Friday, April 25, 2014

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

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

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

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

DC Circuit Panel Finds Conflict Mineral Disclosure Violates First Amendment

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

DRC - - - Democratic Republic of the Congo - - - has not only "endured war and humanitarian catastrophe,"  it is also the site of extraction of certain minerals - - - gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten - - - that are used in a variety of familiar objects (cell phones, automobile parts, and golf clubs) and finance the parties engaged in the violence.   In an attempt to discourage use of these so-called "conflict minerals," Congress required companies to disclose its products as not “DRC conflict free” in the report it files with the SEC and also post the statement on its website.

600px-Single_piece_of_tantalum,_about_1_cm_in_size.
tantalum

Reversing the district judge, who had upheld the law, the panel majority stated that "rational basis review" in the First Amendment context is the "exception, not the rule."  The panel majority rejected the argument that the disclosure was one of "purely factual and uncontroversial information":

it is far from clear that the description at issue—whether a product is “conflict free”—is factual and non- ideological. Products and minerals do not fight conflicts. The label “conflict free” is a metaphor that conveys moral responsibility for the Congo war. It requires an issuer to tell consumers that its products are ethically tainted, even if they only indirectly finance armed groups. An issuer, including an issuer who condemns the atrocities of the Congo war in the strongest terms, may disagree with that assessment of its moral responsibility. And it may convey that “message” through “silence.”  By compelling an issuer to confess blood on its hands, the statute interferes with that exercise of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

[citations omitted].  Thus, the panel majority found that Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626 (1985), was inapposite.  Instead, under Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 447 U.S. 557 (1980), the intermediate scrutiny standard for commercial speech, the mandated disclosure failed.  

The panel, however, was divided on this issue.  While the court unanimously upheld various SEC regulations challenged on administrative law grounds, Judge Srinivasan dissented on the First Amendment issue.  Specifically, Judge Srinivasan contended that this opinion should be held in abeyance "pending the en banc court’s decision" in another case "rather than issue an opinion that might effectively be undercut by the en banc court in relatively short order."  The case in question is American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture in which the DC Circuit so recently ordered an en banc hearingRecall that American Meat Institute, requiring labeling of meat products by country of origin, also considered the relationship between Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel and Central Hudson - - - and that is the very question certified for en banc review.  Judge Srinivasan was a member of the American Meat Institute panel.  

Given this posture, it seems certain that the Government will seek en banc review. 

 

April 14, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Constitutionality of Anti-LGBT Discrimination Laws: US and UK Comparisons Continued

Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?" 

The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer.  The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today. 

491px-Henry_VIII_Art_Gallery_of_Ontario
King Henry VIII, an important figure
in the "Church of England"

Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights,"  posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site.  Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws?  Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without."  She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself: 

Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.

This leads her to proclaim:

If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.

This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.

April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sunday Dress: Kort on Revitalizing Tinker

In her article "An Imminent Substantial Disruption: Towards a Uniform Standard for Balancing the Rights of Students to Speak and the Rights of Administrators to Discipline" (forthcoming in Dartmouth Law Journal; available in draft on ssrn), Allison Kort (pictured) revisits the problems and issues with the landmark 1969 First Amendment case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

Kort

Kort argues that courts "frequently make an end run around Tinker by deferring to the school board on the “reasonableness” of the school’s action, or deciding these cases on the basis of the speech’s content," even as neither "students nor school officials enjoy clear awareness of students’ rights to free speech and expression, and students are subject to personal opinions of the school boards." 

Certainly Kort's contention is demonstrated by cases such as B.H. v. Easton Area School District (the "I heart boobies bracelet" case) in which a divided Third Circuit en banc held the students had First Amendment rights and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.  It's also illustrated by the Confederate flag wear cases, with the United States Supreme Court likewise recently denying certiorari. And Mary Beth Tinker, who is "on tour" encouraging students to exercise their First Amendment rights would undoubtedly agree that there needs to be more awareness.

Kort's solution is a revitalization of Tinker, so that courts actually apply Tinker (rather than its progeny - - - Fraser, Hazelwood, and Morse - - - that "chip away" at Tinker) and to apply the "substantial disruption" standard to mean a "imminent danger that a compelling state interest will be violated." 

While not all school speech cases involve attire and grooming regulations, a substantial portion do.  Kort's article will therefore be of special interest to advocates and scholars working in the continuing and contentious field of student dress codes and "dressing constitutionally."

April 6, 2014 in Federalism, First Amendment, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why McCutcheon Could Be Bad for the GOP

Peter Beinart argues over at The Atlantic that the Court's ruling this week in McCutcheon--that aggregate limits on campaign contributions violate the First Amendment--could haunt the Republican Party.  His claim: Over the long haul, McCutcheon will contribute to the Republican Party's reputation as the party of plutocrats.

From the piece:

A CNN poll this February found that . . . Americans . . . said Republican policies favored the rich over the middle class by a whopping 46 points.

The Supreme Court has now made overcoming that reputation harder. 

. . .

In the 1970s, a liberal Supreme Court fueled right-wing cultural populism.  Today, a conservative Supreme Court is breeding left-wing economic populism.  For the contemporary GOP, the danger of looking like the plaything of America's super-rich outweighs the benefits of increased support from America's super-rich.  Even in the age of the Roberts Court, winning elections generally requires more than just raising more money.  It requires winning more votes.

April 4, 2014 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

En Banc DC Circuit to Hear First Amendment Challenge to Mandatory Labeling of Meat Regulation

In an order today, the District of Columbia Circuit Court that American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture will be heard en banc.  Animated_cow

Recall that in its opinion last week, a panel of the DC Circuit upheld a requirement mandating the labeling of meat by country of origin.  Resolving the First Amendment challenge involves a construction of  Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel (1985), and the panel itself suggested that the "full court hear this case en banc to resolve for the circuit whether, under Zauderer, government interests in addition to correcting deception can sustain a commercial speech mandate that compels firms to disclose purely factual and non-controversial information."

Here's the issue as the court's order for simultaneous supplemental briefs phrases it:

Whether, under the First Amendment, judicial review of mandatory disclosure of "purely factual and uncontroversial" commercial information, compelled for reasons other than preventing deception, can properly proceed under Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985), or whether such compelled disclosure is subject to review under Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. PSC of New York, 447 U.S. 56 (1980).

The briefs are due April 21. 

 

April 4, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Second Circuit Holds NYC Can Ban Religious Services in School Buildings

Does a city policy governing "extended use" of school facilities that excludes permits for the "purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship" violate the First Amendment?

The Second Circuit in its opinion in Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Education of the City of New York answered in the negative, a majority of the panel holding that the policy, Regulation I.Q., does not violate either the Free Exercise Clause or the Establishment Clause.

If this controversy sounds familiar, that would not be surprising.  We discussed it here, and as today's opinion notes, the litigation has been "long-running," citing Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 650 F.3d 30 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Bronx Household IV”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 492 F.3d 89 (2d Cir. 2007) (“Bronx Household III”); Bronx Household of Faith v. Bd. of Educ. of City of New York, 331 F.3d 342 (2d Cir. 2003); Bronx Household of Faith v. Cmty. Sch. Dist. No. 10, 127 F.3d 207 (2d Cir. 1997). 

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Country School by Winslow Homer circa 1873 via

Today's opinion  - - - Bronx Household V - - - reverses the district judge's grant of an injunction on Free Exercise claims which were arguably not before the courts previously.  The majority of the Second Circuit panel, in an opinion by Judge Pierre Leval joined by Guido Calabresi, carefully refuted the district judge's reasoning.  In short, the panel majority held that Locke v Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (finding that the exclusion of devotional theology degree programs from eligibility for state scholarships does not violate Free Exercise Clause) was more apposite than Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)(holding that an ordinance "targeting" the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice merited strict scrutiny and violated the Free Exercise Clause). 

The panel rejected the argument that the Regulation I.Q. targets religion generally or targets religions that have worship services.  The panel also rejected the attempt to distinguish the scholarship in Locke v, Davey, noting that under the "extended use" policy, the city subsidizes the use of school facilities since the organizations can use the facilities without cost.  The panel also found that the city's desire not to violate the Establishment Clause was a valid one.  As the panel summarized:

In view of (1) the absence of discriminatory animus on the part of the Board against religion, or against religions that conduct worship services; (2) the bona fides and the reasonableness of the Board’s concern that offering school facilities for the subsidized conduct of religious worship services would create a substantial risk of incurring a violation of the Establishment Clause claim; and (3) the fact that the Board’s policy (a) leaves all persons and religions free to practice religion without interference as they choose, (b) treats all users, whether religious or secular, in identical fashion, and (c) imposes no burden on any religion, leaving all free to conduct worship services wherever they choose other than the Board’s schools; as well as the other reasons recited in this opinion and in Bronx Household IV, we conclude that Reg. I.Q. does not violate Plaintiffs’ rights to free exercise of religion, whether or not it is subject to strict scrutiny.

As to the Establishment Clause, the court rejected Bronx Household's argument that for the city to determine what constituted "religious worship services" would infringe the Establishment Clause.  Bronx Household relied upon Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & Sch. v. E.E.O.C., 132 S. Ct. 694 (2012) - - - an example of how doctrine has been changing during this protracted litigation - - - but the majority expressed a very different view:

Hosanna-Tabor, moreover, does not merely fail to support Bronx Household’s claim of Establishment Clause violation due to excessive entanglement by the Board; it actively contradicts the argument. This is because in Hosanna-Tabor the Supreme Court itself did precisely what the District Court found a governmental entity prohibited from doing.

In other words, when the United States Supreme Court "undertook to make its own determination whether the plaintiff was a minister subject to the ministerial exception," it engaged in the very same type of determination that Bronx Household argues would violate the Establishment Clause. 

If Senior Judge John Walker, dissenting, has his way, the Court might have a chance to discuss this Establishment Clause rationale again.  Walker contends that this "case presents substantial questions involving the contours of both religion clauses and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the resolution of which are ripe for Supreme Court review."  Most certainly, Bronx Household will be quoting that language in any petition seeking Supreme Court review.

April 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Court Strikes Aggregate Campaign Contribution Limits

A sharply divided Supreme Court today in McCutcheon v. FEC struck the aggregate federal campaign contribution limits.  The five-justice majority ruled that the limits violated the First Amendment.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito.  Justice Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Our most recent post on the case is here.

Recall that aggregate limits restrict the total amount of money an individual can contribute to all candidates, PACs, and parties.  Base limits, which were not at issue in the case, restrict the amount an individual can contribute to an individual candidate.  (The Court said that base limits are still constitutional, as are disclosure requirements.)

The majority said that under aggregate limits

A donor must limit the number of candidates he supports, and may have to choose which of several policy concerns he will advance--clear First Amendment harms that the dissent never acknowledges.

It also said that aggregate limits do not control quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of corruption--the reasons that the Court has upheld individual limits.

The Court said that the government had other ways to advance its anti-circumvention interest--the interest in preventing a single donor from circumventing base limits by giving to multiple recipients with the expectation that they funnel the contributions to one candidate.

The ruling deals another major blow, after Citizens United, to efforts to restrict the amount of money in politics.

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

DC Circuit Upholds Meat Labeling Requirement Against First Amendment Challenge

In its relatively brief but potentially exceedingly important opinion in American Meat Institute v. United States Dep't of Agriculture, the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a meat labeling rule requiring increased specificity.  As the court explained, the 2013 rule regarding country of origin newly required the "production step," so that

instead of saying, “Product of the United States,” a label for Category A meat will now read, “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States.” Similarly, Category B meat might now have to be labeled, “Born in X, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States,” and Category C meat “Born and Raised in X, Slaughtered in the United States.”

511px-Cowicon.svgThe meat producers argued that the new rule exceeded statutory authority and that it violated the First Amendment.  They sought a preliminary injunction which the district judge denied. 

The DC Circuit's First Amendment analysis rejects the meat producers' arguments that Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel (1985) should not be dispositive.  The panel opinion noted that Zauderer held that  mandated disclosures do not violate an advertiser’s First Amendment rights,  “as long as disclosure requirements are reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.”  But it rejected the meat producers' argument that the DC Circuit's opinion in Reynolds v. FDA held that Zauderer should be "applied only to disclosure mandates aimed at correcting deception" (emphasis in opinion).  The court noted that this interpretation also avoided a disagreement with other circuits, and also noted that "reasonable judges" could read Reynolds as so limiting Zauderer and thus suggested that the

full court hear this case en banc to resolve for the circuit whether, under Zauderer, government interests in addition to correcting deception can sustain a commercial speech mandate that compels firms to disclose purely factual and non-controversial information.

However, the panel provided its conclusion that other government interests were adequately served by the mandated labeling, including enabling

a consumer to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat. And it enables one who believes that United States practices and regulation are better at assuring food safety than those of other countries, or indeed the reverse, to act on that premise.

Certainly the labeling of meat is not the other type of labeling currently being litigated in the courts as the opinion itself discusses.  (I've elsewhere argued that mandating clothes be labeled sweat-free or not should survive a First Amendment challenge).  The DC Circuit might do well to take the suggest for en banc consideration given the issue's likelihood of recurring.

[image via]

UPDATE: The DC Circuit has granted en banc review.

March 28, 2014 in First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Oral Arguments in Wood v. Moss: The Complaint by the Anti-Bush Protestors

At the heart of this case is a very simple complaint: During a campaign stop by then-President Bush in Portland, Oregon, the Secret Service treated anti-Bush protestors differently from pro-Bush demonstrators, relocating the former while allowing the latter to remain. 

But the complaint raises a host of legal issues that ricocheted through the oral arguments {transcript} in Wood v. Moss at the United States Supreme Court today.

Portland_No_war_pdx
image from later protest in Portland via

The first issue is whether the complaint satisfied Ashcroft v. Iqbal, with Chief Justice Roberts specifically referring to the opinion during the oral argument of Steven Wilker, representing the Respondents, who were the protestors:

In Iqbal, and just quoting here from page 681, the Court goes on to consider the factual allegations in the complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement, and they go on to say, but given more likely explanations, they do not plausibly establish this purpose.

Roberts returned to Iqbal, stating that the Government's alternative explanation in its motion to dismiss the complaint "doesn't have to be so compelling.":

It simply has to be more likely, is the quote from Iqbal on 681, and it has to be an obvious alternative explanation. And that's enough, no matter what you've alleged.

There was certainly some concern expressed that without Iqbal, the district judge might have fewer "weapons" available to curb discovery, but there was also not uniform preoccupation with Iqbal, with Justice Breyer posing a hypothetical about discovery and saying "Forget Iqbal for the moment."

Yet another procedural barrier discussed by the Court is the doctrine of qualified immunity, requiring that the constitutional infringement be "clearly established" at the time it occurs in order to hold government agents accountable. The Government's best case in this regard is Reichle v. Howards, which counsel mentioned repeatedly, decided in 2012, which held that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejected the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance.

But there seemed to be an "aha" moment for Justice Scalia - - - who had previously accused the attorney for the government, Ian Gershengorn, Deputy Solicitor General, for not sufficiently raising such arguments - - - during Wilker's argument.  Scalia asked " how can it be  clearly established if we have never held that there is a Bivens cause of action for a First Amendment violation? We've never held that, have we? How can you possibly say that the violation here is clearly established."

MR. WILKER: Well, I think it's different to say whether or not there is a remedy for the violation as to whether the violation was clearly established.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, okay.

MR. WILKER: The violation was clearly established. Whether or not there is a remedy for that violation under Bivens - - -

JUSTICE SCALIA: That's a good point.

MR. WILKER:  - - - is a different question.

JUSTICE SCALIA: That's a good point.

Yet Scalia might not be convinced that there would actually be a First Amendment violation, given his repeated references to the Fourth Amendment in which motivation should not be considered. 

At several points, the oral argument did focus on the question of viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment, such as in the Deputy Solicitor's exchange with the Justice Ginsburg:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Mr. Gershengorn, suppose it's originally set up by the police, the motorcade is coming down, each side has equal access. Then the Secret Service comes along and said: Clear the anti­Bush demonstrators. Suppose that, that ­­ those were the facts. Would there be a valid Bivens claim?

MR. GERSHENGORN: Your Honor, the question would depend on whether there was a valid security rationale. I think in the context of a motorcade ­­

JUSTICE GINSBURG: The rationale is it's more likely that the people who are against the President would be harmful to him than the people who are for him.

Prätorianer
Roman Praetorian Guard via

Yet whether this case will be decided on the First Amendment issues - - - or more properly, whether the Court will decide that the First Amendment issue can be decided by the lower courts in spite of Iqbal and the qualified immunity doctrine - - - is balanced between two concerns expressed in the oral arguments. 

On the one hand, there is a concern for ability of the Secret Service to make security decisions to protect the President without being subject to second-guessing by possible plaintiffs and the courts themselves. 

On the other hand, there is the concern that there might develop a "Praetorian Guard" - - - as Justice Breyer stated - - - and that the trampling of First Amendment rights on the basis of viewpoint might be accepted.

As one of the cases on this Term's heavy First Amendment docket, its importance may be overshadowed, but it should not be underestimated.

March 26, 2014 in First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Supreme Court Declines Review of Arbitration Open Access Case

Today the United States Supreme Court denied review of Strine v. Delaware Coalition, a case in which a Third Circuit panel held that arbitration proceedings cannot be confidential under the First Amendment. 

As we previously discussed, the judges in the Third Circuit were quite divided; there were three opinions in the case.  But the majority conclusion requiring these high stakes commercial arbitrations allowed by Delaware law and performed by Delaware judges to not remain secret seems the correct one.  Especially if the First Amendment access to "trials" should continue to have substantive meaning.

450px-Le_secret
"le secret" via

 

It's always dangerous to speculate why the Supreme Court declines to enter the fray, but  it's worth noting that Delaware's secrecy scheme protecting commercial arbitration is rather unique.

March 24, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Illinois Supreme Court: State's Eavesdropping Statute Unconstitutional

Can a government criminalize the recording of conversations absent consent without violating the First Amendment, or perhaps the Due Process Clause?

In its opinion in People v. Clark, and a companion opinion in People v. Melongo, the Illinois Supreme Court held the state's statutory criminalization of eavesdropping unconstitutional.

Both cases relied upon ACLU v. Alvarez, in which the Seventh Circuit enjoined the statute from being applied to a Chicago police accountability program.

In Clark, the Illinois Supreme Court held that 720 ILCS 5/14-2(a)(1)(A), the eavesdropping statute, violated the First Amendment's overbreadth doctrine "because a substantial number of its applications are unconstitutional, judged in relation to the statute’s plainly legitimate sweep."  The court recognized the ubiquity of smartphones and other recording devices.

Smartphone_as_Child_Toy

Importantly for the court, the statute criminalized a "whole range of conduct involving the audio recording of conversations that cannot be deemed in any way private."  It gave these examples:

  1.  a loud argument on the street;
  2. a political debate in a park;
  3. the public interactions of police officers with citizens (if done by a member of the general public); and
  4. any other conversation loud enough to be overheard by others whether in a private or public setting.

Although the opinion in Clark is a brief 9 pages, it's substantial and well-reasoned.

Equally brief and well-reasoned, although somewhat more complex, is the companion opinion in Melongo.  The state argued that Melongo's First Amendment claim was not cognizable on appeal, unlike the Due Process claim, and that the constitutional claims were inconsistent with her defense at trial.  Nevertheless, the court found that the statutory provision was unconstitutional under the First Amendment for the same rationale as in Clark.  Melongo also raised a constitutional claim to the "publishing provision" of the statute, which further criminalizes the "publishing" of any recording made without consent.  The court similarly found this provision overbroad.

It will be interesting to see how the Illinois legislature responds.

 [image via]

March 24, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Finds Private Property Loitering Buffer Zone Violates First Amendment

In its relatively brief opinion in today in Bell v. City of Winter Park, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit found the portion of an ordinance allowing a 50 foot buffer zone around a private residence related to loitering violated the First Amendment. 

The ordinance provision, amending § 62-77, provided:

A person regularly residing in a ‘dwelling unit’, as that term is defined in Section 62-79, may post a ‘no loitering’ sign on the property of such residence in which the person regularly resides, and an officer of the City may enforce this section against any person remaining in a public area, including a park, sidewalk, street, public right-of-way, after the sign is posted, who loiters, stands, sits, or lies before or about the dwelling unit on which property the ‘no loitering’ sign is posted, or remains on public property within a buffer area as defined in Section 62-79, of fifty (50) feet from the property line of such residence.

The opinion by Judge Gerald Tjoflat (who has been a circuit court judge since 1975) reasoned that while the provision may look content neutral, it allowed private persons to prohibit speech in public fora for content or viewpoint reasons. 

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Jack Kerouac's House, near [in] Winter Park, Florida via

Further, there was "immense discretion." 

The amount of discretion § 62-77 provides is alarming. Private citizens are permitted to have the City regulate speech on traditional public fora for any reason. Additionally, § 62-77 provides no standards for enforcement, leaving City officers free to enforce the prohibition on the basis of the content or viewpoint of an individual’s speech. We therefore hold that § 62-77 is unconstitutional.

While reversing the district judge on this issue, the court did affirm the judge and uphold the constitutionality of another subsection of the ordinance, prohibiting "any person or persons to picket, protest or conduct any picketing or protesting activity within a buffer area of 50 feet from the property line of any dwelling unit in the City of Winter Park."  As the Eleventh Circuit panel correctly noted, this provision of the ordinance was "nearly on all fours" with Frisby v. Schultz, (1988). The Court in Frisby valued the "well-being, tranquility, and privacy of the home” and construed the law as a valid time, place, and manner regulation.

The court's distinction between "loitering" and "picketing" is a careful and noteworthy one.

March 20, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Minnesota Supreme Court Reverses Conviction for Advising or Encouraging Suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Daily Read: Media Coverage in the Pistorius Trial

The high profile trial of Oscar Pistorius may be South Africa's "OJ Simpson moment." Although there are certainly differences - - - Pistorius admits he fired the gunshots that killed his partner, Reeva Steenkamp; his defense is that he thought she was an intruder - - -  the televised trials and intense media interest are similar.

Yet the South African judge has had to contend with the question of how much graphic material to allow.

Over at Constitutionally Speaking, Pierre De Vos confronts the issues.  The original decision was to "grant permission to media houses to broadcast the Oscar Pistorius murder trial live on radio and television."  But then during the trial, there was a "ruling by Judge Masipa to ban live tweeting of the evidence of the pathologist, apparently to protect the sensibilities of the family of the deceased due to the potential graphic nature of the evidence" was "at best ill-advised."  Indeed, the judge later reversed  his own "decision to prohibit live tweeting of the pathologist’s evidence," but continued to ban the audio or audio-visual broadcasting of the pathologist's "testimony due to the possible graphic nature of the evidence."

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Amy Davidson, writing on the New Yorker Blog,  provides journalist context to the testimony in question; testimony that made Pistorius himself vomit. 

For comparative constitutionalists interested in conflicts of "free press" and "fair trial," the Pistorius trial is yet another case study.

[image of Oscar Pistorius via]

March 14, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Criminal Procedure, News, Speech, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Government Dismisses Bulk of Indictment Against Barrett Brown

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

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

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

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

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

This also leaves two other indictments against Brown. 

[image via]

 

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ohio's Dangerous Animals Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

 [image via]

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fisk and Chemerinsky on the First Amendment and Union Fair Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds School Ban of American Flag Shirt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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