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Category: First Amendment

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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.

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FAN.7 (First Amendment News) — Justice Scalia & the First Amendment

“The words are the law.” Sound familiar?  Of course, they are the words of none other than Justice Antonin Scalia, spoken at Catholic University of America on Oct. 18, 1996. As I considered them recently, I wondered, yet again, how the Justice’s view of textualism and originalism — I do not say “original intent,” which would be a breach of the Scalia creed — plays out in the First Amendment context. That took me back to the First Amendment debate between then Judges Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia in Ollman v. Evans (D.C. Cir., 1984), which is well worth reflective consideration. See e.g. Steven Calabresi & Lauren Pope, “Judge Robert H. Bork and Constitutional Change: An Essay on Ollman v Evans,” 80 U Chi. L. Rev. Dialogue 155 (2013).220px-Antonin_Scalia_2010

All of this brings me to my main point: Though it is not news in the literal textualist sense, it was news to me and may likewise be so to many others — I refer to Justice Scalia’s March 8, 2012 Hugo Black lecture on freedom of expression at Wesley College. The title of that lecture was “The Originalist Approach to the First Amendment.” A packed audience of college students and others listened to lecture. “After Scalia’s 40-minute speech, protesters in the balcony of the chapel where he spoke unfurled a banner reading, ‘There can be no justice in the court of the conqueror’ and flung dozens of condoms carrying pro-gay rights and pro-abortion messages.”

As to the substance, here are a few samples of what Justice Scalia reportedly said (the full text is, to the best of my knowledge, unpublished):

Libel. According to a news report, the Justice maintained that “[t]here’s no doubt that libel of a public figure, even good faith libel of a public figure, was unprotected by the First Amendment in 1791. Indeed, it remains unprotected even today in England. But the Warren Court had determined, as the framers had not, that allowing good faith libel of public figures would be good for democracy. And so the First Amendment was revised accordingly . . . .”

As for symbolic speech expressed by way of conduct, Scalia was quoted as saying: “You should be in no doubt that patriotic conservative that I am, I detest the burning of the nation’s flag, and if I were king, I would make it a crime. But as I understand the First Amendment, it guarantees the right to express contempt for the government, Congress, the Supreme Court, even the nation and the nation’s flag.”

Associations. Further elaborating on his ideas, and in response to a question, the Justice added: “The text guarantees the freedom of speech. That freedom of speech was never withheld from associations of people. Associations of people can speak just as people can speak and can band together to make their speech more effective, pool their resources . . . . If you’re going to deny it to corporations, are you going to deny it to the Washington Post? Most newspapers, most sources of political commentary, are corporations. How do you create an exception for that in the First Amendment? Because freedom of speech and of the press? C’mon, ‘press.’ The word ‘press’ meant publishing—anybody—not the institutional press. I’m not sure they had an institutional press.”

Questions? Mindful of such considerations, and duly sensitive to the “text and traditions of our people” concerning the words of the First Amendment, one might respectfully ask the textualist/originalist the following questions:

  1. Does the constitutional restriction on “Congress” extend to the other branches of government such as the executive and judicial branches? If so, how?
  2. How should one interpret the constitutional ban against Congress making laws? (Consider Hans Linde, “‘Clear and Present Danger’ Reexamined,” 22 Stan. L. Rev. 1163, 1183 & n.66 (1970).)
  3. What does “abridging” mean and is it synonymous “prohibiting” or “denying”?
  4. What exactly does “freedom of speech” mean? Did “speech” mean “money,” as in spending money for expressive purposes? Whatever else it meant, for Justice Scalia the term “speech” apparently did not include anonymous speech as evidenced by his dissent in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995) and his concurrence in Doe v. Reed (2010).
  5. How far does the notion of “press” extend? (Consider Volokh here)
  6. How exactly should we understand the term “petition”? (Consider S. Higginson here)
  7. What does the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (apparently, the preferred edition?) tell us about such matters and how are we to discern the original “public meaning” insofar as these queries are concerned? Read More
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FAN.6 (First Amendment News) — Cellphone Privacy & the First Amendment

employee_Corn-RevereRobThere has been quite a bit of news lately, along with general commentary on this blog, about the legality of police searches of the contents of an arrestee’s cell phone. The issue raised in United States v. Wurie, which the Court has agreed to review, is whether the Fourth Amendment permits the police, without obtaining a warrant, to review the call log of a cellphone found on a person who has been lawfully arrested. (The Court has also agreed to hear a companion case out of California: Riley v. California.) But there is more here than meets the constitutional eye, or so maintains Robert Corn-Revere, a noted First Amendment lawyer who is a partner at the Washington, D.C. office of Davis Wright Tremaine. Yesterday, he filed an amicus brief on behalf of the National Press Photographers Association and thirteen media organizations in support of the Petitioner in the Wurie case. What is interesting about this brief is the First Amendment argument Mr. Corn-Revere offers up to buttress the Fourth Amendment claim at stake in these cases.

Here is the media interest in all of this: “Of particular concern to Amici, media outlets increasingly rely on issuing reporters smart phones to take photographs and to record other story elements. Cell phone cameras are capable of taking high quality photographs and audio-visual recordings. And, because smart phones can connect to the Internet, it is easy for journalists to upload photo, video, audio, or text files to the Internet to file reports.” So opens this amicus brief.

Here is the problem for the media: “These new technologies have greatly expanded the ability to gather and report news, but the same capabilities that make them a boon to journalists create a grave threat if they are subject to unrestricted warrantless searches incident to arrest. Unfortunately, the threat is not just hypothetical, and the enhanced newsgathering capacity may have made reporters more frequent targets of police action. There has been an epidemic of arrests for nothing more than the journalistic enterprise of photographing public events. Frequently, such arrests are made on generalized charges of ‘disorderly conduct’ or ‘disturbing the peace,’ and often charges are dismissed without further action. But such circumstances could be used, and in some cases have been used, as a predicate to search or seize photographic equipment.”

Here is the First Amendment take on this: “It is essential that the Fourth Amendment be scrupulously applied in cases that involve sophisticated communications technologies because of the inherent intrusion of warrantless searches on . . . other fundamental rights,” including First Amendment rights. This interconnectivity of rights, Corn-Revere argues, has both historical roots and contemporary significance in our cellular world.  Or as he puts it: “These interconnected rights have long been ‘part of the intellectual matrix within which our own constitutional fabric was shaped,’ . . . and [any] failure to protect them in light of changing technology would risk converting constitutional principles into ‘impotent and lifeless formulas’ whereby ‘[r]ights declared in words might be lost in reality.’ Olmstead, 277 U.S. at 473-74 (Brandeis, J., dissenting).”

Oral argument in the two cases is set for April 29th. Read More

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Fan.5 (First Amendment News) Is sharing a hyperlink protected expression?

I had hoped to post a piece today on Justice John Paul Stevens and his forthcoming book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (Little, Brown & Co., pp. 170, to be released on April 22). However, since it was impossible to confirm the advanced-copy wording of his proposed amendment to the First Amendment until the final printed version is released, I opted to wait until next month to post the piece and the commentaries accompanying it.

That said, here are some news items that might be of interest to you.

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Is Sharing a Hyperlink Protected Expression? The lawyer for Barrett Brown thinks so and has argued as much in his motion to dismiss criminal charges against his client for sharing a publicly available hyperlink. The matter is pending in a federal district court in Texas. The hyperlink in question was transmitted in a chat-room and pointed to data that was obtained during the hacking of Stratfor Global Intelligence, this in purported violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028. The motion to dismiss was filed by University of Texas clinical law instructor Ahmed Ghappour and the Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic. Though he argues that the pertinent statutory provisions are inapplicable to his client (thus triggering the doctrine of constitutional avoidance), Professor Ghappour maintains that if they are, the First Amendment nonetheless protects his client. Here is how he put it in his March 3, 2014 motion:

First, the allegations in this case are encompassed by the Supreme Court’s holding in Bartnicki v. Vopper, in that Mr. Brown’s publication of truthful information (by republishing a hyperlink) obtained in a lawful manner cannot be punished absent a showing of a heightened state interest. Second, Mr. Brown was engaged in pure political speech in republishing the hyperlink. Because §1028 as applied imposes a complete prohibition on such speech, and does so based on the speech’s content, Count 1 (and Counts 3-12) must be dismissed absent a showing of a compelling state interest and least restrictive means. Finally, as applied to Mr. Brown, §1028 also fails the O’Brien test for intermediate scrutiny because it is not at parity with any substantial government interest that would be achieved less effectively absent regulation.” (Update: Government Dismisses Bulk of Indictment Against Barrett Brown — hat tip to Ruthann Robson.)

Advertising Pot & the First Amendment: Though it is now legal to enjoy pot in Colorado, the Colorado Department of Revenue, Marijuana Enforcement Division, has promulgated certain rules limiting the advertising of the product. For example, there is this rule:

A Retail Marijuana Establishment shall not utilize television Advertising unless the Retail Marijuana Establishment has reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the audience for the program on which the Advertising is to air is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.

Similar rules exist for radio, print media, and the Internet. Another rule provides: “A Retail Marijuana Establishment shall not engage in Advertising that specifically targets Persons located outside the state of Colorado.” As for outdoor advertising, there is this rule:

Except as otherwise  provided in this rule, it shall be unlawful for any Retail Marijuana Establishment to engage in Advertising that is visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park or other public place, including Advertising utilizing any of the following media: any  billboard or other outdoor general Advertising device; any sign mounted on a vehicle, any hand-held or other portable sign; or any handbill, leaflet or flier directly handed to any person in a public  place, left upon a motor vehicle, or posted upon any public or  private property without the consent of the property owner.

High Times magazine and Westword (an alternative weekly newspaper) have challenged the rules in a suit brought in a federal district court in Colorado. U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger has been assigned to the case. The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief. They argue that such restrictions violate the First Amendment as interpreted by Central Hudson and 44 Liquormart.  David A. Lane of Killmer, Lane, & Newman is representing the two publications. When Jacob Sullum, writing for Forbes, asked UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh for his take on the matter, here is how Volokh replied: “I don’t see how marijuana sales are lawful, given the federal prohibition, so I think advertising marijuana is not protected under commercial speech doctrine,” Volokh said. “I realize that here the commercial speech restriction is imposed by the state, and the sales restriction is imposed by the federal government, but I don’t think that would change the First Amendment analysis.” That said, in a Reason magazine piece Mr. Sullum urged that such challenges be brought in state court instead of federal court, and under Article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution.

Monitoring Newsrooms? FCC Declines. Late last month the Federal Communications Commission issued a statement that it was nixing a proposal that involved sending government researchers into newsrooms to conduct survey questions related to how news organizations chose which stories to run. In its statement, the FCC noted: “To be clear, media owners and journalists will no longer be asked to participate in the Columbia, S.C. pilot study. The pilot will not be undertaken until a new study design is final. Any subsequent market studies conducted by the FCC, if determined necessary, will not seek participation from or include questions for media owners, news directors or reporters.” The proposal came under attack in a February 10, 2014 Wall St. Journal op.-ed by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai.  Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, and his group also weighed in by way of a campaign to express public opposition to the proposed study. “This is significant victory for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” said Sekulow.  “By shutting down this proposal,” he added, “the FCC took the only action it could. We will now remain vigilant to ensure that the FCC follows through on its pledge to refrain from putting monitors in America’s newsrooms.”

University Settles in Dispute with Pro-Life Student Group: When Oklahoma State University officials barred Cowboys for Life from displaying certain photos near the University’s Student Union building, the Cowboys bucked. The photos they wanted to display depicted aborted fetuses. They were, however, given an alternative: relocate at a less populated site and display a warning. They declined.  The Alliance Defending Freedom came to their First Amendment defense and sued the University. The group’s lawyer, Travis Barham, maintained that “OSU needs to learn that it does not have free reign to censor its students. It can’t exile displays to remote areas of campus, or restrict students from distributing literature just because the hyper-sensitive feelings of a university administrator got ruffled.” Though not admitting guilt, the University agreed to pay $25,000 in legal fees and to amend its student conduct code.

Upcoming Conference on Sullivan:  On April 23, 2014, the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communications will host a conference entitled “How Far from Near? 50 Years of New York Times v. Sullivan in Minnesota and Beyond: A Symposium Honoring the Legacy of Silha Professor Emeritus Donald M. Gillmor.”  Robert D. Sack, Senior Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, will give the keynote address entitled “Thirteen Ways of Looking at New York TImes v. Sullivan.” Twelve participants will discuss the Sullivan case and its legacy. The titles of the panels are:

  • Academic panel: “Beyond First Amendment Exceptionalism: The Multiple Legacies of Near and Sullivan”
  • Practitioners panel: “Time After Times: Defamation Law (and Privacy, Too) in Minnesota”

(Hat tip to Professor Kyu Ho Youm)

Next Scheduled FAN Column: Wednesday, March 12th.

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It’s About Data Hoards – My New Paper Explains Why Data Escrow Won’t Protect Privacy

A core issue in U.S. v. Jones has noting to do with connecting “trivial” bits of data to see a mosaic; it is about the simple ability to have a perfect map of everywhere we go, with whom we meet, what we read, and more. It is about the ability to look backward and see all that information with little to no oversight and in a way forever. That is why calls to shift the vast information grabs to a third party are useless. The move changes little given the way the government already demands information from private data hoards. Yes, not having immediate access to the information is a start. That might mitigate mischief. But clear procedures are needed before that separation can be meaningful. That is why telecom and tech giants should be wary of “The central pillar of Obama’s plan to overhaul the surveillance programs [which] calls for shifting storage of Americans’ phone data from the government to telecom companies or an independent third party.” It does not solve the problem of data hoards.

As I argue in my new article Constitutional Limits on Surveillance: Associational Freedom in the Age of Data Hoarding:

Put differently, the tremendous power of the state to compel action combined with what the state can do with technology and data creates a moral hazard. It is too easy to harvest, analyze, and hoard data and then step far beyond law enforcement goals into acts that threaten civil liberties. The amount of data available to law enforcement creates a type of honey pot—a trap that lures and tempts government to use data without limits. Once the government has obtained data, it is easy and inexpensive to store and search when compared to storing the same data in an analog format. The data is not deleted or destroyed; it is hoarded. That vat of temptation never goes away. The lack of rules on law enforcement’s use of the data explains why it has an incentive to gather data, keep it, and increase its stores. After government has its data hoard, the barriers to dragnet and general searches—ordinarily unconstitutional—are gone. If someone wishes to dive into the data and see whether embarrassing, or even blackmail worthy, data is available, they can do so at its discretion; and in some cases law enforcement has said they should pursue such tactics. These temptations are precisely why we must rethink how we protect associational freedom in the age of data hoarding. By understanding what associational freedom is, what threatens it, and how we have protected it in the past, we will find that there is a way to protect it now and in the future.

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FAN.4 (First Amendment News)

In this issue of FAN I flag some forthcoming books that should be of interest to First Amendment enthusiasts.  I hope to say more about some of these works when they are published. Before proceeding to the forthcoming books, I want to to share a video link to Justice John Paul Stevens’ February 7, 2014 speech to the ABA Forum on Communications Law (hat tip to Steven Zansberg). I also want to to highlight a just-released book.

Former Stanford University President and former dean of the University of Chicago Law School Gerhard Casper has published a book entitled The Winds of Freedom: Addressing Challenges to the University (Yale University Press, 248 pp.). Chapter 4 of that book (pp. 64-83) is titled “Corry v. Stanford University: The Issue of Free Expression.” The Cory case involved a challenge to Stanford’s speech code. Anyone familiar with Professor Casper’s impressive scholarship will want to examine this book. (On a related front, this April Yale University press will release the paperback version of Dean Robert Post’s Democracy, Expertise, and Academic Freedom: A First Amendment Jurisprudence for the Modern State.)

Now, onto the forthcoming books and a few related matters:

  1. Stanley Fish is Coming!: Following the general Casper-Post theme, Stanley Fish offers his own unique perspective in Versions of Academic Freedom: From Professionalism to Revolution — The Rice University Campbell Lectures (192 pp, Univ. of Chicago Press, Oct. 2014). Here is a description of the book: “Providing a blueprint for the study of academic freedom, Fish breaks down the schools of thought on the subject, which range from the idea that academic freedom is justified by the common good or by academic exceptionalism, to its potential for critique or indeed revolution. Fish himself belongs to what he calls the ‘It’s Just a Job’ school: while academics need the latitude—call it freedom if you like—necessary to perform their professional activities, they are not free in any special sense to do anything but their jobs.  Academic freedom, Fish argues, should be justified only by the specific educational good that academics offer. Defending the university “in all its glorious narrowness” as a place of disinterested inquiry, Fish offers a bracing corrective to academic orthodoxy.”
  2. Press Freedom & Press Performance: University of Texas Journalism Professor Regina Lawrence has revised the late Timothy E. Cook’s edited work entitled Freeing the Presses: The First Amendment in Action (Louisiana State University Press, 2nd ed., June 2014). Contributors include: Charles Clark, Jack Weiss, Frederick Schauer, Michael Schudson, Ralph Izard, W. Lance Bennett, Craig Freeman, Diana Owen, Emily Erickson, Timothy Cook, and the new editor.
  3. U.S. v. Stevens — the book: In Animal Cruelty and Freedom of Speech: When Worlds Collide (Purdue University Press, pp. 260, May 2014) Wake Forest Law Professor Abigail Perdue and Dr. Randall Lockwood (senior vice president for Forensic Sciences & Anti-Cruelty Projects of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) offer a detailed case study of the Stevens case. The authors provide a survey of important issues facing society in the area of animal welfare. “The Stevens case included various ‘hot topic’ elements connected to the role of government as arbiter of public morality, including judicial attitudes to sexual deviance and dogfighting. Because it is one of only two animal rights cases that the US Supreme Court has handled, and the only case discussing the competing interests of free speech and animal cruelty, it will be an important topic for discussion in constitutional and animal law courses for decades to come.”
  4. Boy Scouts of America v. Dale – the book: The next addition to the University Press of Kansas’ impressive Landmark Law Cases and American Society series is Judging the Boy Scouts of America: Gay Rights, Freedom of Association, and the Dale Case (272 pp., May 2014). In this forthcoming book, Willamette University Professor Richard J. Ellis “tells the fascinating story of the Dale case, placing it in the context of legal principles and precedents, Scouts policies, gay rights, and the “culture wars” in American politics.”
  5. The State of Funeral-Picketing Laws – The folks over at the First Amendment Center have just released a special report entitled the “Constitutionality of State Funeral-Picketing Laws Since Snyder v. Phelps.” The report was prepared for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center by a team of law students from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America and examines the legal and legislative responses, as of January 1, 2014, to Snyder v. Phelps.
  6. In light of the recent passing of Professor George Anastaplo, I thought I would alert readers to some of his works on free speech, which include: Reflections on Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment (2007); The Amendments to the Constitution: A Commentary (1995, pp. 47-58); and The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment (1971 & 2005). Finally, for an audio file of Professor Anastaplo’s arguments before the Supreme Court in In re Anastaplo, go here.
  7. Last Issue of FAN: If you missed it, go here.
  8. Next Scheduled Issue of FAN: Wednesday, March 5th.
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FAN.3 (First Amendment News)

This batch of news items covers everything from a student speech case to a license plate case to an upcoming Citizens United conference to a practitioners’ conference on NYT v. Sullivan to an article about costs of free speech to a book about the “cosmopolitan First Amendment.” Thanks again to all those who are flagging items for FAN – and be sure to let me know about new articles, books, events, cases or controversies, or what have you. (If you missed the last FAN column, go here.)  With that, here is the news:

  • Panhandler’s Victory: The facts involved Ms. Allison Prior, who stood on a Portland, Maine median and held a sign that read: “Homeless, hungry and sober, please help.” She collected between $20 and $25 per day from passing motorists, which she used to buy food, toiletries and basic necessities. In Cutting v. Portland, Federal District Judge George Singal struck down a Portland ordinance that made it illegal for anyone to stand on a median strip to hold signs except for political campaign purposes. “’Today’s decision is an important victory for freedom of speech, and for all people who use public spaces to communicate with their fellow citizens,’ said Zachary Heiden, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maine.’” [Editorial comment: I have always been amazed how commercial speech is largely protected, whereas life-sustaining speech (aka “panhandling") tends to receive much less welcome attention, though there are some new developments in that direction. See e.g. Speet v. Schuette (6th Cir., 2013) (striking down Michigan anti-begging statute). For some stories on how the courts and cities are dealing with this issue, see the First Amendment Center's news roundup on the topic.]
  • Student Speech Case: A school district in Pennsylvania has filed a petition for review in the Supreme Court to contest a Third Circuit First Amendment ruling against it. In the 9-5 en banc ruling, Judge D. Brooks Smith wrote for the majority and Judge Thomas Hardiman for the dissenters. The case is Easton Area School District v. B.H. (case no: 13-672). The issues before the Supreme Court are: (1) Whether the Third Circuit erred in constructing a new test for the application of Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser that would prohibit regulation of lewd expression in the public schools, even in the absence of issue preclusion; (2) whether the Third Circuit misapplied the narrowest grounds doctrine to hold that Morse v. Frederick dictated a modification of the holding in Fraser by creating a two-part test for regulation of expression controlled by Fraser; and (3) whether the Third Circuit abused its discretion in failing to give due deference to school administrators’ objectively reasonable determination that a sexual double entendre constituted lewd or vulgar speech which could be prohibited under Fraser. The matter is still pending before the Court.  
  • 4th Circuit Strikes Down NC License Plate Law: Over at the Constitutional Law Prof blog, Professor Ruthann Robson has a post on a new appellate ruling striking down a North Carolina “Choose Life” license plate law. The case is ACLU of North Carolina v. Tata and the opinion for a unanimous panel was by circuit Judge James A. Wynn, Jr. Judge Wynn’s opinion opens with a quote for the Citizens United case: “‘Premised on mistrust of governmental power, the First Amendment stands against attempts to disfavor certain subjects or viewpoints. . . .  Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government “restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others.’” Christopher Anderson Brook of the NC ACLU successfully argued the case for the Plaintiff-Appellees.
  • Upcoming Symposium: On February 28, 2014, the Stetson Law Review will host a conference titled Taking Stock of Citizens United.” The symposium is co-sponsored by the Corporate Reform Coalition and the American Constitution Society. The keynote speaker will be Lawrence Lessig (Harvard).  Panelists: John Coates (Harvard), Robert Jackson (Columbia), Zephyr Teachout (Fordham), Fran Hill (Miami), Charlotte Garden (Seattle), Jason Bent (Stetson), Ciara Torres-Spelliscy (Stetson), Lisa Graves (Center for Media & Democracy) and Michael Handani (St. Mary’s College). For those who cannot attend, a video link will be available on the Public Citizen-Corporate Reform Coalition website after the event. (Last January New Hampshire Law School also held a conference on the Citizens United case.)
  •  NYT v. Sullivan Conference: On March 24, 2014, the Practicing Law Institute will host a conference in New York to commemorate the 50th anniversary of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.  Some of those in the program include the following: Floyd Abrams (Cahill Gordon & Reindel), Dean Baquet (NYT), Vincent Blassi (Columbia Law), James Goodale (Debevoise & Plimpton), Victor Kovner (Davis Wright Tremaine), Robert Sack (Second Circuit), and Kathleen Sullivan (Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan). Among other things, this practitioner-oriented conference will (1) explore what the Supreme Court accomplished in Sullivan and why, (2) learn how the case transformed our conception of the First Amendment, (3) examine how Sullivan and its progeny revolutionized the litigation of defamation cases, and (4) understand Sullivan’s ongoing relevance in a digital world.
  • The Costs of Free Speech: Professor Garrett Epps has a just posted a thoughtful piece in The Atlantic titled “Free Speech Isn’t Free,” which argues that there are costs (individual and societal) to honoring a broad range of speech rights, especially rights associated with “hate speech.” Epps writes: “The reason that we allow speech cannot be that it is harmless. It must be that we prefer that people harm each other, and society, through speech than through bullets and bombs. American society is huge, brawling, and deeply divided against itself. Social conflict and change are bruising, ugly things, and in democracies they are carried on with words. That doesn’t mean there aren’t casualties, and it doesn’t mean the right side will always win.”
  • New Book: In case you missed it, late last year Cambridge University Press published The Cosmopolitan First Amendment: Protecting Transborder Expressive and Religious Liberties (pp. 448) by William and Mary Law Professor Timothy Zick. Here is a snippet of the book’s description: “In a globalized and digitized era, we need to better understand the relationship between the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and international borders. This book focuses on the exercise and protection of cross-border and beyond-border expressive and religious liberties, and on the First Amendment’s relationship to the world beyond U.S. shores.”
  • Next FAN: Wednesday, February 26.
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Some Thoughts on Section 230 and Recent Criminal Arrests

We’ve devoted considerable attention on our blog to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes online service providers/hosts from liability for user-generated content. Site operators are protected from liability even though they knew (or should have known) that user-generated content contained defamation, privacy invasions, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil rights violations, and state criminal activity. Providing a safe harbor for ISPs, search engines, and social networks is a good thing. If communication conduits like ISPs did not enjoy Section 230 immunity, they would surely censor much valuable online content to avoid publisher liability. The same is true of search engines that index the vast universe of online content and produce relevant information to users in seconds and, for that matter, social media providers that host millions, and some billions, of users. Without Section 230, search engines like Google and Bing and social media providers like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter might not exist. The fear of publisher liability would have inhibited their growth. For that reason, Congress reaffirmed Section 230’s importance in the SPEECH Act of 2010, which requires U.S. courts to apply the First Amendment and Section 230 in assessing foreign defamation judgments.

In the past few months, prosecutors have arrested notorious revenge porn site operators Hunter Moore, Kevin Bolleart, and Casey Meyering. Those arrests have raised the question, what about Section 230? Hunter Moore’s arrest is the least controversial. Although Section 230 immunity is broad sweeping, it isn’t absolute. It exempts from its reach federal criminal law, intellectual property law, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. As Section 230(e) provides, the statute has “[n]o effect” on “any [f]ederal criminal statute” and does not “limit or expand any law pertaining to intellectual property.” Federal prosecutors indicted Moore for conspiring to hack into people’s computers in order to steal their nude images. According to the indictment, Moore paid a computer hacker to access women’s password-protected computers and e-mail accounts to steal nude photos for financial gain—profits for his revenge porn site Is Anyone Up. Site operators may be held accountable for violating federal criminal law.

What about revenge porn operators Bolleart and Meyerson who are facing state criminal charges? Generally speaking, site operators are not transformed into “information content providers” (who are not immunized from liability) unless they co-developed or co-created the allegedly criminal/tortious content, such as by paying for the illegal content and reselling it or drafting some of the contested content themselves. California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s prosecutions of both Bolleart and Meyerson press the question whether Section 230’s immunity extends to sites that effectively engage in extortion by encouraging the posting of sensitive private information and profiting from its removal.

Let’s take Bolleart’s case. It’s based on a similar theory as the case against Meyerson, who runs WinbyState, a private revenge porn site with a connected site that charges for the take down of photos. In December 2013, Bollaert, operator of revenge porn site UGotPosted, was indicted for extortion, conspiracy, and identity theft. His site featured the nude photos, Facebook screen shots, and contact information of more than 10,000 individuals. The indictment alleged that Bollaert ran the revenge porn site with a companion takedown site, Change My Reputation. According to the indictment, when Bollaert received complaints from individuals, he would send them e-mails directing them to the takedown site, which charged up to $350 for the removal of photos. Attorney General Harris explained that Bollaert “published intimate photos of unsuspecting victims and turned their public humiliation and betrayal into a commodity with the potential to devastate lives.”

Bollaert will surely challenge the state’s criminal law charges on Section 230 grounds. His strongest argument is that charging for the removal of user-generated photos is not tantamount to co-developing them. Said another way, charging for the removal of content is not the same as paying for, or helping develop, it. That is especially true of the identity theft charges because Bollaert never personally passed himself off as the subjects depicted in the photos. Nonetheless, the state has a strong argument that the extortion charges fall outside Section 230’s immunity because they hinge on what Bollaert himself did and said, not on what his users posted. Only time will tell if that sort of argument will prevail. Even if the California AG’s charges are dismissed on Section 230 grounds, federal prosecutors could charge Bollaert with federal criminal extortion charges. Sites that encourage cyber harassment and charge for its removal (or have a financial arrangement with removal services) are engaging in extortion. At the least, they are actively and knowingly conspiring in a scheme of extortion. Of course, this possibility depends on the enforcement of federal criminal law vis-à-vis cyber stalking, which as we have seen is stymied by social attitudes and insufficient training.

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FAN.2 (First Amendment News)

Thanks to everyone who sent along information for this and future FAN columns. For those who missed the first column, go here. One of the aims of FAN is to help build bridges between scholars and litigators, liberals and conservatives (and libertarians, too!), and between journalists and all others interested in the First Amendment and freedom of expression. To that end, here is more free speech news:

  • Speech — Justice Stevens & The First Amendment: In a February 7, 2014 speech to the ABA Forum on Communications Law (as of yet unpublished), retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said some interesting things about the free expression law of the First Amendment. Here are a few samples:

– Re the Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc. (1984) product disparagement case, though Justice Stevens ultimately wrote the majority opinion in the 6-3 case, when the cert. petition was first considered at Conference Stevens and most of his colleagues voted to deny review. Justice Byron White, however, relisted the case in order to write a dissent from the denial of cert. Ultimately, however, White persuaded his colleagues to hear the case and the rest is, as they say, history.

– Similarly, the Justices originally planned to deny review in Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc. v. Connaughton (1989), a defamation case. Here, too, Justice White drafted a dissent from the denial of cert., which prompted three other Justices (Brennan, Blackmun, and Marshall) to “vote to grant.” When the dialogic dust settled (and there is more to the Stevens’ story), the Court was unanimous and Stevens wrote the opinion. [For more on this case and the Bose one and related stories, see Lee Levine & Steve Wermiel’s The Progeny (2014).)]

– Justice Stevens disapproved of the Court’s judgment in United States v. Alvarez (the 2012 stolen valor case). “I agree,” said Stevens (a WW II Bronze Star veteran), “with the reasoning and conclusion of Justice Alito’s dissent.” Nonetheless, Stevens found  the first sentence of that dissent to be “inaccurate.” According to Stevens, and contra Alito, “the Court did not hold that ‘every American has a constitutional right to claim to have received that singular award.’” All the Court did was strike down as overbroad a particular federal statute; it thus did not condone all such false and deceptive speech.

– During the ABA Q & A period, Justice Stevens was asked if he thought it was necessary to have a constitutional amendment to overrule the 2010 Citizens United case. He replied: “Well, either a constitutional amendment or one more vote.”

Though Justice Stevens’ remarks have yet to be posted or published, you can look for them in the days ahead on the ABA Forum website here.  (Hat tip to Lee Levine and Steven Zansberg.)

  • Are Animal Rights Activists Terrorists? Have you ever heard of the Animal Enterprise Protection Act? Section 43(a) of the Act makes it a crime for anyone who “travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses or causes to be used the mail or any facility in interstate or foreign commerce, for the purpose of causing physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise; and intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of, any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, and thereby causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 to that enterprise, or conspires to do so; shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” The Center for Constitutional Rights maintains that AETA violates the First Amendment by criminalizing protected speech and expressive activities such as protests, boycotts, picketing and whistleblowing (see here). The district court dismissed the case on standing grounds, though that ruling has been appealed to the First Circuit (see here).
  • Free Press-Fair Trial: Seems that a Marin County public defender objects to the Marin Independent Journal taking photos of his client (an accused serial bank robber) at an arraignment in the Superior Court. According to a MIJ news report, “after the courtroom hearing, MIJ photographer Frankie Frost snapped photos of [the defendant] on public property outside the Hall of Justice as sheriff’s deputies escorted him in a wheelchair back to the jail. Those photos, which we shared with the Associated Press, have been published in the MIJ’s print editions and website.” The public defender balked and filed an 11-page memorandum seeking to enjoin the paper from publishing the photos again. When MIJ objected, Judge James Chou denied its request without prejudice (see here).
  • Upcoming Event: On Friday, February 21, 2014 (12:00-1:00 pm), the Heritage Foundation will host a program titled “Taxing the First Amendment: Using the IRS to Censor Speech?” The participants include Cleta Mitchell (partner, Foley & Lardner), Bradley A. Smith (chairman, Center for Competitive Politics), Eliana Johnson (reporter, National Review), and Kimberley Strassel (editorial board, Wall Street Journal).
  • Next FAN: Wednesday, February 19.
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FAN.1 (First Amendment News)

From time to time, I will post some First Amendment news items that might otherwise escape the attention of free expression enthusiasts.  It may be about a controversy or brief or new book or article or conference or what have you.  If you wish to send along your own newsworthy item for consideration, drop my an e-mail.  With that, here is my first dollop of news:

  • On February 15th the Harvard Law Review will host a conference on “Freedom of the Press” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.  Participants include: Mark Tushnet (Harvard), Stuart Benjamin (Duke), Sonja R. West (U. Ga.), RonNell Andersen Jones (BYU), David Anderson (U. TX), Marvin Ammori (New America Foundation), Marjorie Heins (Free Expression Policy Project), Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard), Rebecca Tushnet (Georgetown), Caroline Corbin (U. Miami), Jack Balkin (Yale), Yochai Benkler (Harvard), and Dawn Nunziato (GWU).
  • Speaking of NYT v. Sullivan, Lee Levine (a noted First Amendment media lawyer) and Steve Wermiel (a professor at American University Law School) have just published The Progeny: Justice William Brennan’s Fight to Save New York Times v. Sullivan (American Bar Association, 2014). Check out my SCOTUSblog interview with the authors.
  • Recently, the Minnesota Law Review published a thought-proving article titled “Speech Engines” by James Grimmelmann (U. MD Law).  It is one of the best pieces of scholarship I have seen concerning the regulatory debates over just how the law – of copyright, trademark, defamation, privacy and of the First Amendment – should treat Google’s search engines.
  • Gabriel Schoenfeld, writing in the Weekly Standard, just reviewed Floyd Abrams’ latest book, Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2013).  (For Mr. Abrams’ views on McCullen v. Coakley (the Mass. abortion-protest case now before the Court), see  Jonathan H. Adler’s post over at the Volokh Conspiracy.)
  • This June Yale Law School Dean Robert Post will release his latest book, Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution (Harvard University Press, 234 pp., $25.00).  The book is an outgrowth of Post’s 2013 Tanner Lectures at Harvard.  Here is a little excerpt from the publisher’s blurb: “Defenders of the First Amendment greeted the ruling with enthusiasm, while advocates of electoral reform recoiled in disbelief. Robert Post offers a new constitutional theory that seeks to reconcile these sharply divided camps.” Post’s text is followed by commentaries by Pamela S. Karlan, Lawrence Lessig, Frank I. Michelman, and Nadia Urbinati.