Category: First Amendment

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Constitutional Law & Institutional “Tailoring”: My Contrarian View

I’ve just uploaded to SSRN my latest article, which I wrote and presented as part of a February UCLA Law Review Symposium on “Constitutional Niches: The Role of Institutional Context in Constitutional Law”, Prisoners and Students and Workers – Oh, My! A Cautionary Note About Excessive Institutional Tailoring Of First Amendment Doctrine. (In January, I’d linked a blog post to a much more preliminary draft in advance of the conference; this is a much more complete draft, and editing is just starting, so I’d love any comments!)

With the Symposium focused on “The Role of Institutional Context in Constitutional Law, my paper took a slightly contrarian view, arguing that when courts tailor doctrine to the needs and characteristics of particular institutions (like public schools, prisons, and workplaces), courts tend to overstate the uniqueness of those institutions. This is dangerous in the First Amendment context, because when courts overstate the unique institutional needs of, say, prisons, they’ll end up allowing too much restriction of speech on an exaggerated “prisons are special” theory. The basis for my conclusion that courts are exaggerating, not just recognizing, institutional uniqueness is a “pL“-type risk analysis of the arguments that prisons, schools, and workplaces face unique risks from dangerous speech.

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Say Vagina, Go To Detention

One of the great things about blogging – much like hanging out in libraries – is that you can discover lots of interesting stuff when you follow the links. Like many other readers, I’ve found the AutoAdmit cyber stalking story pretty compelling and troubling. (Dave tweaks me for my nod to David Lat’s librarian hottie lists. I continue to think that this post falls into a very different category of cyber-jectification, but I’m open to educatin’.) Following various links, from Leiter, through Althouse, to Feministe, I discovered another nugget that I missed in yesterday’s web WaPo: a suburban NY school district suspended three girls for using the word “vagina” in an open-mic reading of (what else?) The Vagina Monologues. Apparently, prior to the performance, the principal had told the 11th graders that they could read the play, but not utter the V-word. Their one-day suspension was therefore framed as punishment for ignoring the principal’s orders. (The principal’s explanation is posted here.) Emil Steiner over the Post gets it right, from my point of view:

Fine, I’m willing to except that cop-out on face value, but if saying “vagina” wasn’t a problem, then why issue an order forbidding it in the first place? Was the school’s objective to teach them that no matter how repressively backwards a rule is, it must be followed blindly? Or maybe its goal was to demonstrate how irony (and/or totalitarianism) works by calling the event an “open mic” and then punishing those with the gall to speak into the said mic openly?

I’m not going to scream First Amendment here because let’s face it: I don’t know the doctrine. (And I can understand that high schools might, in very limited situations, need to regulate speech.) I also suspect that school administrators make similarly stupid decisions all the time – and nobody notices. But geez – did the principal (and note that I don’t name him…what do people think about that decision?) really think that in suburban NY, with three girls who clearly thought this was a worthwhile battle, such silliness would remain a quiet matter?

Actually, I find the story somewhat uplifting. Here we have three girls who appeared to have used excellent judgment both politically (could the girls have found a better chance to score points on both the free speech and feminsim front?) and personally (since, as Steiner says, these girls now have a “kick ass topic for their college essays.”) And I must say that, having read Jill’s compelling and hellish narrative of stalking, the word “uplifting” is about the last thing the AutoAdmit story brings to mind.

By the way, for everyone who found the unnamed victim in the WaPo AutoAdmit story a bit full of herself – the story does suggest that she believes that a Yalie’s failure to garner an offer is akin to a freak of nature (and there is a suggestion, in Althouse comments at least, that she might be a 1L…which makes her job search story somewhat less exceptional) – read Jill’s post. Her story is far more powerful.

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The Libby Tapes

Reading news reports tonight about the Scooter Libby trial, one might imagine that matters of some constitutional note are up for grabs. MSNBC leads:

Reporters file to get Libby recordings

Judge will decide Monday whether to release grand jury testimony

Given the medium, and the cast of characters, we might almost think we’ve got another US v. Nixon on our hands.

Reading the reports in the mainstream press, I got the very strong sense that the judge was considering closing the courtroom while the prosecution played certain grand jury proceedings before the jury. Given the Republic’s long tradition of closed trials, but recent move toward sealed dockets, this would indeed be a problem of some significance.

Reading the blogs, I realize that this is just about finding a way to feed the beast on a slow news day. It’s pretty clear that the news media want the actual tapes – a mere transcription isn’t going to do – and think that they have a constitutional right to access them. That is, the grand jury testimony will absolutely be released on Monday, and it will be heard, in Court, before the jury. The reporters merely want rebroadcasting rights.

This strikes me as a hard argument, especially where (as Judge Walton no doubt realizes) the additional prejudice from publicity can only create grounds for appeal. I’m with Justice Souter and Chief Justice Roberts. Courts don’t exist to entertain the public, but to resolve disputes and administer justice. Whatever value that the public might potentially reap from listening to GJ tapes, it could get more by reporters spending the time trying to put the transcripts of such tapes in context. Indeed, I simply don’t understand the normative force of the right-to-cameras-in-trial as an initial matter.

(I’m also unclear why this issue couldn’t have been litigated before the trial through limine practice. It seems, from Slate’s description, that the jury waited 4 hours while counsel resolved a similar problem this morning. And folks say that there should be more trials? But I’ve griped enough for one evening.)

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Upcoming UCLA Con Law Conference, & My Paper on Prisoner/Student/Employee 1st Amdmt Claims

A few days ago I finished drafting my paper for this Friday’s UCLA Law Review Symposium, Constitutional “Niches”: The Role of Institutional Context in Constitutional Law”. You can download my paper here; it’s very much a draft, and I’ll be busily working on the final version over the next two or three weeks, so I’d love any feedback!

For anyone interested in the topic and in/near L.A., the conference looks like a really tightly-packed day of Con Law bigwigs: Fred Schauer (whose work I really admire, though my paper notes an exception to one of his theses); Cynthia Estlund (the conference’s resident employment law bigwig); John Yoo, formerly of the Bush Admninistration (will he offer more “tortured” interpretations of executive power and detainees’ rights against torture?); Dawn Johnsen, formerly of the Clinton Administration (most likely to have her torture authorized by John Yoo?); and many others, but this list already is getting too long. Don’t ask how I got into this crowd — I’m just happy to be there; Paul Secunda and I feel like we’ll be the kids at the grown-ups’ table!

I haven’t written a real abstract yet, but here’s an informal one:

The paper notes Fred Schauer’s criticism that First Amendment law gives too little consideration to how speech rights should vary in different institutions (e.g., government institutions sponsoring arts or election speech; obscenity/pornography being judged similarly whether in print, on the internet, over the phone lines) — but the paper notes one area in which institutional context appears to be given too much consideration. Specifically, would-be speakers located within certain government institutions — students in public schools, employees in government workplaces, and prisoners — have far lesser speech protection; rather than apply heightened scrutiny to speech restrictions, courts substantially defer to those institutions’ speech restrictions and actually apply different legal “tests” in each of the three contexts. Courts rarely explain why different tests apply in these areas, so the article, partly based on economic analysis, (1) tries to discern, as a descriptive matter, the reasons courts apply less speech-protective tests in these contexts and (2) criticizes those reasons as exaggerations of the uniqueness of the three institutions (schools, prisons, and workplaces), or at least finding that those reasons vary in persuasiveness among the three institutions. Ultimately, the article concludes that courts should apply not institution-specific legal tests, but standard heightened scrutiny, to speech rights claims in these institutions, just as it does under the Equal Protection Clause.

Searching for Search Law

I’ve been writing and speaking on search engines a bit this past week, first at Hofstra’s Reclaiming the First Amendment Conference and later on David Levine‘s Hearsay Culture radio show. If you want to hear that show, just hop on KZSU Live tonight at 8PM EST (5PM PST). Or you can wait till it shows up on iTunes…but due to copyright concerns, you’ll miss out on Dave’s superb selection of engine-related music that will accompany the live broadcast. (Nevertheless, any tech law fans will want to subscribe to Levine’s show–he has a knack for enlivening legal topics with all manner of social, political, and economic discussions.)

Whatever you think about government regulation here, search engines are one of the most important tech phenomena to be shaped by law in the 21st century. A few prophetic scholars (like Niva Elkin-Koren and Helen Nissenbaum) saw this about 5 years ago; I’m part of a group building on their work to theorize it now. Our guest blogger Eric Goldman just covered a search conference in Haifa (and a prior Yale confab); he’s also got some very interesting pieces promoting the wisdom of laissez-faire here. James Grimmelmann’s The Structure of Search Law does a nice job of simultaneously describing search law as it stands and proposing modest steps for its development.

As for my own views, I’m afraid I’ll have to refer you to my podcast (and a forthcoming paper I’m co-authoring with Oren Bracha). But if anyone wants to recommend other search law scholarship in the comments, please feel free. I hope to highlight some interesting European work on the topic in a future post.

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Matlock Needs CLE on IP

Andy%20Griffith%20wallpaper.jpgThe Washington Post has a story today about Andy Griffith suing a man who changed his name to Andy Griffith to run for sheriff. According to the Post (but one can never be sure because the press is always confusing IP laws), the famous Griffith is suing for trademark, copyright and right of privacy violations. Bad reporting or bad lawyering I say. Can’t see that any copyrights are involved. As to right of privacy, publicity seems a better choice. Privacy laws usually are more exacting in their requirement of use in advertising. But even right of publicity mandates commercial misappropriation. Assuming the candidate was advertising his candidacy and soliciting campaign contributions, does this use meet either threshold? Since his advertisements are not for a commercial venture and since his solicitation is not commercial in nature, I say no. This issue of whether or not a defendant’s use a trademark must be used commercially is currently hotly contested, with my vote and slightly more authority suggesting such a requirement. The one strong point the plaintiff has is the fact of a trademark in his name. I never did understand why a show about a sheriff named Andy Taylor was called “The Andy Griffith Show,” perhaps Griffith had prescient trademark lawyers at the time.

The Griffith formerly known as William Harold Fenrick admitted that he legally adopted the new name to create publicity to aid his race. The best laid plans…he came in third. Curiously, Andy of Mayberry in addition to damages and fees, is also asking the court to order the defendant’s name change. A court ordered “Opie” would sure send a message to would-be pirate sherrifs. Remedies experts, please weigh in.

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Finally, Koons Won

blanch.jpg koons.jpg

Some of the most wrong-headed copyright law was developed by Post-Pop artist Jeff Koons–-by losing. It all started with Rogers v. Koons and Judge Haight (no relation & I’d deny it if there were just based on this opinion). In that case commercial photographer Art Rogers (yes, his name is Art with a capital A) sued Koons for copying his photograph of a seated couple holding numerous puppies on their laps. Koons sent the photo (he found it on a greeting card) to a art studio in Italy with instructions to reproduce it in a sculpture. Judge Haight easily ruled that this was copyright infringement and the 2d Circuit affirmed. In two subsequent SDNY cases, Koons had Judge Haight’s reasoning thrown back at him. (In these cases the photographer of “Boys with Pig” and the copyright owner of Odie were victorious.) Given Koons’ string of losses, photographer Andrea Blanch must have thought she won the jackpot when she saw her work reproduced in his collage painting “Niagra.” I don’t mean to comment on her motives, but the copyright lawyer she consulted probably envisioned attorneys fees.

There’s much to comment on here, including what the opinion does to fair use doctrine (especially transformative use & the parody/satire dichotomy) and what it does to the law’s treatment of appropriation art. But since I’ve written about these cases before, I’ll confine my post to an analysis of why the court reached a different conclusion in this case. As I read the opinion, I kept wondering why earlier Koons courts could not have taken the same approach. Let me first set out what’s the same in these cases. Koons has stuck with the same lawyer throughout, all the litigation has been in the 2d Circuit (SDNY), and this plaintiff’s profile is similar to Art Rogers’.

Now for the differences: 1) Here the plaintiff’s photograph is an advertisement. While this should make no difference and while other successful plaintiffs have certainly made commercial use of their copyrighted works, I suggest this difference matters to the court. In both the district court and 2d circuit opinion, plaintiff’s photograph is characterized as not being creative. (This affects the analysis under FU factors 2 & 3.) And as an advertisement, these courts are able to easily contrast it’s objective and message with Koons’ objective and message, thereby aiding Koons’ argument that his use is “transformative.” 2)The court “gets” Koons’ work. In the 1st Koons case, Judge Haight’s lack of esteem for the artist pervades the opinion. (For instance, he remarks how Koons’ 1st career was as a commodities trader & how he hires other artists to make his work.) After that, the 2d Circuit and subsequent SDNY courts replayed that assesment without any further opportunity for Koons to explain his work. The district court in this case produced a short opinion heavy on block quotes, including many from Koons’ affidavit. Here, the 2d Circuit paints a different portrait of the artist and weaves his testimony into a coherent story of how fair use law enables just this kind of creativity by granting to artists access to “raw materials” such as Blanch’s photography.

In the end, justice was done here both to Jeff Koons and to the fair use doctrine. Unfortunately, the price of this legal success may be Koons’ status as bad boy of the art world. The doctrinal fit is so cosy that his work feels staid. It doesn’t push boundaries; it doesn’t piss off judges. His work is no longer illegal art, and, if we take him at his word that he’s created an entirely new work out of raw materials, it may not even be properly deemed appropriation art.

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Praising Allah In The Military

Congress is considering legislation that would allow military chaplains to use sectarian prayers at nondenominational events. Supporters argue that Chaplains should be free to pray as their faith demands. Opponents worry that such prayers (lets be more precise: prayers that invoke the name of Jesus) will have the effect of excluding some in attendance and erode cohesion within the unit. (The Pentagon, which opposes the bill, actually frames it less in terms of marginalized troops, and more in terms of marginalized chaplains, saying “This provision could marginalize chaplains who, in exercising their conscience, generate discomfort at mandatory formations.”)

This proposal is really a one-way ratchet which is likely to create discomfort for various non-Christian soldiers, but which will rarely marginalize Christian soldiers. For example, few Christian soldiers will be troubled by Jewish prayers since they always reference a single God, referred to typically in English as “God.” They are sort of like “lesser included” versions of Christian prayers. (It is possible that a rabbi might use a Hebrew term, and this would potentially be alienating…though in my experience, many might simply find it “curious.”) Christian prayers which invoke Jesus exclude all Jews and Muslims (and people of many other faiths, not to mention agnostics and atheists) because they involve praying to a person who, in other religions, is explicitly not God. Sooner or later, at a non-denominational event, a Muslim chaplain will praise Allah, an Arabic term for God (and indeed essentially the same singular God as one would find in Christianity and Judaism). But though Allah may reference the same God, the term now carries loads of cultural baggage, such that many may hear that invocation as an explictly anti-American or anti-Christian statement.

If I truly believed that the Representatives supporting this legislation were ready – even eager – to hear chaplains praise Allah at non-religious events, I’d be more sympathetic to their cause. Call me a cynic, but I suspect that they’re simply trying to promote Christianity in circumstances where they see little downside. Twenty years from now, if Islam has grown in importance within the military, I suspect that these folks would be the first to argue for non-sectarian prayer. “It’s just not fair to our Christian troops”, they’d argue.

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NSA Surveillance and the First Amendment

NSA3.jpgEarlier today, a federal district judge struck down the Bush Administration’s NSA surveillance program which involved intercepting international electronic communications without a warrant. The opinion is available here. I have not had time to read the opinion carefully yet, but I am especially intrigued by the court’s use of the First Amendment as one of the grounds to invalidate the program. I just completed an article entitled The First Amendment as Criminal Procedure in which I argue for First Amendment regulation of government information gathering. In the final section, I have a discussion of the NSA surveillance program.

The court’s First Amendment analysis is very brief, and I agree with Jack Balkin who observes that the “first amendment holding is novel although plausible, but it is not supported by very good arguments.” The First Amendment argument is indeed a difficult and complex one and it deserves more than just a few pages to develop. My article attempts to flesh out the First Amendment argument. Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the relationship between the First Amendment and criminal procedure. These two domains of constitutional law have long existed as separate worlds, rarely interacting with each other. But many instances of government information gathering can implicate First Amendment interests such as freedom of speech, association, and religion. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments used to provide considerable protection for First Amendment interests, as in the famous 1886 case, Boyd v. United States, where the Supreme Court held that the government was prohibited from seizing a person’s private papers. Over time, however, Fourth and Fifth Amendment protection shifted, and now countless searches and seizures involving people’s private papers, the books they read, the websites they surf, the pen names they use when writing anonymously, and so on fall completely outside of the protection of constitutional criminal procedure. Professor Solove argues that the First Amendment provides protection against government information gathering implicating First Amendment interests. He contends that there are doctrinal, historical, and normative justifications to develop what he calls “First Amendment criminal procedure.” Solove sets forth an approach to determine when certain instances of government information gathering fall within the regulatory domain of the First Amendment and what level of protection the First Amendment should provide.

I welcome any comments. Eugene Volokh has some interesting analysis of the court’s First Amendment analysis here.

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Call For Papers: National Security Leak Prosecutions

The Association of American Law Schools Section on National Security Law is sponsoring a competition for papers on the topic of national security leak prosecutions in connection with its program at AALS in January. The winning piece will be published in the Journal of National Security Law and Policy and the author will be included on the panel itself. Three page abstracts are due September 5. The competition appears to be open only to law faculty. The Call for Papers is posted at:

http://www.wfu.edu/%7Echesner/NationalSecurityLaw/CallForPapers.pdf.