Friday, December 6, 2019
SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in First Amendment Challenge to Delaware Constitution's Judicial Appointment Provision
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Adams v. Carney, Governor of Delaware in which the Third Circuit held several sections of the Delaware Constitution regarding the selection of judges violated the First Amendment.
Centrally, the Delaware Constitution, Art IV §3 seeks to achieve a partisan balance in the judiciary and provides that appointments to the state judiciary "shall at all times be subject to the following limitations":
First, three of the five Justices of the Supreme Court in office at the same time, shall be of one major political party, and two of said Justices shall be of the other major political party.
Second, at any time when the total number of Judges of the Superior Court shall be an even number not more than one-half of the members of all such offices shall be of the same political party; and at any time when the number of such offices shall be an odd number, then not more than a bare majority of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party, the remaining members of such offices shall be of the other major political party.
Third, at any time when the total number of the offices of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Judges of the Superior Court, the Chancellor and all the Vice-Chancellors shall be an even number, not more than one-half of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party; and at any time when the total number of such offices shall be an odd number, then not more than a bare majority of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party; the remaining members of the Courts above enumerated shall be of the other major political party.
In its opinion, the Third Circuit panel found that this political balancing violated the First Amendment, concluding that it was not within the protections for political policymakers of Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980). The Third Circuit found that even assuming that "judicial political balance is a vital Delaware interest," Delaware failed to demonstrate that this goal could not be realized using less restrictive means of infringing on the plaintiff's associational interests.
And while the Third Circuit found that the plaintiff, a retired Delaware attorney who belonged to neither major party. lacked standing to challenge the Delaware constitutional provisions regarding Family Court and the Court of Common Pleas. The United States Supreme Court, however, has directed briefing on the issue of Article III standing, presumably pertinent to the other provisions.
Sunday, November 24, 2019
Judge Carl J. Nichols (D.D.C.) earlier this week ordered House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal to provide President Trump and the court contemporaneous notice if he seeks President Trump's tax returns under New York's TRUST Act. Judge Nichols further ordered Chair Neal not to receive the tax returns for 14 days after any request.
The order is designed to allow the court to determine whether a request is valid. Without the notice and delay requirements, Chair Neal could request, and receive, the records without President Trump's knowledge, let alone his challenge, then immediately mooting his claim.
New York's TRUST Act authorizes certain congressional leaders to request and receive certain public officials' state tax returns, including the tax returns of the president, without providing prior notice to the officials. After enactment, President Trump sued, arguing that the TRUST Act violated Article I, because such a request would lack a legitimate legislative purpose, and the First Amendment. He also sought emergency relief under the All Writs Act, asking the court for an order that would allow the parties to litigate the legality of any request for his state returns before New York authorities would release them (and thus render any challenge moot).
Congressional Democrats moved to dismiss, arguing that they were immune from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause, and that President Trump lacked standing.
The court ruled that it couldn't yet determine whether Chair Neal would be immune from suit under the Speech and Debate Clause, because he hasn't yet requested the records. The court said that Speech & Debate immunity turns on whether any request would concern matters "on which legislative could be had," and thus turns on legislative purpose. But because nobody has made a request, the court can't determine the purpose of any request.
As to standing, the court ruled that President Trump has standing: because "[t]he risk of future harm to Mr. Trump thus requires just a single step by a single actor, Chairman Neal, who is a party to this litigation," "there is sufficiently substantial risk that future harm could occur to warrant limited relief under the All Writs Act."
The court then ordered that Chair Neal inform President Trump and the court at the same time when he makes any request, and not to receive the tax returns for 14 days after. According to the court, this "will prevent Mr. Trump's claims from becoming ripe and then moot almost simultaneously without notice to him or the Court."
November 24, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
The Seventh Circuit earlier this month rejected Mark Janus's claim for retroactive fair-share fees he paid to AFSCME, before the Court struck fair-share fees under the First Amendment in Janus.
The ruling is the first in a circuit court to address whether workers in a union shop are entitled to retroactive fair-share fees that they paid before Janus. District courts that have ruled on the issue are unanimous in rejecting the claims.
A contrary ruling--one putting public sector unions on the hook for retroactive fair-share fees--could be (even more) devastating to public sector unions.
Recall that the Court struck mandatory fair-share fees for public-sector unions in Janus. That was huge, because the case overturned a 1977 ruling, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that upheld those fees.
After Janus came down, the plaintiff in that case, Mark Janus, sued again, this time to get back fees he paid before the Supreme Court struck them. AFSCME argued that it collected those fees in good-faith reliance on Abood and therefore wasn't required to repay them.
The Seventh Circuit agreed with AFSCME. But it also emphasized the narrowness of its decision:
It is not true, as Mr. Janus charges, that this defense will be available to "every defendant that deprives any person of any constitutional right." We predict that only rarely will a party successfully claim to have relied substantially and in good faith on both a state statute and unambiguous Supreme Court precedent validating that statute.
The issue is brewing in several other circuits.
Monday, November 4, 2019
In a 28 page complaint filed in New York state courts opening the case Carroll v. Trump, E. Jean Carroll has sued the president for one count of defamation.
The argument is that the president is "sued here only in his personal capacity" and implicitly that there is no presidential immunity, noting cases in which President Trump has been a plaintiff in his personal capacity, and further citing "a related case" of Zervos v. Trump in which Trump is a defendant. Recall that a New York appellate court considering Zervos earlier this year held that Trump was not immunized from defending a lawsuit in state court.
Interestingly, this paragraph avers that Trump is a "resident" of New York; Trump announced a few days ago that he had filed a "declaration of domicile" in Florida. There are other aspects of personal jurisdiction and there is no amount in the complaint that might satisfy the threshold for removal to federal court for diversity purposes.
The complaint provides a compelling explanation of E. Jean Carroll's silence about the 1995 or 1996 event in which she alleges Trump raped her in a department store dressing room as well as the rationales for changing her mind, including the death of her mother and the burgeoning #MeToo movement response to Harvey Weinstein.
As to the substantive allegations, Carroll highlights three statements — made on June 21, 22, and 24 — that were widely disseminated and accused Carroll of lying about the incident, of inventing the incident for book sales, of inventing the incident for a "political agenda," of lying about incidents with other men, and stating that Trump did not know her, had never met her, and that she was "not his type." On reputational damages, the complaint avers that since the defamation she lost the "support and goodwill" of many of the readers of her advice column, resulting in "roughly 50% fewer letters" to which she could respond, noting that as an advice columnist she requires a "steady flood of compelling letters" seeking her advice.
Expect Trump's answer — or more probably motion to dismiss — to raise the same immunity defense as in Zervos despite the appellate court decision and perhaps a jurisdictional argument.
Thursday, October 24, 2019
The Illinois Supreme Court last week upheld the state's revenge-porn law against a First Amendment challenge. The ruling rebuffed an appeal by a criminal defendant charged with violating the law.
The case, People v. Austin, tested Illinois's effort to criminalize revenge porn. The law provides as follows:
(b) A person commits non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images when he or she:
(1) intentionally disseminates an image of another person:
(A) who is at least 18 years of age; and
(B) who is identifiable from the image itself or information displayed in connection with the image; and
(C) who is engaged in a sexual act or whose intimate parts are exposed, in whole or in part; and
(2) obtains the image under circumstances in which a reasonable person would know or understand that the image was to remain private; and
(3) knows or should have known that the person in the image has not consented to the dissemination.
The court first ruled that the law doesn't cover material in any categorical exception to free speech (like incitement, true threats, obscenity, etc.), and it declined to establish a new exception.
It next ruled that the law is a content-neutral restriction on speech: "There is no criminal liability for the dissemination of the very same image obtained and distributed with consent. The manner of the image's acquisition and publication, and not its content, is thus crucial to the illegality of its dissemination." The court went on to hold that the act satisfies intermediate scrutiny, because it serves the state's interest in protecting privacy and "the substantial government interests of protecting Illinois residents from nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images would be achieved less effectively" without it.
The court rejected arguments that the act was overbroad or vague.
The dissent argued that the act was content-based, because "one must look at the content of the photo to determine whether it falls within the purview of the statute," and that it failed strict scrutiny because it lacked a specific intent element. "Instead, simply viewing an image sent in a text message and showing it to the person next to you could result in felony charges."
Wednesday, October 2, 2019
District Court Halts Enforcement of California Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Taxes
Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., (E.D. Cal.) granted President Trump's motion for a preliminary injunction yesterday and halted enforcement of California's new requirement that presidential primary candidates file their income tax returns with the state before gaining a place on the primary ballot.
The ruling puts a temporary stop to California's effort to press President Trump to reveal his tax returns.
The case tests California's requirement that candidates in the California primary election for president file their tax returns with the state before the state will list them on the ballot. Here's the measure:
Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not print the name of a candidate for President of the United States on a primary election ballot, unless the candidate, at least 98 days before the presidential primary election, files with the Secretary of State copies of every income tax return the candidate filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years.
California said that it adopted the measure in order to help its voters make an informed choice among candidates in the primary election. But it was pretty clearly a blunt effort to force President Trump to file his tax returns, which the state could then make public.
The court ruled that the requirement likely violated the Article II Qualifications Clause, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause.
As to Qualifications, the court drew on U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, where the Court struck Arkansas's effort to impose term limits on its members of Congress. The Court in Thornton ruled that the state's term limits impermissibly added a qualification to its members of Congress over and above the minimum qualifications set in the Article I Qualifications Clause. Judge England ruled that the same principle applies to a state's additional qualifications over and above the minimums set in the Article II Qualifications Clause, and that California's requirement amounts to just such an additional qualification.
As to the First Amendment, Judge England held that California's requirement amounts to a "severe restriction" on the right to access the ballot, the right to political association, the right to vote, and the right to express political preferences. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the requirement failed.
Finally, as to equal protection, Judge England held that the requirement impermissibly treated partisan primary candidates differently than independent candidates (who are not subject to the requirement). "The State lacks any valid interest in providing voters with more information about party-backed candidates than independent candidates, especially when such requirements can lead to the exclusion of only major party candidates on the ballot."
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Arizona Supreme Court Finds Religious Exemption for Same-Sex Wedding Invitations Despite Nondiscrimination Ordinance
In lengthy and sharply divided opinion in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, the Arizona Supreme Court has held that a custom wedding invitation company and its proprietors have a right to refuse to express to make invitations for same-sex weddings under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, providing that "Every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right," as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act (“FERA”), A.R.S. § 41-1493.01. This right prevailed over the City of Phoenix’s Ordinance, as amended in 2013, which prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against persons based on their status in a “protected” group, which includes a person’s sexual orientation. Phx., Ariz., City Code (“PCC”) § 18-4(B). As the majority made clear, however, its holding was " limited to Plaintiffs’ creation of custom wedding invitations that are materially similar to those contained in the record," and did not "recognize a blanket exemption from the Ordinance for all of Plaintiffs’ business operations," or reach the question of other wedding services. The court appended illustrative samples in the appendix (and see below).
The opinion rests on the independent ground of the state constitution and is thus insulated from federal review (given that no other constitutional right is at issue). The majority notes that the free expression provision of the state constitution "by its terms" "provides broader protections for free speech than the First Amendment."
Nevertheless, the majority extensively relies upon United States Supreme Court cases. The citations include the Court's 2018 opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, although in Masterpiece there was a conclusion that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, enforcing its state nondiscrimination statute, expressed hostility on the basis of religion in its adjudication of the case - an issue that is not raised by the multiple opinions in Brush & Nib. The majority traces some of the rationales in the Masterpiece arguments: finding that the same-sex wedding invitations with their art and calligraphy (like the cake-baking) is "art" and speech, and finding that nondiscrimination ordinance seeks to compel their speech in support of beliefs they do not hold, such as same-sex marriage. The majority thus applies strict scrutiny, holding that a nondiscrimination public accommodations law is not a compelling governmental interest, and that such laws target conduct rather than speech and it is therefore not narrowly tailored.
Three of the seven Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court dissented. The dissenting opinion that all three Justices joined found that there was a tension between "our fundamental values of liberty and equality," but because "the interest in preventing discrimination is compelling, equality prevails when we are dealing with public accommodations such as businesses serving the public." The dissenters also argued that "the majority implausibly characterizes a commercially prepared wedding invitation as “pure speech” on the part of the business selling the product and discounts the compelling public interest in preventing discrimination against disfavored customers."
And while this case is not suitable for certiorari to the Supreme Court, this issue will most likely recur in Arizona given the majority's attempt to limit the decision and the sharp divisions on the court; just as it will be recurring elsewhere.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Victory Processing v. Fox that Montana's ban on political robocalls violates the First Amendment. The ruling strikes the ban.
Montana's robocall statute reads as follows:
A person may not use an automated telephone system, device, or facsimile machine for the selection and dialing of telephone numbers and playing of recorded messages if a message is completed to the dialed number for the purpose of . . . promoting a political campaign or any use related to a political campaign.
A robocall company sued, arguing that the provision violated free speech. The Ninth Circuit agreed.
The court ruled that the provision is a content-based restriction on speech, and that it fails strict scrutiny. The court said that while the state had a compelling interest for enacting the provision--the protection of personal privacy--the ban wasn't narrowly tailored to achieve that end. In particular, the court said that the ban was underinclusive with respect to protecting personal privacy, because it singles out only political robocalls and four other topics for robocalling, but "leaves consumers open to an 'unlimited proliferation' of robocalls on other topics. The court also said the ban was also overinclusive, in that it regulates only "categories of robocalling that have not been shown to pose a threat . . . ."
The ruling aligns with Cahaly v. Larosa, 796 F.3d 399, a 2015 Fourth Circuit case also striking a ban on political robocalling.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
In a well-considered opinion in Karem v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, Rudolph Contreras, issued a preliminary injunction requiring the defendants President Trump and White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham to restore the "hard pass" press credential to plaintiff Brian Karem.
As Judge Contreras explained, the "hard pass" is a long term press pass that the White House has made available for "decades and across many presidential administrations" to "any Washington-based journalist who regularly covers the President and can clear a Secret Service background check." In 1977, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals held that reporters have a First Amendment liberty interest in possessing a long-term so-called “hard pass”—an interest that, under the Fifth Amendment, may not be deprived without due process, Sherrill v. Knight, 569 F.2d 124 (D.C. Cir. 1977).
The defendants admitted that the revocation of Karem's hard pass was punitive. The revocation of Karem's hard pass came three weeks after an incident in the Rose Garden which Judge Contreras describes in detail, noting that the incident was captured on video and shared widely on the internet.
Judge Contreras noted repeatedly that the court did not reach Karem's First Amendment challenge, but resolved the issue on Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause grounds. One aspect of the due process challenge was procedural due process, as in Sherrill v. Knight, which the court found applicable despite the defendants' argument that Sherrill should be limited to its precise facts, situations in which the Secret Service denied a hard pass application for security reasons. Another aspect of the due process challenge was vagueness, which surfaces in Sherrill but is more directly addressed by the United States Supreme Court's opinion in FCC v. Fox (2012), in which the Court found that the FCC fleeting expletives and nudity regulations were unconstitutional.
Here, Judge Contreras found that the White House guidelines were not constitutionally adequate, even when considering the so-called "Acosta Letter" issued by the White House to the press corps in November 2018, although Grisham did not reference or seemingly rely on that letter when issuing her revocation of Karem's hard pass.
On the balance of equities and public interest regarding the preliminary injunction, Judge Contreras noted the three week lag from the event to the discipline and also stated:
The Court understands the White House’s desire to maintain a degree of control over access and decorum, and at first glance, some might think the temporary suspension of a single reporter’s press pass to be a relatively modest exercise of such control. But as Sherrill makes clear, the conferral of White House hard passes is no mere triviality. And the need for regulatory guidance is at its highest where constitutional rights are implicated.
The White House could react by appealing to the DC Circuit — or by attempting to issue regulatory guidance that might or might not apply to Karem's actions.
Monday, August 19, 2019
In his opinion in Campbell v. Reisch, United States District Judge for the Western District of Missouri Brian Wimes found that a state representative violated the First Amendment rights of her constituent when she blocked him from commenting on her tweet on Twitter.
Judge Wimes largely agreed with Knight First Amendment v. Trump, in which the Second Circuit, affirming the district court opinion, found that President Trump violated the First Amendment rights of those he blocked on Twitter. Judge Wimes found that the plaintiff's speech was on a matter of public concern; Campbell was disputing a criticism by Representative Reisch arising from Reisch's criticism of her political opponent. Further, Judge Wimes found that the "interactive space" on the Twitter account is a designated public forum. Resich's blocking of the plaintiff because he disagreed with her was viewpoint discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment.
Judge Wimes' opinion considers the "color of state law" requirement under 42 U.S.C. §1983, like the state action requirement, met under this "fact intensive" analysis. The judge stated that the defendant controlled the interactive space of her twitter account in her "capacity as a state legislator." Further, she had " launched her Twitter account alongside her political campaign," her "handle references her elected district, and her Twitter account links to her campaign webpage," the "image associated with Defendant’s Twitter account is a photo of her on the state house floor," and finally she "used the Twitter account to tweet about her work as a public official."
Like Trump on Twitter, and the county legislator on Facebook in Davison v. Randall (& Loudoun County) decided by the Fourth Circuit, this opinion is another finding that elected officials cannot "curate" the comment sections on their social media posts. Although there is some authority to the contrary, the strong trend is a warning to warning to elected officials who attempt to silence their critics on social media.
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday in National Association for Gun Rights, Inc. v. Mangan that Montana's electioneering disclosure requirements did not violate the First Amendment. The ruling keeps the requirements in place.
The Supreme Court has upheld disclosure requirements against First Amendment challenges, and so this ruling is really unremarkable. But at the same time it represents one in the next set of First Amendment challenges to campaign finance laws designed to spur this new Court to strike even more ways that government tries to regulate money in politics.
The case arose when the National Association for Gun Rights sought to spend more than $250 on an "electioneering communication." Montana law requires that any such organization register as a political committee. And such registration, in turn, subjects the group to requirements to disclosure expenditures.
The Association argued that the state's definition of electioneering communication was facially overbroad and unconstitutional as applied to it. In particular, the Association said that the First Amendment permits states to require disclosure only of express advocacy for or against a specific candidate, not the kind of general information that it sought to distribute.
The Ninth Circuit rejected the challenge. The court said that disclosure requirements are valid, even as to non-express-advocacy communications, because, under "exacting scrutiny," they are designed to promote the state's interests in transparency and discouraging circumvention of its electioneering laws.
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
District Court Tosses DNC's Case Against Russia, Trump Campaign for Hacking its Computers, Distributing Stolen Materials
Judge John G. Koeltl (S.D.N.Y.) today dismissed the Democratic National Committee's lawsuit against the Russian Federation, the Trump Campaign, and individuals associated with the campaign for hacking into DNC computers in the 2016 presidential election and distributing stolen material through WikiLeaks.
The ruling ends the case, unless and until the DNC appeals.
The DNC brought the case under a variety of federal statutes, including RICO, and state common law trespass and conversion. The DNC alleged that Russia unlawfully hacked DNC computers and distributed stolen material, and that this benefited the Trump campaign, which "welcomed" the help.
The court dismissed the claims against Russia under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. (The court said that exceptions to the FSIA don't apply because not all of Russia's activities occurred within the United States.) It dismissed the claims against the other defendants under the First Amendment. Here's the short version why:
the First Amendment prevents such liability in the same way [under Bartnicki v. Vopper, ed.] it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place. The plausible allegations against the remaining defendants are insufficient to hold them liable for the illegality that occurred in obtaining the materials from the DNC.
So what about all the contacts between the defendants: Don't they show that the defendants "participated in wrongdoing"? The court said no: the DNC simply didn't plead sufficient facts to show this.
The court rejected the DNC's attempt to distinguish or work around Bartnicki, ruling that the case doesn't permit a challenge for stolen trade secrets, or for "after-the-fact" coconspiracy to steal the documents.
The court ruled that there were other reasons to dismiss the case, based on some of the specific causes of action.
Friday, July 12, 2019
In its opinion in Overbey v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, the Fourth Circuit held that non-disparagement clauses in settlement of police misconduct claims violates the First Amendment.
Writing for the majority, Judge Henry Floyd, described the non-disparagement clauses that the Baltimore Police Department inserted in 95% of its settlement agreements. Here, Ashley Overbey sued the city for being arrested in her home when she called 911 to report a burglary, resulting in a settlement of $63,000, complete with the usual non-disparagement provision. The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on the settlement as it went before a city agency for approval, including a negative comment about Overbey from the City Solicitor, and the reporting prompted some anonymous on-line comments, to which Overbey responded online. The City decided that Overbey's online comments violated the non-disparagement clause and thus remitted only half of the settlement amount, retaining $31,500 as "liquidated damages."
The court found that the settlement agreement included a waiver of Overbey's First Amendment rights (rejecting the City's argument that the First Amendment was not implicated by refraining from speaking), and further held that the waiver was "outweighed by a relevant public policy that would be harmed by enforcement." The court rejected the city's arguments, including a fairness argument that the court should enforce Overbey's sale of her speech rights:
Essentially, the City argues that half of Overbey’s settlement sum was earmarked for her silence, and that it would be unfair for Overbey to collect that half of her money when she was not, in fact, silent. When the second half of Overbey’s settlement sum is viewed in this light, it is difficult to see what distinguishes it from hush money. Needless to say, this does not work in the City’s favor. We have never ratified the government’s purchase of a potential critic’s silence merely because it would be unfair to deprive the government of the full value of its hush money. We are not eager to get into that business now.
The court thus reversed the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the city. It's opinion clearly held that "the non-disparagement clause in Overbey's settlement agreement amounts to a waiver of her First Amendment rights and that strong public interests rooted in the First Amendment make it unenforceable and void."
The court also considered the First Amendment claim of the other plaintiff, Baltimore Brew, a local news website, which the district judge had dismissed for lack of standing. The court held that Brew had standing based on its complaint's allegations regarding the City's pervasive use of non-disparagement clauses in settlements with police brutality claimants as it "impedes the ability of the press generally and Baltimore Brew specifically, to fully carry out the important role the press plays in informing the public about government actions." The court stressed that its conclusion was based on the allegations in the complaint and that the evidentiary record should be developed by the district judge.
Dissenting, recent appointee to the bench Judge Marvin Quattlebaum stated that since Overbey entered into the settlement agreement voluntarily — a question the majority stated it need not resolve given its conclusion regarding public interest — the courts should enforce it. The defendants, the dissenting judge argued, have an interest in finality, the certainty of their contract, and gave up their "opportunity for vindication by a judge or jury" and are thus entitled to have the non-
disparagement clause enforced. In a footnote, the dissenting judge found the "hush money" by the majority as "harsh words," suggesting that a better view is that the plaintiff "cannot have her cake and eat it too."
[image: "hush money" circa 1883 via]
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
In its opinion in Knight First Amendment v. Trump, the Second Circuit ruled that the "First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees." The case arose from challenges to the President, Donald J. Trump, blocking users on Twitter. Recall that United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, Naomi Reice Buchwald, issued a 75 page opinion based on the parties motions for summary judgment (and stipulated facts) concluding that found that the President's Twitter account, @realdonaldtrump, is in violation of the First Amendment when it blocks other Twitter users based on their political views. A unanimous panel of the Second Circuit affirms that decision.
The Second Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Barrington Parker, first considered the state action threshold. The government attorneys interestingly represented the President to argue that his account is nongovernmental. The court rejected the government attorneys' position that while the @realdonaldtrump Twitter account is not independent of Trump's presidency, that the specific act of blocking should not be considered state action. Further, the Second Circuit rejected the argument that because the person of Donald Trump established the account before becoming President and will retain control after he leaves the presidency, the @realdonaldtrump account must be considered "private" and not subject to the First Amendment: "the fact that government control over property is temporary, or that the government does not 'own' the property in the sense that it holds title to the property, is not determinative." The court stated:
The government’s contention that the President’s use of the Account during his presidency is private founders in the face of the uncontested evidence in the record of substantial and pervasive government involvement with, and control over, the Account. First, the Account is presented by the President and the White House staff as belonging to, and operated by, the President. The Account is registered to “Donald J. Trump, ‘45th President of the United States of America, Washington, D.C.’” The President has described his use of the Account as “MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL.” The White House social media director has described the Account as a channel through which “President Donald J. Trump . . . [c]ommunicat[es] directly with you, the American people!” The @WhiteHouse account, an undoubtedly official Twitter account run by the government, “directs Twitter users to ‘Follow for the latest from @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and his Administration.” Further, the @POTUS account frequently republishes tweets from the Account. As discussed earlier, according to the National Archives and Records Administration, the President’s tweets from the Account “are official records that must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.”
Second, since becoming President he has used the Account on almost a daily basis “as a channel for communicating and interacting with the public about his administration.” The President utilizes White House staff to post tweets and to maintain the Account. He uses the Account to announce “matters related to official government business,” including high‐level White House and cabinet‐level staff changes as well as changes to major national policies. He uses the Account to engage with foreign leaders and to announce foreign policy decisions and initiatives. Finally, he uses the “like,” “retweet,” “reply,” and other functions of the Account to understand and to evaluate the public’s reaction to what he says and does. In sum, since he took office, the President has consistently used the Account as an important tool of governance and executive outreach. For these reasons, we conclude that the factors pointing to the public, non‐private nature of the Account and its interactive features are overwhelming.
The court then proceeded to the merits of the First Amendment claim, finding that viewpoint discrimination violates the First Amendment. Interestingly, it is for this proposition and only this one that the court cites the United States Supreme Court's closely divided case from last month, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck. The Second Circuit easily finds the account creates a public forum. The Second Circuit noted that the government did not contest the district judge's conclusion that the plaintiffs were engaged in protected speech, but the government argued that the plaintiffs' speech was not burdened by being blocked. While the court stated that the government was correct that the plaintiffs did not have a First Amendment right to have the president listen to them,
the speech restrictions at issue burden the Individual Plaintiffs’ ability to converse on Twitter with others who may be speaking to or about the President. President Trump is only one of thousands of recipients of the messages the Individual Plaintiffs seek to communicate. While he is certainly not required to listen, once he opens up the interactive features of his account to the public at large he is not entitled to censor selected users because they express views with which he disagrees.
The court also rejected the government's position that the plaintiffs should employ "workarounds" such as creating new accounts, in large part because the government itself conceded that such workarounds burdened speech.
Finally, the Second Circuit rejected the argument that the Twitter account is government speech and thus not subject to the First Amendment. The court stated that while the president's initial tweets are government speech, the interactive features are decidedly not:
Considering the interactive features, the speech in question is that of multiple individuals, not just the President or that of the government. When a Twitter user posts a reply to one of the President’s tweets, the message is identified as coming from that user, not from the President. There is no record evidence, and the government does not argue, that the President has attempted to exercise any control over the messages of others, except to the extent he has blocked some persons expressing viewpoints he finds distasteful. The contents of retweets, replies, likes, and mentions are controlled by the user who generates them and not by the President, except to the extent he attempts to do so by blocking. Accordingly, while the President’s tweets can accurately be described as government speech, the retweets, replies, and likes of other users in response to his tweets are not government speech under any formulation.
The Second Circuit ends with what might be considered a chastisement:
The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide‐open, robust debate. This debate encompasses an extraordinarily broad range of ideas and viewpoints and generates a level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen. This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing. In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.
Thursday, June 27, 2019
In its opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause, consolidated with Lamone v. Benisek, a sharply divided United States Supreme Court decided that the judicial branch has no role to play in challenges to redistricting based upon partisan gerrymandering.
Recall that Rucho involved the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina. The major question raised by the arguments was whether the courts have any role in protecting voters from partisan gerrymandering; Recall also that in an almost 200 page opinion, the three judge court resolved the issues of justiciability and standing in favor of the plaintiffs and held that the redistricting violated equal protection.
Recall that Lamone involved the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland. The oral argument centered the First Amendment, but equal protection doctrine did surface in the context of comparing racial gerrymandering which is analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause.
And also recall that while the Court had previously taken on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, it dodged answering the ultimate question. Today, the Court's 5-4 decision makes that dodge permanent for all federal courts by holding that the questions is a nonjusticiable political question.
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts — joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that challenges to partisan gerrymandering involve a political question because they lack “judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving them, citing Baker v. Carr (1962). The majority then rejects all the "tests" (quotation marks in original) for resolving the issue. (Recall that Chief Justice Roberts's expressed skepticism about developing standards in the oral arguments on an earlier partisan redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford, calling the political science of redistricting "gobbledygook"). It is not that there is no relief, the majority concludes. While partisan gerrymandering is "incompatible with democratic principles," as the Court had previously stated in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm’n (2015), and the majority opinion "does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering," the remedy is in the state courts. Or Congress might pass a law to address the matter, citing as an example the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act Bill, although the Court does not express a view on this or other pending proposals.
In dissent, Justice Kagan — joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor — begins by stating "For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks it is beyond its judicial capabilities." Kagan's impassioned dissent, as long as the majority opinion, and parts of which she read from the bench (a rare practice for her), explains that democracy is at stake and if "left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government. The dissenting opinion suggests that the majority has not paid sufficient attention to the constitutional harms at the core of these cases, and discusses the cases, concluding that no one thinks this is how democracy should work, and that in the past the Court has recognized the infringement to individual rights partisan gerrymandering inflicts. As for standards, the four dissenters argue that courts have developed a framework for analyzing claims of partisan gerrymandering, including the workable standard the three judge courts in Rucho and Lamone used. As for state courts, Kagan's opinion asks "what do those courts know that this Court cannot? If they can develop and apply neutral and manageable standards to identify unconstitutional gerrymanders, why couldn't we?"
Given that former-Justice Kennedy had a central role in arguing for a First Amendment right to challenge partisan gerrymandering, his retirement and replacement by Justice Kavanaugh made the majority for an opinion that Chief Justice Roberts had seemingly long wanted.
Monday, June 24, 2019
SCOTUS Declares Lanham Act Provision Barring "Immoral" or "Scandulous" Trademarks Violates First Amendment
In its opinion in Iancu v. Brunetti the United States Supreme Court held that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), which prohibits the Patent and Trademark Office from registering “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks, violates the First Amendment.
Recall from the oral argument its centerpiece was the applicability of the Court's recent decision in Matal v. Tam (2017) which held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) violated the First Amendment. Justice Kagan's relatively brief — 11 pages — opinion for the Court begins with a citation to Tam and then states, "We hold that this provision infringes the First Amendment for the same reason: It too disfavors certain ideas."
At issue in Brunetti was a fashion line, which as Kagan explains:
uses the trademark FUCT. According to Brunetti, the mark (which functions as the clothing’s brand name) is pronounced as four letters, one after the other: F-U-C-T. But you might read it differently and, if so, you would hardly be alone. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 5 (describing the brand name as “the equivalent of [the] past participle form of a well-known word of profanity”). That common perception caused difficulties for Brunetti when he tried to register his mark with the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO).
Justice Kagan's opinion for the Court found the "immoral or scandalous" ban to be viewpoint-based with a viewpoint-discriminatory application. Kagan provides some examples of the inconsistencies, including the PTO refusing to register a trademark "Madonna" for wine while allowing "Praise the Lord" for a game. Further, the Court stated, the "immoral or scandalous" bar is "overly broad."
Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh joined in Kagan's opinion. But Alito wrote very briefly separately, disavowing the label of "moral relativism" that might be applied to the Court's opinion and making clear that Congress could adopt a more narrow statute. The other Justices wrote separate opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part.
The major dissenting opinion, by Justice Sotomayor concurring in part and dissenting in part, focuses on the "scandalous" provision, arguing that the Court's opinion means that the United States will have no choice but to begin registering marks "containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable." Sotomayor's opinion, joined by Breyer, and echoed in Chief Justice Roberts's opinion also dissenting in part, is longer than the Court's opinion, and argues that the Court should have accepted the narrowing construction of "scandalous" — "interpreting it to regulate only obscenity, vulgarity, and profanity" — which would save it from unconstitutionality. Sotomayor also discusses the special context of trademarks, which while not government speech, do have a type of governmental involvement. It is not that the speech is being prohibited, but only that the Lanham Act prohibited registration of the trademark.
[image: Kagan and Sotomayor, via]
Thursday, June 20, 2019
In its fractured opinions in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association), a majority of the Court concluded that a 32 foot high "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., originally erected in 1919 to honor the dead of World War I, does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that during oral argument, one question was whether the cross should be evaluated by applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) or whether it should be deemed more of a "passive monument" under Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Recall also that in the Fourth Circuit decision finding the cross violated the Establishment Clause, the majority found that the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry was not conclusive and stressed that the well-established Lemon test remained a "useful guidepost."
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito's opinion was joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. However, two portions of Justice Alito's opinion garnered only a plurality: Kagan did not join sections §IIA and §IID, the first essentially involving a critique of Lemon's usefulness and the second relying upon the divided town counsel prayer case of Town of Greece to conclude that "categories of monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history" are constitutional. Breyer — who wrote an important concurring opinion in the passive monument case of Van Orden — wrote a separate concurring opinion in which Kagan joined. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, again arguing that the Establishment Clause is not incorporated as against the states. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing based on their status as "offended observers" and contending Lemon should be "shelved" and was a "misadventure." While joining Justice Alito's opinion in full, Kavanaugh also concurred separately to reprise a critique of Lemon as inconsistent with by the Court's decisions in five categories of Establishment Clause cases. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sotomayor.
So what does the majority "hold"? Alito's opinion for the majority concludes that this specific cross "carries special significance in commemorating World War I," which it had at the time of its erection and "acquired additional layers of historical meaning in subsequent years" and has become "part of the community." Certainly, "the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts," but this "does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in World War I memorials." Alito's opinion specifically rejected arguments that the cross "disrespected" Jewish or Black veterans, and specifically mentions that "one of the local leaders responsible" for the cross was a "Jewish veteran" and that the memorial includes the names of black and white soldiers. Recall that this had been broached in the oral argument, with Justice Alito asking counsel: "And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?"
Justice Ginsburg, dissenting in a 21 page opinion including an appendix of images (including the headstones in a military cemetery, right) joined by Sotomayor, disputed the cross as a secular symbol. "Just as the Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation." Disputing the contention that the Latin cross is a well-established secular symbol commemorating World War I military casualties, Ginsburg relates disputes in the War Department in 1919, arguing that everyone involved "saw the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal or secular one." A true secular symbol was the "mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statute," of which there was one in Prince George's county, the cross being an "aberration" even at the time. Ginsburg confronts the slippery slope argument that a contrary decision would eliminate all commemorative crosses by arguing that the in the context of a cemetery, individual markers are acceptable because they convey individuality rather than government endorsement, and that in this case, the solution could be a transfer of the cross to private rather than government property.
The decision leaves lower courts and advocates in the same doctrinal landscape that they inhabited before, although with an even clearer message that longstanding religious monuments with religious symbols, no matter how imposing, will be upheld under the Establishment Clause.
Monday, June 17, 2019
In its divided opinion in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck, a majority of the United States Supreme Court held that the actions of a private nonprofit corporation operating a public access television channel did not constitute sufficient state action warranting application of the First Amendment.
Recall that in the Second Circuit's divided opinion (2018), the majority concluded that the "public access TV channels in Manhattan are public forums and the MCAC's employees were sufficiently alleged to be state actors taking action barred by the First Amendment to prevent dismissal" of the complaint, thus reversing the district judge. Importantly, the public access channels are part of Time Warner's cable system and Time Warner is a private company. At the heart of the First Amendment claim are allegations that the Manhattan Community Access Corporation, known as Manhattan Neighborhood Network, MNN, suspended the plaintiffs, Halleck and Melendez, from airing programs over the MNN public access channels because of disapproval of the content. During oral argument the Justices grappled with the question of doctrines: whether general constitutional state action doctrine applied or whether public forum doctrine under the First Amendment applied or whether there is a convergence of the two doctrines.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kavanaugh, joined by C.J. Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, concluded that general constitutional state action doctrine was the threshold — and determinative — issue. The Court rearticulated the applicable state action doctrine governing when a private entity can qualify as a state actor as limited to a few circumstances:
(i) when the private entity performs a traditional, exclusive public function (citing Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co. (1982));
(ii) when the government compels the private entity to take a particular action (citing Blum v. Yarestsky (1982);
(iii) when the government acts jointly with the private entity (citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co. (1982)).
Interestingly, neither the majority nor dissenting opinion cited Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co. (1991), in which a six-Justice majority articulated a test for meeting the state action threshold when there was a private actor involved.
Justice Kavanaugh's opinion focused on the first circumstance, and stressed that the requirement means that the government must have traditionally and exclusively performed the function. Given that the relevant function was defined as the "operation of public access channels on a cable system," the Court had little difficulty in concluding that the requirement was not met under a "commonsense principle":
Providing some kind of forum for speech is not an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed. Therefore, a private entity who provides a forum for speech is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor. After all, private property owners and private lessees often open their property for speech. Grocery stores put up community bulletin boards. Comedy clubs host open mic nights.
The majority further rejected the plaintiffs' argument that state action was present because New York City designated MNN to operate the public access channels and New York state heavily regulates public access channels. The majority stated, however, that even where there is a contract or monopoly, the private actor is not converted into a private actor into a state actor "unless the private entity is performing a traditional, exclusive government function."
The majority also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the public access channels are the "property" of the state of New York rather than the property of the cable network (Time Warner) or of MNN itself. The majority found, however, that "nothing in the franchise agreements" suggests that the city "possesses any property interest" in Time Warner's cable system or in the public access channels operated by Time Warner. The government could have decided to operate the public access channels itself, in which case that might be different, but that did not happen here.
Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, argued that the majority misconstrued the case before the Court and this case is actually "about an organization appointed to administer a constitutional public forum" and not simply "about a private property owner that simply opened up its property to others." For the dissenting Justices, when MNN accepted the contractual agency relationship, it "stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other." The dissent argued that MNN was not simply a private actor that "simply sets up shop against a regulatory backdrop," but that it occupies its role because it was asked by New York City to do so, and was deputized by the city to administer the public access channels. The dissent also argued that the requirement that the private actor be performing a traditional and exclusive function only applies when the "private actor ventures of its own accord into territory shared (or regulated) by the government." Otherwise, the doctor hired to provide medical care to state prisoners would not be a state actor, unlike the Court's unanimous holding in West v. Atkins (1988), because "Nobody thinks that orthopedics is a function 'traditionally exclusively reserved to the State.'"
The Court's divided opinion reveals an established political rift in state action doctrine and theory. In the penultimate paragraph in Justice Kavanaugh's opinion for the majority, he writes:
It is sometimes said that the bigger the government, the smaller the individual. Consistent with the text of the Constitution, the state-action doctrine enforces a critical boundary between the government and the individual, and thereby protects a robust sphere of individual liberty. Expanding the state-action doctrine beyond its traditional boundaries would expand governmental control while restricting individual liberty and private enterprise. We decline to do so in this case.
On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor for the four dissenting Justices concludes:
This is not a case about bigger governments and smaller individuals; it is a case about principals and agents. New York City opened up a public forum on public- access channels in which it has a property interest. It asked MNN to run that public forum, and MNN accepted the job. That makes MNN subject to the First Amendment, just as if the City had decided to run the public forum itself.
While the majority emphasizes that its decision is narrow and factbound, that does not make it any less misguided. It is crucial that the Court does not continue to ignore the reality, fully recognized by our precedents, that private actors who have been delegated constitutional responsibilities like this one should be accountable to the Constitution’s demands. I respectfully dissent.
Thus, while the decision seems narrow, it could be a harbinger of a narrowing of state action doctrine to release private entities that contract with the state from constitutional constraints unless the entities are performing a traditional and exclusive function of the government, even if the entities are "in the shoes" of the state.
Friday, June 7, 2019
In its unanimous opinion in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, the Washington Supreme Court concluded there was no First Amendment infringement when the state found Arlene's Flowers violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), by refusing to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple.
Recall that in June 2018, the United States Supreme Court without opinion, in Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, granted the petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court, and remanded the case for consideration in light of its decision earlier than month in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n. Given the holding in Masterpiece Cakeshop that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or one specific commissioner, exhibited "hostility" to the cakemaker in that case, the Washington Supreme Court was now tasked with determining whether there was a similar hostility towards the religion of the florist in Arlene's Flowers, Baronnelle Stutzman, and if so, applying strict scrutiny.
The Washington Supreme Court, on page 2 of its 76 page opinion, proclaimed: "We now hold that the answer to the Supreme Court's question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination . . . ."
The Washington Supreme Court's lengthy opinion admittedly includes passages from its 2017 opinion which thoroughly discussed and applied the First Amendment standards, but it also carefully delves into the question of government hostility toward religion. The court found irrelevant one contested incident involving the Attorney General of Washington which occurred after the Washington Supreme Court's 2017 opinion, noting that the issue was one of adjudicatory animus and not executive branch animus; any claim that there was selective prosecution lacked merit. The Washington Supreme Court also rejected Stutzman's claim that the scope of the injunction in the 2017 opinion mandated that Stutzman "personally attend and participate in same-sex weddings."
The Washington Supreme Court's opinion concludes that "After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. We again affirm the trial court's rulings."
It is a solid well-reasoned unanimous opinion, but given this hard-fought and well-financed litigation, it's likely that Arlene's Flowers will again petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari.
image: Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase, circa 1887, via.
June 7, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
The Seventh Circuit this week upheld a signatures requirement to get on the ballot in the Cook County sheriff's race.
The case, Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, arose when Acevedo, a would-be candidate for Cook County sheriff, failed to obtain the necessary signatures of 0.5% of qualified voters in Cook County. Acevedo noted that the signatures formula for Cook County sheriff required him to obtain more signatures (0.5% of qualified voters equals 8,236 signatures) than candidates for statewide offices (who must get only 5,000 signatures). He claimed that the signatures requirement for Cook County therefore violated strict scrutiny (because the lower signatures requirement for statewide offices showed that the government could meet its interest in a less burdensome way).
We have stressed before that "[w]hat is ultimately important is not the absolute or relative number of signatures required by whether a 'reasonably diligent candidate could be expected to be able to meet the requirements and gain a place on the ballot.'" If the burden imposed is slight, Anderson and Burdick make clear that no justification beyond the state's interest in orderly and fair elections is necessary--even if less burdensome alternatives are available.
The ruling ends this challenge and upholds the signatures requirement for Cook County sheriff.