Category: Constitutional Law

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The Flawed Foundations of Article III Standing in Surveillance Cases (Part I)

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a Concurring Opinions guest blogger this month. My posts will largely concentrate on the history of Article III standing for plaintiffs seeking to challenge government surveillance programs, and the flawed foundations upon which our federal standing jurisprudence rests. 


 

Then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird Sharing a Light Moment With President Nixon

Then-Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird Sharing a Light Moment With President Nixon (Wikimedia Commons)

Plaintiffs seeking to challenge government surveillance programs have faced long odds in federal courts, due mainly to a line of Supreme Court cases that have set a very high bar to Article III standing in these cases. The origins of this jurisprudence can be directly traced to Laird v. Tatum, a 1972 case where the Supreme Court considered the question of who could sue the government over a surveillance program, holding in a 5-4 decision that chilling effects arising “merely from the individual’s knowledge” of likely government surveillance did not constitute adequate injury to meet Article III standing requirements. Federal courts have since relied upon Laird to deny standing to plaintiffs in surveillance cases, including the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA. But the facts behind Laird illuminate a number of important reasons why it is a weak basis for surveillance standing doctrine. It is therefore a worthwhile endeavor, I think, to reexamine Laird in a post-Snowden context in order to gain a deeper understanding of the Court’s flawed standing doctrine in surveillance cases.

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FAN 38.1 (First Amendment News) FIRE bursts on out in NYC — Free speech celebration draws committed crowd

FlameandFIRE-390x195EXPLOSIVE. That is as good as any a word to describe the high energy level at the 15th Anniversary dinner of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), the group founded by Harvey Silvergate and  Alan Charles Kors in 1999. People were yelling “FIRE” in the crowded hall all evening long.

Some 280 people came together on Thursday evening last week at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in NYC. They gathered to show their enthusiastic support for this non-partisan free speech group. Contrary to the mood of our times, liberals, conservatives and libertarians joined together in common cause to endorse FIRE’s campaign to contest unconstitutional campus speech codes.

Guests included Radley BalkoJoan BertinPaul BloomRobert Corn-Revere, Alan Dershowitz, Norman DorsenDonald DownsJoel Gora, Jonathan HaidtWendy Kaminer, Roger KimballMichael McConnellKirsten Powers, Lenore SkenazyNadine Strossen, Matt Welch, and Karen Gantz Zahler, among others.

Morgan Freeman

Morgan Freeman

Students speak out

Aided by film clips on two big screens (see video here), four student activists who challenged campus speech codes spoke of their experiences. They were: Merritt Burch, Morgan Freeman, Chris Lee, and Robert Van Tuinen.

Two Speakers: A First Amendment Lawyer & a Cognitive Scientist 

There were two speeches, which further fired up the audience. The first speech was by the noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams. His remarks were entitled “Free Speech is in Trouble on Campus.” Here is an excerpt:

[O]nly FIRE … would think of and then respond to the explosion of unconstitutional speech codes that limit student and faculty speech as it did just last month by threatening over 300 colleges with litigation challenging such rules. And only FIRE would do the detailed work of reading each speech code so it could announce that 58% of public colleges and universities are, right now, acting unconstitutionally in limiting sometimes discomforting but First Amendment protected speech, on campus, and then follow that up by actually commencing lawsuits in this area. .  . . FIRE, from the day it was created, has understood this and sought to expose it and deal with it. We are in the midst of an epidemic and FIRE is providing an antidote. 

→ Steven Pinker (the  noted experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist, and popular science author and Harvard professor) spoke after Abrams.  His remarks were titled “Three Reasons to Affirm Free Speech.” Here is an excerpt from his remarks:

Free speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world. Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history—one that is logically prior to every other discovery—is that all of our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophesy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom, and the warm glow of subjective certainty.

Greg Lukianoff — The FIRE Man

Greg Lukianoff

Greg Lukianoff

He is like no other — Lukianoff, FIRE’s president, is a man full of ideas, energy, and the smarts to make it all work. Author, pamphleteeractivist, and Stanford Law graduate, this 40-year-old who grew up in Danbury, CT is changing the world around him by bringing the First Amendment to the doorstep of college bureaucrats bent on squelching freedom of speech and conscience. And Lukianoff and FIRE are winning; they have prevailed (either by a court victory or a settlement) in every one of the challenges they have brought — and they are busily preparing many more. Beyond the courtroom, Lukianoff regularly takes his free-speech message to the pubic, either by testifing before Congress or appearing on the O’Reilly Factor, the CBS Evening News, or by publishing an op-ed in this or that newspaper. Regardless of one’s ideological stripes, he is always prepared to make a strong case for the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, Greg Lukianoff and his colleagues at FIRE have cases pending against the following six colleges:

  1. University of Hawaii at Hilo
  2. Western Michigan University
  3. Chicago State University
  4. Citrus College
  5. Iowa State University, and
  6. Ohio University

 Full disclosure: I attended as a guest of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm, which works with FIRE in litigating campus speech code cases.

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John Bingham and Thomas Jefferson

101px-John_Bingham_-_Brady-HandyI think I’ve come across an interesting inflection point in constitutional discourse (or what others might call an example of intergenerational synthesis.)

In 1871, John Bingham gave an address on the House floor in support of the Ku Klux Klan Act that offered a detailed explanation of his view that Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment extended the Bill of Rights to the States.  At one point, Bingham declared:  “Jefferson well said of the first eight articles of amendments to the Constitution of the United States, they constitute the American Bill of Rights.”

Here’s the problem:  I cannot find any evidence that Jefferson said this.  He was an advocate of a bill of rights after the Constitutional Convention, and many of the subjects that he wanted addressed were covered by the first set of amendments.  As far as I can tell, though, he never said that the first eight were a bill of rights.

What was going on?  Maybe Jefferson did say this and I can’t find the quote.  Maybe Bingham thought Jefferson said this but was mistaken.  Or maybe Bingham just made this up.  In any event, what I find fascinating about this is that many people today believe that Jefferson must have said something like this.  Why do they think that?  Partly because of the importance that we attach to the Bill of Rights.  It also may be that we think Jefferson said this because John Bingham told us so.  In so doing, though, Bingham was changing the Constitution’s meaning.

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Dueling Law

120px-Pistolet_à_silexI’ve been going through the state bills of rights written in the nineteenth century and have come across some wild provisions.  Take this one from the Iowa Bill of Rights of 1846:

“Any citizen of this State who may hereafter be engaged, either directly or indirectly, in a duel, either as principle or accessary before the fact, shall forever be disqualified from holding any office under the constitution and laws of this State.”

Dueling was a practice said something important about how elites viewed dispute resolution early in our history and provides a great teaching lesson about the limits of libertarianism.  (Why should dueling be banned if both parties consent?) Of course, if the Federal Constitution had such a provision that would have meant no President Andrew Jackson, no Vice-President Aaron Burr (after 1804), no Senator Thomas Hart Benton, and more.  (If you include seconds in duels, then even more people would have been excluded from office.)

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FAN 38 (First Amendment News) Abrams Institute to host conference on Net Neutrality

abrams-logoOn November 3rd, the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression will host a conference entitled Net Neutrality: From Debate to Policy Decisions. The conference will take place at the Century Association located at 7 West 43rd Street in New York City. The event starts with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and ends promptly at 9:20 a.m. Here is a description:

After several years of discussions in academia, industry, and policymaking circles, the issue of net neutrality has taken center stage in debates on U.S. media and telecommunications. In February, cable providers Comcast and Time-Warner announced their intent to merge into a single company. And this spring, the FCC solicited public input on its proposed Open Internet Rules, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has stated that he expects to have enforceable rules in place by the end of 2014. Under the new rules, “behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness to the Internet will not be permitted.” With these events as backdrop, the Abrams Institute at Yale Law School will host a panel discussion at the Century Club in New York, on the topic of net neutrality. 

After several years of discussions in academia, industry, and policymaking circles, the issue of net neutrality has taken center stage in debates on U.S. media and telecommunications. In February, cable providers Comcast and Time-Warner announced their intent to merge into a single company. And this spring, the FCC solicited public input on its proposed Open Internet Rules, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has stated that he expects to have enforceable rules in place by the end of 2014. Under the new rules, “behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness to the Internet will not be permitted.” With these events as backdrop, the Abrams Institute at Yale Law School will host a panel discussion at the Century Club in New York, on the topic of net neutrality.

Panel speakers

 Registration

A fee of $35 per person will be charged to cover the cost of the continental breakfast. Go here to register. The registration deadline is Thursday, October 30th.

 CLE Credit 

One and one half (1.5) CLE credit hours in Professional Practice (corporate) will be available for this program, which is transitional and non-transitional in nature. Preregistration is required for CLE credit.

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 Related Articles

→ Upcoming AALS Panel Discussion

Petition to Watch 

At its Conference on October 31, 2014, the Court will consider the following free speech petition:

Issues: (1) Whether compelling a noncommercial pro-life speaker to declare it lacks a medical license passes strict scrutiny; and (2) whether a compelled speech law is unconstitutionally vague if the city can deem speakers as needing to comply, because of their “appearance,” without any ability for the speaker to know whether it must comply.
(Hat tip to Maureen Johnston)
Lithwick takes swipe at Roberts Court
Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick

In a new essay titled “The Courts’ Baffling New Math,” the ever feisty Dahlia Lithwick, the Supreme Court commentator for Slate, argues:

“The Supreme Court of the John Roberts era gets one thing very right: It’s one of the most free-speech-protective courts in modern history. There is no purveyor of semi-pornographic crush videos, no maker of rape-aspiring violent video games, no homophobic funeral protester, no anti-abortion clinic counselor, and no filthy-rich campaign contribution–seeker whose rights and privileges will not be treated by the Court with the utmost reverence and solicitude.”

Later in the same essay, Lithwick adds:

“This brings us back to the First Amendment, seemingly the only right that truly counts anymore in America. Why has the constitutional right to be heard all but overmastered the right to vote or legally terminate a pregnancy? Maybe the court is still capable of hearing even as it loses the ability to see? Or maybe the powerful voices of Fred Phelps, Shaun McCutcheon, and Anthony Elonis—the creatures who rightly are allowed to say and do horrible things in the name of free speech—count for more than the hundreds and thousands of voiceless voters and abortion-seekers who are seemingly not even important enough to name?”

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FAN 37 (First Amendment News) McCutcheon case produces flood of scholarly commentary — 41 works!

UPDATED: 10-24-14

Before proceeding to the scholarly output on McCutcheon, here is where we stand this Term on First Amendment free expression cases:

Review Granted

  1. Elonis v. United States (to be argued on 12-1-14)
  2. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
  3. Reed v. Town of Gilbert

Review Pending

  1. Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York 
  2. Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell
  3. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al  v. Federal Election Commission

Review Denied

  1. City of Indianapolis, Indiana v. Annex Books, Inc.
  2. Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc. v. United States 
  3. Mehanna v. United States 

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Erin Murphy arguing in McCutcheon case

Erin Murphy arguing in McCutcheon case

The decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (2014) is barley six months old and it has already produced an abundance of scholarly commentary, including books, symposia, and articles — no fewer than 40 such works. And all of this before the revered Harvard Law Review issue dedicated to the last Supreme Court term finds its way to print. Ditto for the equally acclaimed Supreme Court Review. How times have changed. The days of waiting are over; we live in a wired era. That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is: who can possibly begin to read all of this?

That said, and for better or worse, below is a list of books (e-books and print ones) and articles and essays (in online companions and print journals) that either discuss McCutcheon in full or in part (e.g. Zephyr Teachout’s book) or issues very much related to the decision (e.g, Robert Post’s book). All were published after the decision came down on April 2, 2014. Browse them and see how many catch your eye.

5 Books

36 Scholarly Articles or Blog Posts  Read More

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FAN 36.3 (First Amendment News) A street named Carlin

Cardinal Carlin

Cardinal Carlin

UPDATED

Tomorrow New York City will rename a street to honor the late George Carlin, the famed comedian and inspiration for FCC v. Pacifica (1978), the infamous First Amendment case sustaining a broadcast ban on “7 dirty words.”

Although “George Carlin Way” will begin at Amsterdam and West 121st Street, because of construction the ceremony tomorrow will be one block away at Morningside Drive and West 121st Street.

 → This from Howard Wasserman: “The named block is actually not the block on which Carlin grew up, because the church there (where Carlin went to school) objected; the compromise was to move it across to Amsterdam Avenue.” [Source: go here]

  The dedication ceremony will begin at 1:00 PM.

Current line-up of speakers

The following speakers have yet to confirm:

220px-Seven_Dirty_Words_WBAIEvening Event

Tomorrow night at 7:30 PM, at Carolines on Broadway, there will be a very special night of laughter to pay tribute to the dean of counterculture comedians and to celebrate his newly minted status as a man of the streets. (I will be in NYC and plan to be at Carolines.)

Colin Quinn will host, with performances by Ted Alexandro, Kevin Bartini, Eddie Brill, Jim Norton, and special surprise guests.

For details, go here.

→ Hat tip to Josh Wheeler 

For a memorable passage from Justice William Brennan:

I find the Court’s misapplication of fundamental First Amendment principles so patent, and its attempt to impose its notions of propriety on the whole of the American people so misguided, that I am unable to remain silent.

→ Related News Item: November 4, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lenny Bruce’s New York obscenity conviction, for which he was posthumously pardoned on December 23, 2003.

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FAN 36.2 (First Amendment News) Corn-Revere on the FCC & Redskins Controversy

Robert Corn-Revere

Robert Corn-Revere

In case you missed it, yesterday Robert Corn-Revere had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The piece was titled, “Free-Speech Foes Call an Audible — Bringing the FCC into the ‘Redskins’ debate is an invitation for First Amendment mischief.”

Here is the petition to the Federal Communications Commission, the one that gave rise to the FCC controversy.

 Here is how Mr. Corn-Revere began his WSJ op-ed:

“However you may feel about the name of the National Football League franchise in Washington, D.C., do we really want the Federal Communications Commission to step into the Redskins controversy as the nation’s culture police?”

“That’s what George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf III is seeking by asking the FCC to deny the broadcast license of WWXX, the FM radio station in Washington licensed to team owner Dan Snyder. The petition, filed in September, asks the FCC to yank the broadcast license because the station “deliberately, repeatedly, and unnecessarily broadcasts the word ‘R*dskins’ during most of its broadcast day.”

“That’s right, in lieu of the team name, the petition uses ‘R*dskins.'”

“This is a publicity stunt, not a serious legal argument. It is well beyond the FCC’s statutory or constitutional authority to prohibit speech merely because some find it offensive. But the idea gained some political traction after a Sept. 30 meeting when several FCC commissioners said they would consider the issue. Such consideration should not take long if the FCC is serious about following the law.”

Corn-Revere, former chief counsel to former FCC Chairman James Quello, then proceeded to lay out his case as to why Professor Banzhaf’s petition should be denied. In the process, Corn-Revere drew on FCC precedents and experience with regulations of this general type. In the end, he predicted:

“Without even getting into the frailties of the petition’s legal arguments, it doesn’t take a seer to predict what would happen if the FCC started canceling broadcast licenses because some people in the audience may be offended by something they had heard or seen. It would be a national version of college ‘speech codes,’ which have devolved into an offended-ness sweepstakes.

“There is no doubt about the sincerity of those who object to the name Washington Redskins. But asking the FCC to silence broadcasters who disagree with them is not the solution.”

Note: Professor Banzhaf has accepted my invitation to respond. I will post it as soon as i can. Stay tuned. 

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FAN 36.1 (First Amendment News) Skover to Speak on McCutcheon Case

By way of a shameless plug for my coauthor:

INFLUENTIAL VOICES  

David Skover

David Skover

Seattle University School of Law
is proud to present
Professor David Skover

SCOTUS Books-in-Brief: When Money Speaks: A New Venture in E-Publishing

Wednesday, October 29
Room C6, Sullivan Hall, 4:30 p.m.
Reception to follow

The event is open to all, but RSVPs are requested.

Professor Skover will speak about the creation of the SCOTUS Books-in-Brief imprint and his latest coauthored book, When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment.

When Money Speaks analyzes the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which struck aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates. It has been called “a brilliant discussion of campaign finance in America” and “the best book on the topic.”

The SCOTUS Books-in-Brief series provides readers with reliable, informative, and engaging narrative accounts of significant Supreme Court rulings shortly after they come down.

Introduction by Dean Annette E. Clark