Archive for the ‘First Amendment’ Category
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Will Havemann entitled Privilege and the Belfast Project. Havemann argues that a recent First Circuit opinion goes too far and threatens the idea of academic privilege:
In 2001, two Irish scholars living in the United States set out to compile the recollections of men and women involved in the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland. The result was the Belfast Project, an oral history project housed at Boston College that collected interviews from many who were personally involved in the violent Northern Irish “Troubles.” To induce participants to document their memories for posterity, Belfast Project historians promised all those interviewed that the contents of their testimonials would remain confidential until they died. More than a decade later, this promise of confidentiality is at the heart of a legal dispute implicating the United States’ bilateral legal assistance treaty with the United Kingdom, the so-called academic’s privilege, and the First Amendment.
Given the confusion sown by Branzburg’s fractured opinion, the First Circuit’s hardnosed decision is unsurprising. But by disavowing the balancing approach recommended in Justice Powell’s concurring Branzburg opinion, and by overlooking the considerable interests supporting the Belfast Project’s confidentiality guarantee, the First Circuit erred both as a matter of precedent and of policy. At least one Supreme Court Justice has signaled a willingness to correct the mischief done by the First Circuit, and to clarify an area of First Amendment law where the Court’s guidance is sorely needed. The rest of the Court should take note.
December 5, 2012 at 10:45 am Tags: academic privilege, academy, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, international law, privilege, treaties Posted in: Anonymity, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Current Events, First Amendment, International & Comparative Law, Law Rev (Stanford), Media Law Print This Post 15 Comments
posted by Yale Law Journal
The Yale Law Journal Online has just published Lawrence Meets Libel: Squaring Constitutional Norms with Sexual-Orientation Defamation, an essay by Anthony Michael Kreis. Kreis identifies a trend in defamation law: many state statutes and judicial opinions continue to treat false allegations of homosexuality as actionable libel despite the growing acceptance of homosexuality nationwide. He argues that, “[w]hile defamation law functions as a legitimate governmental mechanism for vindicating harm to one’s reputation, it cannot constitutionally do so if it irrationally intertwines state action with class-based animus.” In his view, “recent sexual-orientation jurisprudence . . . stands for the clear proposition that government-backed stigmatization of gay and lesbian people is inconsistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Preferred citation: Anthony Michael Kreis, Lawrence Meets Libel: Squaring Constitutional Norms with Sexual-Orientation Defamation, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 125 (2012), http://yalelawjournal.org/2012/11/12/kreis.html.
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Andrew Tutt entitled Software Speech. Tutt argues that current approaches to determining when software or speech generated by software can be protected by the First Amendment are incorrect:
When is software speech for purposes of the First Amendment? This issue has taken on new life amid recent accusations that Google used its search rankings to harm its competitors. This spring, Eugene Volokh coauthored a white paper explaining why Google’s search results are fully protected speech that lies beyond the reach of the antitrust laws. The paper sparked a firestorm of controversy, and in a matter of weeks, dozens of scholars, lawyers, and technologists had joined the debate. The most interesting aspect of the positions on both sides—whether contending that Google search results are or are not speech—is how both get First Amendment doctrine only half right.
By stopping short of calling software “speech,” entirely and unequivocally, the Court would acknowledge the many ways in which software is still an evolving cultural phenomenon unlike others that have come before it. In discarding tests for whether software is speech on the basis of its literal resemblance either to storytelling (Brown) or information dissemination (Sorrell), the Court would strike a careful balance between the legitimate need to regulate software, on the one hand, and the need to protect ideas and viewpoints from manipulation and suppression, on the other.
November 15, 2012 at 10:18 am Tags: Constitutional Law, Cyber Civil Rights, First Amendment, search engines, technology, videogames Posted in: Constitutional Law, Cyber Civil Rights, Cyberlaw, First Amendment, Google & Search Engines, Google and Search Engines, Law Rev (Stanford), Supreme Court, Technology Print This Post 3 Comments
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
In my last post, I argued that the requirement that religiously affiliated organizations include contraception in their health insurance plans does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. That’s not such a hard argument to make given the Employment Division v. Smith rule that neutral laws of general applicability are constitutional, no matter what kind of burden they may create for religious practices.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), on the other hand, is easier to violate. RFRA was passed in reaction to Employment Division v. Smith. Congress wanted to restore the more demanding (at least on paper) pre-Smith test for religious liberty claims. The Supreme Court struck down RFRA as applied to the states but not as applied to the federal government. Under RFRA, a federal law cannot impose a substantial burden on a person’s exercise of religion unless it passes strict scrutiny.
Saving the question of whether the contraception mandate imposes a substantial burden for another post, would it pass strict scrutiny? Does the contraception mandate advance a compelling state interest in a narrowly tailored way? It is not hard to come up with compelling reasons why women who do not want to become pregnant should have access to contraception. Women’s ability to control their reproduction is essential to their wellbeing, their bodily integrity, and their ability to participate as equals in the social, economic, and political life of the nation. In fact, the failure to cover contraception may well amount to sex discrimination if a health insurance plan covers all basic preventive care except for pregnancy-related preventive care like contraception. (While pregnancy discrimination is not considered sex discrimination for equal protection purposes thanks to Geduldig v. Aiello, it is sex discrimination for Title VII purposes thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.) Promoting women’s health, liberty, equality, and equal access to health care are all compelling state interests.
Nevertheless, at least one court has concluded that the contraception mandate was not motivated by a compelling interest because it contains too many exceptions, such as the ones for grandfathered plans and small employers. So, while the court acknowledged that “the promotion of public health” is generally a compelling state interest, it held that “any such argument is undermined by the existence of numerous exceptions to the preventive care coverage mandate. . . . A law cannot be regarded as protecting an interest of the highest order when it leaves appreciable damage to that supposedly vital interest unprohibited.” I disagree. The number of exceptions might matter if there were some question about whether the state’s interest really was compelling or not. If we are not sure about the importance of uniform appearance among police officers, numerous exceptions to grooming requirements might lead to the conclusion that it is not as important as the state claims. However, such exceptions should not matter when the state’s goals have long been recognized as compelling — and surely we are past the point of debating whether promoting women’s liberty and equality and preventing sex discrimination are compelling state interests.
Perhaps, then, it could be argued that the law is not narrowly tailored. How strict the tailoring must be under RFRA in not clear. If RFRA is meant to reinstate the pre-Smith test as practiced, then it is not very demanding, since the Supreme Court rarely found that laws failed strict scrutiny in Free Exercise Clause challenges. In any case, one argument that should be rejected is that the law is not sufficiently tailored because the government could provide contraception instead. But that can’t be right. Imagine a bookstore that refused admittance to Hispanics. Or imagine an employer whose insurance covered cancer screenings for white employees but not Asian ones. Now imagine the bookstore or employer arguing that a law banning race discrimination in places of public accommodation or in the provision of employment benefits fails strict scrutiny because the state could sell the books or provide the benefits instead. Such a claim is a distortion of strict scrutiny and should fail.
November 2, 2012 at 11:05 am Tags: contraception, contraception mandate, health care, religious liberty, RFRA, women Posted in: Constitutional Law, Feminism and Gender, First Amendment, Health Law, Religion Print This Post 5 Comments
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
The Affordable Care Act is changing the health care landscape. Among the changes is that employers that provide health insurance must cover preventive services, including contraception. Although the requirement does not apply to religious organizations, it does apply to religiously affiliated ones. This “contraception mandate” has generated a huge outcry from some religious leaders, most notably the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. They insist that forcing Catholic hospitals, schools, or charities to include contraception in their employee insurance plans violates religious liberty.
It doesn’t. It certainly doesn’t violate the Free Exercise Clause. After Employment Division v. Smith, neutral laws of general applicability are constitutional, regardless of the burden they may impose on religious practices. Indeed, the law upheld in Smith banned a religious sacrament. But it was neutral, in that it did not intentionally target religion, and it was generally applicable, in that it was neither riddled with exceptions nor grossly underinclusive. The regulation requiring employers who provide health insurance to include contraception in that coverage is likewise a neutral law of general applicability.
While a recent Supreme Court decision (Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC) carved out an exception to this “neutral-generally-applicable-laws-do-not-violate-the-Free-Exercise-Clause” rule, it does not apply here. This exception — which holds that religious institutions are immune from neutral, generally applicable anti-discrimination laws when they are sued by their ministers — was designed to protect churches’ ability to pick their leaders without interference from the state. However, the provision by religiously-affiliated organizations of health insurance to their employees, many of whom do not belong to the same faith as their religious employer, clearly does not involve ministers or internal church governance. In short, there is no valid Free Exercise Claim.
What about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? Stay tuned.
October 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm Tags: ACA, contraception, contraception mandate, equality, free exercise, health care, religious liberty, women Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Employment Law, Feminism and Gender, First Amendment, Health Law, Religion Print This Post 19 Comments
posted by Stanford Law Review
The Stanford Law Review Online has just published a Note by Kendall Turner entitled Dahlia v. Rodriguez: A Chance to Overrule Dangerous Precedent. Turner argues that the Ninth Circuit has an opportunity to make an important change to the rules governing the application of First Amendment protections to the speech of public employees:
In December 2007, Angelo Dahlia, a detective for the City of Burbank, California, allegedly witnessed his fellow police officers using unlawful interrogation tactics. According to Dahlia, these officers beat multiple suspects, squeezed the throat of one suspect, and placed a gun directly under that suspect’s eye. The Burbank Chief of Police seemed to encourage this behavior: after learning that certain suspects were not yet under arrest, he allegedly urged his employees to “beat another [suspect] until they are all in custody.”
After some delay, Dahlia reported his colleagues’ conduct to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Four days later, Burbank’s Chief of Police placed Dahlia on administrative leave. Dahlia subsequently filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Chief and other members of the Burbank Police Department, alleging that his placement on administrative leave was unconstitutional retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights.
Dahlia offers the Ninth Circuit an opportunity to overturn Huppert and articulate a narrow understanding of Garcetti. This narrow understanding accords with the reality of public employees’ duties—for the duties they are actually expected to perform may differ significantly from the responsibilities listed in their job descriptions. A narrow reading of Garcetti is also essential to ensuring adequate protection of free speech: The answer to the question of when the First Amendment protects a public employee’s statements made pursuant to his official duties may not be “always,” but it cannot be “never.”
Read the full article, Dahlia v. Rodriguez: A Chance to Overrule Dangerous Precedent at the Stanford Law Review Online.
October 22, 2012 at 10:39 am Tags: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, employee speech.public employees, First Amendment, Ninth Circuit Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Employment Law, First Amendment, Law Rev (Stanford) Print This Post No Comments
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been leading the charge against the contraception mandate, but its opposition to the mandate does not represent the USCCB’s first entanglement with contraception lawsuits. ACLU of Massachusetts v. Sebelius involved an Establishment Clause challenge to a grant given to the USCCB pursuant to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The grant was to provide services to victims of sex trafficking, who are often forced into prostitution and forced to endure rape or other sexual abuse. In accepting the grant, the USCCB made very clear that its religious beliefs prevented them from providing contraception or abortion to their clients, or referring them to others who would. (More specifically, the USCCB stated it would bar its subcontractors from providing or referring these services.) Even though access to contraception and abortion are crucial for women and girls who have been sexually trafficked, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nonetheless awarded the USCCB over $15 million dollars. The ACLU sued, alleging Establishment Clause violations. USCCB responded by claiming that HHS was merely accommodating its sincere religious beliefs. The ACLU won.
Sometimes the line between constitutional accommodation of religious belief and unconstitutional advancement of religion can be hard to draw. Sometimes, however, it is not. HHS should never have awarded the grant. It is true that religious groups may now compete on an equal basis with secular groups for government grants and contracts. But they should also be rejected on an equal basis if they cannot fulfill basic grant requirements. The point of the grant, after all, is to help the intended beneficiaries. Any group, secular or religious, that cannot provide the requisite services, which in this case includes contraception and abortion, is simply not qualified. To accommodate the USCCB at the expense of trafficked sex victims goes too far. At this point, “accommodation devolve[s] into an unlawful fostering of religion.”
October 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm Tags: contraception, establishment, funding, religious liberty, sex trafficking Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Feminism and Gender, First Amendment, Religion Print This Post 8 Comments
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
In Bob Jones University v. United States, the IRS revoked the tax exempt status of two religiously affiliated schools because they discriminated on the basis of race. One school (Goldsboro Christian Schools) refused admittance to black students, the other (Bob Jones University) barred interracial dating and marriage. Both schools claimed that the discrimination was religiously mandated, and that the loss of their tax exempt status violated the Free Exercise Clause. The schools lost. The Supreme Court characterized tax exemptions as a taxpayer subsidy for charitable organizations that, at the very least, do not contravene fundamental public policy like our commitment to racial equality, and held that racist schools did not satisfy that requirement: “[I]t cannot be said that educational institutions that, for whatever reasons, practice racial discrimination, are institutions exercising beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life or should be encouraged by having all taxpayers share in their support by way of special tax status.” In addition, the Court held that eliminating race discrimination in education was a narrowly tailored and compelling state interest. The bottom line is that a university may discriminate based on race, but it should not expect to be considered a beneficial organization entitled to tax subsidies.
Assuming Bob Jones was correctly decided, should its holding be limited to discrimination in education, or discrimination on the basis of race? I think not. In fact, the IRS denies tax exempt status to any nonprofit organization, religious or not, that invidiously discriminates on the basis of race. If you are a church that excludes blacks, or won’t let blacks become ministers, you may have the constitutional right to exist, but you won’t get any government money to help you prosper. Should the same policy apply to organizations, religious or not, that invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex?
October 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm Tags: Bob Jones, discrimination, free exercise, Race, sex, taxes Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Education, Feminism and Gender, First Amendment, Law and Inequality, Race, Religion Print This Post 10 Comments
posted by Caroline Mala Corbin
Imagine the Boys Scouts of America discriminated on the basis of race. In this hypothetical, no black parents are allowed to lead troops, and no black children are even allowed to join them. If your child were eligible, would you let him become a Boy Scout? My guess is that the answer would be no. There are plenty of alternative extracurricular activities available, including other scouting clubs, so why belong to a racist one whose policies stigmatize innocent children and perpetuate hostility towards a group based on a completely irrelevant characteristic? In fact, you might not want to support them in any way. The federal government certainly does not: groups that discriminate on the basis of race are ineligible for government funding and cannot qualify as a tax exempt organization. In short, no government money would flow to them, not even in the form of tax breaks. As an expressive association, the Boy Scouts might have a constitutional right to discriminate, but that doesn’t mean that our tax dollars should help them.
In recognition of National Coming Out Day on October 11, let’s tweak the hypothetical and substitute sexual orientation for race. Shouldn’t the results be the same?
October 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm Tags: Boy Scouts, discrimination, National Coming Out Day, Race, sexual orientation Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Tax Print This Post 13 Comments
posted by Madhavi Sunder
Another day brings another cornucopia of exciting and important comments on my book, From Goods to a Good Life: Intellectual Property and Global Justice. I thank Professors Molly Van Houweling, Jessica Silbey, Michael Madison, and Mark McKenna, and earlier Concurring Opinions commentators —Professors Deven Desai, Lea Shaver, Laura DeNardis, Zahr Said, and Brett Frischmann—for reading my book so carefully, and engaging it so helpfully. I focus here on Professor Van Houweling’s framing of an important issue arising in the discussion.
Professor Van Houweling has provoked stimulating discussion with her astute observation of two competing visions of intellectual property within the emergent “capabilities approach” school of intellectual property we identified earlier this week. Professor Van Houweling contrasts Professor Julie Cohen’s alternative justification of copyright as a tool for promoting corporate welfare (sustaining creative industries), with my attention to intellectual property laws as tools for promoting livelihood and human welfare (sustaining human beings in their quest for a good life).
September 14, 2012 at 1:15 am Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Culture, Cyber Civil Rights, Education, Feminism and Gender, First Amendment, Jurisprudence, Law and Humanities, Law and Inequality, Media Law, Race, Symposium (From Goods to a Good Life), Technology, Uncategorized, Web 2.0 Print This Post One Comment
BOOK REVIEW: A New (Scientific) Look at the SG and the Court (reviewing Black and Owens’s The Solicitor General and the United States Supreme Court: Executive Influence and Judicial Decisions)
posted by Ronald K.L. Collins
Ryan C. Black & Ryan J. Owens, The Solicitor General and the United States Supreme Court: Executive Influence and Judicial Decisions (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
I think a strong Solicitor General can have a very considerable influence on the Court.
– Erwin Griswold
Recently the Justices asked the Solicitor General’s office for its views on two cases, one concerning the Clean Water Act, and the other concerning the immunity of a foreign government’s central bank when the U.S. seeks to seize its assets. Though standard fare, the request reminds us of the importance that of SG’s office in our system of justice. To understand the workings of the Court, it is important to understand the workings of the SG’s office and how the two interact. Or as Lincoln Caplan put it in his The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law (1987): “The relationship between the Supreme Court and the SG’s office has long been more intimate than anyone at either place likes to acknowledge.” Indeed. Thankfully, some of that intimacy is subject to scrutiny, as a forthcoming book on the subject reveals.
A newly released book is sure to be of interest to Court watchers. I refer to The Solicitor General and the United States Supreme Court: Executive Influence and Judicial Decisions (Cambridge University Press, 2012) by political science professors Ryan C. Black (Michigan State University) and Ryan J. Owens (University of Wisconsin, Madison). Both have written extensively, and continue to do so, on the Court, its workings, and on constitutional law generally. As their book and other works make clear, different SG’s approach their job quite differently and what they do can sometimes shape the resulting law announced by a majority of the Court. (See Michael McConnell, “The Rule of Law and the Solicitor General,” 21 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1105 (1988), and Steven Calabresi, “The President, the Supreme Court & the Constitution,” 61 L. & Contemp. Probs. 66 (1998).)
“Learned in the law”
The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) is a curious institution. On the one hand, the SG is the lawyer for the Executive Branch, yet on the other hand the SG enjoys chambers at the Supreme Court as if he or she were a “tenth justice.” Though the SG is independent of the Court, the Justices are frequently dependent on the SG’s counsel. Not surprisingly, then, federal law (28 U.S.C. § 505) requires that the SG, and no other, be “learned in the law.”
The SG’s influence can hardly be denied. As David O. Stewart has observed: “The Justices have relied on the SG to screen unworthy petitions for certiorari and to provide a complete statement of the relevant law. And they have granted a disproportionately high proportion of the SG’s petitions for certiorari, invited his views on cases ion which the government was not a party and tended to rule in his favor.” (Book Review, ABAJ, Nov. 1, 1987, at 136.) So, exactly, how influential is the OSG when it comes to what the Court does or does not do? Professors Black and Owens answer that question by way of a remarkable illustration offered up in the first chapter of their nine-chapter book. This illustration, about which more will be said momentarily, sets the stage for a rigorous and detailed examination, replete with charts, of the work of the OSG and how it helps shape Supreme Court law. Their work-product derives largely from, among other things, cert pool memos, private docket sheets, and other archival data collected by them and other scholars. The result is a remarkable, as their discussion of National Organization of Women v. Scheidler (1994) illustrates.
posted by Frank Pasquale
I’m often reminded of Madhavi Sunder’s brilliant article Cultural Dissent. Sunder argues that recognition of dissent within doctrine “would prevent law from becoming complicit in . . . project[s] of suppressing internal cultural reform.” Consider the Russian feminist band which could be imprisoned for staging a minute-long rock video in a church. The band sang and performed an intercessory prayer for the removal of President Putin from power. Here is one member’s closing statement:
That Christ the Savior Cathedral had become a significant symbol in the political strategy of the authorities was clear to many thinking people when Vladimir Putin’s former [KGB] colleague Kirill Gundyayev took over as leader of the Russian Orthodox Church. After this happened, Christ the Savior Cathedral began to be openly used as a flashy backdrop for the politics of the security forces, which are the main source of political power in Russia.
Why did Putin feel the need to exploit the Orthodox religion and its aesthetic? Read the rest of this post »
posted by Frank Pasquale
Harry Reid has sparked an uproar by suggesting that Mitt Romney paid no taxes. On the floor of the Senate, Reid stated, “The word’s out that he [Romney] hasn’t paid any taxes for 10 years.” Glenn Kessler summarizes Reid’s follow-up on the claim:
He originally told the Huffington Post that a person who had invested with Bain Capital had called his office and told him this. Then, he told reporters in Nevada that “I have had a number of people tell me that.” Reid has refused to identify his source (or sources).
Kessler notes that, “Without seeing Romney’s taxes, we cannot definitively prove Reid incorrect.” He still faults Reid for making the accusation. Others praise Reid because “his allegations are easy to disprove with evidence that Mitt Romney himself has, viz., Romney’s tax returns,” and “every party nominee for 40 years” has been more forthcoming than Romney about their taxes.
The controversy reminded me of an article on “Libel by Implication,” and a decade-old defamation case, Howard v. Antilla. That case concerned a New York Times article, which asked, “Is Robert Howard really [the felon] Howard Finkelstein? A lot of investors in Mr. Howard’s Presstek Inc., would like to know. But not even the Securities and Exchange Commission can say for sure. And the lingering mystery has roiled a hot stock and left the S.E.C. blushing.” The article reported rumors that turned out to be false, though the defendant said it was based on “1500 pages of notes and documents in her investigative file.” A jury found for Antilla on the defamation claim, but awarded Howard $480,000 on a false light claim. The First Circuit eventually vacated the verdict, engaging in some fine distinctions between claims that someone “might be” and “is” some suspect identity:
Read the rest of this post »
posted by Erica Goldberg
In the wake of the very public opposition to gay marriage by Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, local government officials have taken steps to make Chick-fil-A unwelcome in their cities. Although these officials may express their justified antipathy towards Chcik-fil-A, denying it permits to operate restaurants on the basis of Chick-fil-A’s viewpoint is clearly unconstitutional. Professor Eugene Volokh, on The Volokh Conspiracy, has fully covered why. This isn’t a close First Amendment case.
It seems strange to me that Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who supported an alderman’s decision to block permits for Chick-fil-A to build a second store in Chicago, wouldn’t realize this. It would be painfully obvious that Boston, for example, couldn’t deny building permits to a clothing store because the store, for example, donated money to Ron Paul. Or, Boston couldn’t decide to fire a teacher for her speech about gun control unrelated to her job duties written in a private newspaper (although the city may have almost total control of her speech in the classroom). So, why aren’t the free speech implications of this case more apparent?
My guess is because Chick-fil-A’s speech, and the company’s expression through its donation of money to anti-gay rights causes, begins to blur the speech/conduct distinction. As Professor Volokh notes, Chick-fil-A, a private speaker, cannot be denied a governmental benefit on the basis of its viewpoint, but if Chick-fil-A discriminated in serving or hiring decisions, the company could be punished. This is because, while speech cannot be punished, conduct can. This speech/conduct divide is what preserves our First Amendment values. Chick-fil-A’s statements against gay marriage, when they sound like “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’” make it difficult for us to believe that the company’s views won’t bleed into its conduct and impact hiring decisions. And even if the company doesn’t breach the speech/conduct divide, I cannot imagine that a gay couple would feel entirely comfortable entering the establishment holding hands (although they certainly should).
posted by Erica Goldberg
An Idaho judge ruled on Tuesday that a Washington newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, must reveal identifying information about an anonymous commenter. The commenter, ironically named “almostinnocentbystander,” remarked in two comments on the newspaper’s blog that Tina Jacobson, the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party, may be embezzling funds from the Party. Specifically, the comment claimed “Is that the missing $10,000 from Kootenai County Central Committee funds actually stuffed inside Tina’s blouse??? Let’s not try to find out.” Another comment, according to the judge’s written opinion, used the words embezzlement, mentioned Jacobson’s position as bookkeeper, and accused Jacobson of refusing to allow others to review treasurer’s reports. The comments were removed from the blog after 2.5 hours, but Jacobson sued for defamation. In denying the newspaper’s motion to quash the subpoena, the judge also ruled that two other commenters’ identities need not be revealed because their posts were not defamatory.
I have been watching episodes of Ally McBeal on Netflix, and, as John Cage says, “I am troubled.” Perhaps innocentbystander’s comments technically meet the standard for defamation in Idaho (Communicating information to others, that tends to harm plaintiff’s reputation, causing damages to plaintiff.) But was that comment really damaging enough to unmask almostinnocentbystander? The primary harm to Jacobson’s reputation that allowed this suit to proceed was that Jacobson herself ordered an audit of GOP books.
Are Liberals Under-Estimating the Chances that the Catholic Hospitals Will Win Against the Health Care Act?
posted by Peter Swire
(Disclaimer — I decided soon after law school not to focus most of my efforts on the Supreme Court or con law. There are brilliant people who work on it all the time, and I don’t. But I am a law prof who can’t help noticing some things …)
Last week, liberals went through the near-death experience for the Affordable Care Act — far, far, far closer than the confident predictions of most liberals when the law was passed.
This week, I had the chance to speak in depth with an experienced liberal lawyer about the Next Big Constitutional Thing — the Catholic hospital challenges to the ACA’s requirements that contraception and other coverage must be included for the employees of hospitals, universities, and other Catholic institutions that are not themselves part of the Church.
The lawyer confidently predicted that the Catholic hospitals would lose. After all, everyone knows the peyote case — Employment Division v. Smith, where a neutral state anti-drug law trumped a Free Exercise of religion argument that would have allowed an adherent to use peyote. The lawyer said there was no precedent for the Catholic hospitals to win, such a holding would disrupt innumerable neutral state laws, and even Justice Scalia would be bound by his prior writings to find against the Catholic hospitals.
My reaction — “here we go again.” It felt just like the over-confident predictions that the individual mandate inevitably would be upheld. And my friend sounded like other liberals who have scoffed at the claims of the Catholic hospitals.
My instinct — as a realist prediction of the outcome, and not as a statement of my policy choice — is that the Catholic hospitals very possibly will win if the case goes to final judgment in the courts.
First, I don’t think Justice Scalia will find that a law prohibiting peyote (a “good” and long-standing law) is remotely similar to a law requiring the Catholic Church, for the first time in history, to buy an insurance package that pays for contraceptives. He’ll think that the latter is a “bad” law.
Second, the Catholic Church has tens of millions of members in the U.S., and is not the splinter group at issue in the earlier case. In a realist analysis, the views of a tiny church are not the same as those of the largest organized Church in western history.
Third, the views of the Church on contraception are sincere, widely publicized, and long-standing. Although many individual Catholics don’t follow the doctrine on this issue, the institution of the Church is firmly on record on the issue. This is not a pretext to take mind-altering drugs; it is a major doctrinal tenet.
Fourth, many Catholic hospitals are deeply religious institutions. They often have a cross and a Bible in each room. Many nuns and priests work in the hospitals. Providing health care is deeply rooted in the mission of the Church, and has been for many years. In other words, this is not the equivalent of “unrelated business income.” Instead, religion and healing of the sick are thoroughly intertwined.
Fifth, and my apologies for mentioning it, six of the nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic. I am not saying that a Catholic judge will hold for the Church any more than a white judge holds for whites and a black judge holds for blacks. However, the justices will have deep personal knowledge of the healing tradition of Catholic hospitals. They will read the briefs in the context of their personal knowledge. I don’t think they will lightly assume that they are bound by cases with facts that seem to them quite different.
After we went through this list, my liberal friend said that he had adjusted his prediction. He now thought that some of the district court cases, at least, would go for the Church. He then added an extra idea — the case may arise under the Administrative Procedure Act, on whether the HHS rule was properly promulgated and consistent with the statute. His point was that a court may have a “procedural” way to block the rule from mandating that the Catholic hospitals pay for insurance that covered contraceptives. That might be an easier path for a judge to take than overturning Free Exercise case law, if the judge were inclined to stop the rule from taking effect.
Currently, there are over 20 challenges by Catholic hospitals to this provision. Smart lawyers in each case will be trying to define distinctions that will retain the peyote precedent while letting the hospitals win this case. Randy Barnett and others had a huge success with the “action/inaction” distinction about the individual mandate. My realist instincts are that we will see the emergence of clever, new distinctions for the hospital cases.
I think that many liberal con law experts were complacent when the individual mandate was challenged. If they are complacent again about the Catholic hospital cases, then I, for one, will not be surprised to see the current HHS approach struck down.
posted by Erica Goldberg
Jeremy Waldron’s new book “The Harm in Hate Speech” has rightfully received a lot of attention. Professor Waldron’s book provides an important and multi-layered justification for what many refer to as “hate speech” regulations. These regulations, like the following example from the Danish Penal Code, prohibit statements “by which a group of people are threatened, insulted or degraded on account of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin . . . . ” Such regulations are antithetical to the American free speech paradigm, but exist in many other Western democracies.
Waldron believes that, in light of America’s uniquely speech protective history and jurisprudence, his arguments are unlikely to impact the law. I fear that he is wrong. His arguments are ingenious, and therefore quite dangerous. Former Justice John Paul Stevens and former judge, and current professor, Michael McConnell have excellently rebutted Waldron’s arguments in their reviews of his book. I’d like to add a few points of my own.
Like other scholars who seek stronger regulations against hate speech, Waldron connects his arguments to the values of equality enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. He argues that hate speech, and its appearance and tolerance in society, undermine certain groups’ senses of inclusion, security in their equal standing, and dignity. Because the Fourteenth Amendment was enacted after the First Amendment, it is tempting to argue that protection of inclusion and dignity supersedes free speech protections. Yet, there is no true conflict between the government’s inability to regulate pure speech and the requirement that the government apply its laws equally to everyone. Losing a sense of security in one’s equal standing is not the same as actually losing that standing.
posted by Margot Kaminski
The Supreme Court had a busy day yesterday, and in the wake of healthcare, there’s a risk of overlooking an important addition to this Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence: U.S. v. Alvarez.
In short, the Court found that Congress can’t send you to jail just for lying. Alvarez confirms that this Court is extremely reluctant to create new FirstAmendment exceptions, and has a speech-protective understanding of the marketplace of ideas. Alvarez also leaves open some interesting questions, both doctrinal and practical.
Alvarez was prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act (18 USC s. 704) for lying about having received the Congressional Medal of Honor. What made this case particularly interesting, and probably what split the Court, is that Alvarez did not lie to gain money, or to get a job. He didn’t lie for any apparent reason. He just lied.
The Court split 4-2-3, with six affirming the Ninth Circuit and finding the Act unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy wrote the plurality, Justice Breyer wrote the concurrence (joined by Justice Kagan), and Justice Alito rather unsurprisingly wrote the dissent.
The plurality forcefully reiterated what the Court articulated two years ago in U.S. v. Stevens (2010): content-based restrictions on speech are subject to strict scrutiny, with limited exceptions that have been clearly established in prior caselaw. What was (again!) at stake in this decision was whether the First Amendment protects all speech except for the familiar carveouts, or presents an “ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits” with each new proposed exception (at 4, quoting U.S. v. Stevens (2010)).
The plurality went the First-Amendment-protective route. Its “historic and traditional categories” of First Amendment exceptions present a familiar roster: obscenity, fighting words, incitement, and the rest. False speech as false speech is not one of the historical exceptions, and the plurality made it perfectly clear that it does not plan to add to the list. In Stevens, then, the Court said what it meant about not intending to add to historical First Amendment exceptions. Future brief-writers would do well to keep this in mind.
Eugene Volokh in his Amicus brief feared that if the Court went the route of protecting false speech, the First Amendment would become a patchwork of under-theorized exceptions to that rule. The plurality proved him wrong. It both articulated theoretical underpinnings for existing exceptions that do involve false speech, and took the Government to task for advocating an overly restrictive understanding of the marketplace of ideas.
The plurality walked through two general categories of exceptions to First Amendment protection for false speech. These categories are effectively distinguished from most false speech as “false speech-plus.” Each is not just false speech, but has an additional element.
The first kind of false speech not subject to First Amendment protection is false speech where there is a legally cognizable harm to an individual, such as an invasion of privacy or legal costs. This category includes defamation and fraud (at 7). Robert Post might further add that these kinds of crimes and torts generally take place outside of the public sphere, and so are subject to less First Amendment protection because they involve individual relationships rather than public-facing speech.
The second kind of false speech not subject to First Amendment protection is false speech that impedes a government function (eg perjury or lying to a federal officer), or abuses government power without authorization (eg impersonating a Government officer). Here, no direct injury to an individual is required. The plurality found that these two types of laws are similar because both “protect the integrity of Government processes” (at 9).
The more serious and broad-sweeping theoretical debate resolved by the Alvarez plurality concerns a fundamental understanding of the marketplace of ideas.
In the historical understanding of the marketplace of ideas, speech competes with speech towards the pursuit of “truth” (although truth is more accurately understood as political truth, not just truth in the sense of non-falsity). Thus Volokh is probably correct when he writes that historically, false speech was considered of lower value in the marketplace of ideas than true speech.
However, the present-day understanding of the marketplace of ideas is that it’s impossible to determine which speech has high value, and which speech has low value. Speech competes, and listeners choose what to believe, but there’s no competition towards an absolute truth-in-the-sense-of-non-falsity, or towards higher values that have been officially designated as such. The Court acknowledged as much in Cohen v. California, which often gets misread as being a case about political speech, where it’s in fact about protecting traditionally low-value expression.
The Alvarez plurality explicitly rejects the proposal that false speech is low value speech and thus not subject to full First Amendment protections. “The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society.” (at 15)
The plurality thus articulates a speech-protective and autonomy-driven understanding of the marketplace of ideas, where the marketplace is self-correcting, and Congress has no place determining what is true, or good or bad, apart from protecting individuals from legally cognizable harms and from abuse of government structures and government power.
Both doctrinal and practical questions remain after Alvarez, unsurprisingly.
Doctrinally, the question is what type of scrutiny applies to false speech. The plurality employed strict scrutiny, while the concurrence used intermediate scrutiny. It is not clear what the Court will employ in the future.
Using intermediate scrutiny to strike down the Act, it should be noted, creates a strange tension between this case and commercial speech doctrine, which allocates First Amendment protection only to commercial speech that is not misleading. Intermediate scrutiny may also raise questions about trademark dilution, where no competition, commercial harm, or likelihood of confusion need be shown. The concurrence thus struggles with trademark dilution on pp 6-7, where the majority could probably get rid of —or at least restrict the scope of— the trademark problem by applying intermediate strutiny.
Practically speaking, the Act might survive on rewriting. The Act might be rewritten to require that the liar lie for the purpose of receiving a benefit. Alternatively, the Act could be rewritten to penalize lying where the liar benefited from the lie (ie, harm was accomplished as a result of the lie). If the Act were thus rewritten, it’s not clear how the plurality would treat it with respect to historic exceptions and their justifications. It also seems likely that the concurrence would switch sides.
It’s worth noting the implications of Alvarez for the ongoing discussion of anonymous speech, and the use of online personae. If Alvarez had gone the other way, the Court might have made it possible for Congress to prohibit the use of pseudonyms, or “fake names,” online. Lying about your identity is another way of describing choosing to hide your real identity, which would have brought the case into conflict with McIntyre v. Ohio and other doctrine on anonymous speech. I’m not sure that a good doctrinal distinction could be developed between positively asserting that you are another person , and choosing a pseudonym for the purpose of hiding your identity. For now, at least, thanks to Alvarez, the distinction between legal and illegal pseudonymous behavior appears to rest clearly in the additional element of harm the Court noted must be shown for fraud, or the performance of some other tort or crime.
There is another fast-developing area potentially impacted by Alvarez that the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice at Yale has been working on all year: the regulation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, where states require the centers to explain that they are not actually doctors and do not actually provide medical services such as abortion. On this issue, though, I’ll defer to my colleague Jennifer Keighley, who has a piece forthcoming on the matter.
But leaving all this aside, there’s a very simple reason Alvarez was correctly decided.
As Kozinski noted below, people lie an awful lot.
posted by Frank Pasquale
Tim Wu’s opinion piece on speech and computers has attracted a lot of attention. Wu’s position is a useful counterpoint to Eugene Volokh’s sweeping claims about 1st Amendment protection for automated arrangements of information. However, neither Wu nor Volokh can cut the Gordian knot of digital freedom of expression with maxims like “search is speech” or “computers can’t have free speech rights.” Any court that respects extant doctrine, and the normative complexity of the new speech environment, will need to take nuanced positions on a case-by-case basis.
Wu states that “The argument that machines speak was first made in the context of Internet search,” pointing to cases like Langdon v. Google, Kinderstart, and SearchKing. In each scenario, Google successfully argued to a federal district court that it could not be liable in tort for faulty or misleading results 1) because it “spoke” the offending arrangement of information and 2) the arrangement was Google’s “opinion,” and could not be proven factually wrong (a sine qua non for liability).
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June 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm Posted in: Antitrust, Constitutional Law, Consumer Protection Law, First Amendment, Google & Search Engines, Google and Search Engines, Privacy, Technology Print This Post 4 Comments
posted by David Orentlicher
In FCC v. Fox, the Supreme Court once again took a pass on the first amendment questions raised by the regulation of indecent images or speech on broadcast television. It is a good thing that the justices want to take their time to get it right on the constitutional issues, but ten years have passed since the case was first triggered by Cher’s use of the F-word at the Billboard Music Awards. And the Court’s decision today suggests it hopes the matter will just go away. As Justice Kennedy concluded for the majority, “this opinion leaves the [FCC] free to modify its current indecency policy.”
The Court’s discomfort with indecency is not surprising. The justices’ discomfort reflects that of much of society. Indeed, they could not bring themselves to actually say the F-word at oral argument.
But once again, it leaves us to wonder why our society seems to worry more about exposing children to even brief uses of profanity or depictions of nudity than it does about exposing kids to prolonged violence. The FCC does not restrict violence the way it does indecency on television, movie ratings are tougher on indecency than on violence, and the Court has a lower threshold for government regulation of violence than of indecency. Recall, for example, that last year, the Court invoked the first amendment to override California’s ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, and two years ago, the Court rejected on first amendment grounds a federal statute that outlawed “crush” videos depicting the torture and killing of animals.
It may be correct to be as careful as we are about the harms to children from the media’s use of nudity and vulgar language. But we also should take more seriously the harm from the media’s depictions of violence.