Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Check out ConLawProfBlog's own Prof. Ruthann Robson's (CUNY) piece about her innovative and engaging approach to teaching the Religion Clauses in the Fall 2014 Law Teacher. (Robson's piece begins on page 49.) In it, Robson gives a step-by-step for a replicable, pervasive method that promises huge pedagogical payoffs--exactly the kind of thing we need more of in the Con Law world.
Robson, a leader in innovative and effective teaching who was featured in What the Best Law Teachers Do (Harvard), starts her First Amendment class by requiring students to develop and adopt a role in one of three categories: a recognized religion, a quasi-religion, and a non-religion. Robson then conducts her Religion Clause classes with her students in role, for example: "What do you think of this outcome, Student X, as a Rastafarian?"
The approach comes with distinct benefits and allows the class better to critically assess and analyze Religion Clause cases. Robson: "This role pervasiveness often illuminates the subjectivity of the Court's recitation of facts, as well as the reasoning, doctrine, theoretical perspectives, and the invocations of history."
Robson uses role pervasiveness for problems, too, assigning students to traditional legal roles (attorneys, judges, clerks, and the like) while still maintaining their assigned religion.
For example, Student Y, as a Sikh, now also takes on the role of a law clerk to a judge considering the constitutionality of the seventeen foot "Latin cross" at the National September 11 museum. Or Student Z, as a Secular Humanist, is writing an opinion as an administrative law judge in a sexual orientation discrimination case against a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
This not only enhances students' understanding of the Religion Clauses, but it also allows Robson to explore issues of professional identity.
Check it out; give it a try; tell us how it works for you.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Writing exam questions that engage with current controversies can themselves cause controversy.
Or that seems to be what happened at one law school when the ConLawProf sought to incorporate the Ferguson protests into a First Amendment exam hypothetical. Reportedly, this was the question:
"Write a memorandum for District Attorney Robert McCulloch on the constitutional merits of indicting Michael Brown's stepfather for advocating illegal activity when he yelled 'Burn this bitch down,' after McCulloch announced the grand jury's decision."
This seems like a plausible query, if a bit sparse on facts as related (depending on what students should be expected to know from what was covered in class). The controversy sparks in part from the exam's role assignment to work for the prosecutor. (As the report states: "But it's quite another thing to ask students to advocate for an extremist point that is shared by only the worst people in an exam setting. You don't give your students an exam where they have to defend Holocaust deniers or ISIS terrorists. It's inappropriate and not a fair measure of their understanding of law.")
However, the question's task (at least as I'm reading it) is to objectively discuss the merits. Would such a charge contravene the First Amendment? The issue calls for the articulation of the clear and present danger "test" as the professor's explanation of the question in the report attests. It also would call for an application of cases, depending on which cases were covered, such as Brandenburg v. Ohio (involving the Ku Klux Klan) and Hess v. Indiana (involving an anti-war protester). And, it seems to me that the prosecutor would have a very difficult time surmounting a First Amendment challenge to a charge, making an assignment to the prosecution side the more difficult one.
This should not make ConLawProfs shy away from using "controversial" material on exams, but to use them with care, with as much understanding of our students as possible, having listened to the concerns they bring forward in class discussions. Indeed, the report does suggest that the controversy is simply not this exam. There seem to be other issues including the lack of diversity at the law school. A lack of diversity could mean that a small number of students would be emotionally involved with the question in ways that other students would not. The same report contains a reaction from the dean and the professor, with an accommodation that this question will be disregarded in the grading of the exam.
Meanwhile, as has been widely reported, at least one law school is allowing some students to postpone final exams because of the controversies regarding the grand juries non-indictment in the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
(h/t Leis Rodriguez)
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Now that classes have begun, it's a good time for lawprofs to think about how we teach and interact with our students.
Published in the on-line "Footnote Forum" of City University of New York's law review, Professor Gabriel Arkles(pictured) has some very specific things to say about the trans* and gender non-comforming students in our classes. In his essay, Improving Law School for Trans* and Gender Nonconforming Students: Suggestions for Faculty, Arkles provides details of practices that "need improvement" and often specific suggestions for change. Here's one of special note for ConLawProfs:
Practice in need of change: In discussing Equal Protection doctrine, a constitutional law professor says, “But is sex really an immutable characteristic? Don’t some people get ‘sex changes’?” The class laughs, and the professor moves on.
This comment makes trans* people into the butt of a joke, assumes that no trans* people are in the room, gives no substantive attention to trans* issues in constitutional law, and plays into myths about trans* healthcare.
Arkles' essay is a thought-provoking and must-read this semester.
Monday, August 18, 2014
CALI has been updating its lessons this summer, including its Constitutional Law lessons.
There is an entirely new one "Marriage and Same-Sex Marriage in Constitutional Law" covering the basic constitutional issues and arguments in marriage with an emphasis on same-sex marriage litigation. It emphasizes understanding the Supreme Court's 2013 decisions in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, involving the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), respectively. The last section includes questions concerning the arguments in the issue of state bans on same-sex marriage that will be reaching the Court soon.
Other ConLaw Lessons of interest:
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Can a tenured professor, serving as a dean (or executive director) of the university's school of public health be terminated for publicly criticizing the university's restructuring plans?
This does not involve the new Kansas social media policy for academics, but the question that arose at the University of Saskatchewan this week; there's a good overview and links to the letter itself in this article from the Globe & Mail.
For Americans the situation seems close to the famous letter to the editor protected by the First Amendment in Pickering v. Board of Education. But recall Mr. Pickering was merely a teacher while Professor Buckingham at University of Saskatchewan was a dean charged with implementing the very policies he was criticizing, a situation akin to the one the Sixth Circuit confronted in Dixon v. University of Toledowhen considering a university human resources officer who made public statements inconsistent with the university's anti-discrimination policy that she had to enforce.
In recognition of this distinction, it seems now Buckingham has only been relieved of his duties as an administrator and may return to campus, seemingly complete with tenure.
Canadian ConLawProf Michael Plaxton (at the University of Saskatchewan) has a nuanced discussion in the Globe and Mail today.
Prompted by an incident last September involving the tweet of a journalism professor at the University of Kansas linking the NRA's Second Amendment advocacy to a gun shooting that left thirteen people dead - - - and the university's strong reaction to it - - - the Kansas Board of Regents engaged in a reconsideration of its "social media" policy.
An amended policy has finally been adopted.
It includes suggestions of a workgroup emphasizing academic freedom and the First Amendment.
Additionally, the new policy also attempts to digest the current state of First Amendment law:
3. The United States Supreme Court has held that public employers generally have authority to discipline their employees for speech in a number of circumstances, including but not limited to speech that:
i. is directed to inciting or producing imminent violence or other breach of the peace and is likely to incite or produce such action;
ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interests of the employer;
iii. discloses without lawful authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or
iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the employer, or otherwise adversely affects the employer's ability to efficiently provide services.
In determining whether an employee’s communication is actionable under subparagraph iv, the interest of the employer in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees must be balanced against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern.
While the policy may be a fair attempt to articulate Garcetti v. Ceballos, such an articulation does little to clarify the rights of publicly employed academics to speak - - - on social media or otherwise - - - about controversial issues. The current case before the United States Supreme Court, Lane v. Franks, is not likely to address the broader issues.
Returning to the journalism professor's tweet, now that there is an amended policy, is it any more clear that he could (or could not) be disciplined? Or will the policy merely chill speech?
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Grading, marking, and giving feedback on student exams, papers, and projects can be wearing, which perhaps explains why professors can succumb to the temptation to bemoan student "bloopers" and mistakes.
But at the end of this semester, a mistake in Justice Scalia's dissent in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation provides some perspective.
From the original opinion, here's the passage in Justice Scalia's dissent:
[Section] D. Plus Ça Change:
EPA’s Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority
The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the allocation problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Respondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is not for EPA or this Court to determine.
This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457 (2001), confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmaking—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect. . . .
And from the current opinion, here's the corrected passage:
[Section] D. Our Precedent
The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the allocation problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Respondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is for Congress, not this Court, to determine.
This is not the first time parties have sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457 (2001), confronted the contention that EPA should consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmaking—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect.
Justice Scalia misidentified the party that argued on behalf of considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking - - - an opinion that Justice Scalia authored in 2001 - - - and reversed it. Indeed, the EPA opposed considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking.
Why the mistake? Blame law clerks or sloppiness. Recite "to err is human." Or perhaps the mistake simply fit with the dissent's "shadow argument" (the EPA has been on a quest to expand its authority, as conveyed in the subtitle to the section) and so the actual fact became misremembered or overlooked.
But whatever the possible explanations, it's a good reminder for professors as we read "mistakes" by students who are, afterall, students, and do not have law clerks, proofreaders, years of experience, the highest position in the legal field, or the ability to correct mistakes after the final version of the exam or paper is submitted.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Largely reversing a district judge's opinion that had found various provisions of Pennyslvania's Funeral Director Law unconstitutional on various grounds, the Third Circuit opinion in Heffner v. Murphy upholds the law except for its restriction on the use of trade names as violative of the First Amendment.
One key to the panel's decision is that it surmised that the district judge's conclusions regarding the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's Funeral Director Law (FDL), enacted in 1952, "stem from a view that certain provisions of the FDL are antiquated in light of how funeral homes now operate." But, the Third Circuit stated, that is not a "constitutional flaw."
The challenged statutory provisions included ones that:
(1) permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the Board;
(2) limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may possess an ownership interest;
(3) restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment;
(4) restrict the number of funeral establishments in which a funeral director may practice his or her profession;
(5) require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor;
(6) require funeral establishments to have a “preparation room”;
(7) prohibit the service of food in a funeral establishment;
(8) prohibit the use of trade names by funeral homes;
(9) govern the trusting of monies advanced pursuant to pre-need contracts for merchandise; and
(10) prohibit the payment of commissions to agents or employees.
The constitutional provisions invoked - - - and found valid by the district judge - - - included the Fourth Amendment, the "dormant" commerce clause, substantive due process, the contract clause, and the First Amendment, with some provisions argued as violating more than one constitutional requirement.
In affirming the district judge's finding that the trade names prohibition violated the First Amendment, the Third Circuit applied the established four part test from Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. v. Public Service Commission regarding commercial speech and found:
The restrictions on commercial speech here are so flawed that they cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny. Indeed, the District Court correctly identified the pivotal problem concerning the FDL’s proscription at Central Hudson’s third step: by allowing funeral homes to operate under predecessors’ names, the State remains exposed to many of the same threats that it purports to remedy through its ban on the use of trade names. A funeral director operating a home that has been established in the community, and known under his or her predecessor’s name, does not rely on his or her own personal reputation to attract business; rather, the predecessor’s name and reputation is determinative. Nor does a funeral home operating under a former owner’s name provide transparency or insight into changes in staffing that the Board insists is the legitimate interest that the State’s regulation seeks to further.
ConLawProfs looking for a good review or even a possible exam question, might well take a look at the case. It also seems that the Pennsylvania legislature might well take a look at its statutory scheme, which though largely constitutional, does seem outdated.
February 20, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Last Term, the United States Supreme Court's First Amendment docket was decidedly light. This Term, there are many First Amendment (and quasi-First Amendment) issues before the Court.
Recall last Term's First Amendment case - - - Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society - - - the "prostitution pledge" case - - - which we discussed here. The relatively brief 15 page majority opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts over a dissent by Justice Scalia (joined by Thomas). The opinion resolved a split in the circuits and added a doctrinal clarification (or perhaps merely a wrinkle) to compelled speech/ unconstitutional conditions doctrine, but cannot fairly be called a landmark case.
This Term, there is a bounty of First Amendment cases before the Court.
In alphabetical order, they include:
- Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Sebelius & Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Perhaps the most contentious cases this Term are these religious-based challenges to the contraception “mandate” of the Affordable Care Act. The cases (and similar cases pending throughout the federal courts) involve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is intertwined with First Amendment Free Exercise principles and doctrine. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here, with links to the circuit court opinions; and a survey of recent commentaries is here. Oral argument is scheduled for March 25.
- Harris v. Quinn
The well-established rule that non-union public employees can be compelled to pay union dues for the union's collective bargaining activities (but not the union's political activities) is the subject of this First Amendment challenge in the employment context of home health care providers. Our extensive coverage of the issues is here. Oral arguments were held January 21 and our analysis is here.
- Lane v. Franks
The Eleventh Circuit summarily applied Garcetti v. Ceballos in this First Amendment challenge to an alleged retaliatory termination of a public employee for revealing misconduct and testifying at the criminal trials of a former state senator. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari January 17 is here.
- McCullen v. Coakley
This is a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts statute creating a fixed thirty-five-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of medical facilities, including abortion clinics. The First Circuit had rejected both the facial and as-applied challenges. Oral arguments were held January 15 and our analysis is here.
- McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission
This campaign finance case is a First Amendment challenge to the aggregate limits under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, or BCRA, which cap the total amount that a contributor can give to candidates, political parties, and political committees. Oral arguments were held October 8, 2013 and our analysis is here.
- Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus
This case is a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements. As we explained when the Court granted certiorari earlier in January, the case involves both the First Amendment and Article III, with the Sixth Circuit having determined that the case was not ripe and thus not reaching the First Amendment challenge.
- Town of Greece v. Galloway This case is an Establishment Clause challenge to New York town's practice of opening its council meetings with prayers, the large majority of which have been Christian. The Second Circuit had held that the town council's practice "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity." The Solicitor General filed a brief supporting the town. Oral arguments were held in early November and our analysis is here.
- United States v. Apel
Whether or not the First Amendment is relevant in this case involving a protest outside military installation is part of the issue. The Ninth Circuit did not reach the First Amendment issue, but decided the case on the particularities of statutory interpretation and the property in question, reversing the defendant's conviction. At the oral argument in early December, ConLawProf Erwin Chemerinsky, arguing for Apel, consistently raised the First Amendment and was consistently rebuffed, as we discussed here.
- Wood v. Moss
Whether or not the First Amendment is relevant in this case (as in Apel, above) is also an issue. The central arguments involve qualified immunity, but questions of viewpoint discrimination arise given that there were different "protest zones" for pro-Bush and anti-Bush demonstrators. Oral argument is scheduled for March 26, 2014.
ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment this semester have much that could be incorporated in their courses regarding this Court's Term. And First Amendment watchers, scholars, and practitioners may see some important changes.
Wednesday, January 1, 2014
Sunday, December 1, 2013
While the Guy Fawkes mask is identified with the Occupy movement and with "Anonymous," it has reportedly been adopted by at least one protestor against health care reform - a Florida protestor who was also a police officer carrying a hand gun.
As we've previously discussed, First Amendment challenges to the criminalization of wearing a mask have not been very successful, but there are definitely valid constitutional arguments.
For ConLaw Profs drafting exam questions, this could be an interesting issue, especially if it were integrated into the other challenges to the PPACA, such as the recent grant of certiorari in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, including Judge Rovner's hypotheticals.
More about the arrest and Florida statutory scheme is here.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
As widely expected, United States Supreme Court has granted the petitions for writ of certiorari to the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius as well as to the Third Circuit's divided opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services.
In lengthy opinions, the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby essentially divided 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees.
The majority of the Third Circuit panel opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation, articulated the two possible theories under which a for-profit secular corporation might possess Free Exercise rights and rejected both. First, the majority rejected the notion that the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation could "directly" exercise religion in accord with Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n (2010), distinguishing free speech from free exercise of religion. Second, the majority rejected the so-called "pass through" theory in which for-profit corporations can assert the free exercise rights of their owners, and concluded that the PPACA did not actually require the persons who are owners to "do" anything.
For ConLaw Profs, here are some useful links: A discussion of the most recent circuit case, decided earlier in November by the Seventh Circuit, is here; a digest of the previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here, some interesting hypotheticals (good for teaching and exam purposes) as posed by Seventh Circuit Judge Rovner are here, ConLawProf Marci Hamilton's discussion is here, a critique of the sincerity of claims in Eden Foods is here, a discussion of the district judge's opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, a discussion of the Tenth Circuit en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, and the SCOTUSblog page with briefs is here.
[image: Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey via]
November 26, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Religion, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, November 17, 2013
The issue of religious freedom for secular for-profit corporations, whether under the statutory scheme of Religious Freedom Restoration Act or the First Amendment, in the context of the ACA's so-called contraceptive mandate is a contentious and complicated one. Here's an overview of (and reaction to) the issue and cases; after which the Seventh Circuit (again) rendered an opinion.
For those teaching, writing, or thinking about the issues, Judge Ilana Rovner (pictured), dissenting in the Seventh Circuit's opinion in the consolidated cases of Korte v. Sebelius and Grote v. Sebelius, offers three provocative hypotheticals. [For those interested in more about Judge Rovner, there's an interesting interview from the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism in a brief video available here].
Rovner's hypotheticals draw on the ACA as well as other federal laws and are especially helpful because they provide the statutory schemes as well as the facts.
In the first, an employee has ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and has been accepted into a clinical trial testing the effectiveness of an embryonic stem-cell therapy on ALS. The employer software company/owner's plan would cover only the costs of the employee's routine care associated with the stem cell therapy, and not the costs of the stem cell therapy itself, but the employer nevertheless believes that by covering routine care, the company plan would be facilitating his participation in a practice to which he objects on religious grounds.
In the second, the employer corporation's sole owner is "a life-long member of the Church of Christ, Scientist. Christian Science dogma postulates that illness is an illusion or false belief that can only be addressed through prayer which realigns one’s soul with God." The owner believes that "his company’s compliance with the ACA’s mandate to cover traditional medical care would be a violation of his religious principles."
In the third hypothetical, the employer corporation's owners condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality as part of their religious views. One of their employees seeks time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to attend, with his husband, the birth of their child through a surrogate arrangement. The employers not only refuse the unpaid leave under the FLMA, they terminate him, because neither the owners nor their company can in any way recognize or facilitate such an immoral arrangement against their religious beliefs.
These hypotheticals would make a terrific in class discussion. They appear on pages 68 - 76 of the opinion; and for convenience, without accompanying footnotes, below.
November 17, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Interpretation, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, November 4, 2013
Here's a terrific exploration in video form of the decision and its impact on Pasadena, Texas, by Kali Borkoski of SCOTUSBlog.
This short clip would be an excellent in-class introduction to the issues - - - and could be updated depending on the outcome of the local election.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerald F. Hess, and Sophie M. Sparrow recently published an outstanding volume, What the Best Law Teachers Do (Harvard). As the title says, the book is a compilation of the best practices of the best teachers in our field. It should be at the top of the reading list of any law professor.
We're thrilled at the ConLawProfBlog that our own Ruthann Robson is one of just 26 professors featured in the book. (Other con-law-familiar names include Julie Nice and Heather Gerkin.) Prof. Robson is profiled throughout the book, on everything from class prep to engaging students to providing feedback and evaluation--offering plenty of best-practices for any con law prof. Check it out.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
According to a report in the Kansas City Star, David Guth, a journalism professor at University of Kansas has been placed on "administrative leave" for his tweet about after last week's shooting leaving 13 dead at the DC Navy Yard.
"The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
While there is an implication that some in the KU Administration might believe this constitutes advocacy of violence, it's doubtful that the tweet would rise to this level. It certainly does not rise to the level of a threat: Compare the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Bagdasarian and a finding of true threats in a blog post by the Second Circuit in United States v. Turner.
There is also the question of the lack of due process accorded to Professor Guth, as some have noted.
But perhaps most relevant is the Ninth Circuit's recent opinion in Demers v. Austin. Certainly Guth's tweet is a matter of public concern and he was speaking as a private citizen rather than as a public employee. On this view, his speech should be protected under the First Amendment. Moreover, Guth's tweet does not present the kind of close case presented in Demers and there should be little credit to claims of qualified immunity.
Guth's "personal blog" (as the blog itself proclaims) deserves similar First Amendment protection. (The blog entry for September 16, 2013 entitled "Where Do You Stand?" discusses the Navy Yard incident).
Like the so-called "political rant" last week by another academic, this would make a terrific in class exercise for those teaching First Amendment.
Monday, September 23, 2013
The folks at the Comparative Constitutions Project created an excellent new resource, Constitute, an on-line, searchable, and topic-tagged collection of the constitutions of the world. (H/t to Michael Huggins.) The site is quite user-friendly and offers a terrific and easy way to bring comparative constitutionalism into your classroom or to search for comparative provisions in world constitutions for your writing.
Constitute currently includes every constitution in force as of September this year, with plans to include a version of every available constitution written since 1789.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Fourth Circuit's opinion in Bland v. Roberts addresses whether Sheriff Roberts violated the First Amendment rights of the six plaintiffs by terminating their employment in retailiation for their support of his opponent in an election, and whether Roberts has immunity. The court reverses in part the grant of summary judgment to the sheriff by the district judge.
As the panel notes, the applicable doctrine is a merging of public employee speech doctrine, especially their rights to speak as private citizens which was clearly the case here, and "the established jurisprudence governing the discharge of public employees, because of their political beliefs and affiliation," as in Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980).
An important question for some of the plaintiffs was whether some of their actions "on Facebook" met the First Amendment threshold of "speech." The district court had concluded that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” but the Fourth Circuit panel disagreed. Its discussion of Fabeook's "like" - - - citing the amicus brief of Facebook, Inc. and posts on the Facebook site such as "What is a Facebook Page?" - - - led to its conclusion that once one understands the nature of what one of the plaintiffs
did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.
Moreover, the importance of Facebook was clear, given that Sheriff Roberts "specifically warned his employees not to support [his rival] Adams through Facebook." Roberts also seemingly specifically "threatened that Adams supporters would not be reappointed."
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit panel found that three of the six plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to create a jury question. Additionally, the panel found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity given the state of the law and Eleventh Amendment immunity as to money damanges, but not on the issue of reinstatement.
Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, a Maryland District Judge sitting by designation, wrote separately to dsisagree on the issue of qualified immunity on the state of the law.
The majority concludes that, at the relevant time, “a reasonable sheriff could have believed he had the right to choose not to reappoint his sworn deputies for political reasons,” and, on this basis, it determines that Sheriff Roberts is protected by qualified immunity with respect to his discharge of [the three plaintiffs]. In my view, when these deputies were discharged in December 2009, the law was clearly established that a sheriff’s deputy with the job duties of a jailer could not be fired on the basis of political affiliation.
This case will most likely be cited and known for its finding of "like" on Facebook as speech. But in addition, with its interweaving First Amendment issues and its questions of qualified immunity, Eleventh Amendment and otherwise, this case could be the basis of an interesting in-class exercise - - - or even exam question - - - for ConLawProfs.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Teaching and learning Marbury v. Madison (1803) can be challenging. As Steven Schwinn has highlighted, I've presented at AALS on innovative ways to use powerpoint using Marbury as an example. And I've also authored the CALI Lesson on Marbury v. Madison, which stresses understanding the case's historical importance and recognizing its use in contemporary constitutional litigation.
Marbury v. Madison is not only iconic, it's ironic. One way to have students "own" the irony is to have them create a single powerpoint slide that represents the meaning of the case's ironies. This is no easy task. In The Ironies of Marbury v. Madison and Marshall's Judicial Statesmanship, 37 J. Marshall L. Rev. 391(2004), Con Law Prof Samuel Olken explained the various levels of irony in the decision, but the central one on which we focus in class is Marshall's solidifying the (greater) power of judicial review to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional by refusing the power of jurisdiction granted by Congress to issue a writ of mandamus to Marbury.
But students are not limited to powerpoint slides; they can use any creative way to portray their point.
This year, two students, Daniel McCarey and Chloe Serinsky submitted a composition and posted it on You Tube where it will join the ranks of other takes on Marbury, from a serious talking head version to the explicit language rap version that we also discussed.
Their version is indebted to Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic" and arguably uses irony in a more correct (if more legal scholarly) sense.
They've posted their lyrics on the You Tube site. The description of judicial power as having "more juice" is nice, isn't it? But I do love this:
Statute in the left hand
Constitution in the right
Judicial review was the power
To strike that statute outta sight
A different group of five other students also took a musical tack. Collaborating, 1L students Alexandra De Leon, Alexandria Nedd, Carolina Garcia, Steffi Romano, and Vincce Chan, submitted a power point slide with the music from Drake's song
and their rewritten lyrics for a composition now entitled "From the Congressional Dream to the Judicial Machine." Here's a sample:
Congress just wants credit where it’s due
You say it’s written in the constitution…says who?
Extending the Supremacy Clause was Marshall's
Refusing Section thirteen to keep the appellate and not the original jurisdiction
Declining more power, but acquiring Judicial greatness
Marshall limited Legislative power by striking down the excess
Oh how ironic,
Refusing power made the Supreme Court iconic ...
Thursday, September 5, 2013
As reported in The Detroit News this afternoon, a Michigan State University creative writing professor and novelist, William S. Penn, has been relieved of his teaching duties by administration for his anti-conservative and anti-Republican remarks made during class.
Penn is a highly regarded writer and professor whose work often centers on his Native American/Anglo identity. For example, his 1996 creative nonfiction book, All My Sins are Relatives, won a North American Indian prose award.
Given the current constructions of the Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, Penn will have a difficult time showing he is speaking as a citizen rather than as a government employee and thus entitled to First Amendment protection. Indeed, the Sixth Circuit in Evans-Marshall v. Board of Education of Tipp City, which we discussed when it was decided in 2010, upheld the termination of a high school creative writing teacher who assigned Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. To explore that book’s theme of government censorship, she also developed an assignment based on the American Library Association's "banned books."
However, when the Sixth Circuit rejected the "academic freedom" argument of Evans-Marshall, it opined that such a concept is limited to universities and does not extend to high schools. As a university professor, Penn may have a better chance at making an academic freedom argument.
This could make a terrific in class exercise for ConLawProfs teaching First Amendment.
UPDATE: Take a look at the new Ninth Circuit opinion regarding academic freedom and Garcetti. This would substantially improve Penn's position if adopted by the Sixth Circuit.
UPDATE 2: Statement of the MSU AAUP Chapter in support of academic freedom (and further fact intvestigation).