can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses - - - or any marriage licenses - - - based upon a claim of free exercise of religion.  The claim of religious exemptions from state clerks is not new (consider events in New York in 2011); neither are objections to implementing the Court's decision in Obergefell (consider events in Alabama this summer).  Nevertheless, this controversy has become particularly focused.

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United States District Judge David Bunning's Opinion and Order last week in Miller v. Davis issued a preliminary injunction in favor of April Miller and Karen Roberts, enjoining Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis from applying the "no marriage licenses" policy.  The Judge rejected Davis' First Amendment claims.  First, Judge Bunning found that Governor Beshear's directive to county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses was a general law of neutral applicability that "likely does not infringe on Davis' free exercise rights."  Second, Judge Bunning further found that the issuance of the marriage license did not implicate Davis' free speech rights: the issuance of the license, even with the clerk's certification, is not an endorsement and furthermore is quite possibly government rather than individual speech, citing the Court's decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans from last Term.  Judge Bunning also rejected Davis' third  - and perhaps the most interesting - claim based upon Article VI §3 prohibiting a "religious Test" as a qualification for public office.  Davis argued that this prohibition meant that her religious beliefs must be accommodated.  Even as he rejected this interpretation, Judge Bunning drew attention to the "first half" of Article VI §3 requiring state officials to take an oath to defend the United States Constitution. 

Davis predictably sought a stay of the preliminary injunction.  In an Order late yesterday, Judge Bunning denied the stay, including in his 7 page opinion an extensive quote from Obergefell regarding the relationship of religious freedom to same-sex marriage.  Yet Judge Bunning did stay the order denying the stay:

in recognition of the constitutional issues involved, and realizing that emotions are running high on both sides of the debate, the Court finds it appropriate to temporarily stay this Order pending review of Defendant Davis’ Motion to Stay (Doc. # 45) by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While decisions to stay and to issue preliminary injunctions involve equitable and other factors, of central prominence is the probable outcome on the merits.  Thus, the Sixth Circuit is again poised to consider, albeit less directly, the issue of same-sex marriage. 

August 18, 2015 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Federal Judge Allows Steven Saliata's Constitutional Claims to Proceed

In an over 50 page decision in Salaita v. Kennedy, United States District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber largely denied the University of Illinois Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the compliant filed by Steven Salaita regarding his employment at the university.  Recall that last August, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign officials rescinded the offer of a tenured faculty appointment to Steven G. Salaita shortly before he was to begin based on his "tweets" on the subject of Gaza.  Recall also that in January, Salaita filed a nine count complaint including constitutional claims of First Amendment and procedural due process violations.

SalaitaJudge Leinenweber's decision does grant the motion to dismiss with regard to a few state law claims, but allows the constitutional claims and the breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims to proceed.  (ContractsLawProfs might be interested in the judge's analysis of the contract claim, including his conclusion that if this were not a contract it would "wreak havoc" on academic hiring and that the university is essentially seeking a "get-out-of-contract-free card.")

The judge's analysis of the procedural due process claim flows from the contract claim. The university argued that Salaita had no sufficient "property interest" to entitle him to due process because there was no contract.  Having found a sufficient contract claim, the judge finds the procedural due process claim sufficiently pleaded.

On the First Amendment claim, the judge rejected the university's argument is that its action was not motivated by the content or viewpoint of Dr. Salaita’s tweets, and that even if it was, its interest in providing a disruption-free learning environment outweighs Dr. Salaita’s free speech interest under the balancing test in Pickering v. Board of Education (1968).

The first part of the argument is premature; summary judgment or trial will reveal the University’s actual motivation, but the facts viewed in Dr. Salaita’s favor amply support a claim that the University fired Dr. Salaita because of disagreement with his point of view. The University’s attempt to draw a line between the profanity and incivility in Dr. Salaita’s tweets and the views those tweets presented is unavailing; the Supreme Court did not draw such a line when it found Cohen’s “Fuck the Draft” jacket protected by the First Amendment. Cohen v. California (1971).

Additionally, the judge noted that even if he were to engage in Pickering balancing at this stage, the facts conflict as to whether actual disruption would have occurred.

Interestingly, the judge's rationale for granting the motion to dismiss as to the complaints counts six and seven rely on First Amendment grounds.  In these counts, the complaint alleged tortious interference by unnamed donors who threatened to withdraw support should Salaita teach at the university.  Judge Leinenweber concluded that the donor defendants had a First Amendment right to express their displeasure, even through a quid pro quo threat: "The First Amendment is a two-way street, protecting both Dr. Salaita’s speech and that of the donor Defendants."

Finally, Judge Leinenweber rejected the university's argument that its officials and itself were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, noting that the difficult issue regarding whether the university board is an arm of the state is irrelevant since Saliata is requesting injunctive relief.  The judge resolves the more perplexing state law immunity issue, under the Illinois Court of Claims Act, also in favor of Salaita.

In sum, this is an important victory for Professor Salaita as this closely-watched litigation continues. 

August 6, 2015 in Current Affairs, Eleventh Amendment, First Amendment, Procedural Due Process, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 3, 2015

District Judge Holds Idaho's Ag-Gag Law Unconstitutional

Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill for the United States District of Idaho today held Idaho's so-called "Ag-Gag" law, Idaho Code § 18-7042, unconstitutional in his  opinion in Animal Defense League v. Otter.  Judge Winmill found that the law violated both the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Idaho statute creates a new crime, “interference with agricultural production.” I.C. 18-7042. A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly:

(a) is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;

(b) obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;

(c) obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations . . .

(d) Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial

process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations; or

(e) Intentionally causes physical damage or injury to the agricultural production facility's operations, livestock, crops, personnel, equipment, buildings or premises.

Chief Judge Winmill described the legislative history including statements that compared animal rights investigators to “marauding invaders centuries ago who swarmed into foreign territory and destroyed crops to starve foes into submission.”  However, for Winmill, there is a better comparison:

450px-The_Jungle_by_Upton_SinclairThe story of Upton Sinclair provides a clear illustration of how the First Amendment is implicated by the statute. Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, The Jungle, misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago. William A. Bloodworth, Jr., UPTON SINCLAIR 45–48 (1977). Sinclair’s novel, a devastating exposé of the meat-packing industry that revealed the intolerable labor conditions and unsanitary working conditions in the Chicago stockyards in the early 20th century, “sparked an uproar” and led to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act. National Meat Ass'n v. Harris, 132 S.Ct. 965 (2012). Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under § 18-7042.

On the First Amendment challenge, the judge found that Idaho's ag-gag statute is content based and merits strict scrutiny.  The opinion revisits an earlier ruling so concluding to reiterate that the United States Supreme Court's opinion in United States v. Alvarez ("the stolen valor case").  Judge Winmill notes that any deception involved in the ag-gag violation would be not be harmful: "the most likely harm that would stem from an undercover investigator using deception to gain access to an agricultural facility would arise, say, from the publication of a story about the facility, and not the misrepresentations made to gain access to the facility."  And "harm caused by the publication of true story is not the type of direct material harm that Alvarez contemplates."  The judge also held that the recording provision is content-based.

Moreover, Judge Winmill implicitly determines that the law is viewpoint-based:

a review of § 18-7042’s legislative history leads to the inevitable conclusion that the law’s primary purpose is to protect agricultural facility owners by, in effect, suppressing speech critical of animal-agriculture practices.

Not surprisingly, the statute does not survive strict scrutiny.  The judge is skeptical that the "property and privacy interests of agricultural production facilities" are sufficiently compelling given that food production is a heavily regulated industry.  Even if the interests were compelling, however, the statute was not narrowly tailored:

Criminal and civil laws already exist that adequately protect those interests without impinging on free-speech rights. It is already illegal to steal documents or to trespass on private property. In addition, laws against fraud and defamation already exist to protect against false statements made to injure or malign an agricultural production facility.

The judge thus concludes that the law restricts more speech than is necessary to achieve its goals.

On the Equal Protection Clause issue, the court's conclusion does not depend on a strict scrutiny analysis.  The judge finds that the ag-gag statute cannot satisfy even rational basis review.  First, Judge Winmill finds that that state's purported interest is not legitimate:

The State argues that agricultural production facilities deserve more protection because agriculture plays such a central role in Idaho’s economy and culture and because animal production facilities are more often targets of undercover investigations. The State’s logic is perverse—in essence the State says that (1) powerful industries deserve more government protection than smaller industries, and (2) the more attention and criticism an industry draws, the more the government should protect that industry from negative publicity or other harms. Protecting the private interests of a powerful industry, which produces the public’s food supply, against public scrutiny is not a legitimate government interest.

 Second, the judge finds that the actual interest is a “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group" and thus  "cannot constitute a legitimate governmental interest if equal protection of the laws is to mean anything,” quoting and relying on U. S. Dept. of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973).  "As a result, a purpose to discriminate and silence animal welfare groups in an effort to protect a powerful industry cannot justify the passage" of the statute.

Judge Winmill's decision is ground-breaking.  So-called "ag-gag" laws have proliferated and are being challenged, usually on First Amendment grounds.  Undoubtedly the state will appeal and the Ninth Circuit will have a chance to decide whether  Judge Winmill was correct that the Idaho law is similar to the day labor solicitation prohibition in Arizona's SB1070 that the Ninth Circuit held unconstitutional in Valle Del Sol Inc. v.Whiting.

 UPDATE: Check out this analysis by ConLawProf Shaakirrah Sanders over at casetext and her pre-decision discussion about the case with Idaho Public Radio.

August 3, 2015 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Southern District Rebuffs Citizens United's Speech Claim

Judge Sidney Stein (SDNY) this week denied Citizens United's motion to preliminarily enjoin the New York Attorney General from enforcing his policy of requiring registered charities to disclose the names, addresses, and total contributions of their major donors.

The ruling, which follows a similar Ninth Circuit ruling this past spring, is a blow to the organization's efforts to keep their donors secret through the 501(c) form. But it does not mean that Citizen United's donors will be available to all of us: both the IRS and the state AG refuse to disclose the names of donors.

The case tests the AG's rule that charities registered in the state provide to the state AG their Schedule B to IRS Form 990. Schedule B includes names of persons who donate over $5,000 to a charity. Citizens United, a 501(c) organization, challenged the rule, arguing that it violated free speech, and due process, among other claims, and filed for a preliminary injunction.

Judge Stein rejected the motion, saying that Citizens United was unlikely to win on the merits. As to the free speech claim, Judge Stein wrote that the AG's rule bears a substantial relation to the sufficiently important government interest in enforcing charitable solicitation laws and protecting state residents from illegitimate charities, and that the strength of the state's interest justified the minimal burden on the organization. Judge Stein also concluded that the rule was not an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech, because the rule "sets forth 'narrow, objective, and definite standards' that cabin the Attorney General's exercise of discretion.'" Finally, Judge Stein rejected Citizens United's claim that the rule came without warning and thus violated due process, because in fact the rule did nothing new. (Judge Stein also rejected the non-constitutional claims.)

But while Judge Stein's ruling rejected Citizens United's motion to stop the state AG from enforcing the rule for now, nothing in the ruling compels the public release of the organization's major donors. Indeed, the ruling hinges on the fact that New York law and IRS regs both bar the public release of Schedule B. The ruling only allows the state AG to collect this information for the purpose of ferreting out charitable fraud and related crimes.

July 30, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)