Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Federal District Judge Finds Recording Police Conduct Not Protected by First Amendment

In a Memorandum Opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, recently appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Mark Kearney held that the First Amendment does not protect video-recording of the police absent a "stated purpose of being critical of the government." 

For Judge Kearney, video-recording is conduct and there is no "expressive" element unless there is an explicit intent of being critical of police conduct. Mere "observation," Judge Kearney wrote, is not expressive.  It is not within the First Amendment unless the observers are "members of the press."

Judge Kearney rather unconvincingly distinguished the First Circuit's 2011 opinion in Glik v. Cunniffee, by stating [in a footnote], "In Glik, the plaintiff expressed concern police were using excessive force arresting a young man in a public park and began recording the arrest on his cell phone and the police then arrested plaintiff."  Even if valid, this distinction is problematical.  It may be pertinent with regard to one plaintiff, Richard Fields, who took a picture of 20 or so police officers outside a home hosting a party.  However, with regard to the other plaintiff, Amanda Geraci, who the judge notes is a "self-described 'legal observer'" with training, the distinction seems to be one without a difference: she was at a protest and "moved closer" to videotape an officer arresting one of the protesters when a police officer restrained her and prevented her from doing so.

image via

Judge Kearney thus granted the motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment claims.  The judge did, however, deny summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claims for unreasonable search and false arrest (for Fields) and excessive force (for Geraci).  Yet however these claims are resolved, the First Amendment ruling is one that is exceedingly suitable for Third Circuit review.


February 23, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Magistrate Orders Apple to "Unlock" iPhone of Deceased Shooter

A California Magistrate has issued an "Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search" exactly as requested by the government, with the exception of the word "Proposed" crossed off in Order's title, that requires Apple to provide "reasonable technical assistance in obtaining access to data on the subject device."  The subject device is an Apple iPhone seized from a black Lexus; this is the black Lexus that was driven by the so-called "San Bernardino shooters."  The government's motion explains some of the technology involved and argues that the All Writs Act, 28 USC §1651, authorizes the Order.

Iphone_3GS-1The Order specifies that the "reasonable technical assistance" shall accomplish these functions:

  • (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled;
  • (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE; and
  •  (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Apple is resisting the Order.  In an "open letter" to customers, the CEO of Apple has stated:

Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Over at ars technica, Dan Goodin argues:

It would be one thing for the court to order Apple to brute force this one device and turn over the data stored on it. It's altogether something else to require that Apple turn over powerful exploit software and claim that whatever digital locks are included can't be undone by a determined adversary. That's why it's no exaggeration for Cook to call Tuesday's order chilling and to warn that its prospects for abuse of such a backdoor are high.

Although the Order is directed at one "subject device," Apple's compliance with the Order would make all our devices subject to government search.


February 17, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Privacy, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Union Fair Share Fees Probably Spared, For Now

One of the more significant implications of a now (likely) equally divided Supreme Court is that public-sector-union fair-share requirements will almost surely stay on the books. That's because a 4-4 tie will affirm the lower court's ruling upholding the requirements, without setting a precedent, or because the Court could hold the case over until next Term, maintaining the status quo. Either way, California's fair-share requirement, and Abood (and other state fair-share requirements) will stay on the books--unless and until a new Justice, hostile to fair share, is appointed.

The Court heard oral arguments in the First Amendment challenge to California's public-sector fair-share requirement, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, last month. And the arguments confirmed predictions going in--that the Court was almost certain to strike fair-share requirements by a 5-4 vote, along conventional ideological lines.

But with Justice Scalia's death, and without a replacement, the Court will almost surely split 4-4. That will leave the Ninth Circuit ruling in place, upholding the fair-share requirement, and leaving Abood on the books.

Alternatively, the Court might hold the case over until next Term. If so, California's requirement will stay in place, and Abood will stay on the books--unless a Justice hostile to the requirement is appointed in the meantime.

All this means that public-sector fair-share is spared for now. And if a new Justice sides with the progressives, it may be spared for a while longer.

February 16, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Federal District Judge Enters Preliminary Injunction Against Center for Medical Progress, Anti-Abortion Group

The Center for Medical Progress (CMP)  - - - including its founder David Daleiden, others (and their aliases) associated with the nonprofit, as well as "fake" companies - - - has been in the news a great deal of late. 

Daleiden and employee Merritt have recently been indicted in connection with an “investigation” of Planned Parenthood and the publication of a “heavily edited” video charging Planned Parenthood with unauthorized selling of fetal tissue. The video has prompted some lawmakers to urge defunding of Planned Parenthood and, interestingly, the grand jury indictment of Daleiden and Merritt in Texas sprung from an inquiry into whether Planned Parenthood had violated any criminal laws.  Planned Parenthood has recently sued CMP under RICO and for various tort-like claims. 

Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California has issued a preliminary injunction that some might view as a prior restraint against CMP and its associates in an Order in National Abortion Federation v. Center for Medical Progress.  In July, Judge Orrick issued a TRO.  The discovery orders and motions were quite contentious, with CMP seeking relief from the Ninth Circuit, which was denied, and Justice Kennedy (in his role as Justice for the Ninth Circuit) refusing to intervene. The preliminary injunction prohibits:

(1) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party any video, audio, photographic, or other recordings taken, or any confidential information learned, at any NAF annual meetings;

(2) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the dates or locations of any future NAF meetings; and

(3) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the names or addresses of any NAF members learned at any NAF annual meetings.

Image by Jacek Halicki circa 1982 via

This injunction relates primarily to the enforcement of a “confidentiality agreement” required by attendees of the NAF national conference, which Center for Medical Progress admitted violating, engaging in over 250 hours at each of two conferences (2014 and 2015), including of personal conversations, intended - - - as CMP founder Daleiden admits, to “trap people into saying something really messed up” and to say the words “fully intact baby.” Judge Orrick found that enforcement of the confidentiality agreement does not violate the First Amendment, citing Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991). Judge Orrick also found that this was not a “typical ‘newsgathering’ case” in which "prior restraints" would be disfavored, but instead had exceptional circumstances:

The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.

One of the cases that Judge Orrick's footnote distinguishes is Judge Winmill's decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter, finding Oregon's ag-gag law unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment, which is presently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.  Undoubtedly, Center for Medical Progress will eventually follow the path to the Ninth Circuit.  Taken together, these cases raise controversial issues about the First Amendment's protection for what some might name "investigative journalism" and what others view as "illegal actions."

February 9, 2016 in Abortion, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Justice Souter Upholds Statute Authorizing Public Employee Union by Child Care Workers Against First Amendment Challenge

Justice Souter - - - retired from the United States Supreme Court but sitting by designation on a First Circuit panel - - - declined to extend the Court's decision in Harris v. Quinn to the context of home child care workers in the opinion in D'Agostino v. Baker. 

Justice David Souter, who served on the United States Supreme Court 1990- 1999

At issue was Massachusetts Gen. Laws ch. 15D, § 17(b), providing that family child care providers "shall be considered public employees . . . solely for the purposes of . . . chapter 150E," the statute authorizing employees in public service to organize for collective bargaining. The majority of the family child care providers chose Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as their exclusive agent for bargaining collectively with the state.  And while the statute did not mandate that any child care provider join the union or contribute any money to the union, the plaintiffs challenged the statute as violating their First Amendment rights, especially free association.

Writing for the unanimous panel, Souter opined that the "disposition of the constitutional claims turns on precedent, and the appellants' principal arguments probe the vitality of that precedent in light of recent developments."  For Souter, the precedents of Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977)  and Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight (1984) remain controlling, despite Harris v. Quinn:

But the Harris distinction does not decide this case. While we can agree with the appellants in assuming the comparability of Harris's personal assistants and the child care providers here, the issues at stake in the two cases are different. Unlike the Harris litigants, the appellants are not challenging a mandatory fee; indeed, an agency fee previously enforced against the providers here was eliminated after Harris came down. What Harris did not speak to, however, was the premise assumed and extended in Knight: that exclusive bargaining representation by a democratically selected union does not, without more, violate the right of free association on the part of dissenting non-union members of the bargaining unit. Harris did not hold or say that this rule was inapplicable to "partial" employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Harris, in fact, did not so much as mention Knight, and precedent supports applying its rule here.

Souter was not on the Court when it decided Abood, Knight, or Harris.  And of course he is not on the Court as it deliberates Friedrichs v. California Teachers Ass'n, which may be the "demise" of public fair share union dues and the rejection of the  precedent on which Souter is relying here.

February 5, 2016 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Park Service Inauguration Regs Don't Violate Free Speech

Steven D. Schwinn,  John Marshall Law School

Judge Paul Friedman (D.D.C.) ruled today in ANSWER v. Jewell that the National Park Service regs setting aside a portion of the Presidential inauguration route for the inauguration committee and banning sign supports do not violate free speech.

The case challenged NPS regulations that set aside 18% of the sidewalk and park space along the inauguration parade route for the Presidential Inauguration Committee, a private, non-profit that represents the interests of the President-Elect, and requires other groups that wish to protest or speak to get a permit. Judge Friedman upheld the regulation against a First Amendment challenge, ruling that the PIC was government speech (under the factors in Walker v. Texas and Pleasant Grove City v. Summum), that the set-aside for PIC therefore did not constitute viewpoint-based discrimination against other groups that wished to speak against PIC's message, and that the set-aside and permit requirement were content neutral and otherwise satisfied the test for speech in a public forum.

Judge Friedman also ruled that the ban on sign-supports was content-neutral and satisfied the public forum test. (The government's interests were safety--sign-supports could be used as a weapon--and marshaling parade viewers through security checkpoints quickly and efficiently.) Judge Friedman noted that this ruling conflicted with the Ninth Circuit in Edwards v. Coeur d'Alene, however: the Ninth Circuit said in that case that a ban on sign-supports failed to leave open ample alternative channels of communication, because "there is no other effective and economical way for an individual to communicate his or her message to a broad audience during a parade or public assembly than to attach a handle to his sign to hoist it in their air."

The plaintiff in the case, the anti-war and anti-racism group ANSWER, may have inadvertently contributed to the result: Judge Friedman wrote at several points in the opinion that ANSWER had touted its previous protests, under similar restrictions, as successful--apparently demonstrating that ANSWER can get its message out effectively (that it has ample alternative channels for communication) even with the NPS regs.

January 28, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

No Damages for Enforcing State Residency Requirement for Petition Circulators

Steven D. Schwinn, John Marshall Law School

The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in Citizens in Charge v. Husted that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted enjoyed qualified immunity against a damages claim that arose out of his enforcement of Ohio's law that prohibits out-of-staters from circulating petitions within the state to propose new legislation and constitutional amendments.

The court granted immunity because it said that Ohio's law didn't clearly violate the Constitution. In support, it pointed to a circuit split on the question whether a state law that requires in-state residency to circulate a petition violates the First Amendment.

In so ruling, the court came close to saying that an official's enforcement of a state statute is per se reasonable, if no court has (yet) ruled the law unconstitutional--a result that puts a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of qualified immunity (and against plaintiffs who seek to recover damages for constitutional torts). The outer boundary is only when a law is "grossly and flagrantly unconstitutional." (The court gave as one example separate-but-equal racial discrimination.) The court explained:

So far as the parties' research has revealed and so far as our own research has uncovered, the Supreme Court has never denied qualified immunity to a public official who enforced a properly enacted statute that no court had invalidated. This indeed would seem to be the paradigmatic way of showing objectively reasonable conduct by a public official.

. . .

Any other approach would place risky pressures on public officials to second-guess legislative decisions. When faced with a statute of questionable validity, executive actors would find themselves forced to choose between applying the law (and subjecting themselves to monetary liability) or declining to do so (and subjecting themselves to a mandamus lawsuit). When personal liability is added to the mix, one could well imagine the balance tipping toward non-enforcement in close cases, all the while sacrificing the legislature's considered judgments about a statute's unconstitutionality. That is not a recipe for good government or for encouraging public officials to act independently.

January 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Court Hears Oral Arguments in First Amendment Public Employee Case: Heffernan v. City of Paterson

The Court heard oral arguments in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, NJ today, a situation presenting a question that Justice Alito at one point described as "like a law school hypothetical." Heffernan, a police officer, was demoted for his perceived political activity: he had decided to stay neutral but was seen picking up a mayoral campaign sign at the request of his "bedridden mother" to "replace a smaller one that had been stolen from her lawn" and was therefore demoted.

At the heart of the oral argument is a large question about the purpose (and one might say the direction) of the First Amendment.  On one view - - - that of the City of Paterson as represented by Tom Goldstein - - - the First Amendment requires that a person be exercising the right of free association (or speech): "It's called an individual right, not a government wrong."  On the other view - - - that of Jeffrey Heffernan represented by Mark Frost - - - the First Amendment restrains the government from acting to infringe First Amendment rights, even if it does so in error.  This was perhaps best expressed by Justice Ginsburg:

And I thought ­­ - - - and unlike Justice Scalia ­­ - - - that the thrust of the First Amendment is operating on government. It says government, thou shalt not ­­ - - - thou shalt not act on the basis of someone's expression, speech or belief.

Justice Ginsburg broached the analogy to Title VII, which arguably allows perceived status to support a claim, was quickly distinguished by Justice Scalia as being a statute that focuses on the employer's discrimination rather than the employee, unlike the First Amendment.  There was no reference to the text of the First Amendment which of course begins "Congress shall make no law . . ." which could be read as emphasizing the restriction on government.

Justice Kennedy asked the first question of the argument to Mark Frost as he was just finishing his opening by requesting an articulation of the right: "How would you define the right that your client wishes this Court to vindicate?"  But although some other Justices seemed to believe there was no actual right, Justice Kennedy later seemed more equivocal:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You want this Court to  hold that the government of the United States has a right to ascribe to a citizen views that he or she does not hold.

MR. GOLDSTEIN: Justice Kennedy, I think that that is not a First Amendment violation.

The Solicitor General's views on behalf of the United States, represented by Ginger Anders, supported the employee.  Ms. Anders articulated the right as "a First Amendment right not to have adverse action taken against him by his employer for the unconstitutional purpose of suppressing disfavored political beliefs" and later as the "right not to be subject to a test of political affiliation." 

Chief Justice Roberts at several points expressed concerns about a possible "flood of meritless lawsuits" if the employee does not have to show he was actually exercising a protected right. 

The Justices seemed divided; Justice Kennedy may (again) be the "swing" vote on this one.

January 19, 2016 in Association, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

United States Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Free Exercise State Funding Case: Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo.

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley regarding a Free Exercise and Equal Protection challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on a state constitutional provision prohibiting state funds be given to religious organizations. 

As the Eighth Circuit opinion ruling for the state, had phrased it, "Trinity Church seeks an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church."  The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.  

There are actually two Missouri constitutional provisions, Art. I §7 and Art. IX §8, which as the Eighth Circuit noted, are "not only more explicit but more restrictive than the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,” quoting a Missouri Supreme Court decision.  The provisions were initially adopted in 1870 and 1875, and re-adopted in the Missouri Constitution of 1945, the current constitution.  The first provision is the one at the heart of this dispute.  Placed in the state constitution's "Bill of Rights," Art. I §7 provides:

That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect, or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.

It was in reliance on this state constitutional provision that the state Department of Natural Resources denied the grant application of Trinity Lutheran Church for funds to purchase of recycled tires to resurface its preschool playground.  To supply such funds, the state officials decided, would violate the state constitution. 

Trinity Lutheran Church articulated the issue in its petition for certiorari as

Whether the exclusion of churches from an otherwise neutral and secular aid program violates the Free Exercise and Equal Protection Clauses when the state has no valid Establishment Clause concern.

It argues that the Eighth Circuit's decision was not "faithful" to Locke v. Davey because the playground resurfacing program was purely secular in nature, unlike in Locke.  But this might mean that the state constitutional provisions defining their own boundaries regarding "establishment" of religion are unconstitutional.

image via


January 16, 2016 in Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2016

New York State Appellate Court Rejects First Amendment Claim in Same-Sex Wedding Discrimination Case

In its opinion in Gifford v. McCarthy, an appellate court in New York upheld the decision of the State Division of Human Rights that the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a wedding venue, were guilty of an unlawful discriminatory practice based upon sexual orientation when they refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding.  Writing for the unanimous five judge panel, Presiding Justice Karen Peters concluded that the venue was clearly a place of public accommodation within the anti-discrimination law and that discrimination based upon sexual orientation clearly occurred. 

16yr-logo-2015-revOn the constitutional issues, Justice Peters found the arguments under both the First Amendment and New York's similar provisions without merit.  Regarding the First Amendment Free Exercise of religion claim, Justice Peters concluded that "the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a 'valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his [or her] religion prescribes (or proscribes)," citing  Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v Smith (1990). She noted that the "fact that some religious organizations and educational facilities are exempt from the [state] statute's public accommodation provision does not, as petitioners claim, demonstrate that it is not neutral or generally applicable." 

Applying New York's Free Exercise provision under which the infringement is balanced against the state interests, and Justice Peters wrote:

While we recognize that the burden placed on the Giffords' right to freely exercise their religion is not inconsequential, it cannot be overlooked that SDHR's determination does not require them to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple. Indeed, the Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so. To be weighed against the Giffords' interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith is New York's long-recognized, substantial interest in eradicating discrimination."

Thus the court rejected the free exercise claims.  Similarly, the court rejected the free speech claims of compelled speech and free association.  On compelled speech, Justice Peters' opinion for the court concluded that the provision of a wedding venue was not expressive: 

Despite the Giffords' assertion that their direct participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies would "broadcast to all who pass by the Farm" their support for same-sex marriage, reasonable observers would not perceive the Giffords' provision of a venue and services for a same-sex wedding ceremony as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Like all other owners of public accommodations who provide services to the general public, the Giffords must comply with the statutory mandate prohibiting discrimination against customers on the basis of sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. Under such circumstances, there is no real likelihood that the Giffords would be perceived as endorsing the values or lifestyle of the individuals renting their facilities as opposed to merely complying with anti-discrimination laws.

The court also held that Liberty Farms was not an "expressive association" but a business with the "purpose of making a profit through service contracts with customers." However, the court added that even if Liberty Ridge were to be deemed an expressive enterprise, "a customer's association with a business for the limited purposes of obtaining goods and services – as opposed to becoming part of the business itself – does not trigger" expressive association.

In upholding the application of the anti-discrimination law against First Amendment challenges, the New York appellate opinion joins other courts that have reached the same conclusion: the New Mexico courts in Elane Photography to which the United States Supreme Court denied certiorar and the Colorado courts in Masterpiece Cakeshop.  The UK Supreme Court's decision in Bull v. Hall is also consistent with this trend.  Nevertheless, the issue is far from settled and more decisions likely.

UPDATE:  The owners of Liberty Ridge will reportedly not appeal.

January 15, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

En Banc Ninth Circuit Finds "Stolen Valor" Falsely Wearing Medal Provision Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in United States v. Swisher authored by Judge Sandra Ikuta, the en banc Ninth Circuit found that the provision in 18 USC §704(a) that criminalized the unauthorized wearing of any military medal violates the First Amendment.  Swisher was photographed wearing "the Silver Star, Navy and Marine Corps Ribbon, Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Bronze “V,” and UMC Expeditionary Medal," none of which he ever received.

The Court's opinion occurs in the shadow of the United States Supreme Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Alvarez which held that 18 USC §704(b) - - - prohibiting false statements about military medals - - - violated the First Amendment.  A panel of the Ninth Circuit had previously held in United States v. Perelman that Alvarez was not dispositive regarding §704(a) because wearing the medal was conduct rather than speech, akin to "impersonation" rather than expression.  The en banc opinion in Swisher explicitly overruled Perelman "to the extent inconsistent with this opinion."  

1024px-Purple_Heart_caseThe en banc opinion in Swisher held that while wearing the medal may have been expressive conduct, the government's purpose in regulating that conduct was aimed at regulating the message conveyed by the expressive conduct rather than the conduct itself.  Judge Ikuta's opinion interestingly relied upon the Court's decision last Term in Reed v. Town of Gilbert as "authoritative direction for differentiating between content-neutral and content-based enactments." 

Thus, Judge Ikuta's opinion determined that the lenient standard of United States v. O'Brien for expressive conduct was not the correct analysis and instead the standard as articulated in Alvarez should apply.  But what is the Alvarez standard, given that Justice Kennedy's opinion for a plurality applied an exacting scrutiny standard and Justice Breyer's concurring opinion applied more of an intermediate scrutiny test?  The en banc Ninth Circuit adroitly circumvented the need to decide the United States Supreme Court's holding by beginning with Justice Breyer's "less demanding standard": consideration of the seriousness of the speech related harm the provision will likely cause; evaluating the nature and importance of the provision's countervailing objectives; and the extent to which the provision will tend to achieve those objectives and whether there are other, less restrictive means, of doing so."  The en banc Ninth Circuit found that the criminalizing of inappropriately wearing military medals failed the intermediate Breyer standard and thus would obviously fail the stricter more exacting scrutiny standard of the plurality.

Not surprisingly Judge Bybee, who wrote a vigorous dissent in 2010 when a panel of the Ninth Circuit held the provision in Alvarez unconstitutional, dissented in Swisher, joined by Judges N.R. Smith and Watford.

The practical consequences of the Ninth Circuit's en banc opinion are marginal: the statute has already been amended and Swisher was also convicted on other provisions including fraud.  However, the doctrinal consequences of the opinion include an important demonstration of an application of Alvarez and the even more important holding clarifying that "wearing" is not always mere conduct evaluated at the lowest levels of First Amendment scrutiny.

[image via]

January 15, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Brennan Center on Campaign Finance

Check out this new Brennan Center report on the recent spate of sharply divided Supreme Court rulings that opened the spigot on money in politics.

In Five to Four, Brennan Center attorneys Lawrence Norden, Brent Ferguson, and Douglas Keith show how "six closely divided Supreme Court decisions in the last decade contributed to some of the most disturbing trends in American elections"--things like super PACs, dark money, unlimited corporate and union spending, and radically increased total contributions to candidates and parties. (Each of these gets its own chapter.)

Four of the nine justices strongly disagreed with these decisions, and if one more justice had joined them, our ability to regulate big money in politics, and to give ordinary Americans more of a voice in the political process, would be very different today.

In other words, the last few years of campaign financing are not "normal," or "inevitable," or "just the way things are." To the contrary, in the modern era, they are the aberrant result of a single swing vote on the Supreme Court, which upended decades of carefully crafted campaign finance laws, and they can be reversed.

January 13, 2016 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Demise of Public-Sector Fair Share

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Ass'n, the case testing whether a state's public-sector union fair-share requirement violates the First Amendment.

Answer: Almost certainly yes.

Few cases are predictable as this one, given the Court's lead-ups in Harris and Knox (both sharply criticizing Abood, the 40-year-old case upholding fair-share requirements against a First Amendment challenge). And few oral arguments foretell the Court's and the dissent's analyses and split so clearly as yesterday's argument.

The conservative justices, including Kennedy, have made up their minds against fair share (and in favor of overruling Abood). The progressives have made up their minds in favor of fair share (and keeping Abood on the books). Both sides rehearsed the arguments that we'll see when the opinion comes out later this year.

All this made the oral arguments seem unnecessary. And maybe they were. After all, those opposing fair-share didn't seem at all troubled by the absence of a factual record in this case--even though some amici briefed significant practical labor-relations problems that arose without fair share. Instead, those opposing fair share seemed perfectly willing to rely on their own intuition about how public-sector labor relations work.

The facts don't really matter, so why should the legal arguments, when everybody's minds are made up, anyway?

Some of the early discussion focused on the extent of fair-share opponents' First Amendment claim: does it apply only to public-sector unions, or also to private-sector unions? Michael Carvin, attorney for the fair-share opponents, was clear: it only applies to public-sector unions. That's because collective bargaining for public-sector unions inevitably involves public issues--so a fair-share requirement compels non-union-members to pay for public advocacy (with which they disagree). (Private-sector collective bargaining, in contrast, involves only private employment issues.) Moreover, Carvin said that it's not always so easy to sort out what union speech goes to collective bargaining issues, and what goes to other public advocacy--a problem administering Abood that goes to its stare decisis staying power (see below).

And that leads to Carvin's next point, a clever twist on the concern about free-riders: fair-share requirements don't serve the interest of avoiding free-riders (as conventional wisdom and Abood would have it); instead, fair-share requirements let the union free ride on non-members' fair-share contributions. Carvin turned the traditional free-rider concern on its head.

And the conservatives, including Justice Kennedy, accepted all this. (Chief Justice Roberts even added at one point that if unions are so popular, the traditional concern about free riders is "insignificant.") Indeed, Justice Kennedy stated the opponents' case as clearly (and certainly as concisely) as anyone yesterday:

But it's almost axiomatic. When you are dealing with a governmental agency, many critical points are matters of public concern. And is it not true that many teachers are -- strongly, strongly disagree with the union position on teacher tenure, on merit pay, on merit promotion, on classroom size?

And you -- the term is free rider. The union basically is making these teachers compelled riders for issues on which they strongly disagree.

Many teachers think that they are devoted to the future of America, to the future of our young people, and that the union is equally devoted to that but that the union is absolutely wrong in some of its positions. And agency fees require, as I understand it -- correct me if I'm wrong -- agency fees require that employees and teachers who disagree with those positions must nevertheless subsidize the union on those very points.

The progressives pushed back with stare decisis: shouldn't the Court give some weight to Abood? Carvin said that overruling Abood would actually better square the jurisprudence. But that didn't sit well with Justice Kagan:

So really what your argument comes down to is two very recent cases, which is Harris and Knox. And there you might say that Harris and Knox gave indications that the Court was not friendly to Abood. But those were two extremely recent cases, and they were both cases that actually were decided within the Abood framework. . . .

So taking two extremely recent cases, which admittedly expressed some frustration with Abood, but also specifically decided not to overrule Abood, I mean, just seems like it's nothing of the kind that we usually say when we usually say that a precedent has to be overturned because it's come into conflict with an entire body of case law.

Some on the left also wondered whether striking Abood also mean striking mandatory bar fees and mandatory student fees (previously upheld by the Court), and whether it would disrupt reliance interests (in the form of the thousands of public-sector union contracts that rely on it).

Look for all these points in the opinion, when it comes down. And look for the conventional 5-4, conservative-progressive split. If the result in this case wasn't clear going into arguments yesterday (though it was), then arguments yesterday certainly clarified it.

(The second question in the case--whether non-chargeable expenses need to follow an opt-in rule, instead of an opt-out rule, got very little attention. This issue, too, is all but decided, by the same split: the Court will almost certainly require opt-in.)

January 12, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The California Legislature Can Ask What Californians Think About Citizens United

The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the California legislature had authority to put on the general election ballot the nonbinding, advisory question whether Congress should propose, and the legislature ratify, a federal constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

The court said that the measure fell within the state legislative authority:

We conclude: (1) as a matter of state law, the Legislature has authority to conduct investigations by reasonable means to inform the exercise of its other powers; (2) among those other powers are the power to petition for national constitutional conventions, ratify federal constitutional amendments, and call on Congress and other states to exercise their own federal article V powers; (3) although neither constitutional text nor judicial precedent provide definitive answers to the question, long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process; (4) nothing in the state Constitution prohibits the use of advisory questions to inform the Legislature's exercise of its article V-related powers; and (5) applying deferential review, Proposition 49 is reasonably related to the exercise of those powers and thus constitutional.

Still, there are no actual plans to put the measure on the 2016 ballot--at least not yet. The legislature previously directed that the measure go on the 2014 ballot; that decision was before the court. Now that 2014 is over, you might think the case was moot. But if so, you'd be wrong: the court said it should address the question, notwithstanding the lack of plans to put the measure on the ballot, because the legislature might direct that the measure go on a future ballot (apparently in the spirit of capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review).

January 6, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Justice Alito's Wild Hypothetical is Reality

Campaign finance transfers that Justice Alito called a "wild hypothetical" at oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC are the reality in today's presidential race, writes Paul Blumenthal at HuffPo. That means that a candidate's joint fundraising committee (which raises money for candidates and state and national parties) can bring in over a million dollars per donor in the 2016 election cycle. This is the maximum amount a donor can contribute to the candidate and the parties within base contribution limits. State parties can redistribute their take to benefit the candidate, circumventing the base limits.

Justice Alito called this a "wild hypothetical" at oral arguments in McCutcheon, at least as regards congressional elections. But Blumenthal says it's reality, and cites the Clinton campaign as an example. He describes it this way:

Donors are limited by how much they can give to campaign committees, national party committees and state party committees. A single donor can give $5,400 to a candidate's campaign to cover both a primary and general election, $33,400 annually to a national party committee's general fund and $10,000 annually to each state party. These limits are known as "base" contribution limits. (Additionally, donors can give $100,200 annually to each of the national party committee's convention, building and legal funds . . . .)

Since the Hillary Victory Fund links the Clinton campaign, the DNC and 33 state parties, the total amount a donor could give is $669,400 per year. Technically, a maximum contribution to the fund would include $330,000 to be split amount the 33 state parties. Since party committees are allowed to make unlimited transfers between each other, that money can easily be sent to the state parties most advantageous to the candidate's raising the money--in a swing state, for example. Or, as is happening with the Hillary Victory Fund, that money can be sent to the DNC, which redistributes it as they see fit.

Why does this matter? Well, the Court in McCutcheon said that aggregate contribution limits (designed to complement base limits and avoid corruption by effectively restricting the amount of money candidates could transfer between each other) violated the First Amendment. The Court said this in part because the FEC's rules on earmarking contributions and limits on transfers between candidates effectively prevented these kinds of shenanigans. In other words, the Court said that aggregate limits weren't necessary to avoid corruption, because other features of the regulatory scheme prevented donors from circumventing base limits and corrupting politicians.

But those features don't limit state political party transfers. So a joint fundraising committee can send donations to state parties, which can then strategically funnel those donations to other state parties or to the national party, directly benefiting the candidate. That's exactly what SG Verrilli raised--and what Justice Alito dismissed as a "wild hypothetical" in the context of congressional elections--at oral argument in McCutcheon. It's also what seems to be happening in the 2016 presidential election.

January 6, 2016 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

En Banc Federal Circuit Holds "Disparaging" Trademarks Ban Violates First Amendment

In its more than 100 page opinion today in In Re Simon Shiao Tam, the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.  

The central issue was the denial of a trademark registration to "The Slants" by the applicant Simon Shiao Tam, on behalf of the Portland, Oregon "all Asian American dance rock band" (pictured below).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, established in 1982 by a the merger of the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the United States Court of Claims, was reviewing the denial of the trademark by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).  A panel of the Federal Circuit rejected Tam's First Amendment arguments, finding that it was bound by circuit precedent from 1981 that held that the First Amendment was not implicated by the denial of trademark registration. 

BoiseThe Circuit sua sponte ordered rehearing en banc.  The majority opinion, authored by Judge Kimberly Moore (who was formerly a law prof at George Mason School of Law), was joined by 8 other judges, including Chief Judge Sharon Prost, reasoned that much had changed since the 1981 circuit precedent - - - including the jurisprudence offering protections for commercial speech under the First Amendment - - - and that the First Amendment should apply.

Not only should the First Amendment apply, it is violated in the most egregious manner: viewpoint discrimination. Moore's opinion for the majority stresses that the "disparagement" provision "discriminates against speech because it disapproves of the message conveyed by the speech" and is therefore subject to strict scrutiny.  That the government might itself not disapprove but "claims that some part of the populace will disapprove of the message" is irrelevant.  When the PTO refuses to register a trademark under this provision,"it does so because it believes the mark conveys an expressive message—a message that is disparaging to certain groups."  Mr. Tam was undoubtedly engaging in expressive speech:

Mr. Tam explicitly selected his mark to create a dialogue on controversial political and social issues. With his band name, Mr. Tam makes a statement about racial and ethnic identity. He seeks to shift the meaning of, and thereby reclaim, an emotionally charged word. He advocates for social change and challenges perceptions of people of Asian descent. His band name pushes people. It offends. Despite this—indeed, because of it—Mr. Tam’s band name is expressive speech.

The court rejected the government's three arguments, including its argument that the First Amendment did not apply since no speech was prohibited.  The government's second argument - - - that trademark registration is government speech - - - was likewise rejected.  Here, the court distinguished last Term's decision in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, the confederate flag license plate case, by distinguishing between the license plate (which the government continues to own and which the car driver must affix) and the trademark symbol (which the government does not "own" and the registrant can use or not).  As for public perception, the court used a copyright analogy: just as the public does not associate copyrighted works such as Fifty Shades of Grey with the government, "neither does the public associate individual trademarks such as THE SLANTS with the government."  

The court likewise rejected the government argument that § 2(a) merely withholds a government subsidy for Mr. Tam’s speech and is valid as a permissible definition of a government subsidy program: "Trademark registration does not implicate Congress’s power to spend or to control use of government property."  Further, the "benefits of trademark registration, while valuable, are not monetary, and are "unlike a subsidy consisting of, for example, HIV/AIDS funding," as in the Court's 2013 decision in USAID v. Alliance for an Open Society.

The majority's opinion clearly rests on its conclusion that the disparagement provision of § 2(a) is viewpoint discrimination that cannot survive strict scrutiny.  But it also provides the fall-back rationale of commercial speech.

Even if we were to treat § 2(a) as a regulation of commercial speech, it would fail to survive. In Central Hudson, the Supreme Court laid out the intermediate- scrutiny framework for determining the constitutionality of restrictions on commercial speech.  First, commercial speech “must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.”  If this is the case, we ask whether “the asserted governmental interest is substantial,” id., and whether the regulation “directly and materially advanc[es]” the government’s asserted interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.

[citations omitted].  But the court's rationale circles back.  The court finds that 2(a) fails at the second step: the government interest cannot be substantial because it is based on viewpoint discrimination.  This is certainly predictable in light of IMS v. Sorrell (2011).  The court finds that the government's asserted interest in "fostering racial tolerance" cannot support a speech regulation. "The case law does not recognize a substantial interest in discriminatorily regulating private speech to try to reduce racial intolerance."  The cases relied upon are outside the commercial speech realm.

This tension between commercial speech and non-commercial speech permeates some of the opinions by Judges who did not join the majority.  Perhaps most persuasive is the dissenting opinion by Judge Jimmie Reyna, arguing that §2(a) survived commercial speech's intermediate scrutiny:

The marketplace of ideas differs dramatically from the marketplace of goods and services. While the marketplace of ideas may tolerate or even benefit from the volatility that accompanies disparaging and insulting speech, the marketplace of goods and services is a wholly different animal. Commerce does not benefit from political volatility, nor from insults, discrimination, or bigotry. Commerce is a communal institution regulated for the mutual economic benefit of all. Commercial speech that discredits or brings reproach upon groups of Americans, particularly based on their race, has a discriminatory impact that undermines commercial activity and the stability of the marketplace in much the same manner as discriminatory conduct.

As the court notes numerous times throughout its opinions, the disparagement provision has long been contentious, including the notorious "Dykes on Bikes" trademark dispute (which I wrote about here). 

But currently - - - and looming largely - - - the ongoing litigation currently before the Fourth Circuit regarding the PTO's cancellation of the trademark of a football team with the name many believe disparages Native Americans.

Moreover, given that a circuit court has declared a portion of a federal statute unconstitutional, this issue could well be going to the United States Supreme Court.

UPDATE: September 29, 2016, The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari.

December 22, 2015 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nude Dancing Plaintiffs Concede Away Their Preliminary Injunction Case

The Seventh Circuit this week denied a preliminary injunction to owners of a would-be nude-dancing establishment in Angola, Indiana, because the owners stipulated to the city's secondary-effects justification for its zoning ordinance that blocked development of the establishment.

The plaintiffs' surprising concession means that the plaintiffs could not show a "substantial likelihood of success" on the merits of their First Amendment claim, and that they therefore could not get an injunction ordering the city to grant a license to develop the business.

The case arose when the plaintiffs proceeded with developing a site for an adult entertainment business, the only one in Angola, Indiana. The city reacted by changing its zoning law in a way that would bar the plaintiffs from completing the project and starting the business. In particular, the city adopted a zoning rule that required sexually oriented businesses to be located at least 750 feet from every residence--a standard that the plaintiffs could not meet. The city justified the new rule based on the "secondary effects" of adult entertainment businesses, including crime, prostitution, disease, public indecency, and the like.

The city and plaintiffs filed motions for partial summary judgment, and the plaintiffs filed for a preliminary injunction. Oddly, the plaintiffs stipulated to the city's secondary-effects justification at the hearing (even as they said they'd challenge it later):

We'll stipulate that in our preliminary injunction motion we are not challenging here the factual predicate for the ordinances. We do want to challenge that. That was part of the amended complaint that was struck. We've asked for discovery on that. We haven't been able to take discovery. So we want to challenge that, at some point, but we will stipulate so that [Angola's counsel] is not concerned that we would go up to the Court of Appeals and make the argument that they . . . didn't have a requisite basis at least for this point to enact these ordinances. They're relying on that. That's fine. We're not challenging that here.

The district court denied the plaintiffs' motion, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, because the stipulation meant that the plaintiffs couldn't show a likelihood of success on the merits. (Under Renton the city can zone adult entertainment establishments based on their secondary effects.)

Still, this ruling doesn't end the case. The district has yet to decide whether the city left open an alternative avenues for the communication. (If not, the plaintiffs could still win on the merits.) So the case will go back to the district court on this question. In the meantime, the Seventh Circuit's ruling means that there won't be adult entertainment in Angola, unless and until the plaintiffs win on the merits.

December 10, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Seventh Circuit Finds Cook County Sheriff Violated First Amendment in "Backpage.com" Credit Card Case

Writing for a unanimous three judge panel, Judge Posner's opinion in Backpage.com LLC v. Dart, finds that the "campaign" by the Sheriff of Cook County, Tom Dart to "crush Backpage’s adult section— crush Backpage, period, it seems—by demanding that firms such as Visa and MasterCard prohibit the use of their credit cards to purchase any ads on Backpage, since the ads might be for illegal sex-related products or services, such as prostitution" violated the First Amendment. 

Sheriff Dart
The centerpiece was a letter from the sheriff, beginning “As the Sheriff of Cook County, a father and a caring citizen, I write to request that your institution immediately cease and desist from allowing your credit cards to be used to place ads on websites like Backpage.com.” The court finds it important that Dart is "sheriff first," and later observes:

Imagine a letter that was similar to Sheriff Dart’s but more temperate (no “demand,” no “compels,” no “sever [all] ties”) and sent to a credit card company by a person who was not a law-enforcement officer. The letter would be more likely to be discarded or filed away than to be acted on. For there is evidence that the credit card companies had received such complaints from private citizens, yet it was Dart’s letter that spurred them to take immediate action to cut off Back- page. For that was a letter from a government official containing legal threats and demands for quick action and insisting that an employee of the recipient be designated to answer phone calls or respond to other communications from the sheriff. It was within days of receiving the letter that the credit card companies broke with Backpage. The causality is obvious.

Judge Posner's opinion takes pains to point out that the sheriff is not "on solid ground" in suggesting that "everything in the adult section of Backpage’s website is criminal, violent, or exploitive. Fetishism? Phone sex? Performances by striptease artists? (Vulgar is not violent.)" (emphasis in original).  Posner cites an article from xojane.com and wikipedia for information; he does not cite his own 1994 book Sex and Reason, though he might well have. 

Posner rejected the conclusion of the district judge that the credit card companies were not coerced - - - what would one expect the corporate executives to say?  - - - and likewise rejected the argument that the credit card companies were acting on new information brought to their attention by the sheriff.  An email exchange between two credit card employees referencing "blackmail" is mentioned.  Moreover, Posner rejected the argument that the sheriff had his own First Amendment right, as a citizen and even to engage in "government speech." 

A government entity, including therefore the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, is entitled to say what it wants to say—but only within limits. It is not permitted to employ threats to squelch the free speech of private citizens.

Posner then expands on why the sheriff's speech was a threat, and, with a resort to a bit of "law and economics" explains why the credit card companies would 'knuckle under' with "such alacrity." 

This is a major win for Backpages.com - - - and cannot be good news for the Cook County sheriff's office.

November 30, 2015 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ruling Moves Soft-Money Ban One Step Closer to Doom

Judge Christopher Cooper (D.D.C.) ruled last week that a constitutional challenge to the federal restrictions on soft money by state and local political party committees will be heard by a three-judge district court. The ruling puts the case on the fast-track to the Supreme Court, whose plurality ruling last year in McCutcheon puts the federal soft-money restrictions on extremely shaky ground. The net result: this case, Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC, will likely go to the Supreme Court; the Court will almost surely strike the soft-money restrictions; and the ruling will open yet another spigot for vast amounts of money to flow in politics.

The case involves BCRA's limits on soft money by state and local political parties. "Soft money" is a contribution to a political party for state and local elections and for "issue advertising," but not for influencing federal elections. (Money for federal elections is subject to other restrictions.) The 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act flatly prohibits national political parties from raising or spending soft money. But as to state and local party committees, BCRA permits them to use soft money for state and local elections and issue ads, but not for federal election activities. As a result, state and local political party committees use (1) a federal fund, consisting of contributions at and below federal (FECA) limits, for federal elections, and (2) nonfederal funds, consisting of soft-money contributions, for state and local elections and issue ads. (There is a third category, too: Levin funds. Levin funds are a type of nonfederal fund that can be used for some federal election activity. They don't appear to be a game-changer in this case, though.)

The plaintiffs in this case, state and local committees of the Republican Party in Louisiana, challenged BCRA's limits on soft-money. In particular, they challenged (1) BCRA's prohibition on the use of soft-money for federal election activity, (2) BCRA's requirement that state and local committees pay direct costs of fundraising activity for funds used for federal election activity, and (3) BCRA's monthly reporting requirement disbursements and receipts for federal election activity. (BCRA defines "federal election activity" as voter registration, voter identification and GOTV, in addition to campaign communications that refer to a clearly identified candidate for federal office.) The plaintiffs claim these restrictions violate the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs moved to convene a three-judge court to hear their claims. BCRA authorizes such a court to hear constitutional challenges to BCRA, and allows the loser to take the case directly to the Supreme Court. (Constitutional challenges to FECA, on the other hand, go first to an en banc court of appeals. The plaintiffs wanted to by-pass this step and fast-track the case to the Supreme Court, so, learning a lesson from earlier cases, they challenged BCRA's restrictions, not FECA's limits on contributions. Still, a successful challenge would effectively erase FECA's contribution limits.) In this way, the plaintiffs will get the case to the Supreme Court, and quickly.

And that matters, because the Supreme Court has signaled that it's ready to strike at least some soft-money restrictions. In McCutcheon, a plurality defined "corruption"--the only justification for contribution limits that will withstand constitutional scrutiny--quite narrowly, as "quid pro quo corruption or its appearance," or vote-buying. By that definition, the Court is almost sure to strike soft-money restrictions for things like voter registration, GOTV, and issue ads, and maybe others. (How do these things lead directly to quid pro quo corruption?) Even as the Court said in McCutcheon that it wasn't disturbing prior cases upholding restrictions on soft money, its cramped definition of corruption almost surely rules some or all of those restrictions out.

At least the uncertainty created by the Court's definition in McCutcheon caused Judge Cooper to conclude that the plaintiffs' constitutional challenge was "substantial"--a trigger for the three-judge court.

(One potentially complicating factor: The Court is now considering when a complaint is "substantial" so that it triggers a three-judge court, in Shapiro v. McManus. Judge Cooper wrote that if the Court's ruling in Shapiro alters his analysis of "substantial," the three-judge court could dissolve itself. That wouldn't end the case (necessarily), but it would require the plaintiffs to appeal through the D.C. Circuit.)

Judge Cooper's ruling did not address the merits (except to say that the challenge was "substantial"). Still, the ruling puts the case on the fast-track to the Supreme Court (subject to any potential speedbumps from Shapiro), where some or all of the soft-money restrictions on state and local political party committees will likely meet their doom.

November 29, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Can a trial judge prohibit defendants (and spectators) from wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts?

The trial judge in Massachusetts set to preside over the prosecution of four Black Lives Matter protesters has reportedly told the defendants that they cannot wear shirts with those words - - - Black Lives Matter - - - during the trial.  Apparently at a pretrial hearing, the judge noticed one of the defendants wearing attire with the words and stated:

"Is that appropriate to wear in front of a jury? Why isn't that unfair to the commonwealth? You're asking me to ferret out jurors who are not fair ... I'm not going to allow clothing with that message."

ShirtWhile judges have a great deal of discretion in the courtroom, the courtroom is not without First Amendment protections, even when it comes to the symbolic expression of attire.  However, most of the cases involving defendant attire have been about protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial rather than any right of the government's.  A quintet of cases from the United States Supreme Court - - - Illinois v. Allen (1973), Estelle v. Williams (1976), Holbrook v. Flynn (1986), Deck v. Missouri (2005), and Carey v. Musladin (2006) - - - considered various aspects of "attire" during trial.  In Allen, it was the possibility of the shackling and gagging the defendant,  in Williams it was the defendant's "prison garb," in Holbrook v. Flynn it was uniformed guards in the courtroom, in Deck it was shackling the defendant,  and in Musladin it was the defendant's objection to spectators' wearing buttons with the victim's photograph.   

The rights of court spectators to First Amendment expressions is not well-established.  Justice Souter concurred in Musladin mentioning the possibility of such a right, but contended that trial judges had affirmative obligations to ensure a fair trial, including regulating the attire of spectators. But what if the spectators support the defendant?  Some judges have prohibited supportive attire.  For example, in 2013 an Indiana judge prohibited spectators from wearing buttons supporting Bei Bei Shuai, on trial for unsuccessful suicide attempt that resulted in a miscarriage.  And last year, a judge banned spectators from wearing pink hands pinned to their shirts in support of Cecily McMillan for assaulting a police officer who she said had grabbed her breast.  

As to the defendants, they risk being held in contempt if they do wear the prohibited clothing.  Perhaps the most famous case involved the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial.

But the First Amendment principle is preserved whether or not the defendants comply with the judge's order about their expressive attire.  Prohibiting defendants from wearing non-obscene words that support their political viewpoints certainly raises a First Amendment issue of viewpoint and content discrimination.

[image via; video with defendant and shirt here]

November 11, 2015 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Race | Permalink | Comments (1)