Category: Election Law

Posner
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On Free Expression & the First Amendment — More Questions for Judge Posner

 The American concept of freedom of speech poses a challenge to the pragmatist because, like ‘democracy,’ it is the repository of a great deal of unpragmatic rhetoric. It is at the heart of the American ‘civil religion,’ a term well chosen to convey the moralistic fervor in which free speech is celebrated. — Richard Posner (2003)

This is the sixth installment in the “Posner on Posner” series of posts on Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner. The first installment can be found here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, and the fifth one here.  

Here, as elsewhere, controversy is never far from the conceptual corner where Richard Posner lingers. Merely consider, for example, the following point he made in a 2001 article: “political free speech is not an unalloyed blessing.” Or consider his take on the most famous line from NYT v. Sullivan — he tags it (see below) “empty rhetoric.” Or think about his views on privacy and the First Amendment (see Glenn Greenwald’s criticisms below). Such comments are sure to raise skeptical eyebrows among the rah-rah First Amendment crowd.

Then again, that crowd happily hails the Judge for the robust defense of free speech he displayed in NAACP v. Button (1963), which he takes credit for authoring while he was a law clerk to Justice William Brennan. And then there are his opinions in cases such  American Amusement Machine Association v. Kendrick, the violent video game case. For staunch conservatives, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, protection of such expression “does not comport with the original public understanding of the First Amendment.” No matter, Posner paves his own path, sans any Hugo Black-like passion in defense of free speech or any Clarence Thomas-like zeal in defense of originalism.  

Of course, there is more to be said about Posner’s pragmatic approach to our free speech jurisprudence, and on that score some will approve and others not. In the tumble of it all, he remains a Maverick, which is how he likes it.  

Some of the Judge’s more notable writings on free expression can be found in the following works:

  1. Economic Analysis of Law (9th ed. 2014) (chapter 29)
  2. Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of a National Emergency (2009) (chapter 5)
  3. Law, Pragmatism and Democracy (2003) (chapter 10)
  4. Frontiers of Legal Theory (2001) (chapter 2)
  5. The Speech Market and the Legacy of Schenck,” in Lee Bollinger & Geoffrey Stone, eds., Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era 121 (2002)
  6. Pragmatism versus Purposivism in First Amendment Analysis,” 54 Stanford Law Review 737 (2002)
  7. Free Speech in an Economic Perspective,” 20 Suffolk University Law Review 1 (1986)

For a sampling of his First Amendment opinions, go here and search “First Amendment.”

Below are some questions, on the topic of free expression and the First Amendment, that I posed to the Judge followed by his replies. (Note: Some links will only open in Firefox or Chrome.)

NB: A segment of this post, quoting a well-known journalist, has been temporarily omitted because of a strong objection. I will explain why in this Monday’s post.      

Question: Is speech overprotected by our courts and in our culture?

Posner: I think so. The most notorious example is expenditures on political advertising — Citizens United and its sequels.

Question: Though the Pentagon Papers Case (1971) is much celebrated in First Amendment circles, you seem to think that the Court might have gone too far. Two questions:

  1. What is your criticism of the case?
  2. Does over classification of national security information raise a a First Amendment issue?

Posner:

  1. I don’t think there is a right to read classified material. National security classification is one of many sensible exceptions to freedom of speech, along with threats, trade secrets, defamation, distribution of child pornography, lawful wiretapping and other lawful searches for communicative material, copyright infringement, and much else.
  2. It could, if there were no security justification.

Question: The so-called “war on terrorism” is unlike the Great Wars in that the enemy is ever changing and even hard to identify and the duration of the conflict is indeterminate. How does this affect the calculus of free speech “in wartime”?

Posner: I don’t see why the nature of the military conflict should make a difference.

Question: You have written that “some restrictions on speech actually promote speech.” That general idea seems to be getting some traction among egalitarian-minded liberal scholars dissatisfied with certain tenets of current free speech doctrine. Can you say more about your thinking here, especially as it might apply to the liberal defense of speech restrictions?

Posner: An obvious example is copyright protection, which restricts speech (the speech of copiers) but promotes speech overall by granting legal protection to original speech. Another obvious example is restricting the number of speakers in a political debate so that the debate won’t degenerate into an unintelligible babble of interruptions. Similarly one doesn’t want to allow the use of threats to silence people. A subtle example is the censorship of the Elizabethan theatre, which may well have promoted creativity by forcing playwrights like Shakespeare to situate contemporary problems in exotic times and places, in order to get by the censor.

Question: You pride yourself on being a “balancer,” as one who compares the social pluses and minuses of restrictions on free speech. Can you be an effective balancer absent a reliable record of the actual or even conjectural harms and benefits of speech? And what if the lawyers, as if often the case, tender no reliable empirical evidence one way or the other? Who wins, where is the conceptual default? Or must the reviewing court do its own research to resolve the question?

Posner: I don’t know how much empirical work has been done on the subject. In its absence, there is just guesswork, although the basic structure of American free speech law seems okay. Some of it strikes me as silly, notably granting rights of free speech to school kids.

[RKLC: 12-12-14: See William Baude’s commentary here.]

Question: Whatever its shortcomings, one of the benefits of a category-based approach to free speech (combined with certain tailoring tools, e.g., overbreath, etc.), is judicial efficiency. The rules are not unworkably open-ended and subjective, and are therefore relatively manageable for judges and lawyers alike.

  1. Mindful of that, how judicially efficient is your economic-based approach with its assorted variables? – e.g., taking into account and balancing the relevant benefits (B), harms (H), offensiveness (O), probability (P), the number of years between when speech occurs and when the harm is likely to materialize, and the administrative costs of a regulation (A).
  2. What about lawmakers, the focus of the First Amendment (Congress shall make no law . . . )? How likely are they to engage in such sophisticated cost-benefit analysis? Is your proposed approach a realistic test for them to employ in considering the constitutionality of proposed laws affecting speech?

Posner:

  1. One can hardly exclude offensiveness, other harms, probability of harm, remoteness of harm, etc. from consideration, any more than you can do that in an ordinary tort case.
  2. Do lawmakers ever do sophisticated cost-benefit analysis?

Question: In cases such as Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010), is the purported harm so great as to preclude any meaningful balancing? It was precisely that concern that prompted Justice Stephen Breyer to complain in dissent: “I believe the Court has failed to examine the Government’s justifications with sufficient care. It has failed to insist upon specific evidence, rather than general assertion.”

How would you weigh in on this? By your standards, was Holder a case of failed balancing?

Judge Learned Hand

Judge Learned Hand

Posner: I haven’t read the case.

Question: You have expressed some conceptual approval of Judge Learned Hand’s opinion in United States v. Dennis (1950) in which he upheld the convictions of eleven Communist Party leaders for violating the Smith Act. Do you agree with the judgment in that case? Please say a few words about why you agree or disagree with the Dennis judgment.

Posner: Hand’s formula in Dennis is I think fine—it is a variant of the famous Hand negligence formula from his opinion in Carroll Towing. The Communist Party leaders were essentially agents of the Soviet Union, so I don’t see why their speech should be thought privileged by the First Amendment.

Question: Don’t phrases like “clear and present danger” (which, by the way, was used by the attorney Benjamin W. Shaw in 1918) invite, as Paul Freund suggested in 1949, a kind of mantra-like application devoid of the kind of realist and pragmatic balancing you endorse?

Posner:  It’s a dumb phrase. A murky remote danger could be very great.

Question: Based on what you know in light of the book you edited on Holmes, did he get the judgments right in Schenck, Frohwerk and Debs?

Posner: Probably not in Schenck or Debs; I don’t recall Frohwerk.

Question: “Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open . . . .”

Do you consider those lines from New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) to be “unpragmatic rhetoric”?

Posner: Empty rhetoric.

 Question: The Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have said relatively little about textualism when it comes to free speech and press issues. Why do you suppose that is?

Posner: There is no text. “Freedom of speech” is a heading, not a test.

Chief Justice John Roberts

Chief Justice John Roberts

Question: The Roberts Court has rendered 36 First Amendment free expression rulings. How would you characterize the First Amendment jurisprudence of the current Court?

Posner: Very nice for fat cats and enemies of abortion.

Question: You have long been on record as being a critic of the Court’s decision in Buckley v. Valeo (1976). You maintain that the “American system of campaign financing is extremely porous and is widely and probably correctly believed to constitute a thinly disguised system of quasi-bribes of elected officials; at the very least it tilts the playing field very steeply toward the wealthy and the well organized . . . .” Given that, how bad in your view have things become in light of rulings such as McCutcheon v. FEC (2014)?

Posner: Very bad.

Question: Do you favor some kind of constitutional amendment to remedy the problems you have identified

Posner: [The idea of a constitutional amendment is] a waste of time.

Posner on Roberts

Can so naive-seeming a conception of the political process reflect the actual beliefs of the intellectually sophisticated Chief Justice? Maybe so, but one is entitled to be skeptical. Obviously, wealthy businessmen and large corporations often make substantial political contributions in the hope (often fulfilled) that by doing so they will be buying the support of politicians for policies that yield financial benefits to the donors. [Source here]

Question: In his dissent in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), Justice Breyer declared: “the First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.” What is you view on this idea “collective speech” and the First Amendment?

Posner: A little high-falutin’ for my taste. I would just say that large corporations and wealthy people shouldn’t be allowed to buy elections.

Question: Despite your criticisms of Buckley and its progeny, you have also expressed serious doubts about campaign finance reform proposals. Please explain why you think such efforts are problematic.

Posner: Have I? I don’t recall

Question: In Frontiers of Legal Theory you wrote: “Individuals or groups that have more money than the average amount of money have always had more than the average ability to spend money on trying to influence public opinion. We do not consider such inequality a compelling reason for limiting free speech.” Do you still believe that?

Posner: The mere fact of inequality is not critical. And it would be very difficult for a new candidate to get launched without access to substantial donors. The problems are the concealment of the identity of big donors, the implicit quid pro quo (donor is buying influence, and donee who is not influenced is unlikely to obtain substantial future donations), and the failure to place some ceiling on the amount of donations that a particular individual should be free to make. And I doubt that companies as distinct from individuals should be permitted to make campaign contributions.

Question: As you know, the speech in question in Citizens United involved a political documentary titled Hillary: The Movie. A conservative non-profit group sought to air it within 30 days of the primary. During oral arguments in the case, the question was asked: “What if the particular movie involved here had not been distributed by Video on Demand? Suppose that people could view it for free on Netflix over the Internet? Suppose that free DVDs were passed out. Suppose people could attend the movie for free in a movie theater; suppose the exact text of this was distributed in a printed form.”

 How would you answer that question? Is it your position that showing that political documentary and/or publishing a book on it during an election is not protected speech under the First Amendment?

Posner: The question is the scope of protection. I don’t think the First Amendment should be interpreted to prevent government from limiting the amount of broadcasting (or equivalent, like movies) in the last few weeks before a national election.

Question: What is your view of the secondary effects doctrine as it has been applied by the Court and lower courts since its use in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc. (1986) and then again in Barnes v. Glen Theatre (1991), which overruled an opinion that you authored. In 1988, your former boss, Justice William Brennan, warned that the doctrine “could set the court on a road that will lead to the evisceration of First Amendment freedoms.” Do you agree? Where do you stand on this matter?

Posner: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it if it is supported by real evidence, though I think it was misapplied in the Barnes case because there wasn’t any evidence that nude dancing promotes crime to any significant extent.

The next installment, the seventh, in the Posner on Posner series was scheduled to be “On Judicial Reputation.” It will now be preceded by a special post on free speech and privacy.  

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RBG revises opinion after professor flags error

How often does it happen that a law professor flags a factual error in a Supreme Court opinion and the Justice thereafter changes that opinion to correct the error? Answer: not that often.

So when it happens, some of us think that credit should be given. Okay? So, onto the story, albeit the brief version.

In a post on his Election Law Blog yesterday, Professor Rick Hasen wrote:

In Justice Ginsburg’s 6-page dissent in the Texas voter id case, she writes: “Nor will Texas accept photo ID cards issued by the U. S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”

A few people have pointed me to material from Texas which seems to suggest that these cards would be acceptable as a form of military identification. Veterans ID cards do not expire, and therefore they seem to meet the Texas requirement: “a United States military identification card that contains the person’s photograph that has not expired or that expired no earlier than 60 days before the date of presentation.” (my emphasis)

By way of an update, he added: The Texas Secretary of State’s office has responded via Twitter: “Veterans Affairs ID cards are an acceptable form of photo ID in TX.

In response, Justice Ginsburg revised her dissent, as noted by Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog:

In ticking off her objections, Ginsburg wrote that Texas would not even accept “photo ID cards issued by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”  On Wednesday, the Justice conceded that that comment was incorrect.  That kind of ID card, she said through the Court’s public information office, is “an acceptable form of photo identification for voting in Texas.”  So she simply deleted the sentence, and reissued the opinion.  The Court also said that she had made “small stylistic changes” on two pages of her opinion, and that the corrected version could be read on the Court’s website.

Nothing groundbreaking, but noteworthy nonetheless. Meanwhile, kudos to Professor Hasen (and his tipsters) for helping to get the official record straight.

Re correcting the official record, see: Adam Liptak, “Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing,” New York Times, May 24, 2014 (“The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include ‘truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,’ said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon.”).

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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 36.1 (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 

 

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FAN 36 (First Amendment News) Forgotten Free Press Advocates — The Women Lawyers in NYT v. Sullivan

These three women were active in ACLU First Amendment work during those early years and had an enormously powerful and lasting impact on the law we enjoy today. — Joel Gora (longtime ACLU lawyer)

The news follows, but before it does I want to say a few words about three remarkable women and their roles in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). They are:

  1. Harriet Pilpel (1911-1991)
  2. Nanette Dembitz (1913-1989)
  3. Nancy F. Wechsler (1916-2009)
Harriet Fleischl Pilpel

Harriet Fleischl Pilpel

Among others places, you will find their names on the cover of the ACLU amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court on September 9, 1963 in the Sullivan case. Beyond the single sentence they receive in the Supreme Court Reports and in Anthony Lewis’ Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (1991), the women are virtually unknown players in the First Amendment world. As their respective stories reveal, there is more, much more, to be said about the people in the landmark case and how it came to be so. (BTW: Doris Wechsler — the wife of Herbert Wechsler, the attorney for the Times — helped write the merits brief in Sullivan and is listed on it. She sat in the lawyers’ section when Sullivan was argued in the Supreme Court.)

Recently, I had occasion to say a few words about some of those people in connection with a conference hosted by the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications and the Law School, a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sullivan. That is how I came upon the ACLU brief filed in Sullivan.

The lead attorneys for the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union were Edward S. Greenbaum (of the famed Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst firm) and Harriet Pilpel. Melvin L. Wulf, Nanette Dembitz, and Nancy Wechsler were of counsel.

Here is how things began: Mel Wulf, the ACLU attorney, contacted Greenbaum and asked if his firm would file a brief on behalf of ACLU. Greenbaum agreed and, as Wulf recalls, Nancy Wechsler wrote the first draft along with help from Harriet Pilpel. Nanette Dembitz added her own comments, whereafter Wulf did the final read and edit. Greenbaum, the lead attorney, had little or no meaningful input on the brief. The ACLU brief was 37 pages long (plus appendix) and made three basic arguments:

  1. Alabama’s exercise of its long-arm jurisdiction over the Petitioners violated the First Amendment and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
  2. Alabama’s defamation law as applied to criticism of public officials on matters of public concern violated the First Amendment as applied to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment
  3. The trial judge denied the Petitioners due process of law and equal protection of the laws as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment

Those arguments were teased in a variety of ways — e.g., Alabama’s use of its defamation laws was analogous to the Alien and Sedition acts; there was no reasonable basis for presuming malice or damages; and the trial was so rife with racial prejudice against the Petitioners as to deny them equal protection. More could be said about the brief, but for now let me leave it there so as to return to my sketch of the three women who contributed to the ACLU brief.

 Harriet Pilpel was an accomplished public-interest advocate with sterling credentials: A graduate of Vassar College and Columbia Law School (1936, second in her class), she went to wotk for the firm of Greenbaum, Wolf & Ernst. Later, she served as general counsel for both the ACLU (1979-1986) and Planned Parenthood. In 1982 she joined the law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During her career, she participated in 27 cases that came before the Supreme Court. She argued on behalf of Planned Parenthood in Poe v. Ulman (1961). She wrote yet other briefs for Planned Parenthood in cases such as Griswod v. Connecticut (1964, with Nancy Wechsler), Roe v. Wade (1973, with Nancy Wechsler), and Carey v. Population Services International (1977). Pilpel was also on the briefs for the Appellees in Harris v. McRae (1980).

In the free speech context, Pilpel was co-counsel with Edward Greenbaum in Farmers Union v. WDAY (1959), a statutory interpretation defamation case.

Harriet was very helpful in supporting my initial run for the ACLU National Board of Directors (a very competitive process), and she also debated Catharine MacKinnon about pornography at an ACLU Biennial Conference.Nadine Strossen

Read More

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FAN 34 (First Amendment News) Hybrid PACS — yet another case goes to High Court

I am posting this column a few days early since I will be traveling this week, but next week I’ll return to the scheduled Wednesday postings.

* * * *

Contributions earmarked solely for use in independent expenditures by “hybrid” political committees that engage in both independent expenditures and direct contributions to candidates appears destined to be a coming campaign-finance law battleground. — Judge Edith Brown Clement (2014)

Dan Backer

Dan Backer

The cases seem endless — that is, all those campaign cases that are finding their way to courts. One gets dizzy just drying to keep up with all of them as they are listed weekly on Professor Rick Hasen’s Election Law blog.

Recall, last week I posted a story about a campaign finance case that James Bopp, Jr. filed with the Supreme Court on Friday. Before the digital ink on that case could dry, voila, a new campaign finance case found its way to the Court only moments ago.

The case: Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al v FEC.  

The two issues in the case are: (1) Whether a political committee that makes highly restricted direct contributions has a First Amendment right to engage in unrestricted non-contribution activities through a separate and segregated non-contribution account, and (2) Whether the First Amendment forbids a government from restricting political speech based on the disclosure interest—an interest in providing the electorate with information about the sources of election-related spending—including when a more narrowly tailored remedy is available.

→ The man principally behind the case is a mild-mannered and quiet sort of guy, Dan Backer. He is no big time K street lawyer. No, his professional credentials are much more modest. He is the founder and principal attorney for DB Capitol Strategies, a campaign finance and political law firm in Alexandria Virginia. More importantly (and as David Skover and I noted in our book When Money Speaks), he was one of the driving forces behind the successful litigation of McCutcheon v. FEC (2014). When his team lost that case in the D.C. Circuit (in an opinion by Judge Janice Rogers Brown), it did not stop him — he took the case to the Supreme Court where Erin Murphy successfully argued the case for the Petitioner.

And now, Backer and a new team are at it again, in yet another campaign finance case — and again challenging a ruling by Judge Brown and her colleagues on the D.C. Circuit.

Lower Court ruling — “‘You can’t always get what you want'” 

→ Court of Appeals decision (D.C. Cir., Aug, 5, 2014), per Judge Janice Rogers Brown (joined by Judges Thomas Griffith and David Sentelle). Here is how Judge Brown began her opinion:

“The iconic musician Mick Jagger famously mused, ‘You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find, you get what you need.’ The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, on Let It Bleed (Decca Records 1969). Here, Stop This Insanity Inc. (STII)—a grassroots organization—wants to remove the congressionally-imposed binds on solicitation by separate segregated funds, a type of political action committee connected to a parent corporation. What it needs, however, it already has—an unrestrained vehicle, in the form of that parent corporation, which can engage in unlimited political spending. Because this less-obsolete and less-onerous alternative exists, we decline Stop This Insanity’s invitation for us to tinker with what has become a statutory artifact.”

And here is how she ended it, albeit with musical flare:

“STII is already capable of sweeping solicitation. And yet, it wants a vehicle capable of soliciting without transparency. The Court has endorsed disclosure as “a particularly effective means of arming the voting public with information,” McCutcheon, 134 S. Ct. at 1460, and the Appellants’ approach would stifle the Government’s ability to achieve that endeavor. Our Constitution does not compel such a result.IIIWe may never know why the Appellants wish to do things the hard way. The Constitution, however, does not guarantee a right to be obstinate. Try as it might, STII will get no satisfaction.”

Tillman Breckenridge

Tillman Breckenridge

The players

 Counsel of record on Cert. PetitionTillman J. Breckenridge.

 Other Counsel in the Case: The petition was filed by Tillman Breckenridge and Tara Brennan of the Reed Smith law firm, working in conjunction with the William & Mary Law School Appellate and Supreme Court Clinic, and Dan Backer.

→ Counsel for the FEC in Court of Appeals: Erin Chlopak, Acting Assistant General Counsel, Federal Election Commission.

The initial advisory opinion request to the FEC and court filing were done by Steven Hoersting and Dan Backer.

Circuit Split

In his cert. petition, Mr. Breckenridge maintains that “the D.C. and Second Circuits directly conflict with the Fifth and Tenth Circuits on whether hybrid PACs can be prohibited.” The cases to which he refers are:

  1. Stop This Insanity Inc Employee Leadership Fund et al v FEC (D.C. Cir., 2014)
  2. Vermont Right to Life Comm., Inc. v. Sorrell (2nd Cir., 2014)
  3. Catholic Leadership Coal. of Tex. v. Reisman (5th Cir., 2014)
  4. Republican Party of N.M. v. King (10th Cir., 2013)

 → Will such differences in the Circuits be enough to prompt four of the Justices to review the enmeshment issue and/or the discourse one? Here is Professor Rick Hasen’s prediction: “I give this a reasonable chance of a cert. grant, given the circuit split (though not on the disclosure issues, but on the coordination/enmeshment issue.”

On a related matter: Federal judge rules donor disclosure required for political documentary

This from the JURIST website (Sept. 23, 2014):

The US District Court for the District of Colorado denied on Monday a request by Citizens United for a preliminary injunction to allow the conservative organization to air a political documentary without disclosing the film’s advertising donors as required by state law. The documentary, Rocky Mountain Heist, which the group hopes to air before November’s elections, “concerns various Colorado advocacy groups and their impact on Colorado government and public policy.” Citizens United argued, on First Amendment grounds, that its organization should be considered a “press entity,” entitled to the same exemptions as traditional media outlets, which are not required to disclose their donors. Otherwise, the group argued, it would be the victim of “viewpoint-based discrimination.” The court disagreed stating that people should be able to “discern the private interests behind speech when determining how much weight to afford it.” Citizens United intends [press release] to appeal this ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Supreme Court: Results of Sept. 29th Conference Read More

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FAN 33 (First Amendment News) What is a PAC? The next big issue?

This is the hottest issue in campaign finance litigation right now. James Bopp, Jr. 

James Bopp

James Bopp

What is the next big campaign finance class of cases, the ones most likely to go the Supreme Court? Ask different people and you will get pretty much the same answers, ranging from “soft money” cases to certain kinds of campaign disclosure cases to campaign speech and judicial elections cases to certain kinds of contributions made by for-profit and non-profit corporations cases, among others.

James Bopp, a noted campaign finance lawyer, has his own views on the matter. Here is the issue that he thinks will get considerably more judicial attention in the near future: “whether an issue advocacy group, that does some political speech, can be deemed to be a Political Action Committee even though it is not under the control of a candidate and it’s major purpose is not the election or nomination of candidates.” Moreover, he stressed that this “is an important issue since deeming a group to be a PAC vitiates the right to political speech that groups won in Citizens United, since no issue advocacy group wants to suffer PAC burdens to do a small amount of political speech.”

Circuit split

Most recently, this issue was examined by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit in a case familiarly named Vermont Right to Life Committee, et al v. Sorrell (June 28, 2014). The opinion was written by Judge Christopher Droney and joined in by Judges Richard Wesley and Vincent Briccetti. The case for the Petitioners was argued by Randy Elf (with James Bopp, Jr., on the brief).

In a variety of challenges to Vermont’s campaign laws, the Court rejected the Petitioners’ argument that the state’s PAC disclosure requirements violate the First Amendment because Vermont may only impose a disclosure regime on an organization if “the major purpose” of the organization is to advance a candidacy.” Here is Judge Droney’s reply to that argument:

Prior to Citizens United, the Fourth Circuit held that an organization could only be subjected to a political committee regulatory regime if the organization met “the major purpose” test. N.C. Right to Life, Inc. v. Leake, 525 F.3d 274, 288‐89, 295 (4th Cir. 2008) (“NCRL III”). However, since Citizens United and its approval of extensive disclosure regimes, two Circuits have concluded that the major purpose test is not a constitutional requirement. See Ctr. for Individual Freedom v. Madigan, 697 F.3d 464, 490 (7th Cir. 2012) (“[T]he line‐drawing concerns that led the [Supreme] Court to adopt the major purpose limitation for contribution expenditure limits in Buckley do not control our overbreadth analysis of the disclosure requirements . . . .”).  Nat’l Org. for Marriage v. McKee, 649 F.3d 34, 59 (1st Cir. 2011) (“We find no reason to believe that this so called ‘major purpose’ test, like the other narrowing constructions adopted in Buckley, is anything more than an artifact of the Court’s construction of a federal statute.”); see also Human Life of Wash., Inc.  v. Brumsickle, 624 F.3d 990, at 1009‐11 (9th Cir., 2010) (concluding that Buckley did not lay down a bright‐line test requiring that the major purpose of an organization must be to support or oppose a candidate, and that a state law regulating organizations with a major purpose of engaging in such actions was constitutional).

We join the Circuits that have considered PAC definitions in this context after Citizens United and hold that the Constitution does not require disclosure regulatory statutes to be limited to groups having “the major purpose” of nominating or electing a candidate.

 Counsel for Respondent: Eve R. Jacobs‐Carnahan (Megan J. Shafritz, on the brief), Assistant Attorneys General for the State of Vermont.

Amicus briefs in support of the Respondent were filed by J. Gerald Hebert, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21.

 Additionally, George Jepsen, Attorney General for the State of Connecticut and Maura Murphy Osborne, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Connecticut, filed an amicus brief for the States of Connecticut, New York, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, New1 Mexico, and Washington, all joined in support of the Respondent.

The next move: “Several cases raising this issue,” says Bopp, “will be filed with the Supreme Court, including one this Friday contesting the decision of the Second Circuit in Vermont Right to Life v Sorrell.”

→ See also below re C-SPAN link on Heritage event (Sept., 18) on campaign finance law and the First Amendment (with Floyd Abrams, Ronald Collins, Adam Liptak, Erin Murphy, and James Swanson).

New Litigation

Challenge to bans on controversial subway ads  Read More

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31.1 (First Amendment News) Proposed amendment to 1st Amendment fails — A brief history of it all

We must preserve our Bill of Rights including our rights to free speech. We must not allow officials to diminish and ration that right. We must not let this proposal become the supreme law of the land. – Senator Chuck Grassley, Sept. 10, 2014

Text of First Amendment on stone tablet facing Pennsylvania Avenue -- the Newseum, Washington, D.C.

Text of First Amendment on stone tablet facing Pennsylvania Avenue — the Newseum

It’s over now, the campaign to amend the First Amendment. The Democratic-led effort died in the Senate yesterday by a vote of 54-42. Thankfully, the constitutional theatrics have ended and the 1791 text remains safe, at least from any Article V threat by lawmakers.

Not surprisingly, reports Burgess Everett writing in Politico, “Senate Republicans unanimously rejected a constitutional amendment sought by Democrats that would allow Congress to regulate campaign finance reform. . . . The failure of the proposal followed a surprising result on Monday, when the measure advanced past an initial filibuster despite broad GOP opposition to the measure.”

“Grassley and two dozen other Senate Republicans voted to advance the bill,” added Everett, “to blunt Democrats’ plans to hold a second round of campaign-flavored Democratic votes on proposals aimed at raising the minimum wage, overturning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, chipping away at gender pay disparities and reforming the student loan system.”

After the vote, Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said: “Today, Senate Republicans clearly showed that they would rather sideline hardworking families in order to protect the Koch brothers and other radical interests that are working to fix our elections and buy our democracy.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had a quite different view: “The proposed amendment would restrict the most important speech the First Amendment protects, core political speech. It’s hard to imagine what would be more radical than the Congress passing a constitutional amendment to overturn a dozen Supreme Court decisions that have protected individual rights. Free speech would be dramatically curtailed.” (See also text of Senator Grassley’s floor statement.)

Looking back: Justice Stevens takes the stage 

The constitutional campaign movement got a big boost last April when Justice John Paul Stevens proposed an amendment to the First Amendment. Remember, he did so in his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the ConstitutionHis proposed amendment provided:

Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.

On April 30, 2014, Justice Stevens testified before a Senate Rules Committee at which he read a statement in defense of his proposed amendment.

Looking back:  The Leahy hearing  Read More

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FAN 31 (First Amendment News): “Freedom from Speech” — a timely broadside

“This is a surreal time for freedom of speech.” 

He is a First Amendment activist / he likes his freedom robust / he refuses to leave censorial speech codes alone / and he is making a real difference in safeguarding free speech in America (see, e.g., here). True, there can be an irksome quality about him, or at least so think some college administrators who cabin liberty in “free speech zones” (oh, the Orwellian irony of the phrase!). There is an air of Tom Paine about him, if only in his willingness to speak boldly and perceptively about our contemporary crisis in free speech, a crisis fostered as much by close-minded liberals as by ideologically driven conservatives. And if you miss those wonderfully irreverent Christopher Hitchins broadsides, then take heed: here is someone with a dollop of the same brazen DNA. Even so, he is civil / he speaks softly / he listens to other voices / he welcomes a hearty give-and-take / and he puts his views to the test in the marketplace of ideas (see, e.g., his last book).

The man of whom I speak: Greg Lukianoff.

His broadside: Freedom from Speech (61 pp.) (paperback: $5.39 / Kindle: $4.79)

photoHis publisher: Encounter Books.

This timely broadside is as American as blue jeans . . . and yet its message struggles to survive in a nation where governmental intolerance and groupthink orthodoxy too often rule over the minds and voices and campaigns of those who would have their messages heard. If you want a turgid academic read, avoid this work. So, too, if you want everything from the obvious to the obfuscated documented by a long string of fancy footnotes dotted with case names and the like. And if you yearn for a work that merrily balances away individual freedom of speech in the name of some professorial parlor norm, Lukianoff’s pamphlet will not be your cup of tea. Just  common sense and plain speech are served up in this pamphlet in defense of free speech.

Why the title?

Before answering that question, it is important to note that Lukianoff”s concerns are not confined to the First Amendment. Hardly. What troubles this Stanford Law School educated activist are threats to the culture of free speech in America and abroad. “People all over the globe,” he argues, “are coming to expect emotional and intellectual comfort as though it were a right.” That focus brings us back to the title. Censorship due to hypersensitivity, Lukianoff argues, “is precisely what you would expect when you train a generation to believe that they have a right not to be offended. Eventually, they stop demanding freedom of speech and start demanding freedom from speech.”

While some might reasonably take issue with the author’s criticisms of private actors punishing others for offensive speech (e.g. offensive types such as Donald Sterling, the Duck Dynasty guys, Don Imus, and Howard Stern), I nonetheless think Lukianoff makes a telling point when he highlights the growing trend, particularly on college campuses, towards various forms of what he labels a “sensitivity-based censorship.” On that score he adds: “The idea that we can truly tackle hard issues while remaining universally inoffensive — an impossible pipe dream even if it were desirable — seems to be growing increasingly popular.”

Education in censorship?  Read More

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FAN 30. 3 (First Amendment News) Senate votes to begin debate on proposed amendment to First Amendment

This from Susan Ferrechio  writing in the Washington Examiner:

“The Senate voted Monday to begin debate on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would grant Congress and the states the power to imagesregulate campaign finance.The measure cleared a procedural hurdle by a vote of 79-18. It was authored by Democrats, who had anticipated it would be blocked by GOP opposition. But Republicans voted to move ahead with debate, turning what was supposed to be a Democratic messaging bill against the Democrats.”

 This from Ramsey Cox writing for The Hill:

“The Senate on Monday advanced a constitutional amendment meant to reverse two recent Supreme Court decisions on campaign spending.Republicans are likely to vote against the amendment when it comes up for a final vote, but by allowing it to proceed, ensured that it will tie up the Senate for most of the week.More than 20 Republicans joined Democrats in the 79-18 vote advancing the amendment, well over the 60 votes that were needed. The amendment is almost certain to fail, as it would need to win two-thirds support to pass the Senate, and then would still need to move through the House and be ratified by two-thirds of the states.”

“‘We should have debate on this important amendment,’ Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said before voting for cloture. ‘The majority should be made to answer why they want to silence critics.’ Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would gladly debate the issue for as long as Republicans require because the amendment is necessary to keep ‘dark money’ out of politics.”

→ This from Burgess Everett writing for Politico:

“Several Senate Republicans joined Democrats on Monday to advance a constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states greater power to regulate campaign finance. But the bipartisanship ends there. Many of the Republicans only voted for the bill to foul up Democrats’ pre-election messaging schedule, freezing precious Senate floor time for a measure that ultimately has no chance of securing the two-thirds support necessary in both the House and Senate to amend the Constitution. The legislation needed 60 votes to advance and Democrats took a cynical view of the 79-18 tally.”

“Ahead of the vote, [Senator Bernie] Sanders and other pro-reform Democrats like [Senators] Al Franken of Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tom Udall of New Mexico held a rally on the Capitol grounds with amendment supporters and supporting groups like People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Citizen. The crowd was a solid mix of reporters and demonstrators with signs reading “Democracy is not for sale.”

For commentary, see:

→ Tom Udall & Bernie Sanders, “The Threat to American Democracy,” Politico, Sept. 7, 2014

→ Geoffrey Stone, “The Rift in the ACLU Over Free Speech,” Huffington Post, Sept, 8, 2014 (see also here re ACLU controversy)