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Category: First Amendment

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FAN 20 (First Amendment News) — New Book, New Legislation, New Study & More News

No First Amendment cases from the Supreme Court today. Most likely tomorrow (perhaps Monday?).

→ What’s left? The only First Amendment free expression cases left to be decided this Term are:

  1. McCullen v. Coakley
  2. Harris v. Quinn

New Book — Tribe & Matz on Roberts Court & Free Speech 

Laurence Tribe

Laurence Tribe

In May of 2013 I profiled a forthcoming book, which has just been released. “Forty-five years after the publication of his first book (Technology: Process of Assessment and Choice), Laurence Tribe is preparing to release another book, tentatively titled Uncertain Justice (2014).” I wrote that in SCOTUSblog. “This forthcoming offering,” I added, “will come out six years after Tribe’s last book (The Invisible Constitution). The book will be the Harvard Law professor’s sixteenth. Like a few of his other works, Uncertain Justice will be co-authored – this time Joshua Matz is his literary partner on this work on the Roberts Court.” Well, wait no more; here it is: Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court & The Constitution (Henry Holt, 2014). Mr. Matz is a Harvard law graduate who clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt and will soon clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Joshua Matz

Joshua Matz

While Uncertain Justice has received some early favorable reviews, my focus here is on only two chapters in the book: Chapter 3 (“Campaign Finance: Follow the Money”) and Chapter 4  (“Freedom of Speech: Sex, Lies & Video Games”). Together, these chapters consume 165 of the book’s 320 pages of text.

↓→ Campaign Finance

“The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

In a galvanized world of frenzied litmus-test beliefs over the role of money in our electoral system, Tribe and Matz (T&M) can be refreshingly open-minded: “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Citizens United posed incredibly difficult questions about free speech, popular sovereignty, and political equality,” they write. “Deciding when Congress can ban certain disfavored speakers from the marketplace of ideas or limit how much they can speak is no easy task. It certainly isn’t outlandish to conclude, as the Court did, that free speech rights must prevail over hard-to-document fears that corporate wealth will distort public discourse or corrupt politicians.”

Then again, they do speak of the “Roberts Court’s broader agenda of deregulating campaign finance” reforms.  On that score, they maintain that by “reshaping the architecture of money, influence, and political organization, the Roberts Court is transforming how America conducts — and funds — politics.” In an endnote (p. 342, n. 64) they state: “While we do not purport to identify specific instances in which electoral outcomes shifted because of trends triggered by Citizens United, it seems to us highly likely that this has occurred in at least some races.”

While the authors freely offer the views of the “many critics of Citizens United,” they also concede that “Citizens United was a hard case because the Court faced a choice among evils.” With welcome objectivity and nuance, they add: “it’s extremely hard to determine whether any given campaign finance rule has a big enough impact to survive judicial scrutiny.  Judges have long implemented the First Amendment by requiring — among other things — that  restrictions on speech demonstrably achieve a legitimate goal. The causes of political corruption in America,” they stress, “and the reasons why politicians act the way they do . . . are many and complex.  Money in politics is only part of that story . . . .”

On the one hand, T&M understand how the Roberts Court’s narrow definition of corruption might be viewed as necessary in order to foster a “workable” body of First Amendment law sensitive to the concerns of free speech. On the other hand, they think that the Citizens United Court might have resorted to a “more modest” course of action that would “have left more room for politicians to use campaign finance laws, carefully reviewed by courts, as one tool among many in their efforts to restore public confidence in government integrity.” In other words, they tread cautiously in this ideological minefield.

So what should reformers do? In an endnote, Professor Tribe discloses that he “assisted Representative Adam Schiff of California in drafting a proposed [constitutional] amendment that was introduced in the 112th Congress.” That said, no defense of such radical constitutional surgery is offered in the book. In fact, the authors skip quickly past calls for constitutional amendments. Instead, they counsel that “critics of Citizens United would be well served to move past issues like corporate personhood and money’s status as speech. Instead, they might aim to ensure greater transparency in our brave new world of Super PACs and 501(c) organizations.” {See DISCLOSE Act item below}

If there were ever to be a national forum on the First Amendment and campaign finance reform, the organizers would be wise to invite Messrs. Tribe and Matz, if only to add some light in an otherwise overheated universe.

Note: Since Uncertain Justice was completed in “early 2014,” the Court’s April 2014 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) is not discussed.

 Sex, Lies & Video Games Read More

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Fifty Years of “I know it when I see it.”

On June 22, 1964, Justice Potter Stewart coined the phrase “I know it when I see it” in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio. Fifty years later, that expression holds the distinction of being one of the few modern legal phrases to become a regularly accepted expression among educated Americans. The half-century anniversary of Jacobellis provides a fitting opportunity to ask why “I know it when I see it” has enjoyed such popularity and what lessons that phrase and its history might hold for us today.

Jacobellis reversed the conviction of an Ohio movie theater manager for showing obscene material in the form of the French film Les Amants (The Lovers), which included a sex scene at its conclusion. The court’s 6-3 decision was highly fragmented, with six opinions in total and the plurality garnering only two votes.

Potter Stewart

In a short 144-word concurring opinion, Stewart wrote that he found it almost impossible to define obscenity precisely, which should only include “hard-core pornography.” His now famous line concluded the opinion:

 “But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

At the time, the pithy phrase actually garnered little interest in the public sphere. Many newspapers chose instead to focus on another obscenity case decided that same day, Quantity of Books v. Kansas. Those journalists who did write about Jacobellis largely ignored “I know it when I see it” and chose to focus on the legal technicalities the case posed.

While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Stewart’s iconic expression became common, we can chart its growing popularity via Google’s Ngram search engine. Google Ngram measures the percentage of English language books that contain a phrase up to five words long. Because “I know it when I see it” is seven words, I ran the search for each five-letter segment of the phrase (“I know it when I;” “know it when I see;” “it when I see it.”). The graph clearly shows the steeply rising and still growing interest in Stewart’s phrase, starting slightly after 1964:

I know it when I see it Ngram

 

The Ngram search also reveals some interesting instances of similar phrases, both legal and not, pre-dating Jacobellis. Consider two examples: In an obituary for Benjamin Cardozo that ran in the Columbia, Yale and Harvard law journals in 1939, Learned Hand praised Justice Cardozo for his wisdom, writing:

“And what is wisdom — that gift of God which the great prophets of his race exalted? I do not know; like you, I know it when I see it, but I cannot tell of what it is composed.”

Read More

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FAN 19.5 (First Amendment News) — Supreme Court Decides Public Employee Speech Case: 1-A Claim Prevails 9-0

The Supreme Court just handed down its opinion in Lane v. Franks.  The vote was unanimous and the opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor.  The opinion can be found here. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito joined.

Issues: (1) Whether the government is categorically free under the First Amendment to retaliate against a public employee for truthful sworn testimony that was compelled by subpoena and was not a part of the employee’s ordinary job responsibilities; and (2) whether qualified immunity precludes a claim for damages in such an action.

  1. Held: “The Court holds that Lane’s sworn testimony outside the scope of his ordinary job duties is entitled to First Amendment protection. His testimony was speech as a citizen on a matter of public concern.” (Amy Howe)
  2. The Court also holds that “the individual defendant has qualified immunity from this suit because prior precedent wasn’t clear enough that you could not fire an employee for sworn testimony.” (Tom Goldstein)

Tejinder Singh (Goldstein & Russell) counsel for Petitioner.

Select Excerpts from Majority Opinion

First Amendment Issues

  • Matters of Public Concern & Encouraging Public Employee Speech — “Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the First Amendment, which “was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.” This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment. After all, public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept employment, and this Court has cautioned time and again that public employers may not condition employment on the relinquishment of constitutional rights. . . . There is considerable value, moreover, in encouraging, rather than inhibiting, speech by public employees.”
  • Reserved for a Future Case: “We . . . need not address in this case whether truthful sworn testimony would constitute citizen speech under Garcetti when given as part of a public employee’s ordinary job duties, and express no opinion on the matter today.” (emphasis added)
  • Truth is a Defense: “Truthful testimony under oath by a public employee outside the scope of his ordinary job duties is speech as a citizen for First Amendment purposes. That is so even when the testimony relates to his public employment or concerns information learned during that employment. . . . When the person testifying is a public employee, he may bear separate obligations to his employer—for example, an obligation not to show up to court dressed in an unprofessional manner. But any such obligations as an employee are distinct and independent from the obligation, as a citizen, to speak the truth. That independent obligation renders sworn testi- mony speech as a citizen and sets it apart from speech made purely in the capacity of an employee.”
  • Garcetti Distinguished: “Garcetti said nothing about speech that simply relates to public employment or concerns information learned in the course of public employment. The Garcetti Court made explicit that its holding did not turn on the fact that the memo at issue “concerned the subject matter of [the prosecutor’s] employment,” because “[t]he First Amendment protects some expressions related to the speaker’s job.” In other words, the mere fact that a citizen’s speech concerns information acquired by virtue of his public employment does not transform that speech into employee—rather than citizen—speech.”
  • Key Garcetti Question: “The critical question under Garcetti is whether the speech at issue is itself ordinarily within the scope of an employee’s duties, not whether it merely concerns those duties.
  • Value of Speech by Public Employees: “It bears emphasis that our precedents dating back to Pickering have recognized that speech by public employees on subject matter related to their employment holds special value precisely because those employees gain knowledge of matters of public concern through their employment.”
  • Preventing Corruption: “It would be antithetical to our jurisprudence to conclude that the very kind of speech necessary to prosecute corruption by public officials—speech by public employees regarding information learned through their employment—may never form the basis for a First Amendment retaliation claim. Such a rule would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs.”

Justice Thomas’ Concurrence

  • Limited Application of Garcetti: Deciding this case “requires little more than a straightforward application of Garcetti. There, we held that when a public employee speaks “pursuant to” his official duties, he is not speaking “as a citizen,” and First Amendment protection is unavailable. The petitioner in this case did not speak “pursuant to” his ordinary job duties because his responsibilities did not include testifying in court proceedings, and no party has suggested that he was subpoenaed as a representative of his employer.”
  • Employee Speech re Work-Related Responsibilities: “We accordingly have no occasion to address the quite different question whether a public employee speaks “as a citizen” when he testifies in the course of his ordinary job responsibilities. For some public employees—such as police officers, crime scene techni- cians, and laboratory analysts—testifying is a routine and critical part of their employment duties. Others may be called to testify in the context of particular litigation as the designated representatives of their employers.” 
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Richard Posner & NAACP v. Button — A Short History

Since I had to prepare remarks for a panel discussion for today, I was unable to do my weekly First Amendment News column. Instead, I opted to present an abbreviated essay from a work-in-progerss, actually two. In the main, I  stitched together something from one of my books (We Must not be Afraid to be Free) and a future article (“The Maverick – A Biographical Sketch of Richard Posner”), this in addition to some reliance on Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010) by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel and other works. I also benefitted from the thoughtful assistance of Judge Posner and Robert M. O’Neil. The result is this post, also a prelude to a more scholarly work on NAACP v. Button (1963). Shortly, I will say more about Judge Posner’s involvement in Button, but before I do I thought it might useful to say a few prefatory things about the history of the case.

* * * *

The case’s original name was NAACP v. Patty, which began in 1957. After cert. was granted, the case name changed to NAACP v. Gray. Later it would be changed to Button, the last name of the Virginia Attorney General at the time. The controversy involved a challenge to five Virginia laws which, according to Fourth Circuit Court Judge Morris Aimes Soper, “were enacted [in 1956] for the express purpose of impeding the integration of the races in the public schools of the state which the plaintiff corporations are seeking to promote.” The laws in question banned the encouragement of certain kinds of litigation (“barratry” statutes) and the solicitation of clients (including in pro bono cases) and/or the financing of litigation (“champerty” statutes). The lawyer who represented the NAACP was Robert L. Carter (1917-2012), Thurgood Marshall’s chief legal assistant (and later General Counsel to the NAACP). By 1957, recalled Carter in his memoir (A Matter of Law), the group was involved in 25 cases in various states employing barratry and champerty laws aimed at halting civil rights litigation. Henry T. Wickham (1920-2008) represented the state of Virginia. In his obituary it was noted that Mr. Wickham “served as a special assistant to former Virginia Attorney General J. Lindsay Almond Jr. representing Virginia in an effort to preserve segregated public schools” in Brown v. Board.

 For an informative and thoughtful account of Button, see Harry Kalven, Jr., The Negro and the First Amendment 75-90 (1965).

The Hand of Fate

Robert Button was the Attorney General of Virginia (1962-1970) who backed policies of Massive Resistance to prevent public school desegregation.

Robert Young Button was the Attorney General of Virginia (Dem. –1962-1970) who backed policies of Massive Resistance to prevent public school desegregation (see short video clip here)

When it came time for a conference vote in the Button case, Chief Justice Earl Warren, predictably, voted to reverse. “The purpose of the statute is obviously to circumvent Brown,” he said. Justice Hugo Black agreed. “This is part of a scheme to defeat the Court’s order, and sooner or later we will have to grapple with these problems in those terms. The NAACP is finished if this law stands.” But Justice Felix Frankfurter pushed back. “I can’t imagine a worse disservice than to continue being the guardians of the Negroes. . . . There is nothing in the record to show that this statute is aimed at Negroes as such.” Justices Tom Clark and Charles Evans Whittaker agreed. “To strike this law down, we would have to discriminate in favor of Negroes,” said Clark, to which Whittaker added: “We should be color blind on this law.”

Warren added up the votes. It was a five-to-four split in favor of the state of Virginia. Justice Frankfurter eagerly began work on his majority opinion upholding Virginia’s law—the laws that made the NAACP’s brand of non-pecuniary solicitation and financing of litigation a disciplinary offense that could result in disbarment. (For a discussion of Frankfurter’s early role in the case, see Mark V. Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law 277-278 (1994).)

At the same time, Justice Black circulated drafts of a dissent in which he claimed, among other things, that perhaps the law should be renamed “[a]n Act to make it difficult and dangerous for the [NAACP] and Virginia lawyers to assert the constitutional rights of Virginia Negroes in state and federal courts.” Then Black added a passage revealing how far removed he was from his days as a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan. “The job of lawyers under [the] Constitution is not to lead revolutions, but to lead their people in taking advantage of the American methods for correcting injustice.” And courts, Black continued, had a responsibility to serve as “sanctuaries of justice.” To ignore that role here, he concluded, was to leave the courts “a little less havens of refuge than they were before this Virginia law was sustained.”

Robert L. Carter, lawyer for the NAACP

Robert L. Carter, lawyer for the NAACP

Justice Black’s internal comments exposed just how wide the ideological chasm had grown between the members of this Court. But Robert Carter wouldn’t get a chance to read them. Nor, for that matter, would anyone else. On April 1, 1962, before the Court could announce its decision in NAACP v. Button, Justice Whittaker retired on the advice of his physician. He was sixty-one. The “great volume and continuous stresses of the court’s work,” he explained in a written statement, had brought him to the “point of physical exhaustion.” That left a four-to-four split among the remaining jurists, who scheduled a rehearing of the case the following term. Then, a few days later, seventy-nine-year-old Felix Frankfurter collapsed at his desk from a stroke. He lived, but shortly afterwards he announced his retirement. Just like that, President Kennedy could appoint two new Justices—and Robert Carter could feel new hope.

 An audio of the arguments in NAACP v. Gray can be found here.

New Faces, New Result

By the fall of 1962, President Kennedy had successfully appointed to the bench his top two choices—Byron White and Arthur Goldberg. And it promised to be a busy fall at the Supreme Court after they were both confirmed. Sometime around then, as Stern and Wermiel recount it, Justice Brennan busily circulated a 63-page memo that detailed the activities of the NAACP and its Virginia branch.

After hearing rearguments in Button, the Justices met privately to discuss the case on October 12, 1962. Chief Justice Warren had not changed his mind since first discussing the facts a year earlier. “The NAACP has a right to be in business,” he began. “If this suit goes against the NAACP, it is out of business.” Justices Black, Douglas, and Clark also maintained their original opinions. So did the typically restrained Justice John Marshall Harlan, who continued to claim that Virginia’s new law was “plainly constitutional. . . . Brown v. Board of Education will never work out if it is left in the federal domain. The states must do it. We have no reason to reverse Virginia on this law.” Justice Potter Stewart, the Eisenhower appointee from Cincinnati with the unpredictable voting record, was the first of the veteran Justices to suggest a possible change of heart. “I am not sure,” he said, “but I am inclined to reverse.” Justice White, the first of the two new members to speak at the private conference, was even less certain than Stewart. “I do not know where I stand.” Goldberg was more certain. “There is a substantial equal protection point here and I could reverse on that,” he said. Read More

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FAN 19.3 (First Amendment News) 9th Cir. Strikes California Requirement of Initiative-Proponent Identification on Initiative Petitions

Earlier today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held unconstitutional California’s requirement that ballot initiative petition forms identify the official initiative proponents. This follows court opinions allowing anonymity at the point of petition circulation.

The opinion in Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs v. Norriscan be found here.

Opinion by Judge O’Scannlain, in which Judge Graber joins, except as to Part IV, and in which Judge Bea joins, except as to Part III. Judge Graber filed an opinion dissenting as to Part IV. Judge Bea filed an opinion concurring as to Part III.

→  Prevailing Counsel: James Bopp, Jr. for the Plaintiff-Appellant.

Prediction: Professor Richard Hasen (on Election Law Blog): “I expect this issue will go en banc and perhaps to the Supreme Court—with a decent chance of reversal.”

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FAN 19.2 (First Amendment News) — High Court Finds Art. III Standing in False Statements Case & Grants Review in Threats Case

The Supreme Court just handed down its ruling in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. The vote was 9-0. Here is the opinion.

The issues in the case were:

(1) Whether, to challenge a speech-suppressive law, a party whose speech is arguably proscribed must prove that authorities would certainly and successfully prosecute him, as the Sixth Circuit holds, or should the court presume that a credible threat of prosecution exists absent desuetude or a firm commitment by prosecutors not to enforce the law, as seven other Circuits hold; and

(2) whether the Sixth Circuit erred by holding, in direct conflict with the Eighth Circuit, that state laws proscribing “false” political speech are not subject to pre-enforcement First Amendment review so long as the speaker maintains that its speech is true, even if others who enforce the law manifestly disagree.

The Sixth Circuit rejected the Plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court reversed.

Article III Standing (from Justice Thomas’ opinion) Read More

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FAN 19.1 (First Amendment News) — Media Scholar Named Next Dean of GW Law School

It’s now official: Blake D. Morant, dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law and president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools, will be the next Dean of the George Washington Law School. According to a GW press release: Dean Morant “will assume the deanship on Sept. 1 after having served seven years as dean of the Wake Forest University School of Law. ‘Blake Morant is not only a seasoned dean but also a national leader in legal education,’ said GW President Steven Knapp. ‘He brings to this important position a proven record of accomplishments, and his extensive leadership experience will make him an extremely valuable addition to our law school and the entire university.’”

Dean Blake Morant

Dean Blake Morant

“‘I have respected and admired the George Washington Law School throughout my career and consider serving as its next dean to be a distinct privilege,’ Mr. Morant said. “‘I look forward to working with the constituency of this historic institution during this time of both challenge and extraordinary opportunity.’”

Media Law Scholarship

Though his scholarship includes other areas of law (such as contracts, administrative law, and legal education), Dean Morant’s articles on media law include the following:

Advance Greeting: Welcome to Washington, D.C., Dean Morant!

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FAN 19 (First Amendment News) Law Prof. Contests Ban on Note-Taking in Courtroom

This first part of this column is about bans on note-taking in courtrooms, federal and state. To illustrate this point, I want to say a few things about a law professor and the recent hell he went through in his attempt to takes notes in a public courtroom in Cook County, Illinois. Before I get to his story, which is an incredible one, permit me to set the stage with a few bits of history.
* * * * 
There was a time, in my adult lifetime, when spectators in the Supreme Court were barred from taking notes. Yes, note-taking was not permitted unless one was a member of the press corps. One had to sit and listen in silence. In an August 18, 1997 Washington Post op-ed, Professor David M. O’Brien and I put it this way:

“It is an unwritten rule but a rule nonetheless. No ordinary citizen can take notes in the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court, unless granted special prior approval by the officer of the Public Information Office. . . . (For an unknown period before 1988, not even members of the Court’s bar could lift a pen.) . . . . No one really really knows when the rule, which is of contemporary vintage, began. Insofar as there is any reason for the rule, it is to protect the ‘decorum factor.’ Violate the rule and the marshals whisk you away.”

“No one, including the ever-attentive press corps, fusses over the rule, one of the few of its kind enforced in any federal or state court in this land. . . . Back in 1988, however, Justice Harry Blackmun complained about the rule in a memo to his colleagues: ‘I wonder if we go too far in our request for decorum.’ Noting came of the complaint.”

We concluded our op-ed this way: “Imagine courtroom audiences . . . taking notes about what they hear and see, as if the Court were a civic classroom. Imagine citizens exercising their First Amendment rights to further their knowledge of [the Supreme Court] and their Constitution. What is amazing is that such things can only be imagined — for now.”

Ban Silently Lifted 

And then the world changed in November 2002. As Tony Mauro reported in a May 5, 2003 article for Legal Times: The rule’s “demise came without fanfare and without public notice, but Court public information officer Kathy Arberg confirmed last week that sometime last November the policy against note-taking was ‘no longer enforced’ by Court Police officers.” And then this: “One of the weblogs that handicaps Court cases, [SCOTUSblog], first noted the change on April 25th after blogger Ted Metzler attended the arguments in Nike v. Kasky. As he and other spectators went through security, Metzler recalls, ‘The officer told us we could bring in a notebook and pen and we all looked at each other.’ Metzler is currently a law clerk at D.C.’s Goldstein & Howe . . . .”

Professor Samuel V. Jones

Professor Samuel V. Jones

12 Years Later — Enter Professor Jones (the would-be notetaker)

He doesn’t fit the typical profile of a rabble-rouser. He is a former Marine Sargent, a former U.S. judge advocate, and before that senior counsel in the Commercial Law group at AT&T Corp and later as corporate counsel for Labor and Employment for Blockbuster, Inc. He is also a former Special Advisor to the Chair of the Illinois Judicial Council. And now he is a professor at the John Marshall Law School.

He is Samuel V. Jones. This former Marine is not a man to sit on his rights, especially his First Amendment rights. And so when the deputies in a circuit court ordered his to forsake those rights, he refused.

It all happened on May 8th during the course of bail hearings in a Cook County court presided over by Circuit Judge Laura Sullivan. Apparently, the atmosphere was tense as deputies patrolled the courtroom. At one point, according to Professor Jones, a “deputy approached and impolitely inquired, ‘Are you an attorney’? I identified myself as a professor of law doing research. She responded, ‘There is no note-taking in here.’ I wondered if the deputy knew that ‘the right of the press to access court proceedings is derivative of the public’s right,’ and journalists held no greater right than I did. I informed her that the office of the chief judge had advised me that note-taking is permitted. I asked if I had violated any laws or was disruptive. ‘No,’ she replied, and walked away.”

But that was hardly the end of the matter. Shortly thereafter, two different deputies ordered the professor out of the courtroom and confiscated his notes. “One deputy approached Judge Sullivan,” recalls Professor Jones, “and the proceedings immediately stopped. I was ordered to sit on a bench, told not to move or write, and was surrounded by several deputies.”

Judge Laura Sullivan

Judge Laura Sullivan

Here is how it ended: “After roughly 30 minutes, they released me with my notes. As I left, a group of African-Americans approached, wanting to shake hands. A lady enlightened me, ‘We saw what they did to you and figured you must be important.’ ‘Why,’ I asked. She explained, ‘Because they let you go.’”

Turns out that this is a old story in Cook County courts. According to recent a Chicago Tribune editorial, “in 2004, a different Cook County judge threw a different law professor out of her courtroom for taking notes. [Now retired] Judge Gloria Coco  forbade . . . writing in her courtroom . . . . That time, it ended up in federal court. A judge said the First Amendment protects public access to the courts so that citizens can observe and critique their government, and note-taking helps ensure an informed discussion.” (Here is the case: Goldschmidt v. Coco (2006).)

Thanks to Professor Jones, the problem may now have been solved for good insofar as Chief Judge Timothy Evans has since signed an “administrative order spelling out that note-taking is permitted in court.”

→ For an earlier discussion of the same problem, see Eugene Volokh, “Ban on Note-Taking by Spectators in Court,” Volokh Conspiracy, May 24, 2013

→ The American Judicature Society has conducted a federal court and 50-state court survey of “Note-Taking Laws,” this in connection with juror note-taking.

Third Circuit to Hear Challenge to Delaware’s Voter Guide Rules Read More

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SCOTUSBlog and Press Credentials

There is an ongoing controversy over whether SCOTUSBlog can get a press credential at the Supreme Court.  (For some background, here is Adam Liptak’s column.)  The Court defers on these matters to the Senate, and the Senate defers to a group of journalists on the “Standing Committee of Correspondents.”  The Committee has denied a new petition from SCOTUSBlog for a credential, and is now considering an appeal.

I want to say that I (and many other people) rely on SCOTUSBlog’s professional coverage of the Court’s work.  When the health care cases came down in 2012, SCOTUSBlog got it right while the so-called real journalists (I’m talking to you CNN) got the news wrong.  Moreover, I think that in a world of blogs, vesting credentialing in an obscure group of reporters (who are, of course, not from blogs) is highly problematic.

I thought that CoOp readers and others might want to make their views known to the Committee on this question, and thus I thought I’d list their names and affiliations.  After all, journalists love transparency.

Kate Hunter–Bloomberg News (Kate_HunterDC) on Twitter

Emily Ethridge–CQ Roll Call (emilyethridge@cqrollcall.com)

Siobhan Hughes–The Wall Street Journal (siobhanhughes1) on Twitter

Colby Itkowitz–Washington Post (ColbyItkowitz) on Twitter

Peter Urban–Stephens Media Group (purban@stephensmedia.com)

 

 

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James Risen and the reporter’s privilege status quo

Many thanks to Danielle, Frank, and the Concurring Opinions crew for inviting me to guest blog this month. As Danielle mentioned, I’m primarily an IP and media law guy, and I anticipate blogging about things like Aereo, trolls, and the future of newsgathering. (Like Harry, I can be found commenting on lots of other things @bradagreenberg.) I start today with a reporter’s ability to protect the identity of confidential sources…

This week the Supreme Court denied the petition of New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. For years, Risen has fought government efforts to compel disclosure of whether a former CIA official was Risen’s source for a story about a botched CIA plot to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear agency. Risen included this confidential information in his 2006 best-selling book State of War. The former CIA official is being prosecuted for leaking to Risen, and, last July, the Fourth Circuit ruled that Risen must testify at the trial. In a last gasp, Risen petitioned the Supreme Court, asking whether  journalists in a federal criminal trial have a qualified constitutional privilege against revealing confidential sources or should have a common law privilege under Federal Rule of Evidence 501.

The Court having declined to answer this question, Risen now faces testifying or being held in contempt. (Or he must throw himself on the “hinted” mercy of the Justice Department.) This is a great tragedy for a great journalist. But it is not necessarily a great tragedy for great journalism.

Risen’s appeal was a case of Be Careful What You Wish For.

At the core of Risen’s protest is the often-mistaken belief that reporters cannot be compelled to disclose their confidential sources. The Supreme Court first addressed this question forty-two years ago in Branzburg v. Hayes, in which the Court effectively split 4-1-4 on whether journalists had a constitutional privilege against compelled disclosure. The majority opinion held that journalists do not.

But Branzburg did not foreclose such protections. State courts have long shielded media from compelled disclosure, with forty-nine states and the District of Columbia offer varying statutory or common law protections. And Justice Powell’s concurrence suggested that journalists might have a constitutional privilege on different facts, particularly if the subpoena had not been issued by a grand jury. Since then, the circuit courts have recognized a variety of protections: “nine circuits have acknowledged, and only the Sixth Circuit has rejected, a qualified privilege for confidential information in civil cases, and … four circuits extend the privilege in criminal cases and some over non-confidential information in civil cases.” (That’s from this essay about the flawed Free Flow of Information Act of 2013; the federal media shield folly was also mentioned in my previous guest visit.) The result has been that journalists get different levels of protection in different jurisdictions—but in most jurisdictions they get some protection.

Had the Supreme Court agreed to hear Risen’s petition, it is likely that there would be uniformity regarding compelled disclosure of journalists’ confidential info. (It is unclear whether that uniformity would have been limited to confidential sources or would have extended to nonconfidential notes, unused materials, journalist observations, etc.) That uniformity could have increased protections and thereby decreased disincentives to sharing sensitive or confidential information.

Yet, in many circuits the uniformity might cut the other way, restating Branzburg in a manner that results in a weaker media shield. In fact, this seems more likely. In a post-legacy-media era in which people do journalism but aren’t necessarily journalists, legislators and judges have found it so difficult to determine to whom a reporter’s privilege should apply. (The debate over the federal media shield bill is paradigmatic. See n.5.) In this context, it is unlikely the Supreme Court would be willing to establish a broad reporter’s privilege—and in a national security case, for that matter.

Of course, just because the government can compel Risen to testify, does not mean that it should. The spirit of the First Amendment suggests otherwise…