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 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 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 Mary-Rose Papandrea
On Wednesday morning the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and National Security held a hearing on the recent national security leaks. I have just finished watching a video of the hearing so you won’t have to (you can thank me later). Experts testifying included President George W. Bush’s homeland security advisor Kenneth Wainstein, American University Professor Stephen Vladeck, George Mason Professor Nathan Sales, and US Army (Ret.) Colonel Kenneth Allard.
As the witnesses pointed out, this is the third time in a year and a half that Congress has called for testimony on national security leaks. The sheer frequency of the hearings indicates that Congress should really try to figure out how to reform the Espionage Act, but I am not going to be holding my breath waiting for this to happen. Today’s hearing raised some interesting questions but unfortunately provided little guidance on how Congress might revise the Espionage Act.
Not surprisingly, Republican members of the Subcommittee largely used this hearing as an opportunity to rail against the lack of a special prosecutor to investigate the most recent national security leaks, while Democrats spent their time pointing out the most recent leaks were nothing new because leaks have been going on since the founding of this country.
The most interesting part of the hearing from my perspective was the Republicans’ attacks on the media for publishing national security secrets. As I had mentioned in one of my first posts, almost all of the hostile reaction to the most recent round of high-profile leaks was initially directed at the leakers themselves and not the media entities that published those leaks. Well, no more. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas began the attacks on the media at the outset of the hearing when he said that newspapers publish national security secrets not because they are committed to transparency but rather because they want to increase circulation. Colonel Allard happily jumped on the media-bashing bandwagon, stating that the N.Y. Times “abuses its position” and that David Sanger’s reporting was “the equivalent of having a KGB operation running against the White House.” (Colonel Allard also had one of the best quotes from the hearing: “In wartime, I am as opposed to the free flow of information as I am to the free flow of sewage.” Yikes!)
posted by Washington Law Review
June 2012 Symposium: The First Amendment in the Modern Age
Ronald K.L. Collins & David M. Skover
Judge Thomas L. Ambro & Paul J. Safier
Bruce E.H. Johnson & Sarah K. Duran
Stephen I. Vladeck
Robert C. Post
Washington Law Review
John T. Yip
posted by Mary-Rose Papandrea
Although most people are focusing on Chief Justice Roberts’ vote to uphold the healthcare law, it turns out the Chief also voted with the “liberals” today to strike down the Stolen Valor Act as violating the First Amendment. This is an important First Amendment opinion with lots of points for discussion.
The Stolen Valor Act makes it a misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as a recipient of military honors. The final vote from the Court was 6-3, but the six votes were spread between Justice Kennedy’s plurality opinion (joined by the Chief and Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor) and Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion joined somewhat surprisingly by Justice Kagan (more on that in a minute). The dissent was written by Justice Alito, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas.
I will just note a few things that captured my attention after a first read:
Reliance on the marketplace of ideas: Although Justice Kennedy spends a lot of time in his plurality opinion discussing how the current statute does not require prosecutors to demonstrate any material harm resulting from the false speech, he also notably places a lot of confidence in the marketplace of ideas to discredit false statements. In particular, he relies heavily on the ability of counterspeech to flush out the truth. In this case, Kennedy writes, the Government could easily post online a database listing those who have received military honors. Justice Breyer’s concurring opinion also discussed the importance of the marketplace of ideas and encouraged the Government to embrace “information-disseminating devices” to correct the truth.
June 28, 2012 at 3:51 pm Tags: Alvarez, Constitutional Law, false speech, First Amendment, free speech, marketplace of ideas, military, Stolen Valor Posted in: Uncategorized Print This Post 2 Comments
posted by Mary-Rose Papandrea
There has always been an active debate about whether the First Amendment affords government outsiders (like the media) any protection when they disseminate classified national security information without authorization. As I mentioned in my blog post last week, however, critics of the most recent round of high-profile leaks have targeted their attacks almost exclusively on the leakers themselves and not on the news outlets that published the leaks. So the question is, do leakers have any First Amendment right to disclose national security information to government outsiders without authorization?
At the outset, let me just say leakers have a variety of statutory arguments they might make if prosecuted under the Espionage Act and related statutes. Charlie Savage recently outlined a few of these arguments here. In addition, one of the obstacles the government might face is that in order to prove that the disclosure was harmful to national security, they might have to reveal even more national security secrets (often called “graymail”). This is one reason why the Drake prosecution fell apart.
posted by Mary-Rose Papandrea
Many thanks to Danielle Citron for inviting me to serve as a guest blogger. Lately I have been following the discussion about the most recent series of national security leaks, including those that detailed the White House’s terrorist “kill lists,” the foiling of a terrorist plot by a double agent in Yemen, and cyberattacks against Iran. Outrage about leaks is hardly new. Neither are leaks. (See my prior article detailing the long history of leaks in this country.) What is new is that the outrage this time around seems to be directed at the leakers and not at the media outlets that published the leaked information.
Back in December 2005, when the New York Times published its story about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the paper and its reporters were condemned just as vigorously as the leakers themselves. It is interesting to think about why the politicians and commentators have held their fire against the media after this latest round of leaks (at least so far). Perhaps critics’ suspicions that these leaks were politically motivated during an election year to make President Obama look like a strong leader has made them forget to take their usual shots at the “liberal media” that disseminated them to the public. But given that leaks often appear politically motivated, this answer is not all that satisfying.
posted by Janai S. Nelson
I am delighted to join the blogging community of Concurring Opinions for the month of April. Thanks to Solangel Maldonado and Daniel Solove for their gracious invitation.
Denying voting rights to citizens with felony convictions has gotten a bad rap. The reason it’s not worse is because that rap is based on only half the story. Anyone familiar with the complexion of our prison population knows that felon disfranchisement laws extend striking racial disparities to the electoral arena. Less known, however, is that citizens with felony convictions are excluded from the electorate, in part, because of perceptions about how this demographic might vote or otherwise affect the marketplace of ideas. In other words, citizens with felony convictions are denied the right to vote because of their suspected viewpoint.
Picking up on this point earlier this year, Michael Dorf highlighted a dispute between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum about which of them held the most conservative position concerning the voting rights of citizens convicted of a felony. Inventing a criminal persona named Snake, Dorf queried what issues might provoke such a person to vote: Lower protections for private property or public safety? Redistribution of public resources from law enforcement to education, health, or recreation? Elimination of certain criminal laws? I can fathom many other lawful motivations for voting. However, as Dorf points out (and decidedly rejects), the underlying objection to allowing citizens with felony convictions to vote is based on an assumption that, if they could vote, they would express self-serving and illegitimate interests. In other words, the viewpoint that felons would express through voting has no place in the electoral process.
I have always assumed that my viewpoint was precisely what I and other voters are supposed to express at the ballot box. Whether that viewpoint is shared, accepted, condoned or vehemently disdained and abhorred by others is irrelevant to the right to vote. Not so for citizens with felony convictions. This group of citizens is presumed to possess deviant views that justify their exclusion from the electorate and the denial of a fundamental right. Read the rest of this post »
April 3, 2012 at 9:37 am Tags: Constitutional Law, Election law, equal protection, felon disfranchisement, First Amendment, prisoner's rights, right to vote, voting qualifications, voting rights Posted in: Administrative Law, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Courts, Culture, Current Events, Election Law, Law and Humanities, Race, Uncategorized Print This Post 14 Comments
posted by Brett Frischmann
There is one principle that I would add to the five that Marvin examines in the article: nondiscrimination. It seems to me that across public and private, physical and virtual ”space” contexts (and judicial opinions), one persistent principle is that nondiscriminatory approaches to sustaining spaces, platforms, … infrastructures are presumptively legit and normatively attractive — whether government efforts to “sustain” involve public provisioning, subsidization or regulation.
I recognize that this might seem to tread too close to the negative liberty / anti-censorship model, but in my view, it helps connect the anti-censorship model with the pro-architecture model. We should worry when government micro-manages speech and chooses winners and losers, but macro-managing/structuring the speech environment is unavoidable. A nondiscrimination principle guides the latter (macro-management) to avoid the former (micro-management).
This sixth principle is implicit is the other five that Marvin discusses. It’s not articulated as a stand-alone principle, uniform across situations, or even defined completely. Nonetheless, nondiscrimination of *some* sort is part of the spatial analysis for each principle. For example, in the paper, when Marvin discusses designated public spaces, he says that government can designate spaces–so long as it does so in a nondiscriminatory way. The nondiscrimination principle here is limited: government cannot discriminate based on the limited notion of “content.” Another example is limited public forums where government cannot discriminate on viewpoint, but can set aside a forum for particular speakers based on the expected content (say students / educational content). There are other examples that Marvin explores in the paper. In my view, there is something fundamental about nondiscrimnation and the functional role that it plays that warrants further attention.
Frankly, the idea of a nondiscrimination principle connects with my own ideas about the First Amendment being aimed at sustaining infrastructure commons and the many different types of spillovers from speech–or more broadly, sustaining a spillover-rich cultural environment; I explored those ideas in an essay and I expand on them in the book. It is important to make clear that government support for infrastructure commons — whether by direct provisioning or by common carrier style regulation — lessens pressure on both governments and markets to pick winners and losers in the speech marketplace/environment, and as Marvin argues, that is something that is and ought to be fundamental or core in any FA model.
posted by Brett Frischmann
Thank you to Marvin for an excellent article to read and discuss, and thank you Concurring Opinions for providing a public forum for our discussion.
In the article, the critical approach that Marvin takes to challenge the “standard” model of the First Amendment is really interesting. He claims that the standard model of the First Amendment focuses on preserving speakers’ freedom by restricting government action and leaves any affirmative obligations for government to sustain open public spaces to a patchwork of exceptions lacking any coherent theory or principles. A significant consequence of this model is that open public spaces for speech—I want to substitute “infrastructure” for “spaces”–are marginalized and taken for granted. My forthcoming book—Infrastructure: The Social Value of Shared Resources–explains why such marginalization occurs in this and various other contexts and develops a theory to support the exceptions. But I’ll leave those thoughts aside for now and perhaps explore them in another post. And I’ll leave it to the First Amendment scholars to debate Marvin’s claim about what is the standard model for the First Amendment.
Instead, I would like to point out how a similar (maybe the same) problem can be seen in the Supreme Court’s most recent copyright opinion. In Golan v. Holder , Justice Ginsburg marginalizes the public domain in a startlingly fashion. Since it is a copyright case, the “model” is flipped around: government is empowered to grant exclusive rights (and restrict some speakers’ freedom) and any restrictions on the government’s power to do so is limited to narrow exceptions, i.e., the idea-expression distinction and fair use. A central argument in the case was that the public domain itself is another restriction. The public domain is not expressly mentioned in the IP Clause of the Constitution, but arguably, it is implicit throughout (Progress in Science and the Useful Arts, Limited Times). Besides, the public domain is inescapably part of the reality that we stand on the shoulders of generations of giants. Most copyright scholars believed that Congress could not grant copyright to works in the public domain (and probably thought that the issue raised in the case – involving restoration for foreign works that had not been granted copyright protection in the U.S — presented an exceptional situation that might be dealt with as such). But the Court declined to rule narrowly and firmly rejected the argument that “the Constitution renders the public domain largely untouchable by Congress.” In the end, Congress appears to have incredibly broad latitude to exercise its power, limited only by the need to preserve the “traditional contours.”
Of course, it is much more troublesome that the Supreme Court (rather than scholars interpreting Supreme Court cases) has adopted a flawed conceptual model that marginalizes basic public infrastructure. We’re stuck with it.
posted by Leslie Griffin
JUSTICE SCALIA: Let’s assume that a Catholic priest is removed from his duties because he married, okay? And, and he claims: No, that’s not the real reason; the real reason is because I threatened to sue the church. Okay? So that reason is just pretextual. Would you allow the government to go into the dismissal of the Catholic priest to see whether indeed it was pretextual?
Assistant Solicitor General Leondra Kruger answered no, apparently because a priest’s employment relationship with his church cannot be outweighed by any government interest. Kruger should have said yes.
Kruger correctly said yes later in the argument when pressed by Justice Samuel Alito about the case of a nun, a canon law professor, who alleged gender discrimination in her denial of tenure. Alito suggested that the case inevitably involved the courts in theological doctrines of canon law. Kruger disagreed:
If on the other hand the plaintiff has evidence that no one ever raised any objections to the quality of her scholarship, but they raised objections to women serving in certain roles in the school, and those roles were not ones that were required to be filled by persons of a particular gender, consistent with religious beliefs, then that’s a case in which a judge can instruct a jury that its job is not to inquire as to the validity of the subjective judgment, just as juries are often instructed that their job is not to determine whether an employer’s business judgment was fair or correct, but only whether the employer was motivated by discrimination or retaliation.
Kruger’s two answers illustrate the confusion about pretext that has bedeviled lawsuits involving employees of religious organizations.
October 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm Tags: Constitutional Law, discrimination, First Amendment, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Employment Law, First Amendment, Religion, Uncategorized Print This Post 3 Comments
posted by Leslie Griffin
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC is the first ministerial exception case to make it to the Supreme Court, even though the Fifth Circuit first recognized the exception in 1972. The ministerial exception is a court-created doctrine that requires the dismissal of lawsuits by ministerial employees against religious organizations. At last Wednesday’s oral argument in Hosanna-Tabor, Justice Samuel Alito asked the church’s lawyer, University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, how the exception has worked since its inception.
Justice Alito’s question arose soon after Justice Sonia Sotomayor had asked Laycock whether the ministerial exception should apply to “a teacher who reports sexual abuse to the government and is fired because of that reporting.” Justice Sotomayor’s question was probably based on Weishuhn v. Catholic Diocese of Lansing, which has a cert. petition pending before the Court. Weishuhn, a teacher at a Catholic elementary school, alleged violations of the Michigan Civil Rights Act and Whistleblowers’ Protection Act in being fired because she reported possible sexual abuse of a student’s friend to the authorities without first informing her principal. Justice Alito asked if there have been “a great many cases, a significant number of cases, involving the kinds of things that Justice Sotomayor is certainly rightly concerned about, instances in which ministers have been fired for reporting criminal violations and that sort of thing?”
Laycock gave a confusing answer by suggesting that Weishuhn would lose her case on the facts. He said there is a “cert. petition pending [undoubtedly Weishuhn] in which a teacher with a long series of problems in her school called the police about an allegation of sexual abuse that did not happen at the school, did not involve a student of the school, did not involve a parent at the school, someplace else; and — and called the police and had them come interview a student without any communication with — with her principal. And the Respondents tried to spin that as a case of discharge for reporting sexual abuse. But if you look at the facts it’s really quite different.”
October 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm Tags: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, discrimination, First Amendment, Supreme Court Posted in: Constitutional Law, Employment Law, First Amendment, Religion, Uncategorized Print This Post No Comments
posted by Leslie Griffin
Lost in the muddled oral argument of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v EEOC was the case’s central question: Are religious groups entitled to disobey the law?
The contested issue in Hosanna-Tabor is whether Lutheran elementary schoolteacher Cheryl Perich can sue her former employer, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, for retaliation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The school fired Perich after she threatened to report the school’s disabilities discrimination against her to the EEOC. The specific legal question is whether the ministerial exception, a court-created doctrine that holds that the First Amendment requires the dismissal of many employment discrimination cases against religious employers, applies to schoolteacher Perich because the church considers her to be a minister.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor identified the important legal issue early in the oral argument when she asked the church’s lawyer, University of Virginia Professor Douglas Laycock, “doesn’t society have a right at some point to say certain conduct is unacceptable, even if religious?” That is what the ministerial exception is all about: at what point do religious organizations have to obey the law?
Justice Sotomayor was concerned about “a church whose religious beliefs centered around sexually exploiting women and children,” which Laycock did not defend. But how can courts determine which laws must be obeyed and which may be flouted? In the past, lower courts have held that Baptist churches’ religious, Scripture-based belief that men are heads of households and therefore entitled to higher pay than women did not allow them to violate the equal pay laws; that the Shiloh True Light Church of Christ’s religious belief in children’s vocational training did not permit it to violate the child labor laws; and that the Quaker tradition of hospitality to the stranger did not allow Quakers to ignore the alien worker requirements of the immigration laws. Those cases focused on how strong the government’s interest was in enforcing the laws. The courts concluded that the government’s interest in enforcing the equal pay, child labor and immigration laws was strong enough to overcome important religious beliefs.
posted by Vanderbilt Law Review
Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc is pleased to present our current Roundtable on Golan v. Holder, which is to be argued at the Supreme Court on October 5, 2011. In Golan, the Court will consider whether Congress may constitutionally confer copyright on works that have fallen into the public domain. Congress created a new class of “restored” works in 1996 in order to fulfill its obligations under the Berne Convention, an international copyright treaty. Professor Tyler T. Ochoa introduces the case, discusses the history of the Berne Convention, and analyzes how the Court’s decision will affect the idea of the public domain. Professor Daniel Gervais takes a closer look at the Berne Convention. He argues that Berne is a flexible document and that Congress provided greater protection to restored works than is actually required by the treaty. Dale Nelson, Senior Intellectual Property Counsel at Warner Bros., questions whether restoration has had as significant an effect on the public domain as its detractors believe. She argues that the benefits of restoring foreign works to copyright greatly outweigh the burdens to users. Professor David Olson looks at Golan’s constitutional questions from a perspective not emphasized in the parties’ briefs. He argues that, because restoration is in violation of the Progress Clause, the Government can assert no legitimate interest to support its claim that restoration does not unconstitutionally restrict the Petitioners’ First Amendment speech rights. Finally, Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard takes a detailed look at the mechanics of the statute enacting copyright restoration. In her view, the statute does not achieve the Government’s stated interests and transgresses the traditional contours of copyright. She provides several recommendations for statutory amendments that would make determination of public domain status a more manageable exercise.
Tyler T. Ochoa, Is the Copyright Public Domain Irrevocable? An Introduction to Golan v. Holder, 64 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 123 (2011).
Daniel Gervais, Golan v. Holder: A Look at the Constraints Imposed by the Berne Convention, 64 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 147 (2011).
Dale Nelson, Golan Restoration: Small Burden, Big Gains, 64 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 165 (2011).
David S. Olson, A Legitimate Interest in Promoting the Progress of Science: Constitutional Constraints on Copyright Laws, 64 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 185 (2011).
Elizabeth Townsend Gard, In the Trenches with § 104A: An Evaluation of the Parties’ Arguments in Golan v. Holder as It Heads to the Supreme Court, 64 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 199 (2011).
posted by Joshua Fairfield
First, thanks so much to Danielle and the other authors at Concurring Opinions for taking me aboard for a while! Let’s get right down to it: I wanted to talk about Schwarzenegger v. EMA before the month was out, given that oral argument was on November 2. Oral argument always goes in twisty directions, but the court seemed to me to be just barely grazing two huge issues that go to the realities of the video game industry — first, how content for games is produced, and second, how games are now distributed. More after the leap.
posted by Deven Desai
I am sure that free speech, First Amendment gurus/junkies will have more to say about this one, but a recent case out of the Connecticut Supreme Court, Perricone v. Perricone, seems to merit a mention here. As the title of the case indicates, it is a divorce case. Apparently the husband runs a skin care company and millions of dollars are at stake. According to The Connecticut Law Tribune, the New York Post covered the divorce. Nonetheless, during the case Ms. Perricone “signed a confidentiality agreement to prevent pretrial discovery documents from being publicized. In it, she agreed that Perricone’s lucrative skin care business ‘may be severely harmed’ if she made disparaging or defamatory statements about him.” When she wanted to talk to 20/20 about the case, however, Mr. Perricone obtained an injunction by arguing that the confidentiality agreement controlled and that an integration clause in the final settlement did not supersede that agreement. In short, Ms. Perricone was still prevented from talking about the divorce. The court agreed with Mr. Perricone.
As First Amendment matter, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the agreement was not a prior restraint on speech. I am sure that there are articles about the problem of what is state action in this context and whether one can waive First Amendment rights via contract. The court in this case relied on Cohen v Cowles Media Co. and held: “that a party’s contractual waiver of the first amendment’s prohibition on prior restraints on speech constitutionally may be enforced by the courts even if the contract is not narrowly tailored to advance a compelling state interest.”
As I am not a First Amendment guru and/or junkie, all I can say here is that it seems that there are some continuing problems here. The idea “that a judicial restraining order that enforces an agreement restricting speech between private parties [does not] constitute a per se violation of the first amendment’s prohibition on prior restraints on speech” appears correct if non-disclosure agreements and other confidentiality agreements are to work. Indeed, as our own Dan Solove and Neil Richards discuss in Rethinking Speech and Civil Liability:
Since New York Times v. Sullivan, the First Amendment requires heightened protection against tort liability for speech, such as defamation and invasion of privacy. But in other contexts involving civil liability for speech, the First Amendment provides virtually no protection. According to Cohen v. Cowles, there is no First Amendment scrutiny for speech restricted by promissory estoppel and contract. The First Amendment rarely requires scrutiny when property rules limit speech. Both of these rules are widely-accepted. However, there is a major problem – in a large range of situations, the rules collide.
Although I am not sure I agree with the paper’s solution, I recommend the paper as a way to think not only about the Perricone case but the problems encountered when free speech and private law intersect.