Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D.C. Circuit: No Free Speech for Complaining Teacher

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a former teacher in the D.C. schools did not enjoy protection under the First Amendment after he was fired for sending an e-mail complaining about his principal's misrepresentation of student test scores to former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 

The teacher, Bruno Mpoy, had a long list of complaints against his principal, Donald Presswood, when he sent an e-mail to Rhee.  Nearly all of these involved classroom conditions.  But after Mpoy was fired (and undoubtedly aware of the first part of the Garcetti test and the D.C. Circuit's interpretation of it), he focused on this sentence in the e-mail:

Dr. Presswood, the principal of Ludlow Taylor, misrepresented students' performance and results on the DCCAS Alternative [the achievement test used to measure student learning and improvement].

Mpoy argued that this sentence was not written pursuant to his official responsibilities--and that he therefore jumped the first Garcetti hurdle by showing that he spoke "as a citizen."  (As a threshold matter, in order for a public employee's speech to enjoy First Amendment protection, the employee must have spoken (1) as a citizen and (2) on a matter of public concern.  Only then, if a plaintiff can so show, the court goes on to apply the free speech test, whether the government "had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public.")

The D.C. Circuit disagreed.  The court ruled that Mpoy wrote this sentence in his capacity as an employee:

In [the context of the e-mail], the sentence about the misrepresentation of the students' results was also plainly a greivance about Presswood's interference with Mpoy's duty to assess and ensure the achievement of his students.

That means that Mpoy didn't even get out of the gate under Garcetti.  No citizen speech; no protected speech; no First Amendment protection.

The court added a section to address the recently decided Lane v. Franks.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena," when testifying was outside the scope of the employee's "ordinary job responsibilities."  The court considered the possibility that the adjective "ordinary" signalled a narrowing of the area of employee speech left unprotected by Garcetti.  

But the court said that it didn't have to decide that; it ultimately didn't matter.  That's because the school officials could reasonably believe that they could have fired Mpoy--and therefore enjoyed qualified immunity.

July 15, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New York's Highest Court Finds Cyberbullying Law Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010)  criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:

any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.

450px-Bully_Free_ZoneThe majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult." 

The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - -  were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe.  But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad.  However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors.  But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills."   The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.

In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review:  "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities." 

However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted.  New York's Dignity for All Students Act  as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards.  While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment.  They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied. 

And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.

 [image via]

July 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sharply Divided Court Takes Another Shot at Public Sector Fair Share

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that a state cannot require nonunionized home-healthcare workers, or personal assistants, in the state's Medicaid program to pay "fair share" union dues.  The majority held that a fair-share-dues requirement for non-union members violates their First Amendment association rights.

The ruling is a victory for non-unionized home-healthcare workers, and for anti-union types generally.  But on the other hand, the ruling did not go as far as it might have in striking public sector fair share requirements.  The majority took another shot at public sector fair share requirements (it earlier took a shot in Knox), prompting the dissent to go to great lengths to defend the constitutionality of those requirements, and setting up those requirements (yet again) for reconsideration.

In other words, the majority strongly criticized Abood, but did not overrule it.  The dissent vigorously defended it.  We can expect more challenges, with the Court moving to overturn it.  (Abood held that a state may require fair share fees for non-union members in a public sector union in the interests of preventing free-riding and labor peace.)

We posted most recently on the case here.

The majority (penned by Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) held that personal assistants were not full state employees--they're supervised principally by the individual clients they serve.  Moreover, state law limits the union's role in representing them.  As a result, the Court said that Abood's rationales don't apply, and declined to "extend" Abood.  The Court applied "exacting scrutiny" and held that the state fair-share requirement failed.

The dissent (penned by Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) disagreed that personal assistants were different than public employees for Abood purposes.  Dissenters would have applied Abood in a straightforward way and upheld the state fair-share requirement. 

But while the majority and dissent jousted over the status of personal assistants (in relation to public employees in Abood)--and while the majority ultimately hung its hat on its distinction between public employees and personal assistants--it was clear that the real struggle is over Abood itself.  The majority left it hanging (once again) by a thread, while the dissent vigorously defended it. 

As in Knox, the majority opinion here begs for another case, another chance to overturn Abood--a move that would strike a very serious blow to public sector unions.  In the meantime, it continues to chip away at Abood's foundation, planting time bombs in Harris and Knox that it will use whenever it gets the next case that puts Abood squarely within its range. 

Until that time comes, however, Abood stays on the books.  And public sector fair-share requirements survived again, even if bruised and battered.

June 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

United States Supreme Court Declares Massachusetts' Buffer Zone Unconstitutional in McCullen v. Coakley

A unanimous Court, albeit in separate opinions, found the Massachusetts statute imposing a 35 foot buffer zone around places where abortions are performed violates the First Amendment in its opinion in McCullen v. Coakley,  reversing the First Circuit.

Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts - - - who, unusually, did not ask any questions during the oral argument - - -found that the statute was not subject to strict scrutiny because it was content and viewpoint neutral, despite arguments to the contrary.  However, the Court found that the statute failed the so-called "time, place, and manner" test articulated in  Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781 (1989).   The Court's opinion - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - - - concluded that the statute burdened more speech than necessary and was not sufficiently closely tailored.  In large part, this was based on the statute's exceptional coverage of public streets and sidewalks.  It was also based on the specific petitioners in the case, who are not "protesters," but people who "attempt to engage women approaching the clinics in what they call 'sidewalk coun­seling,' which involves offering information about alternatives to abortion and help pursuing those options." Further, the Court articulated other less restrictive means available to Massachusetts, including targeted injunctions, and found that the record did not support the need for Massachusetts' sweeping approach.  As the Court concluded:

Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history. Respondents assert undeniably significant interests in maintaining public safety on those same streets and sidewalks, as well as in preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities. But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a tradi­ tional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes. The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.

Justice Scalia's concurring opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, criticizes the Court's opinion as one

that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence. That is the first half of the Court’s analysis, which concludes that a statute of this sort is not content based and hence not subject to so-called strict scrutiny. The Court reaches out to decide that question unnecessarily—or at least unnecessarily insofar as legal analysis is concerned.

Justice Alito, wrote separately but briefly to express his belief that the statute discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.

The takeaway is this: In a unanimous opinion, the Court ruled that Massachusetts went too far in seeking to protect the reproductive rights of women seeking abortions and infringed the First Amendment rights of those who seek to counsel them to change their minds.  The Court's opinion approves more narrow methods governments might use to protect the reproductive rights of women entering clincs.  But four Justices seem inclined to find a violation of the First Amendment in even more narrow government attempts.

June 26, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Zelinsky on I Know It When I See It

Nathaniel Zelinsky, writing over at Concurring Opinions, traces the history and subsequent use of Justice Potter Stewart's famous phrase from his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio.  Zelinsky found earlier uses of the phrase, or very similar phrases, but writes that Alan Novak, one of Justice Stewart's clerks, "remembered the phrase emerging out of a conversation with the justice.  And it was, according to Novak, Stewart who wrote the actual opinion, including the seven words."  Justice Stewart did not intend "to create a widespread sensation"; indeed, news coverage at the time all but ignored the phrase--and all but ignored Jacobellis, in favor of Quantity of Books v. Kansas, another obscenity case handed down that day.

Zelinsky offers this advice:

The unintentional popularity of "I know it when I see it" should be a note of caution for legal authors in the public sphere, from jurists to commentators more generally: it is very difficult to predict in advance what will capture widespread attention among the non-legal public. . . .  On the flip side, the legal corpus is full of opinions whose authors hoped would be earthquakes but whose prose was then largely ignored.

June 19, 2014 in First Amendment, News, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Trademark Registration of Football Team as Disparaging


In an extensive opinion today in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92046185, a divided Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the trademark of the term "redskins" as violative of  section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibiting registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute. 

The majority opinion relied upon dictionary definitions, expert opinions, and surveys to conclude that the term is disparaging - - - and was so at the time the trademark was approved.  The majority rejected the laches defense in part because "there is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitioners."

 

Judge Bergsman's dissenting opinion disagreed with the

majority’s decision to grant the petition on the claim of disparagement because the dictionary evidence relied upon by the majority is inconclusive and there is no reliable evidence to corroborate the membership of National Council of American Indians.

To be clear, this case is not about the controversy, currently playing out in the media, over whether the term “redskins,” as the name of Washington’s professional football team, is disparaging to Native Americans today. The provisions of the statute under which the Board must decide this case – §§ 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1052(a) and 1064(3) – require us to answer a much narrower, legal question: whether the evidence made of record in this case establishes that the term “redskins” was disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans at the time each of the challenged registrations issued.

Neither the majority or dissenting opinion - - - both of which are lengthy - - - engage with the possible First Amendment free speech issues or with the possible Equal Protection issues; this is decidely a case interpreting a statutory provision regarding trademark. 

Yet the constitutional contours of speech and equality are evident in both opinions, just as constitutionalism has been implicated in the controversies surrounding the use of the term.  Thus, while a "trademark case," Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. is worth consideration by constitutional students and scholars.   And its comparison to the "dykes on bikes" trademark case, which I've discussed here, is also worth consideration by those interested in constitutionalism, democracy, and language.

 

June 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari of "Facebook Threats" Case, Elonis v. United States

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Elonis v. United States, a case regarding a criminal conviction for threats against his estranged wife and others posted on Facebook.

The question presented in the certiorari question is:

Whether, consistent with the First Amendment and Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), conviction of threatening another person requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, as required by the Ninth Circuit and the supreme courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont; or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening, as held by other federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort.

However, in its Order today, the Court stated:

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U. S. C. §875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten."
 
266px-No_Facebook.svgThus, Elonis will be a case in which the statutory interpretation and the First Amendment are intertwined.
 
The Third Circuit panel opinion unanimously upheld the conviction of Anthony Elonis under 18 U. S. C. §875(c), rejecting his contention that the statute requires subjective proof of his intent to threaten, rather than objective proof.  There is a split in circuits on whether subjective intent is required to make the statute constitutional after the Court's decision in Virginia v. Black in which the Court declared a Virginia statute provided that cross-burning was "prima facie evidence" of a intent to intimidate. 
 
The doctrine of "true threats" has long been a fraught one.  As in other oft-called categorical exclusions from the First Amendment, the operative legal query is definitional: if the speech is a "true threat," the speech is not protected; if it is not a "true threat," then it is protected speech.
 
266px-Facebook-reversed.svgAt times, this inquiry becomes grammatical.  For example, the Third Circuit found that a particular posting that Elonis claimed was conditional and therefore could not be a "true threat," could have reasonably been found by a jury to be a true threat.  This passage, posted after his estranged wife obtained a protective order, conveys the flavor of the other passages quoted in the Third Circuit's opinion:
 

Fold up your PFA and put it in your pocket
Is it thick enough to stop a bullet?
Try to enforce an Order
That was improperly granted in the first place
Me thinks the judge needs an education on true threat jurisprudence

And prison time will add zeroes to my settlement
Which you won’t see a lick
Because you suck dog dick in front of children

****

And if worse comes to worse
I’ve got enough explosives
to take care of the state police and the sheriff’s department
[link: Freedom of Speech, www.wikipedia.org]

The Court's grant of certiorari may - - - or may not - - - indicate that some Justices found that Elonis's facebook postings failed to rise to the level of true threats.  Undoubtedly, however, this case will be watched not only by those interested in "free speech on the internet" but also by those interested in "intimate partner violence."
 

June 16, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Gender, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Unanimous Supreme Court Returns Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus for Decision on Election Law Merits

The Court's unanimous  opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements, reversed the Sixth Circuit's determination that the case was not ripe.  Recall that Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List, but the Sixth Circuit held the SB List could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."  

SBA-20_logoAs we discussed after oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to find the courts had Article III power to hear the case, although there was some doctrinal fuzziness whether the case should be analyzed as one of "standing" or one of "ripeness."  Footnote 5 of the opinion by Justice Thomas for the Court resolves the question firmly in favor of standing:

The doctrines of standing and ripeness “originate” from the same Article III limitation. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 335 (2006). As the parties acknowledge, the Article III standing and ripeness issues in this case “boil down to the same question.” Med- Immune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U. S. 118, 128, n. 8 (2007); see Brief for Petitioners 28; Brief for Respondents 22. Consistent with our practice in cases like Virginia v. American Booksellers Assn., Inc., 484 U. S. 383, 392 (1988), and Babbitt v. Farm Workers, 442 U. S. 289, 299, n. 11 (1979), we use the term “standing” in this opinion.

220px-Steve_Driehaus_official_photo
Steve Driehaus via

The Court reiterated the established criteria: (1) an "injury in fact" (2) a sufficient “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” and (3) a likelihood that the injury “will be redressed by a favorable decision," noting that the hurdle for the organization of Susan B. Anthony List was the "injury in fact" requirement.  To establish "injury in fact," the organization had to demonstrate the threat of future prosecution by the election board was sufficiently "concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical,’” and "certainly impending,” or there is a “‘substantial risk’ that the harm will occur.” 

The shadow of the First Amendment was apparent in the Court's reasoning: "The burdens that [Election] Commission proceedings can impose on electoral speech are of particular concern here." 

The Court's relatively short and unanimous opinion breaks no new ground.  It draws on establishing standing precedent which it applies in a relatively straightforward manner, and then quickly dispatches the "prudential" rationale for rejecting jurisdiction. 

However, it's worth considering as a contrast a case uncited by the Court - - - Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) - - - in which a deeply divided Court decided that Adolph Lyons did not have standing to challenge the City of Los Angeles police department's sometimes fatal practice of administering a "chokehold" to persons it stopped for traffic violations.  As Justice Marshall wrote in the dissenting opinion (joined by Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens):

Since no one can show that he will be choked in the future, no one — not even a person who, like Lyons, has almost been choked to death — has standing to challenge the continuation of the policy. The city is free to continue the policy indefinitely as long as it is willing to pay damages for the injuries and deaths that result. I dissent from this unprecedented and unwarranted approach to standing.

Perhaps Susan B. Anthony List demonstrates that Justice Marshall's view has proven to be correct and that Lyons can now be disregarded.  Or perhaps, studies such as this and this are correct that the status of Susan B. Anthony List as an anti-abortion organization and the status of Adolph Lyons as an African-America male confronting law enforcement are just as important as doctrine.

June 16, 2014 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Speech, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fifth Circuit Upholds Federal Crush Porn Statute Against First Amendment Challenge

Reversing the federal district court, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Richards upholding the Animal Crush Video Protection Act of 2010 against a First Amendment challenge.  At 14 pages, the opinion authored by Judge Stephen Higginson is workmanlike but ultimately fails to satisfy the concerns raised by the statute.

Recall that the 2010 Act, 18 U.S.C. § 48 (2010), is the Congressional revision of the crush porn statute the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in United States v. Stevens.  In Stevens, the eight Justice majority found that the statute criminalizing portrayals of animal cruelty was of "alarming breadth" and could operate to criminalize popular hunting television programs.  When Congress passed an amended statute, it included a provision that the portrayal "is obscene" and specific exclusions for hunting and slaughter.

640px-Paris_cimetière_de_Passy547
image via

Unlike the criminal defendant in Stevens (who was prosecuted for dog-fight videos), the defendants in Richards were charged with producing "crush porn" in which there is the depiction of cruelty to a small animal in an arguably sexual manner. 

The First Amendment challenge to the statute contended that the "obscene" prong of the statute did not incorporate the necessary Miller v. California test for obscenity.  Under Miller, this requires "sexual conduct," but Congressional history seemed debatable on this requirement.  Disagreeing with the district judge, however, the Fifth Circuit panel concluded it should not look to "variable and debatable legislative history to render unconstitutional a statute that incorporates a legal term of art with distinct constitutional meaning."  Thus, it held that "§48 incorporates Miller obscenity and thus by its terms proscribes only unprotected speech."

The Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that §48 proscribes only a certain type of obscenity in contravention of what some would call the "categorical approach" employed by the Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. PaulAfter describing this argument, the Fifth Circuit veered into the much-disparaged "secondary effects" doctrine to conclude that

even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creators and distributors of animal crush videos, like Richards and Justice, intend to advance a distinct message, perhaps about barbarism, § 48 is justified with reference not to the content of such a message but rather to its secondary effects—wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.

The panel thus concludes that "Section 48 thus is narrow and tailored to target unprotected speech that requires the wanton torture and killing of animals."  In doing so, the opinion noted that "a long history and substantial consensus, as seen in state and federal legislation, are indicative" of a compelling or substantial interest - - - and cited for this proposition New York v. FerberFerber, upholding the constitutionality of criminalizing child pornography, is of course the very case Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in United States v. Stevens distinguished; the Court rejected the analogy between child porn and (animal)crush porn. 

The Fifth Circuit en banc should take another look at United States v. Richards and the First Amendment contours of the "crush porn" statute without reference to "secondary effects."  

June 13, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sixth Circuit Rejects Challenge to Contraception Mandate Accommodation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recall our analysis of the sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, that declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source. 

 

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

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Contribution Disclosure Requirement

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Seventh Circuit Enjoins Portions of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law

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

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

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

Other portions required a little more work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Seventh Circuit Stays Ruling Enjoining Wisconsin Investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

District Court Halts Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Op. at 25.

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

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

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

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

New_Hampshire_License_Plate

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Speech the Justices Agree With

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

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

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

Here's my discussion over at SCOTUSBlog.

 

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