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Category: First Amendment

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FAN 11.1 (First Amendment News) — Winners of 2014 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards

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Hugh Hefner

The Hugh M. Hefner Foundation has just announced the winners of the 2014 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards. Christie Hefner established the Awards in 1979, in conjunction with Playboy magazine’s 25th anniversary, to honor individuals who have made significant contributions in the vital effort to protect and enhance First Amendment rights for all Americans. The awards will be presented on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, followed by a reception for past winners, journalists, government officials, and civic leaders at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

A Lifetime Achievement Award will be bestowed on Norman Dorsen, who, for more than a half-century, has been at the forefront of the fight to advance fundamental freedoms and protect civil rights and civil liberties. Since 1961, Dorsen has taught as the Frederick I. and Grace A. Stokes Professor of Law at New York University School of Law. He is the co-director of the Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program and was the founding director of NYU’s Hauser Global Law School Program in 1994. Dorsen served as General Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (1969-1976), and then as its president (1976-1991). Dorsen has argued many Court cases, wrote the brief for Brandenburg and appeared amicus curiae in theGideon case, the Pentagon Papers case and the Nixon Tapes case.

Award winners, many of whom are unsung heroes, come from various walks of life, including Muneer Awad (Government), former Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma Chapter, who successfully challenged the implementation of an amendment to ban Sharia and International law that violates the U.S. Constitution and targets Oklahoma’s Muslim-Americans.

Glenn Greenwald (Journalism), political journalist, lawyer, author, blogger and columnist, who published the first in a series of reports detailing NSA surveillance programs based on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Mary Beth Tinker and Mike Hiestand (Education), for organizing the Tinker Tour, a national free speech and free press tour to promote the First Amendment through the stories of young people. This past school year, the Tinker Tour traveled to schools in 31 states, the District of Columbia and two countries.

Thomas Healy (Book Publishing), author of The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America (Henry Holt & Co., 2013). Professor Healy is a Professor of Law at Seton Hall and teaches Constitutional Law, the First Amendment and Federal Courts and Criminal Procedure.

Christopher Finan (Law), President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, for presenting key issues of the impact of the attacks of 9/11 on First Amendment rights to middle and high school students in his book, National Security and Free Speech: The Debate Since 9/11(IDEBATE Press, 2013).

This year’s Master of Ceremonies will be Christie Hefner, Chairperson and founder of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards.

{From April 16, 2014 press release}

Previous Winners: (go here)

Last FAN 11 Column (go here)

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FAN.11 (First Amendment News) — Encouraging Suicide, First Amendment Protected?

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{see news item after one immediately below re suicide case}

Barcelona, April 14, 2014. I’m walking down a narrow street in Spain when I come upon a large town square (Plaza de San Jaime). Turns out that it’s the site of the offices of the Generalitat de Catalunya (a national entity) — the perfect place for dissidents to gather to protest against this or that or for this or that. On this day, the protestors were preparing for a rally to champion their anti-monacrchist movement. Mind you, I don’t have a horse in this race, if only because I know next to nothing about the history and politics of Spain . . . other than Francisco Franco was a murderous tyrant. Still, the sight of dissent is, for me, a welcome one. That people may freely assemble and voice their grievances is always a good sign. Make of them what you will, but I stand firmly with them when it comes to exercising such rights of dissent. Of course, it’s always easier when you agree with the cause, but such a narrow mindset misses the point of peaceful dissent — that others may actually loathe what we hold dear and thus attempt to change our world. Those others may be anti-monarchists in Spain or anti-abortionists in South Carolina. Where freedom is the constituted form of government, free speech means that such dissidents deserve their day in the courtyard of public opinion. By that measure, I say bully for the guy with the rebellious flag, his fist-a-flyin’, who has the bravado to protest in front of the seat of power. 

Minnesota Court Rules that First Amendment Protects Encouraging a Suicide

My friend Professor Sherry Colb has just posted an informative and thoughtful piece on the Verdict blog concerning a recent ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court in the case of State of Minnesota v. Melchert-Dinkel. The case involved a First Amendment challenge to a state statute that provided:“Whoever intentionally advises, encourages, or assists another in taking the other’s own life may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 15 years or to payment of a fine of not more than $30,000, or both.” The free speech issue in the case was whether advising or encouraging or assisting suicide falls within one of the traditionally unprotected categories of speech. By a 4-1 vote, the Court held that the sections of the law in question violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Justice Alan C. Page dissented (two Justices did not participate).

Justice G. Bary Anderson began his majority opinion with the following statement: “After communicating with appellant William Melchert-Dinkel, Mark Drybrough and Nadia Kajouji each committed suicide.” Later, he added: “Posing as a depressed and suicidal young female nurse, Melchert-Dinkel responded to posts on suicide websites by Mark Drybrough of Coventry, England, and Nadia Kajouji of Ottawa, Canada. In each case, he feigned caring and understanding to win the trust of the victims while encouraging each to hang themselves, falsely claiming that he would also commit suicide, and attempting to persuade them to let him watch the hangings via webcam. Drybrough, who was 32 years old at the time Melchert-Dinkel contacted him in 2005, had suffered from significant mental and physical health problems for many years . . . . His contact with Melchert-Dinkel began after the appellant responded to Drybrough’s posting in an online forum about suicide asking about methods to commit suicide by hanging without ‘access to anything high up to tie the rope to.’ Melchert-Dinkel described how to commit suicide by hanging by tying a rope to a doorknob and slinging the rope over the top of the door. . . . . On March 1, 2008, 19-year-old Nadia Kajouji of Ottawa, Canada, posted a message on a suicide website asking for advice on suicide methods that would be quick, reliable, and appear to be an accident to her family and friends. Five days later, Melchert-Dinkel responded, pretending to be a 31-year-old emergency room nurse who was also suicidal. Again, he presented himself as a caring and compassionate friend who understood Kajouji’s plight and wanted to help.”

Mark Drybrough hung himself to death while Nadia Kajouji jumped off a bridge, contrary to Melchert-Dinkel’s advice that she hang herself immediately. She, too, died as a result of her actions.

Professor Colb analyzed the relevant categories of unprotected speech — fraud, incitement, and encouraging criminal activity — to determine their fit, if any, to the facts of the case. She concluded that “advising or encouraging a suicide in a direct and targeted manner, which the law in question contemplates, does not fall within the protection of the First Amendment, as it represents incitement to imminent lawlessness.” By contrast, she noted: “In the very different context of physician-assisted suicide, for instance, my view would be that a doctor should be allowed to provide assistance to a patient but should never be allowed to try to persuade an ambivalent patient that he really should go ahead and end his own life.”

In a future column I hope to add a few thoughts of my own and invite some First Amendment types weigh in to see how they might analyze this case. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, take a look at Sherry’s more extended post on the case over at the Dorf on Law blog.

Another “Free Speech Zone” Falls. According to an Associated Press report: “The Virginia Community College System has agreed to suspend its student demonstrations policy in response to a lawsuit filed by Thomas Nelson Community College student Christian Parks. Both sides have asked a federal judge in Norfolk to put the case on hold until May 2 while a new policy and settlement details are negotiated.” Mr. Parks was represented by David Hacker of the Alliance Defending Freedom. Free speech zones like the Virginia Community College one are consistently defeated in court. Even so, according to  Greg Lukianoff (president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), as of last November “one in five public four-year colleges we surveyed had unduly restrictive free speech zone policies.” (See here.) 

Conflict in DC Circuit — The Meat & Minerals Cases In FAN.9 I mentioned the  American Meat Institute v. AGRI (D.C. Cir., March 28, 2014) case. That’s the controversy involving  a federal rule that requires, among other things, country-of- origin labeling (“COOL”). Since that post, the Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia has agreed to hear the case en banc. In a related matter, and as Professor Ruthann Robson has recently noted,the D.C. Circuit just handed down a significant decision in National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Comm’n. The majority opinion was authored by Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph with Judge David Sentelle joining him and Judge Sri Srinivasan concurring in part. The panel held that a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (15 U.S.C. § 78m(p)(1)(A)(ii) & (E)) ran afoul of the First Amendment. Read More

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FAN 10.1 (First Amendment News) The 2014 Jefferson Muzzles are Here! — 2015 Candidates in Wings

Since 1992, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has celebrated the birth and ideals of its namesake by calling attention to those who in the past year forgot or disregarded Mr. Jefferson’s admonition that freedom of speech “cannot be limited without being lost.”

Announced on or near April 13—the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson—the Jefferson Muzzles are awarded as a means to draw national attention to abridgments of free speech and press and, at the same time, foster an appreciation for those tenets of the First Amendment.TJCenter-copy

As the Center sees it, because the importance and value of free expression extend far beyond the First Amendment’s limit on government censorship, acts of private censorship are not spared consideration for the dubious honor of receiving a Muzzle.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, by way of the Thomas Jefferson Center, I present you the

2014 Jefferson Muzzles

Re: 2013 Muzzles, go here

On a related point, see David Berstein’s “Brandeis University’s Double Standard on Honorary Degrees,” Volokh Conspiracy, April 9, 2014.

If Josh Wheeler and the folks at the Jefferson Center are considering candidates for the 2015 Muzzles, check out John L. Smith’s column entitled “Government in full force to corral cattle, First Amendment,” Las Vegas Review-Journal, April 7, 2014. As Smith  put it:

Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but . . . I had never set foot in a First Amendment Area. On Saturday, the lot was otherwise empty. There were no fiery voices of libertarian protest, no throng of angry Nevada ranchers with rifles in their pickups, not even a gaggle of curious tourists or a covey of head-scratching reporters. Of course, the fact the free-speech pen was located several miles from Bundy’s ranch and even farther from the federal government’s corral of “trespass cattle,” the lack of attendance was understandable. (By Monday, the voices of peaceful protest would increase considerably a few miles up the road near the banks of the Virgin River.)

Adds Smith: “A sign marks a ‘First Amendment area’ to designate where protesters can protest near Bunkerville.” See lonely “First Amendment Area” below in pic. Turns out that sometime later a protester ventured out with an American flag and placard that read: “The First Amendment is not an area.”

web1_bundy_040114JL_09_4Last FAN.10 Column: (“Justice Stevens’ Proposal to Amend the 1st Amendment”) go here

Next Scheduled FAN Column: April 16th

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Fan.10 (First Amendment News) — Justice Stevens’ Proposal to Amend the 1st Amendment

justice-stevensWhile the Justices busily prepared their respective opinions in the McCutcheon campaign finance case, one of their Brethren was preparing to release a book that calls on Americans to reverse some of his former colleagues’ constitutional handiwork. The forthcoming book is Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown & Co., pp. 170). The author is Justice John Paul Stevens.

This short book is offered up against the backdrop of Justice Stevens’ co-authored opinion in McConnell v. FEC (2003), his dissents in Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee v. FEC (1996), Randall v. Sorrell (2006),  Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008), and Citizens United v. FEC (2010), his criticism of that case in his Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir (2011), and in his various criticisms of the Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence in his print and TV interviews along with his public addresses. Moreover, it is highly likely that Justice Stevens is just as critical of the Court’s recent 5-4 decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. In short, John Paul Stevens is a man on a constitutional mission.

Quite apart from Citizens United, Justice Stevens has long had serious reservations about vindicating First Amendment claims in most campaign finance cases. Coming onto the Court shortly after Buckley v. Valeo (1976), he witnessed firsthand what Justice William Brennan and his colleagues had wrought in sustaining several of the First Amendment claims urged by  Senator James L. Buckley, presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, and the ACLU. It left him, he recalled in Five Chiefs, with an “extreme distaste” for that precedent. That distaste, he added, “never abated, and I have felt ever since that the Court would have been best served by inserting itself into campaign finance debates with less frequency.”

Given that, he thinks it is time to resort to Article V for a constitutional remedy. Admittedly, it is (and should be) difficult to amend the Constitution. From 1789 to April 2014, some 11,539 amendments have been proposed, but only twenty-six have been ratified. But that fact has not deterred the retired Justice from Hyde Park, Chicago. Here, then, is the text of the 43 words Justice Stevens would add to the Constitution in order to amend the First Amendment.

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.

(Though the publication date is not until April 22, the text of the above language, which has been confirmed to be the final text, has heretofore appeared here and here and here.)

Reactions from Select 1st Amendment Scholars & Lawyers

Professor Martin Redish, a noted First Amendment scholar who teaches at Justice Stevens’ alma mater, takes exception to this proposed constitutional amendment: “As much as I respect Justice Stevens, I believe that his proposed amendment is sorely misguided.”

  1. “Its inescapable impact would be to reduce dramatically the flow of information and opinion to the voters about political campaigns, thereby substantially undermining core goals of the First Amendment and its role as a facilitator of democracy. The simple fact is that speech costs money, and by limiting the amount of money that candidates and supporters can spend the provision would necessarily limit the flow of often valuable expression which could help the voters perform their governing function in the voting booth.”
  2.  ”Moreover, Justice Stevens’ proposal would have the inescapable effect of locking in non-monetary inequalities—for example, incumbency, political connections or fame— perversely, in the name of equality. These are inequalities that have traditionally been diluted by opponents’ use of money to equalize the voters’ awareness of the candidates.”
  3.  ”Finally, the provision would create an interpretive nightmare. How much money is “reasonable”? Would it differ from state to state? From campaign to campaign? And who gets to decide? Would courts invoke strict scrutiny or rational basis review of the legislature’s judgment? To give the authority of determining how much is “reasonable” to a state legislature invites the fox to watch the hen house: legislators who will stand for reelection will naturally attempt to shape the limits in a way that facilitates their continued victory. Also on an interpretive level, enormous uncertainty would be created by the task of determining who is a “supporter” of a candidate. And even if courts were somehow able to establish coherent interpretive standards for that word, is it appropriate for the Constitution to engage in what amounts to viewpoint-based discrimination by giving preferences to those who are neutral over those who have chosen to support a particular candidate?”

“In sum, Justice Stevens’ proposal would bring about all of these nightmares—political, social, and interpretive. We would be left with a doctrinal morass and a substantial disruption of the flow of information and opinion fundamental to the operation of the democratic process. To be sure, there are problems with our current campaign system, but as Madison warned in Federalist No. 10, sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.”Unknown

Professor Steven Shiffrin, another noted First Amendment scholar, takes a different view: “The proposal of Justice Stevens directly speaks to the major evil confronting our elections and our democracy. Nonetheless, I worry that conservatives on the Court, as they have in the past, will make a distinction between commentary on issues and election commentary allowing the former, but not the latter. They have previously ruled that commentary was about issues rather than candidates even when the purpose and effect of the commentary was to influence the outcome of an election. This loophole could seriously undermine the purpose of the proposed amendment.”

Such comments notwithstanding, Justice Stevens is “confident that the soundness” of his proposal “will become more and more evident, and that ultimately [it] will be adopted.” The purpose of his forthcoming book, he tells us, “is to expedite that process and to avoid future crises before they occur.”

Not surprisingly, Robert Corn-Revere, a noted First Amendment lawyer, was also skeptical of the Justice’s amendment idea: “The idea of proposing an amendment to reverse Supreme Court decisions one doesn’t like is not new – witness the myriad amendments that purported to ‘fix’ the First Amendment in the wake of the flag burning cases Texas v. Johnson and U.S. v. Eichmann.  But such a thing is rare when it comes from a retired Supreme Court justice, and even more surprising is the degree of latitude the proposed language would give government to restrict our most basic rights. I would have hoped Justice Stevens’ long experience with Fourth Amendment jurisprudence would have suggested the danger of giving the courts power to decide which abridgements are ‘reasonable.’”

Two Opposing Views

John Nichols & Robert McChesney, Dollarocracy (2013): “Every major reform period in American history…has been accompanied by numerous amendments to the Constitution, amendments that were deemed unthinkable until almost the moment they were passed. If the problems faced at this point in the American journey are going to be solved, history suggests constitutional amendments will be a significant part of the process”

– Laura W. Murphy, director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office (June 2012): “If there is one thing we absolutely should not be doing, it’s tinkering with our founding document to prevent groups like the ACLU (or even billionaires like Sheldon Adelson) from speaking freely about the central issues in our democracy. Doing so will fatally undermine the First Amendment, diminish the deterrent factor of a durable Constitution and give comfort to those who would use the amendment process to limit basic civil liberties and rights. It will literally ‘break’ the Constitution.”

Other Proposed Amendments to the First Amendment re Campaign Finance Issues

Read More

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E-Book on McCutcheon Case Just Published

At the risk of being accused of shameful promotion, I am nonetheless delighted to say that my book with David Skover was released yesterday and is now available as an e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play. The book is titled When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment and was available 36 hours after the Court rendered its ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC. davidskoverThis is the first book to be released in the SCOTUS-Books-in-Brief series.

This is also my fifth book with David (going back to 1996) and the ride has been an incredible one. As a co-author he is all things wonderful and wondrous and none of those books would have been possible but for his incredible talents and work ethic. So, a BIG NOD to my co-author. One more thing: the book is dedicated to Nadine Strossen, “The First Lady of Liberty,” as we tag her. I can think of no one who has been a greater champion of liberty than Nadine. All that said, here is a dollop of yet more of shameless promotion:

Book Description

Top Five Books: Publication Date: April 2, 2014WMS-cover2

80,000 words, e-book: $2.99

“A brilliant discussion of campaign finance in America…a must for all who care about the American political system.” —Erwin Chemerinsky

“Thorough, dispassionate, and immensely readable.” —Floyd Abrams 

“A must read for anyone interested in constitutional law, free speech, or elections. An original and welcome brand of narrative scholarship.”  —Adam Winkler

“Informative. Reliable.  Accessible. This is the best book on the general topic. And a great read, too!” —David M. O’Brien

On April 2, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down aggregate limits on how much money individuals could contribute to political candidates, parties, and committees. The McCutcheon v. FEC decision fundamentally changes how people (and corporations, thanks to Citizens United) can fund campaigns, opening the floodgates for millions of dollars in new spending, which had been curtailed by campaign finance laws going back to the early 1970s.

WHEN MONEY SPEAKS is the first book to explain and dissect the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in McCutcheon, including analysis of the tumultuous history of campaign finance law in the U.S. and the new legal and political repercussions likely to be felt from the Court’s decision. The book is cast in narrative form, replete with accounts of the players who made the case what it has become. Also included are photos of the key players — the lawyers, activists, and Shaun McCutcheon, too. The authors also did extensive interviews (up to and including the day of the ruling) with several of the key figures in the case.

McCutcheon has been billed as “the sequel to Citizens United,” the decision giving corporations the same rights as individuals to contribute to political campaigns. Lauded by the right as a victory for free speech, and condemned by the left as handing the keys to our government to the rich and powerful, the Court’s ruling has inflamed a debate that is not going to go away anytime soon, with calls for new laws and even a constitutional amendment on the left—while those on the right (including Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion) call for an end to all contribution limits. Two of the nation’s top First Amendment scholars—Ronald Collins and David Skover—have produced a highly engaging, incisive account of the case, including exclusive interviews with petitioner Scott McCutcheon and other key players, as well as an eye-opening history of campaign finance law in the U.S.

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FAN.9.1 (First Amendment News) — McCutcheon Wins: Supreme Court strikes down aggregate limits law

Only minutes ago the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, the aggregate limits campaign finance case.

Link to opinion is here.

Vote to Reverse:  5-4 (sustaining First Amendment claim)

Plurality Opinion:  Chief Justice John Roberts (joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy & Alito)

Concurring Opinion: Justice Clarence Thomas (would overrule Buckley)

Dissenting Opinions: Justice Stephen Breyer joined by Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, & Sotomayor.

The issues before the Court were: (1) Whether the biennial limit on contributions to non-candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(B), is unconstitutional for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest as applied to contributions to national party committees; (2) whether the biennial limits on contributions to non-candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(B), are unconstitutional facially for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest; (3) whether the biennial limits on contributions to non-candidate committees are unconstitutionally too low, as applied and facially; and (4) whether the biennial limit on contributions to candidate committees, 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3)(A), is unconstitutional for lacking a constitutionally cognizable interest.

Commentary: SCOTUSblog (Amy Howe): “The Court rules in the Chief’s opinion that the aggregate limits do not further the permissible government interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of such corruption.”

 Lawyers: Supreme Court

For Appellant Shaun McCutcheon: Erin Murphy (lead counsel) & Paul Clement

For Appellant RNC: James Bopp, Jr. (NB: Though the NRC brief was prepared by Mr. Bopp, Ms. Murphy argued the case for both McCutcheon and the RNC)

For Senator Mitch McConnell (amicus): Bobby Burchfield 

For Appellee: Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr.

Oral Arguments 

Resources & Related Materials 

  • Lower Court opinion (per Judge Janice Rogers-Brown) (argued by James Bopp, Jr., for Appellant)

Selected Supreme Court Briefs

  • Cert. Petition of Shaun McCutcheon & RNC (James Bopp, Jr., counsel of record)
  • Merits Brief of Appellant RNC (James Bopp, Jr., counsel of record)
  • Merits Brief of Appellant Shaun McCutcheon (Michael T. Morley, counsel of record)
  • Reply Brief of Appellant Republican National Committee  (James Bopp, Jr., counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Sen. Mitch McConnell (Bobby Burchfield, counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of the Cato Institute in support of the Appellant (Ilya Shapiro, counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and the Media Institute in support of the Appellant (J. Joshua Wheeler, counsel of record)
  • Brief of Appellee FEC (S.G. Donald Verrilli, Jr., counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Brennan Center for Justice in support of Appellee (Daniel Kolb, counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Americans for Campaign Reform in support of Appellee (Charles Fried)
  • Amicus Brief of Democratic Members of the U.S. House of Representatives in support of Appellee (Paul M. Smith, counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Representatives Chris Van Hollen & David Price in support of Appellee (Seth Waxman, counsel of record)
  • Amicus Brief of Professor Lawrence Lessig in support of Appellee (Douglas T. Kendall, counsel of record)
  • For Additional Briefs, go here (ABA site)

Books, Symposia & Articles

  • SCOTUSblog Symposium on McCutcheon (forthcoming, 2014) (contributors: Jan Witold Baran, Richard Hasen, Burt Neuborne, Ilya Shapiro, & Fred Wertheimer)
  • SCOTUSblog Symposium on McCutcheon (Aug., 2013) (contributors: Erwin Chemerinsky, Ronald Collins, Robert Corn-Revere, Joel Gora, Justin Levitt, Tamara Piety, David Skover, & Adam Winkler)
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FAN.9 (First Amendment News) — Sunstein on Sullivan & its “Dark Side”

In the wide-open, robust, and uninhibited world of the First Amendment, nothing is sacred, not even the hallowed opinion in New York Times, Inc. v. Sullivan (1964). Case in point: Justice Antonin Scalia’s originalist reservations about Justice William Brennan’s constitutional handiwork in that landmark case. But alas, the conservative jurist is not alone. Enter the sometimes liberal Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, who has recently authored an op-ed titled “The dark side of the First Amendment” (Bloomberg, March 26, 2014).Unknown

Some two decades ago, in his Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech, Professor Sunstein labeled the Sullivan case as “one of the greatest cases of modern free speech law.” Even so, he made it clear in that book and in later works that his understanding of the Sullivan principle was a cabined one. Later, in an August 21, 1995 review essay in The New Republic, he spoke of the question of causation, among other things. There Sunstein maintained that “it isn’t necessary to demand proof of causation before encouraging greater responsibility on simple prudential grounds.” In that regard, he argued that cultural questions should not be confused with constitutional ones when it comes to questions of causation. It is against that backdrop that we return to his views on Sullivan, which are at once somewhat laudatory and at the same time rather cautionary.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Sullivan, Sunstein writes: “amid the justified celebration, we should pay close attention to the dark side of New York Times vs. Sullivan. While it has granted indispensable breathing space for speakers, it has also created a continuing problem for public civility and for democratic self-government.” (emphasis added).  Later on in his op-ed, he was more modest in his critique: “False accusations are hardly new. But New York Times vs. Sullivan can claim at least some responsibility for adding to a climate of distrust and political polarization in the U.S.” (emphasis added). Having said all of that, in the end he conceded that “the Court got the balance right” in Sullivan. What are we to make of this?

A few preliminary responses, first my own, and then some from a colleague. If I read him correctly, Professor Sunstein seems to be saying that constitutionally speaking Sullivan is a good thing, but culturally speaking it is not, or may not be so wonderful. Fair enough, for general discussion purposes anyway. That said, it must be remembered that we pay a price for liberty. So much for the constitutional side of the equation. On the cultural side, however, Sunstein seems to make his case on the back of a weak causation claim (recall: “it isn’t necessary to demand proof of causation . . . .”). That leads me to wonder: Is it unreasonable to expect that any meaningful cultural critique of Sullivan be related in some actual sense to questions of proof of causation? In other words, should cultural critiques be oblivious to what science can tell us, or at least suggest to us? Granted, one might understandably deplore the state of “discourse” in modern America.  But faulting Sullivan is another matter. More importantly, what is sorely missing from Professor Sunstein’s cultural critique is a critique of the culture writ large. By that measure, Sullivan may make for a convenient scapegoat, but little more, at least standing alone.

By way of another look, American University law professor Stephen Wermiel, who co-authored the seminal biography of Justice Brennan and more recently co-authored a book on Sullivan and its legacy, offered the following comment on Professor Sunstein’s article:

“Professor Cass Sunstein joined the fiftieth anniversary celebration of New York Times v. Sullivan, but bemoaned the ability of “talk show hosts, bloggers and users of social media” to “spread ugly falsehoods in an instant,” adding to “a climate of distrust and political polarization.” But Sunstein’s concerns lay too much blame on the shoulders of Sullivan. That unanimous ruling did not create a society in which free-flowing criticism, replete with occasional falsehoods, is rampant. That culture already existed; Sullivan only helped to fit it all into a robust constitutional democracy. To the extent that Sunstein’s criticism turns on the proliferation of instant means of communication, he gives too little weight to the access that victims of social media have to respond. Moreover, Justice Brennan, the author of Sullivan, was not alone in his belief that society benefits from “robust and wide-open debate.” It was, after all, the more judicially modest Justice John Harlan who 1971 observed that the ability of society to handle the cacophony of free speech is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Returning to the constitutional side of the ledger, in his latest book (Conspiracy Theories and other Dangerous Ideas) Professor Sunstein further elaborates on his ideas about the virtues of “minimalist” judging, which makes one wonder if he would have indeed signed onto what Justice Brennan wrote in Sullivan. My guess: no.

Watch your calendar: The petition in Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock is scheduled to be considered at the Court’s April 4th Conference.

Note: I plan to have immediate and updated postings re McCutcheon v. FEC, the campaign finance First Amendment case now awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court.

Journalists & “qualified First Amendment privileges”

Joel Kurtzberg of Cahill Gordon & Reindel has just filed a cert. petition in the case of Risen v. United States in which two issues are presented: (1) Do journalists have a qualified First Amendment privilege when subpoenaed to reveal the identity of confidential sources in a federal criminal trial?, and (2) should a federal common law privilege be recognized under Federal Rule of Evidence 501 to provide protection to journalists who are subpoenaed to reveal the identity of their confidential sources in a federal criminal trial? Read More

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My Textualist Moment — the Use of the Words “Person” or “Persons” or “People” in Our National Bill of Rights

There has been much talk lately about whether corporations are or should be “persons” under the First Amendment, both for free speech and free exercise purposes.images

In a textualist moment, this got me to thinking about the wording of our federal Bill of Rights and what light it might shed on this. Let’s start with the First Amendment. Its focus is a limitation on the powers of Congress and makes no mention of persons until the reference to “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The Second Amendment mentions people in a similar way: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Third Amendment uses the word “Owner” but not person or persons or people.

The Fourth Amendment is quite explicit: It speaks of the “right of the people” and the rights of “persons.” So, too, with the Fifth Amendment and its reference to “person.”

The Sixth Amendment mentions the rights of “the accused” and likewise uses the male pronoun “his” and “him” in this regard.

The Seventh and Eighth Amendments are silent on the personhood question.

The Ninth Amendment, of course, refers to the rights “retained by the people.”

And the Tenth Amendment reserves rights to “the states respectively, or to the people.”

There you have it. What to make of it? Well, I leave that to others to decide since I am not a bona fide textualist fundamentalist, though I do think text matters as a part of the constitutional calculation of things. Y tu? What do you think? (Feel free to respond in either your individual or corporate capacity.)

Brad A. Greenberg on the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013

Brad A. Greenberg is Intellectual Property Fellow at Columbia Law School’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts. He writes primarily about laws that encourage, restrict, or regulate speech and technological development, with an emphasis on legal questions raised by new technologies; it at times draws on his previous career as a newspaper reporter. Recent publications include “Copyright Trolls and Presumptively Fair Uses,” 85 U. Colo. L. Rev. 53 (2014); “The Federal Media Shield Folly,” 91 Wash. U. L. Rev. 437 (2013); and “More Than Just a Formality: Instant Authorship and Copyright’s Opt-Out Future in the Digital Age,” 59 UCLA L. Rev. 1028 (2012). He offers the following thoughts on recent developments in media shield policy: 

At the New York Times’ Sources + Secrets conference Friday, one panel took up a perennially popular piece of legislation among news organizations and industry groups: a so-called media shield law.

Numerous media shield bills have been proposed in the 42 years since the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution does not protect reporters from being compelled to testify; all proposals have failed. But the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013 appears different. The bill has bipartisan support, the endorsement of President Obama, and has already moved out of Senate committee. It has also been overwhelmingly supported by major news organizations and industry groups – reflected again at Sources + Secrets.

But there are at least three substantial challenges to the bill’s efficacy. Read More

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FAC.2 (First Amendment Conversations) – Bruce Johnson on Press Access to Prisons

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His name is well known among First Amendment practitioners. He is Bruce E.H. Johnson, a friend and seasoned First Amendment lawyer who is a partner at the Seattle office of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm. He represents information industry clients on issues involving media and communications law as well as technology and intellectual property matters. In addition to being the co-author of the leading treatise on commercial expression (Advertising and Commercial Speech, A First Amendment Guide (2nd ed. 2013), Bruce has written scholarly articles and has done considerable First Amendment appellate work, both in federal and state courts. He has also drafted three press-related statutes that have been enacted into law in Washington State.

Today’s topic concerns press and public access to jails and prisons for the purpose of gathering information relevant to conditions therein. (Hat tip: I selected this topic after reading William Bennett Turner’s informative and engaging book Figures of Speech: First Amendment Heroes & Villains (2011), which has a chapter on the topic. See also Helene Vosters, Media Lockout: Prisons & Journalists.)

Bruce, welcome to the Concurring Opinions blog and thank you for agreeing to share your thoughts with our readers. 

Question: Ever since the Supreme Court’s 3-1-3 split in Houchins v. KQED (1978), some doubt whether there is any meaningful First Amendment right of press and public access to jails or prisons for the purpose of gathering and distributing information about the conditions therein. On that constitutional score, how bleak are things in your opinion?

Answer:  Not good, in my view. In practice, prison administrators have virtually unbridled discretion to prevent meaningful public access, and thus also media access. One problem has been the refusal to permit videotaped interviews within prisons, even though the use of audio and video equipment does not create any additional risks for prison security. Ironically, the one area in the case law that shows some promise is the media’s right of access to executions, especially now that major issues have been raised about executioners’ use of compounded drugs as a result of European refusals to permit the export of killing drugs. Several court decisions, beginning with the press lawsuit against Idaho in 2012, have recognized that the press and the public have access rights to executions.  Another success story has been the efforts of the Human Rights Defense Center and its affiliate Prison Legal News (which we have represented in several matters), to gain access to prison information and to push for prisoner rights of access to the media. [See Society of Professional Journalists, "Prison Access Policies"]

Prisons are a vast, undercovered, but important beat. [W]e need more criminal justice coverage.  Dan Froomkin, Nieman Reports, Sept. 18, 2013

Question: Are you aware of any independent state constitutional rulings or state statutory reforms in this area?

Answer: Prison rights tend to get litigated more often in federal court than in state court.  One exception was the HRDC-PLN lawsuit in Seattle against various telecom carriers, alleging that the companies had overcharged prisoners for their telephone calls.  That class action case took more than a decade and was finally settled in 2013. The case should also remind lawyers that prisoners and their families may have valid claims against non-state entities, as well as the prison authorities themselves.

Question: As a statutory matter, could a state law extend protections to the institutional or traditional press, and it alone, without running afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment? In other words, would it be constitutionally problematic if such special protection did not extend to the general public as well?

Answer: Generally, at least since 1974, when Justice Potter Stewart gave his speech at Yale Law School [26 Hastings L. J. 631 (1975)] suggesting that the Press Clause should have some independent meaning, the courts have refused to recognize any significant media-non-media distinctions in First Amendment jurisprudence.  The essence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Citizens United (2010), which rejected precisely such a distinction on First Amendment grounds, is that press rights and public rights must be treated identically.  The First Amendment protections discussed in Citizens United clearly apply to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment.  But as a practical matter (and speaking as someone who successfully drafted and lobbied for state legislation protecting confidential sources and reporters’ work product, deterring SLAPP claims, and encouraging corrections and clarifications of allegedly defamatory publications), I don’t see any likelihood that the media can obtain statutory protections from state legislatures by throwing fellow citizens under the bus. Politics is about building coalitions, not avoiding them.

Question: If you were to draft a model access law relating to state jails and prisons, what would be its key components?

Answer: Like the Washington anti-SLAPP law (which I drafted back in 2010), it should provide speed (deadlines should be specified), monetary incentives (such as attorney fee awards and perhaps statutory damages) to facilitate government cooperation, and immediate and prompt judicial and appellate review.

Question: Where and why would you draw the line when it comes to limiting any such access?

Answer: Obviously, if there is truly a concern about prison security, state authorities should have appropriate discretion.

Thank you Bruce, I hope you will join us again sometime soon.   

LAST FAC.1: With Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe.

NEXT FAC.3: With Northwestern Law Professor Martin Redish.