Sunday, January 19, 2014
The D.C. Circuit on Friday remanded a case challenging President Obama's ban on registered lobbyists serving on advisory committees. The case, Autor v. Pritzker, means that the district court will have a second crack at determining whether the ban violates the First Amendment. The ruling suggests, but does not conclude, that the D.C. Circuit thinks that it does.
Appellants in the case are federally registered lobbyists wishing appointment to an Industry Trade Advisory Committee, or ITAC, a type of advisory committee established under the Trade Act of 1974. There are sixteen industry-specific ITACs that provide information and advice to the President on trade issues reflecting the viewpoints of the industry. As a result, ITAC members include representatives from major corporations.
But President Obama moved to bar lobbyists from serving on ITACs and other advisory committees in order to change "the culture of special-interest access" in Washington. In particular, he directed "the heads of executive departments and agencies not to make any new appointments or reappointments of federally registered lobbyists to advisory committees." This meant that the appellants couldn't serve on ITACs. Appellants sued, arguing that the ban violated the First Amendment--that service on an ITAC would require them to relinquish their free-speech rights.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that their complaint stated a First Amendment claim and that it shouldn't be dismissed. The court remanded the case for a determination of the First Amendment question.
The court distinguished Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight. In that case, the Court held that a union's ability to exclude non-union-members from participation in "meet and confer" sessions with government employers did not violate the First Amendment. Here, in contrast, the court wrote that "any burden on Appellants' constitutional rights results directly from the government's decision to bar them from ITAC membership."
The court instead drew on the government-employee speech doctrine. It ruled that the lobbyist ban might work a deprivation of a valuable benefit, service on a congressionally created ITAC, at the expense of federally registered lobbyists' free-speech rights. In other words, the ban might violate the unconstitutional conditions doctrine.
The court remanded the case for a calculation under Pickering of the "balance between the interests of the [appellants] . . . and the interests of the State." The court wrote,
In doing so, the district court should ask the parties to focus on the justification for distinguishing, as the lobbyist ban does, between corporate employees (who may represent their employers on ITACs) and the registered lobbyists those same corporations retain (who may not). The court may also want to ask the government to explain how banning lobbyists from committee composed of representatives of the likes of Boeing and General Electric protects the "voices of ordinary Americans."