Tagged: Academic Conferences

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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— Justice Stevens & The First Amendment: In a February 7, 2014 speech to the ABA Forum on Communications Law (as of yet unpublished), retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said some interesting things about the free expression law of the First Amendment.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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Questioning the Value of Omnibus Academic Conferences

As part of my current job, I try to track and distribute information about conferences and workshops that will interest my colleagues and provide good opportunities for them to obtain critical feedback on their scholarly work, as well as make connections with other scholars in their fields. Perhaps because I pay more attention to all types of conferences now (or perhaps because there truly are more of them), I sense a proliferation of smaller legal scholarship workshops focusing on particular subject matters or disciplines, bringing together scholars from schools in a specific region, or fostering development of junior faculty (of course, there are also combinations of these). Much of the anecdotal feedback I get from my colleagues suggests that these smaller workshops are extraordinarily helpful to participants because of the type and depth of feedback they get on their papers. The size of these gatherings also allows for richer opportunities to engage in informal discussions with colleagues and learn about each other’s work.

All of this brings me to the larger question I want to pose. What is the purpose of the annual January AALS meeting? Don’t get me wrong. I love New Orleans and San Francisco and catching up with friends and colleagues from other schools as much as anyone. But at this point, the conference itself seems like a bit of a dinosaur. If the principal justification for the meeting is intellectual enrichment, it’s pretty inefficient. Hundreds of papers are presented, the vast majority of them beyond any single professor’s areas of interest or expertise. And personally, with some important exceptions, I often have been disappointed with the papers presented at the annual meeting compared to the papers I have heard at specialized conferences (including specialized AALS conferences). One could make the case for the general meeting as an opportunity to hear work in fields beyond our specialty areas, but how many of us actually attend panels in fields completely unrelated to our work? I’m sure some administrative work gets done at AALS, but probably nothing that couldn’t be accomplished by a conference call.

Some academic disciplines combine their annual meetings with their hiring conferences. For example, the Modern Language Association has a long tradition of facilitating faculty job interviews at its annual meeting. That approach makes a little more sense because faculties from most schools are gathered in one place to interview candidates, anyway. But the AALS separated out its Faculty Recruitment Conference from the general meeting many years ago, so that rationale has disappeared.

I approach my thinking about the AALS meeting from a resources standpoint as well. At this time of year (as the early bird registration deadline approaches), I receive lots of faculty requests for funding to attend the meeting. Our school spends a disproportionate percentage of its travel budget sending faculty to AALS. In tight fiscal times, it seems useful to contemplate whether that is a good use of funds, or whether that money would be better spent sending faculty to the smaller specialty or regional conferences discussed above. Or, might we decide after considering the heretical idea of scrapping the annual meeting that the AALS’s winter fest is just too big to fail?