Author: Ronald K.L. Collins

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Marian Anderson & Justice Black, April 9, 1939

Harold Ickes & Marian Anderson

Harold Ickes & Marian Anderson

I was just watching a WETA segment on our national parks when I came upon the Marian Anderson story and how the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall, which they owned.

Upset by the incident, Eleanor Roosevelt urged Harold Ickes (the former president of the Chicago NAACP & then Secretary of the Interior) to arrange for the opera singer to perform at the Lincoln Memorial. Ms. Anderson performed there on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, to a crowd of 75,000 admiring onlookers. The event was also broadcast on national radio.

Of course, all of this and more are well known. What is far less known is that invitations were sent out to the all of the Justices of the Supreme Court.  (See Gerald T. Dunne, Hugo Black & the Judicial Revolution 304 (1977)). One Justice accepted, which brings me back to my public television story.

Justice Hugo Black, 9 April 1939

Justice Hugo Black, 9 April 1939

If you go to the YouTube clip of the Anderson concert, you will see Justice Black in the audience (1 minute & 19 seconds into it).

By that time in 1939 Justice Black had been on the Court for some 20 months – this 15 years before Brown. Most likely, word of Justice Hugo Black’s solo appearance made its way to Alabama, his home state. And yet, he was there (see pic) and the newsreels captured it all, too.

For an account of the concert and its historical significance, see Raymond Arsenault, The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, & the Concert that Awakened America (2009).

 

 

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Soft launch of historical website — Calendar of civil liberties

There is a new website: Today in Civil Liberties History, which has five or six events for each day. Each event includes learning materials: books, reports, web sites, Youtube videos, and more. It covers the full range of civil liberties issues: First Amendment, racial justice, reproductive rights, lesbian and gay rights, national security, and more.

The official public launch will be on Constitution Day, Wednesday September 17th, but you can view in now.

For more information about Today in Civil Liberties History, click here: http://samuelwalker.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Coming-This-Fall2.p

And congrats to Professor Sam Walker for what promises to be a welcome addition to our daily calendar experiences.

Meanwhile, here is what happened on this day in August:

AUGUST 28

1955

Emmett Till, 14, Murdered in Mississippi

1963

“I Have a Dream”: King Delivers Historic Speech at March on Washington

1963

John Lewis Speech at March on Washington Censored

1968

“Police Riot” at Democratic Party Convention

1987

Reagan Administration Bars Visas to People with HIV

2011

Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Dedicated

 

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FAN 29.1 (First Amendment News) — Florida Bar Joins Petitioner in Urging Court Review of Judicial Elections Case

Barry Richard, counsel for Florida Bar

Barry Richard, counsel for Florida Bar

As difficult as it is to obtain review in the Supreme Court, sometimes a case comes along that makes it hard for the clerks and their bosses to ignore. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar may be just such a case as the stars seem to be aligning in favor of the Petitioner, Lanell Williams-Yulee, having her case ruled upon by the Justices.

In a post a few weeks back, I flagged the Williams-Yulee case in which review was pending in the Court. The issue in the case is whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment. In a per curium opinion, a divided Florida Supreme Court denied the First Amendment challenge.

As I mentioned, a petition for certiorari had been filed by Andrew Pincus, Charles Rothfeld, and Michael Kimberly with assistance from Ernest Myers and Lee Marcus along with Eugene Fidell of the Yale Law School Clinic.

So much for the old news; now, here is the latest development in that case. Last week the Florida Bar filed its response — Barry Richard is the Bar’s counsel of record. Here is what is interesting about the Bar’s response:

The Florida Bar submits that the Florida Supreme Court correctly determined that the challenged Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct complies with the First Amendment. However, The Florida Bar believes that this Court should issue its writ of certiorari to resolve the significant conflicts existing between state high courts and federal circuit courts and among federal circuit courts on this fundamental issue of constitutional rights.

Additionally, the Respondent urges that the Court review the case for three reasons:

  1. “The issues at the heart of the conflicts are not such that they can accommodate different interpretations and applications in different jurisdictions and judicial forums without insulting fundamental principles,”
  2. “Judicial conflicts over the issues raised by the petition are likely to increase in the foreseeable future. Over twenty states that provide for popular election of judges have rules similar to Canon 7C(1)”, and
  3. “The Florida Bar joins the Petitioner in respectfully urging this Court to accept this case for review not only because there is a national need for resolution, but because of the particularly troublesome position in which it places The Florida Bar. Denial of the petition for certiorari would leave the decision of the Florida Supreme Court standing, but would provide The Florida Bar with little comfort. The existing indirect conflict between the decision of the Florida Supreme Court, and the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Weaver v. Bonner . . . a case involving a Georgia judicial candidate, is likely to become a direct conflict when the Eleventh Circuit is inevitably called upon to adjudicate the constitutionality of Canon 7C(1) in a case involving a Florida judicial candidate.”

Of course, counsel for the Petitioner (Andrew Pincus) endorses the Respondent’s request for review:

Typically, a respondent joins in a petitioner’s request for further review only when “there is a clear conflict of decisions” and “the question is undoubtedly of such importance as to need a Supreme Court determination.” Stephen M. Shapiro, et al., Supreme Court Practice 510 (10th ed. 2013). That is precisely the case here. Because this case offers an opportunity to answer the question presented free of any doubt that the controversy here is both ripe and ongoing (see Pet. 15-16 & n.9; Resp. Br. 3), the petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted. 

(Hat tip to Maureen Johnston over at SCOTUSblog)

Additional information about the case is set out in FAN #25. Stay tuned for future developments.

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FAN 29 (First Amendment News) — Exceptional Freedom: How many exceptions are there to the First Amendment?

[W]e decline to carve out from the First Amendment any novel exception.                     – Chief Justice John Roberts (2010)

When we talk about exceptions to the First Amendment’s guaranty of freedom of expression, Justice Frank Murphy’s famous 1942 dictum in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire comes to mind:

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ―fighting words—those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. 

Note that the list of exceptions he offered was an incomplete one. To much the same effect as Chaplinsky, in his majority opinion in United States v. Stevens (2010) Chief Justice John Roberts declared:

From 1791 to the present, however, the First Amendment has ―permitted restrictions upon the content of speech in a few limited areas, and has never ―include[d] a freedom to disregard these traditional limitations.  . . . These historic and traditional categories [are] long familiar to the bar, . . . [and include] obscenity, . . . defamation, . . . fraud, . . . incitement, . . . and speech integral to criminal conduct . . . . [They] are well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem.

Against that backdrop, the Chief Justice emphasized: “we decline to carve out from the First Amendment any novel exception.” He Unknownalso cautioned: “cases cannot be taken as establishing a freewheeling authority to declare new categories of speech outside the scope of the First Amendment.”

The question, of course, is exactly how many “well-defined and narrowly limited classes” of exceptions are there (Chaplinsky), or  precisely how many “historic and traditional categories” of speech fall outside of the First Amendment (Stevens)?

To answer that question it is important to note that not all of the categories listed by the Chief Justice are single-subject exceptions. For example, consider the “speech integral to criminal conduct” category. That exception itself consists of more than a few particularized exceptions. And then there are the other exceptions that were left unmentioned.

So many exceptions

Mindful of the above, and as I have noted elsewhere, here is a list of the additional (or more particularized) types of expression that have been deemed unprotected:

(1)       blackmail

(2)       bribery

(3)       misleading commercial expression

(4)       incitement to lawless action

(5)       expression that violates an intellectual property right

(6)       criminal conspiracy expression

(7)       threatening expressions

(8)       expression that endangers national security

(9)       insider trading expression

(10)     perjurious expression

(11)     harassment in the workplace expression

(12)     expression in contempt of court

(13)     plagiaristic expression

(14)     criminal solicitation (e.g., prostitution or murder for hire)

(15)     child pornography

(16)     speech that amounts to bullying

(17)     intentionally false speech likely to create a dangerous public panic

(18)     intentionally misrepresenting oneself as a government official

(19)  intentionally false material statements made to voters concerning authorship or endorsement of political campaign materials

(20)     certain kinds of intentionally false statements made about a political or public figure

(21)     certain kinds of prisoner expression

(22)     certain kinds of government employee expression

(23)     certain kinds of government funded expression

(24)     certain kinds of student expression

(25)     certain kinds of expression by those in the military

(26)     expression deemed secret owing to a private contract or law

(27)      certain kinds of expression expression that unfairly places another in a false light

(28)     intentional expression that causes emotional distress

(29)     expression in violation of anti-trust laws

(30)      certain kinds of expression that cause prejudicial publicity that interferes with a fair trial

(31)     intentionally disclosing the identity of secret government agents

(32)     certain kinds of expression that invade the privacy of another

(33)     certain kinds of expression limited by time, place, and manner restrictions

(34)     certain kinds of expression that involves intentional lying

(35)     certain kinds of expression by sitting judges

(36)     certain kinds of expression aired on the public airwaves

(37)     certain kinds of panhandling

(38)     certain kinds of telemarketing

(39)     certain kinds of speech harmful to minors

(40)     certain kinds of commercial solicitation (e.g. lawyers soliciting business)

(41)   certain kinds of expression concerning the unauthorized practice of some licensed profession (e.g., medicine or law)

(42)     certain kinds of intentional lying to government officials (e.g., lying to Congress while under oath or false police reports) and

(43)     certain kinds of evidence introduced into court and in courtroom expression governed by the rules of evidence.

And what of revenge porn & cyber harassment?

Are there more? Perhaps. Might some of the above ones now be deemed unconstitutional? Perhaps. That said, my point is that the lists offered in Chaplinsky and Stevens (among other Supreme Court opinions) give the impression that the number of exceptions to the First Amendment is actually far fewer than may well be the case.

In all of this, however, I do not mean to undermine a robust commitment to free speech freedom — a commitment well beyond what is fashionable in many circles of academia today. Still, if originalism is to be a significant and even determinative guide here, we must be duly mindful of its true dimensions. This is not to say the results reached by the Roberts Court in several First Amendment cases could not otherwise be justified, but rather that some of the Court’s originalist language needs to be more fully stated and explained.

Justices asked to review Secondary Effects case  Read More

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FAN 28.1 (First Amendment News) — The First Amendment in the Era of ISIS

This is beyond anything we’ve seen.

                                  – Chuck Hagel, Aug. 21, 2014

The Threat

→ Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon: “They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it’s in Iraq or anywhere else.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

“Asked if the hardline Sunni Muslim organization posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagel said it was ‘as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen.’”

→ According to a report in The Hill, ISIS, also known as Islamic State, “has long threatened to carry out a catastrophic attack on American soil, with a spokesman recently boasting that the militant group would fly its flag over the White House.”

Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Now is in “the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in.” ISIS members, he added, are “rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major U.S. city and people just can’t believe that’s happening.” 

imagesRecruiting in the U.S.? 

→ “The director of the FBI visited Colorado this week and detailed how the terror organization ISIS is recruiting Americans to take up their cause.It’s not just the recruitment of Americans that’s concerning to the FBI, it’s the method of recruitment — the Internet. FBI Director James Comey said how they are recruiting new members is getting the attention of the U.S. government.” [Source: CBS News]

James Comey: “We have seen an emergence since I was last in government of the people we call home grown violent extremists.” [Source: CBS News]

The Law

The Newseum in Washington, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.” – Schenck v. United States (1919)

→ See also: Dennis v. United States (1951) (“In each case [courts] must ask whether the gravity of the `evil,’ discounted by its improbability, justifies such invasion of free speech as is necessary to avoid the danger.”)

→ See also: Yates v. United States (1957) (re “advocacy of actions” versus advocacy in the abstract).

“the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)

 Everyone agrees that the Government’s interest in combating terrorism is an urgent objective of the highest order. . . .  Plaintiffs’ complaint is that the ban on material support, applied to what they wish to do, is not ‘necessary to further that interest.’ The objective of combating terrorism does not justify prohibiting their speech, plaintiffs argue, because their support will advance only the legitimate activities of the designated terrorist organizations, not their terrorism. . . .  We are convinced that Congress was justified in rejecting that view.  . .  . We see no reason to question Congress’s finding . . . ” – Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010)

→ See also: Geoffrey Stone. Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime (2004)

→ See also Richard A. Posner, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in Time of National Emergency (2006) and Posner, Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps (2007)

→ See generally “Symposium, Free Speech in Wartime,” 36 Rutgers Law Journal 821-951 (2005) (contributors: Geoffrey Stone, Earl Maltz, Ronald Collins & David Skover, Adrian Vermeule, Leonard Niehoff, Floyd Abrams, David Strauss, Nadine Strossen, Eric Foner, David Rabban, and Raymond Solomon).

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FAN 28 (First Amendment News) — The Demise of Stare Decisis?

Professor Randy Kozel

Professor Randy Kozel

Start here: “Under the conventional view of constitutional adjudication, dubious precedents enjoy a presumption of validity through the doctrine of stare decisis.” Okay, so much for the gospel regularly taught in law schools.

But there is another gospel — the one actually practiced by judges. (Somewhere the old Florentine grins.)

Now consider this: “[W]ithin the First Amendment context, there is no such presumption. When the Court concludes that a precedent reflects a cramped vision of expressive liberty, adherence to the past gives way. Unfettered speech, not legal continuity, is the touchstone.”

So contends Notre Dame Law School Professor Randy Kozel in a draft of an article titled “Second Thoughts About the First Amendment.” As his research reveals, “in recent years the Court has marginalized its prior statements regarding the constitutional value of false speech. It has revamped its process for identifying categorical exceptions to First Amendment protection. It has rejected its past decisions on corporate electioneering and aggregate campaign contributions. And it has revised its earlier positions on union financing, abortion protesting, and commercial speech.”

And why? What accounts for this purported demise of stare decisis? “The best explanation for this phenomenon,” say Professor Kozel, “is the role of free speech in the constitutional order. The Court’s tendency is to characterize affronts to expressive liberty as dangerous steps toward governmental repression and distortion. From this perspective, it is little wonder that the Court eschews continuity with the past. Legal stability may be significant, but official orthodoxy seems like an excessive price to pay.”

And is all of this a problem? Here is how the former Kozinski-Kennedy law clerk turned law professor answers that question: “Yet the Court’s practice raises serious questions. Departures from precedent can be problematic, especially when they become so frequent as to compromise the notion of constitutional law as enduring and impersonal. If the doctrine of stare decisis is to serve its core functions of stabilizing and unifying constitutional law across time, the desire to protect expressive liberty must yield, at least occasionally, to the need for keeping faith with the past.”

With a guarded measure of nuance, Professor Kozel adds: “For some, this state of affairs may be unobjectionable. There is no denying that robust expression is a core tenet of American legal and political culture. Still, there is something to be said for stare decisis, even when continuity comes at a hefty price.”

→ Of course there is more, much more in this thoughtful work-in-progress. I urge readers to take a look at it and send along your thoughts. Who knows, it might even make for an interesting topic for a future First Amendment salon?

Speaking of that salon, I may soon have some news on that front. Stay tuned.

Another great quote from Justice Jackson

[T]he very essence of constitutional freedom of press and of speech is to allow more liberty than the good citizen will take. The test of its vitality is whether we will suffer and protect much that we think false, mischievous and bad, both in taste and intent.

– Justice Robert Jackson, in-chambers opinion in Williamson v. United States (1950):

→ Hat tip to Eugene Volokh

Two New Books Read More

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Dr. King on the First Amendment & the right to protest

Screen Shot 2014-08-14 at 11.21.51 PMMartin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968:

All we say to America is, “Be true to what you what you say on paper.” If I lived in China or even in Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of the press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights. 

See YouTube clip here.

→ See also the following books and articles:

  1. Harry Kalven, The Negro and the First Amendment (1965)
  2. David Garrow, Protest at Selma:Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (1978)
  3. Andrew Mach, “Martin Luther King Jr.: 8 peaceful protests that bolstered civil rights,” Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 15, 2012
  4. Burke Marshall, “The Protest Movement and the Law,” 51 Virginia L. Rev. 785 (1965)
  5. Clark McPhail, David Schweingruber & John McCarthy, “Policing Protest in the United States: 1960-1995” in Policing Protest (1998) by  Donatella D. Porta, et al, eds.
  6. Lewis F. Powell, Jr., “A Lawyer Looks at Civil Disobedience,” 23 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 205 (1966)
  7. Nicholas Katzenbach, “Protest, Politics and the First Amendment,” 44 Tulane L. Rev. 439 (1970)
  8. Ronald Krotoszynski, Jr. “Celebrating Selma: The importance of context in public forum analysis,” 104 Yale L. J. 1411 (1995)
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Now may be the moment . . .

Heed their rising voices.

heed-rising-voicesIn light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, that admonition seems as relevant today as it was when it was when it appeared on March 29, 1960 in a New York Times political advertisement directed at the Montgomery, Alabama police. Of course, it was that advertisement that gave rise to the celebrated ruling in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964).

The analogy to the events surrounding the killing of young Michael Brown and the famed First Amendment case is more apt than may first appear. How so?  Well, let us start here: It is important to remember that the First Amendment victory in Sullivan emerged against the backdrop of intense racial strife. What is remarkable about the case is how it blended the liberty principle of the First Amendment with the equality principle of the Fourteenth Amendment to forge a landmark opinion. Perhaps at no other time in American history have the two been so wonderfully wed as to serve the high principles of both constitutional guarantees.

Know this: Racial injustice cannot endure the light of the First Amendment; police abuse cannot continue unabated when subjected to the scrutiny of a camera; and governmental indifference cannot persist when the citizenry assembles in a united front to oppose it. Put another way, the link between free-speech liberty and racial equality is vital to the health of our constitutional democracy.

Frank Pasquale’s recent post (“The Assault on Journalism in Ferguson, Missouri) ably points out why citizens of all political stripes should be concerned about what has been going on in Ferguson. His sober post is a timely reminder of the importance of the First Amendment in the affairs of our lives, be they in Ferguson or Staten Island or elsewhere.

(CNN) – The New York City medical examiner’s office Friday confirmed what demonstrators had been saying for weeks: A police officer’s choke hold on a man being arrested for selling loose cigarettes killed him. (Aug. 2, 2014)

So, now may be the moment to reunite the liberty and equality principles. What does that mean? Among other things, it must mean this:

  1. The press — traditional and modern — must be free to continue to exercise its rights in a robust manner.
  2. Citizens should be able to freely exercise their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and protest.
  3. More transparency should be demanded of government, be it in matters concerning the investigation of the killing of Michael Brown or the need for police identification badges to be plainly visible.
  4. And demands must be made of state and local officials that clear and specific measures be taken to respect and protect the lawful exercise of any and all First Amendment rights.

To that end, press groups, civil rights and civil liberties groups, along with political and religious groups should seize this opportunity, borne out of tragedy, to reinvigorate our First Amendment freedoms employed in the service of racial justice. In that way, perhaps some of the admirably defiant spirit of New York Times v. Sullivan may find its way back into the hearts and minds of people of good will who refuse to sit silent while law-abiding citizens of Ferguson stagger through clouds of teargas.

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FAN 27 (First Amendment News) — Humanitarian Law Project petition before High Court

Seventeen and a half years for translating a document? Granted, it’s an extremist text.                                                                                      – David Cole

Tarek Mehanna may not be a very nice person. But the narrowing of his liberties has consequences for us all.                             – Rachel Levinson-Waldman

The case is: Mehanna v. United States.

Tarek Mehanna

Tarek Mehanna

The issue is: Whether a citizen’s political and religious speech may constitute provision of “material support or resources” to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) under the “coordination” rubric of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, when the government conceded that petitioner was not instructed by the FTO, and the evidence showed that he did not interact with the FTO, but rather viewed, translated, and disseminated materials of his own choosing, while expressing moral support for certain views of the FTO, and associating on the Internet with persons who the government claims had themselves associated with the FTO.

→ Summary of relevant facts as stated by the appellate court: “In 2004, the defendant, an American citizen, was 21 years old and living with his parents in Sudbury, Massachusetts. On February 1, he flew from Boston to the United Arab Emirates with his associates, Kareem Abuzahra and Ahmad Abousamra. Abuzahra returned to the United States soon thereafter but the defendant and Abousamra continued on to Yemen in search of a terrorist training camp. They remained there for a week but were unable to locate a camp. The defendant then returned home, while Abousamra eventually reached Iraq.

“The second cluster of activities was translation-centric. In 2005, the defendant began to translate Arab-language materials into English and post his translations on a website — at-Tibyan — that comprised an online community for those sympathetic to al-Qa’ida and Salafi-Jihadi perspectives. Website members shared opinions, videos, texts, and kindred materials in online forums. At least some offerings that the defendant translated constituted al-Qa’ida-generated media and materials supportive of al-Qa’ida and/or jihad.”

→ The charges against the Defendant included:

  • one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qa’ida;
  •  one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists knowing or intending its use to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 956 and  § 2332
  • one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, knowing and intending its use to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 956 and § 2332
  • and one count of conspiracy to kill persons in a foreign country

→ ACLU of Massachusetts press release re trial verdict: “Mehanna Verdict Compromises First Amendment, Undermines National Security,” Dec. 20, 2011: “Under the government’s theory of the case, ordinary people–including writers and journalists, academic researchers, translators, and even ordinary web surfers–could be prosecuted for researching or translating controversial and unpopular ideas. If the verdict is not overturned on appeal, the First Amendment will be seriously compromised.”

Op-Ed Commentaries 

On Appeal before First Circuit

In an opinion by Judge Bruce Selya, a three-judge panel of the First Circuit denied the Defendant Tarek Mehanna‘s First Amendment challenge. Here is how Judge Selya (former chief judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review) began his opinion:

Terrorism is the modern day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat. Predictably, then, the government’s efforts to combat terrorism through the enforcement of the criminal laws will be fierce. Sometimes, those efforts require a court to patrol the fine line between vital national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association. This is such a case.

And here is how Judge Selya closed his opinion in ruling against the Defendant Tarek Mehanna:

Cases like this one present a formidable challenge to the parties and to the trial court: the charged crimes are heinous, the evidentiary record is vast, the legal issues are sophisticated, and the nature of the charges ensures that any trial will be electric. In this instance, all concerned rose to meet this formidable challenge. The lawyers on both sides performed admirably, and the able district judge presided over the case with care, skill, and circumspection. After a painstaking appraisal of the record, the briefs, and the relevant case law, we are confident — for the reasons elucidated above — that the defendant was fairly tried, justly convicted, and lawfully sentenced.

→ Amici on behalf of the Petitioner in the First Circuit included:

  • Alex Abdo, Hina Shamsi, Matthew R. Segal, and Sarah R. Wunsch on brief for American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
  • Pardiss Kebriaei, Baher Azmy, and Amna Akbar on brief for Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Nancy Gertner, David M. Porter, and Steven R. Morrison on brief for National, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • E. Joshua Rosenkranz and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP on brief for Scholars, Publishers, and Translators in the Fields of Islam and the Middle East
Judge Bruce Selya

Judge Bruce Selya

The government was represented by Elizabeth D. Collery, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

→ Sabin Willett is the counsel of record representing the Defendant Tarek Mehanna in his petition to the Court. In his petition, Mr. Willett’s First Amendment arguments include the following:

  1. “In Humanitarian Law Project, the Court addressed the important question of whether speech could be criminalized as provision of material sup- port in the form of a “service” to an FTO. Deciding that such speech can be unlawful when it takes the form of directly-interactive teaching, the Court interpreted §2339B as imposing criminal liability for speech that is a “service” if that speech is sufficiently “coordinated” with the FTO. This Court did not further define ‘coordination,’ nor hold that all “coordinated” speech could be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment. . . . Outside the narrow factual context of Humanitarian Law Project, the legal contours of ‘coordination’ remain a riddle. The word does not appear in any relevant section of the statutes. The decision uses “coordination” to describe the specific conduct found unlawful in that case, but provides no general definition, and leaves open that some levels of ‘coordination’ may be lawful.”
  2. “Petitioner argued below that a constitutional definition of ‘coordination’ requires an inquiry into the relation of the speaker to the FTO, and cannot be based in the content of his speech. If an FTO directs the defendant to write, the defendant’s compliance might provide a service that the Constitution does not protect, but that service would lie in compliance, not content.”
  3. Certain counts of the Petitioner’s conviction violated his right of association.

→ The government’s brief in opposition can be found here.

Historical Aside re Humanitarian Law Project

The case for the government was argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan

The case for the Humanitarian Law Project was argued by Professor David Cole

Transcript of oral argument here

Interview with Robert Post re his latest book Read More

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Robin Williams — The Man Who Made Us Laugh & Defended the Right to Do So

It is a very sad day when a very funny man takes his own life. Depression takes its deadly harvest.Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.47.34 PM

And so we must suffer the loss of one of America’s greatest comedians, Robin Williams.

In the weeks and months ahead, many a wreath will be laid in his honor and many will share their stories of how this remarkable and witty stand-up comedian left his special imprint on their lives.

As I think back on him, I am reminded of that life flow that stirred within him in Good Morning Vietnam (1987). Remember the opening scene when as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio Service Williams screamed into the early a.m. microphone: “Goooooooooooooooood morning, Vietnam! This is not a test, this is rock-n-roll! Time to rocket from the delta to the DMZ. Is that me or does that  sound like an Elvis Presley movie? Viva Da Nang. Viva Da Nang, Da Nang me, Da Nang me. They’re gonna get a rope and hang me. Hey, is it a little early for being that loud? Too late: Oh, it’s 0-600. What does the O stand for? Oh my God it’s early!”  (see YouTube video here).

If I may add my own humble memory of Robin: In 2003, I helped to organize a group of comedians, lawyers, professors and others to petition Governor George Pataki to posthumously pardon Lenny Bruce. When we approached Robin Williams (via Penn & Teller as I recall), he agreed immediately to lend his name to the cause. Why? Because he believed in comedy and free speech . . . and in Lenny Bruce, too.

Robin Williams was a free spirit in the best of the American tradition. And he gave vibrant life to the First Amendment and in the process was amazingly funny.

Long may his memory last.