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FAN 29.1 (First Amendment News) — Florida Bar Joins Petitioner in Urging Court Review of Judicial Elections Case

Barry Richard, counsel for Florida Bar

Barry Richard, counsel for Florida Bar

As difficult as it is to obtain review in the Supreme Court, sometimes a case comes along that makes it hard for the clerks and their bosses to ignore. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar may be just such a case as the stars seem to be aligning in favor of the Petitioner, Lanell Williams-Yulee, having her case ruled upon by the Justices.

In a post a few weeks back, I flagged the Williams-Yulee case in which review was pending in the Court. The issue in the case is whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment. In a per curium opinion, a divided Florida Supreme Court denied the First Amendment challenge.

As I mentioned, a petition for certiorari had been filed by Andrew Pincus, Charles Rothfeld, and Michael Kimberly with assistance from Ernest Myers and Lee Marcus along with Eugene Fidell of the Yale Law School Clinic.

So much for the old news; now, here is the latest development in that case. Last week the Florida Bar filed its response — Barry Richard is the Bar’s counsel of record. Here is what is interesting about the Bar’s response:

The Florida Bar submits that the Florida Supreme Court correctly determined that the challenged Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct complies with the First Amendment. However, The Florida Bar believes that this Court should issue its writ of certiorari to resolve the significant conflicts existing between state high courts and federal circuit courts and among federal circuit courts on this fundamental issue of constitutional rights.

Additionally, the Respondent urges that the Court review the case for three reasons:

  1. “The issues at the heart of the conflicts are not such that they can accommodate different interpretations and applications in different jurisdictions and judicial forums without insulting fundamental principles,”
  2. “Judicial conflicts over the issues raised by the petition are likely to increase in the foreseeable future. Over twenty states that provide for popular election of judges have rules similar to Canon 7C(1)”, and
  3. “The Florida Bar joins the Petitioner in respectfully urging this Court to accept this case for review not only because there is a national need for resolution, but because of the particularly troublesome position in which it places The Florida Bar. Denial of the petition for certiorari would leave the decision of the Florida Supreme Court standing, but would provide The Florida Bar with little comfort. The existing indirect conflict between the decision of the Florida Supreme Court, and the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in Weaver v. Bonner . . . a case involving a Georgia judicial candidate, is likely to become a direct conflict when the Eleventh Circuit is inevitably called upon to adjudicate the constitutionality of Canon 7C(1) in a case involving a Florida judicial candidate.”

Of course, counsel for the Petitioner (Andrew Pincus) endorses the Respondent’s request for review:

Typically, a respondent joins in a petitioner’s request for further review only when “there is a clear conflict of decisions” and “the question is undoubtedly of such importance as to need a Supreme Court determination.” Stephen M. Shapiro, et al., Supreme Court Practice 510 (10th ed. 2013). That is precisely the case here. Because this case offers an opportunity to answer the question presented free of any doubt that the controversy here is both ripe and ongoing (see Pet. 15-16 & n.9; Resp. Br. 3), the petition for a writ of certiorari should be granted. 

(Hat tip to Maureen Johnston over at SCOTUSblog)

Additional information about the case is set out in FAN #25. Stay tuned for future developments.

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FAN 27 (First Amendment News) — Humanitarian Law Project petition before High Court

Seventeen and a half years for translating a document? Granted, it’s an extremist text.                                                                                      – David Cole

Tarek Mehanna may not be a very nice person. But the narrowing of his liberties has consequences for us all.                             – Rachel Levinson-Waldman

The case is: Mehanna v. United States.

Tarek Mehanna

Tarek Mehanna

The issue is: Whether a citizen’s political and religious speech may constitute provision of “material support or resources” to a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) under the “coordination” rubric of Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, when the government conceded that petitioner was not instructed by the FTO, and the evidence showed that he did not interact with the FTO, but rather viewed, translated, and disseminated materials of his own choosing, while expressing moral support for certain views of the FTO, and associating on the Internet with persons who the government claims had themselves associated with the FTO.

→ Summary of relevant facts as stated by the appellate court: “In 2004, the defendant, an American citizen, was 21 years old and living with his parents in Sudbury, Massachusetts. On February 1, he flew from Boston to the United Arab Emirates with his associates, Kareem Abuzahra and Ahmad Abousamra. Abuzahra returned to the United States soon thereafter but the defendant and Abousamra continued on to Yemen in search of a terrorist training camp. They remained there for a week but were unable to locate a camp. The defendant then returned home, while Abousamra eventually reached Iraq.

“The second cluster of activities was translation-centric. In 2005, the defendant began to translate Arab-language materials into English and post his translations on a website — at-Tibyan — that comprised an online community for those sympathetic to al-Qa’ida and Salafi-Jihadi perspectives. Website members shared opinions, videos, texts, and kindred materials in online forums. At least some offerings that the defendant translated constituted al-Qa’ida-generated media and materials supportive of al-Qa’ida and/or jihad.”

→ The charges against the Defendant included:

  • one count of conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qa’ida;
  •  one count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists knowing or intending its use to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 956 and  § 2332
  • one count of providing and attempting to provide material support to terrorists, knowing and intending its use to be in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 956 and § 2332
  • and one count of conspiracy to kill persons in a foreign country

→ ACLU of Massachusetts press release re trial verdict: “Mehanna Verdict Compromises First Amendment, Undermines National Security,” Dec. 20, 2011: “Under the government’s theory of the case, ordinary people–including writers and journalists, academic researchers, translators, and even ordinary web surfers–could be prosecuted for researching or translating controversial and unpopular ideas. If the verdict is not overturned on appeal, the First Amendment will be seriously compromised.”

Op-Ed Commentaries 

On Appeal before First Circuit

In an opinion by Judge Bruce Selya, a three-judge panel of the First Circuit denied the Defendant Tarek Mehanna‘s First Amendment challenge. Here is how Judge Selya (former chief judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review) began his opinion:

Terrorism is the modern day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat. Predictably, then, the government’s efforts to combat terrorism through the enforcement of the criminal laws will be fierce. Sometimes, those efforts require a court to patrol the fine line between vital national security concerns and forbidden encroachments on constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and association. This is such a case.

And here is how Judge Selya closed his opinion in ruling against the Defendant Tarek Mehanna:

Cases like this one present a formidable challenge to the parties and to the trial court: the charged crimes are heinous, the evidentiary record is vast, the legal issues are sophisticated, and the nature of the charges ensures that any trial will be electric. In this instance, all concerned rose to meet this formidable challenge. The lawyers on both sides performed admirably, and the able district judge presided over the case with care, skill, and circumspection. After a painstaking appraisal of the record, the briefs, and the relevant case law, we are confident — for the reasons elucidated above — that the defendant was fairly tried, justly convicted, and lawfully sentenced.

→ Amici on behalf of the Petitioner in the First Circuit included:

  • Alex Abdo, Hina Shamsi, Matthew R. Segal, and Sarah R. Wunsch on brief for American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
  • Pardiss Kebriaei, Baher Azmy, and Amna Akbar on brief for Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Nancy Gertner, David M. Porter, and Steven R. Morrison on brief for National, Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • E. Joshua Rosenkranz and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP on brief for Scholars, Publishers, and Translators in the Fields of Islam and the Middle East
Judge Bruce Selya

Judge Bruce Selya

The government was represented by Elizabeth D. Collery, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

→ Sabin Willett is the counsel of record representing the Defendant Tarek Mehanna in his petition to the Court. In his petition, Mr. Willett’s First Amendment arguments include the following:

  1. “In Humanitarian Law Project, the Court addressed the important question of whether speech could be criminalized as provision of material sup- port in the form of a “service” to an FTO. Deciding that such speech can be unlawful when it takes the form of directly-interactive teaching, the Court interpreted §2339B as imposing criminal liability for speech that is a “service” if that speech is sufficiently “coordinated” with the FTO. This Court did not further define ‘coordination,’ nor hold that all “coordinated” speech could be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment. . . . Outside the narrow factual context of Humanitarian Law Project, the legal contours of ‘coordination’ remain a riddle. The word does not appear in any relevant section of the statutes. The decision uses “coordination” to describe the specific conduct found unlawful in that case, but provides no general definition, and leaves open that some levels of ‘coordination’ may be lawful.”
  2. “Petitioner argued below that a constitutional definition of ‘coordination’ requires an inquiry into the relation of the speaker to the FTO, and cannot be based in the content of his speech. If an FTO directs the defendant to write, the defendant’s compliance might provide a service that the Constitution does not protect, but that service would lie in compliance, not content.”
  3. Certain counts of the Petitioner’s conviction violated his right of association.

→ The government’s brief in opposition can be found here.

Historical Aside re Humanitarian Law Project

The case for the government was argued by Solicitor General Elena Kagan

The case for the Humanitarian Law Project was argued by Professor David Cole

Transcript of oral argument here

Interview with Robert Post re his latest book Read More

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FAN 25 (First Amendment News) — High Court again asked to intervene in state judicial elections

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Lanell Williams-Yulee

If the State has a problem with judicial impartiality, it is largely one the State brought upon itself by continuing the practice of popularly electing judges. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (2002)

The case is Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. The issue in the case is whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment. In a per curium opinion, a divided Florida Supreme Court denied the First Amendment challenge. (See here re video and transcript of oral arguments in Florida Supreme Court.)

A petition for certiorari has been filed by Andrew Pincus, Charles Rothfeld, and Michael Kimberly with assistance from Ernest Myers and Lee Marcus along with Eugene Fidell of the Yale Law School Clinic.

→ Flashback: FAN 15, “Free Speech & Judicial Elections: The Return of Kaus’ Crocodile,” May 14, 2014

Facts – Here is how Judge Chris Helinger, a referee for the Florida State Bar described the key facts in the case: “The Florida Bar alleges that on or about September 2009, the Respondent became a candidate for County Court Judge, Group 10, Hillsborough County, Florida. On September 4, 2009, the Respondent signed a campaign fundraising letter wherein the Respondent personally solicited campaign contributions. The Respondent admits that she reviewed and approved the September 4, 2009 letter. The Respondent further testified that prior to approving the letter she reviewed Canon 7C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct regarding solicitation of funds. However, the Respondent testified that she interpreted the Canon to only apply if there was another candidate in the race. At the time the solicitation letter was sent no other candidate had been announced. Canon 7C(1) states that the prohibition of personal solicitation of campaign funds apply to any candidate for ‘judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates.’” In that regard, the Florida Supreme Court noted: “[T]he referee found that the Respondent misrepresented the fact that there was no incumbent in the judicial race for which she was running. Further, the referee found that the Respondent’s misrepresentation [which she claims was the result of a good faith mistake based on a misunderstanding of the Canon] was published in a newspaper article on November 3, 2009.”  (Source: here)

Offending Mass-Mail Solicitation Letter 

LANELL WILLIAMS-YULEE

_____________________________________________

Bringing Diversity to the Judicial Bench

Elect Lanell Williams-Yulee For County Court Judge Group 10 and Campaign Fundraiser

Dear Friend:

I have served as a public servant for this community as Public Defender as well as a Prosecutor for the past 18 years. Having been involved in various civic activities such as “The Great American Teach In,” Inns Of Court, Pro Bono Attorney, Metropolitan Ministries outreach program, as well as a mentor for various young men and women residing within Hillsborough County, I have long worked for positive change in Tampa. With the support of my family, I now feel that the time has come for me to seek elected office. I want to bring fresh ideas and positive solutions to the Judicial bench. I am certain that I can uphold the Laws, Statutes, Ordinances as prescribed by the Constitution of the State of Florida as well as the Constitution of the United States Of America.

I am confident that I can serve as a positive attribute to the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit by running for County Court Judge, Group 10. To succeed in this effort, I need to mount an aggressive campaign. I’m inviting the people that know me best to join my campaign and help make a real difference. An early contribution of $25, $50, $100, $250, or $500, made payable to “Lanell Williams-Yulee Campaign for County Judge”, will help raise the initial funds needed to launch the campaign and get our message out to the public. I ask for your support In meeting the primary election fund raiser goals. Thank you in advance for your support.

Sincerely,
/s/
Lanell Williams-Yulee, Esq.

(Source: here)

See YouTube video of TV political ad here.

State Judicial Elections 

As Professor Richard Briffault has observed: “The vast majority of judicial offices in the United States are subject to election. The votes of the people select or retain at least some judges in thirty-nine states, and all judges are elected in twenty-one states.” Consistent with the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, states such as Florida have enacted laws or rules barring judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

Conflicts in Lower Courts  Read More

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FAN 23 (First Amendment News) — Paul Smith & Erin Murphy Debate Campaign Finance Law

Paul Smith & Erin Murphy

Paul Smith & Erin Murphy

It was quite an evening as Paul Smith and Erin Murphy went back-and-forth in a lively exchange discussing the McCutcheon case, campaign financing law, and the First Amendment. Professor David Skover moderated as the two one-time case foes — Erin represented Shaun McCutcheon & Paul filed an amicus brief on the other side — debated the pros and cons of government regulation. In his own casual, confident, and witty way, Paul pushed his views while Erin took it all in stride, always calm, cautious, and pointed. The exchange took place at the Washington, D.C. offices of Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz (there was a live videocast feed to the firm’s New York office). This was the latest First Amendment salon. The discussion ranged from the technical to the philosophical as the two advocates and the discussants teased out various arguments. In the end, Smith and Murphy came together with big smiles and a firm handshake (the pair worked on the same side in the recently decided Aero case.)

Among others, the discussants included: Lee LevineBenjamin GinsbergLaura Handman, James Swanson, Joel Gora, Adam Liptak, David Savage, Jess Bravin, Stephen WermielKatherine Bolger, and Jeff Bowman (former AA to FEC Chairman Scott Thomas).

John Seigenthaler (1927-2014) – the Man Who Loved Light 

“His commitment to the First Amendment was unflagging.” Ken Paulson

“A champion of the First Amendment, giant of journalism,  and a wonderful human being.”              – Judy Woodruff 

We lost John Seigenthaler last week — he was 86. I was privileged to have worked with John while I was at the Newseum’s First Amendment Center, first in Arlington, Va. and then in Washington, D.C. John founded the Center in 1991.

In a recent USA Today column, Ken Paulson (John’s friend and longtime colleague) observed:

John Seigenthaler

John Seigenthaler

“John was . . . the first editorial page editor of the then-new USA TODAY in 1982, developing the most balanced opinion pages in the country. For every USA TODAY editorial there would be a countervailing view. John embraced light instead of heat.”

“He was fueled by his passion for the First Amendment, the sense that every voice has value. He liked to tell the story of a liberal woman who found conservative radio deeply offensive. He told her ‘whenever I want to hush Rush, I turn the knob.’ With a pained expression she responded, ‘Then I get G. Gordon Liddy.’ John would roar with each retelling.”

“In 1991 John retired from his newspaper role to found the First Amendment Center. It was a role he was born to. Long an advocate for the underdog, John was a passionate champion for the five freedoms that few Americans knew much about and inevitably took for granted.”

Gene Policinski, a friend who worked with John since 1981, offered this life assessment of his colleague: “John’s passion for the First Amendment was driven by a belief in equality and in the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ He had a lifelong commitment to the idea that this nation would not just endure but would prosper if its citizens could freely discuss, debate, and decide public issues without the burden of the heavy hand of government.” (see here, too)

→ For more about John and his remarkable life, see:

High Court Agrees to Hear Sign Ordinance Case  Read More

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FAN 20.5 (First Amendment News) — Move to Amend First Amendment Continues

imagesAccording to a June 26, 2014 Bloomberg BNA news story by Nancy Ognanovich & Kenneth P. Doyle:

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) priority list for Senate action in July includes plans to schedule votes on a constitutional amendment to protect the authority of Congress to regulate campaign finance, as well as a separate campaign finance disclosure measure—known as the DISCLOSE Act—that failed in previous years, aides said. . . .”

Vote in Subcommittee: “The proposed campaign finance amendment to the Constitution was approved by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights June 18th on a 5-4, party-line vote. The measure was set to be considered June 26th by the full Judiciary Committee, but was held over.”

Substituted language: “The subcommittee adopted a substitute to Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) proposed amendment (S. J. Res. 19) offered by panel Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The measure would allow Congress and the states to set ‘reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates and others,’ and would further permit Congress and the states to prohibit campaign spending by ‘corporations or other artificial entities.’”

See also this op-ed by Josh Blackman: “Democrats are Trying to Rewrite the First Amendment,” American Spectator, June 25, 2014

→ For earlier coverage of this proposed constitutional amendment, see:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ban Silently Lifted 

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

Professor Samuel V. Jones

Professor Samuel V. Jones

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

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

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

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

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

Judge Laura Sullivan

Judge Laura Sullivan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FAN 18 (First Amendment News) — What to do with the First Amendment? Election Law & Free Speech

I have not taken a position, one way or the other, on these constitutional amendments; we are having a hearing.” — Senator Patrick Leahy, June 3, 2013

To amend or not to amend? The question lingers and the debate continues. In the political maelstrom, some liberals push to amend the First Amendment while conservatives push back against the idea of tinkering with the Bill of Rights. It is a sign of our times that jaws don’t drop in utter amazement at the ideological lineup at play here.

Protestors at Senate SJ 19 hearing just before it began

Protestors at Senate SJ 19 hearing just before it began

“We are here to declare victory,” said Bobby Burchfield at a Heritage Foundation event this past Monday (see below). The seasoned election law lawyer, who argued on behalf of the RNC in the McCutcheon case, stressed victory because in his view campaign finance reformers have now conceded that their reform measures cannot be reconciled with the First Amendment. Echoing that point, Donald McGahn (former FEC chairman and prominent election law lawyer now with Jones Day) told the Heritage audience: “The so-called reformers are finally admitting that what they want to do is unconstitutional.”

Messrs. Burchfield and McGahn were referring to a proposed constitutional amendment  (S.J. 19) introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsofed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jon Tester (D-MT) along with 38 others (no Republican co-sponsors — 33 co-sponsors have joined a companion amendment in the House, H.J. Res. 20). A hearing on the Udall proposal took place yesterday in the Senate.

The Senate Hearing

Senator Leahy chatting with Senator Reid (seated).

Senator Leahy chatting with Senator Reid (seated).

Senate Hart Building, Rm. 216, 10:30 a.m — Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) chaired the hearing. Sixteen senators were present at various times during the hearing. Introductory comments were made by  Chairman Leahy (statement here) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) (statement here). Their remarks were followed by the first panel of witnesses, which consisted of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (statement here) followed by comments from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (statement here). “This joint appearance,” said Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), “is a first in the Committee’s history as far as we can tell.”  

Prior to the second panel’s statements, comments were offered by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (video clip here).  The second panel consisted of statements by Floyd B. McKissick, Jr. (a state Senator from North Carolina) (statement here), Floyd Abrams (Partner, Cahill Gordon & Reindel) (statement here), and Jamie Raskin (Professor of Law, American University, Washington College of Law) (statement here).

Here are a few excerpts from State Senator McKissick’s remarks:

“In 2010 alone Americans For Prosperity, a group funded in large party by the Koch brothers, spent more than a quarter of a million dollars in North Carolina. Another group, Civitas Action, spent more. A new organization that sprang up, called Real Jobs NC, spent almost $1.5 million dollars. Overall, three quarters of all the outside money in state races that year were tied to one man: Art Pope. Pope and his associates poured money into 22 targeted races, and the candidates they backed won in 18.”

Here are a few excerpts from Mr. Abrams’ remarks:

“The description of the constitutional amendment it proposes states, in its text, that it ‘relate[s] to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.’ That’s one way to say it, but I think it would have been more revealing to have said that it actually ‘relate[s] to speech intended to affect elections.’ And it would have been even more revealing, and at least as accurate, to have said that it relates to limiting speech intended to affect elections. And that’s the core problem with it. It is intended to limit speech about elections and it would do just that. . . .”

Here are a few excerpts from Professor Raskin’s remarks:

“[I]n several recent 5-4 decisions, the wall protecting democracy from plutocracy has been crumbling under judicial attack. Four years ago, in Citizens United v. FEC, the Roberts Court majority bulldozed an essential block of the wall, the one that kept trillions of dollars in corporate treasury wealth from flowing into federal campaigns. In Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett (2011), the Court stifled public debate and destroyed vast new opportunities for political speech by striking down public financing programs that use matching funds and a trigger mechanism to amplify the voices of less affluent candidates competing to be heard over the roar of big wealth. In McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), the Court took a sledgehammer to the aggregate contribution limits, empowering political tycoons and shrewd business investors to max out to every Member of Congress and all their opponents. All of these assaults on political equality and free speech were justified in the name of the First Amendment.”

See Amy Howe’s SCOTUSblog post here.

→ A vote on S.J. 19 is said to occur later this year. 

A Few Highlights from S.J. 19 Hearing

  • Boxes of petitions calling for a constitutional amendment.

    Boxes of petitions calling for a constitutional amendment.

    Senator Leahy: “Two million Americans have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment.” [Stacks of boxes containing the petitions were brought into the hearing room for display.]

  • Senator Grassley: “Today freedom of speech is threatened as it has not been in many decades.”
  • Senator Reid: “Is there any member of this Committee who believes the status quo is good?”
  • Senator McConnell: “Everyone on this panel knows this proposal will not pass . . . . This is a political exercise and that’s all it is.”
  • Senator Jefferson Sessions (R-AL): “The First Amendment . . . is not a collective right.”
  • Senator Cruz: “Citizens are still astonished that members of Congress would dare support repealing the First Amendment. . . . This amendment is about power and about politicians silencing citizens. . . . We are in a strange point in time when Democrats abandon the First Amendment, and, indeed, propose repealing it.”
  • Professor Raskin: “Don’t be intimidated; the people are with you. . . . [The Petitioners in Citizens United] could have won, and should have won, on that point [i.e., statutory grounds].”
  • Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY): “The First Amendment has always had a balancing test.”
  • Senator Jean Klobuchar (D-MN) question to Mr. Abrams: “Do you support any other limits [beyond disclosure] on campaign contributions . . . .?  Mr. Abrams: “I’ve pretty well come to the conclusion that contribution limits . . . ought to fall. I think they should be disclosed, but it seems to me that we’ve reached a point, both in our jurisprudence and our politics, where if we know what the money is and where it is coming from that . . . we can trust the public to make a rational decision . . . .”
  • Senator Reid quoting Senator Mitchell (apparently from statement made in 1987 or 1988): “‘We Republicans have put together a responsible and Constitutional campaign reform agenda. It would restrict the power of special interest PACS, stop the flow of all soft money, keep wealthy individuals from buying public office.’”

* * * * 

Ken Kulkowski: “Only one amendment has modified a previous amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment was ratified in 1919 and empowered Congress to forbid alcohol nationwide. Then the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified in 1933 to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment and allow alcohol to flow once again.” [Source: here]

* * * * 

Heritage Foundation Event

The day before the Senate hearing on S.J. 19, the proposed amendment was a topic of discussion at the Heritage Foundation. The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Slattery with comments by Bobby Burchfield, Donald McGahn, and Hans A. von Spakovsky. Here are a few excerpts from their remarks:

Mr. Burchfield: “The McCutcheon decision is plainly correct.  McCutcheon like Citizens United did not break new First Amendment ground” since both decisions were consistent with Buckley v. Valeo, which rejected the idea of leveling the political playing field rationale. “The self-styled reform community is trying to read into the First Amendment what democratic government should be. The First Amendment does not impose on government a duty to limit speech.”  

Dan McGahn

Dan McGahn

Mr. McGahn: Under S.J. 19, could “Congress prohibit a labor union from communicating with its members?  What about the NRA and its members?” Can S.J. 19′s ban be “speech selective?”  Would it apply to “pastors and their congregation? What about bloggers who aired a video like the one in Citizens United?  What about books?”  McGahn also analogized S.J. 19 with the British Licensing Order of 1643 and the Stamp Act of 1765 in that all of these measures required permission from the government to speak.

Mr. von Spakovsky: “Nearly all means of communication require spending money—from the ‘humblest handbill or leaflet’ to political advertisements run during prime time on ‘television, radio, and other mass media,’ which are “indispensable instruments of effective political speech. . . . Supporters of this amendment claim that restricting the amount of money that may be spent on political speech and activity is not the same as limiting speech, but that is the equivalent of saying that limiting the amount of newsprint a newspaper may buy does not limit the newspaper’s speech. Coincidentally, the proposed constitutional amendment has one glaring exception: It would not apply to the press. Thus,The New York Times and MSNBC could continue to spend as much money, newsprint, and airtime as they want supporting their preferred candidates (or attacking those they oppose), but individuals, associations, and non-media corporations would be strictly limited in their political speech. This is certainly no way to ‘level the playing field.’”

 A video of the event should be available soon (check here)

Call for Constitutional Convention?  Read More

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FAN 17.3 (First Amendment News) Senator Cruz Introduces Two Free Speech Bills

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz

Today in the course of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning S.J. 19 (a proposal to amend the First Amendment) Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced that he was introducing two bills  “to protect the individual right to free speech in the wake of Democrats’ efforts to effectively repeal the First Amendment by allowing Congress to regulate spending on political speech.” As the robust Committee discussion went back and forth, Senator Cruz paused for a moment to say a few words about the pair of bills he was introducing: 

“Senate Democrats are seeking unfettered power to regulate and stifle political speech, which is why today, it’s more important than ever to champion the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution,” Sen. Cruz said. “Once Congress can prohibit spending money, it can prohibit almost every form of speech, whether it comes to books, films, television advertisements, or events. The pair of bills I filed today will not only encourage more freedom and transparency in the campaign finance system, but once again put individual Americans on a level playing field with the media and politicians when it comes to exercising our First Amendment rights.” [See video clip here]

SuperPAC Elimination Act of 2014

The first bill is entitled “the SuperPAC Elimination Act of 2014.” The bill was offered as an amendment to the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. The proposed law would “eliminate limitations on direct contributions to candidates” and “require disclosure of certain contributions within 24 hours or receipt, and for other purposes.” The bill’s stated purpose would be to “allow unlimited direct contributions by citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States to candidates in Federal elections.”

The disclosure section of the bill provides in relevant part that “[i]f a candidate receives an aggregate amount of contributions in excess of $200 from any contributor during a calendar year the principal campaign committee of such candidate shall submit to the Secretary or the Commission, and the Secretary of State, as appropriate, in writing, a notification containing the name of the candidate and office sought by the candidate, the identification of the contributor, and the date of the receipt and amount of the contribution.”

The Free All Speech Act

The Senator’s second bill is entitled “The Free All Speech Act.” The first part of the bill provides that “[a]ny law that restricts the political speech of American citizens shall apply with equal force to media corporations, such as the New York Times, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and the CBS Television Network.” Another section of the bill states that to “the extent that the application of a law to a media corporation under subsection (a) is found unconstitutional, such law shall have no force or effect with respect to American citizens.”

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FAN 16.2 (First Amendment News) Democracy 21 Responds to RNC Lawsuit

Press Release, May 23, 2014

RNC Challenge to Political Party Soft Money Ban Filed Today in Federal District Court Has Already Been Rejected Twice by Supreme Court

Statement by Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer

The RNC filed a lawsuit today in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. challenging for the third time the ban on national parties raising and spending unlimited contributions, or soft money. They have lost this same argument twice before in the Supreme Court.

The RNC lost this argument in the Supreme Court in the McConnell case in 2003 and lost again in the RNC case in 2010, decided after the Citizens United decision.

In the 2010 RNC case, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined in the 6 to 3 Supreme Court decision that summarily upheld the lower court decision reaffirming the constitutionality of the soft money ban.

The RNC cannot get around the soft money ban and the Supreme Court decisions upholding the ban by the use of blue smoke and mirrors.

The RNC has no basis for bringing this lawsuit and apparently wants to obtain three strikes before they will accept the fact that they cannot raise and spend soft money.

The RNC is attempting to sell an illusion that the RNC can raise and spend soft money without raising and spending the soft money that the law, upheld by the Supreme Court, prohibits the RNC from raising and spending.

The RNC is also attempting to make believe that the two previous losses they had in the Supreme Court in challenging the soft money ban somehow aren’t relevant to this case and the RNC’s desire to raise and spend soft money.

Representative Chris Van Hollen intervened in the 2010 RNC case to defend the ban on political party soft money and he has indicated he will move to intervene in the RNC case filed today.

Democracy 21 lawyers will join with others in representing Representative Van Hollen in this case, as we did in the 2010 RNC case.

Federal law prohibits the national parties from raising contributions above the federal contribution limits, or soft money, and from spending any such funds.

Federal law also prohibits federal officeholders and national party officials from soliciting any such soft money contributions.

Contact Kathryn Beard, Democracy 21 @ kbeard@democracy21.org