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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 24 (First Amendment News) — Stephen Barnett: The Little-Known Man Behind the Well-Known Words

We live by falsehoods. They feed the myths of the great figures whose words are etched in our collective memory as if they were tablets from on High. We know those words; we are moved by those words; and those words define who we are or yearn to be.

Words fitly selected and artfully strung together can change minds and even alter the arc of history. Take, for example, the following words:

Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials. 

Of course, they are the words of Justice William Brennan — the famous words from his celebrated opinion in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.

Stephen Barnett

Stephen Barnett

Those words have had a profound impact on the direction of American law and culture. Their importance transcends the mere holding of the case and all the black-letter law that followed them. Talk about doctrine as much as you will; stress the importance of this or that theory of constitutional interpretation as you like; and laud or condemn either judicial activism or judicial restraint as you see fit; but in the end, nothing really matches a tantalizing metaphor or an alluring string of words.

This brings me to my point: For all the kudos that have been and continue to be bestowed on him, the naked fact is that Justice Brennan did not author the words that further enhanced his First Amendment reputation. Let me repeat: he did not write the words that made him yet more famous in free speech circles. One of his law clerks did.

His name? Stephen R. Barnett (1935-2009). Before venturing further, let me say this: I know, this is not news. Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel flagged this historical point on page 224 of their comprehensive biography of Justice Brennan. Though Tony Lewis did not mention this particular fact in his Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (1991), he did, nonetheless, mention young Barnett and his recollections of the internal history of the case.

While it is certainly true that Stern and Wermiel shed light on the Barnett authorship, the fact is that Professor Barnett’s great contribution to First Amendment history is otherwise ignored in virtually all academic literature, including casebooks.

→» So, here is the news part, if I may take the liberty: Let’s stop the charade — if judges insist on having their law clerks write their opinions, then credit for those opinions or for notable passages within them must be allowed, if only after a designated period of time not to exceed twenty years after the termination of the clerkship. Though I might be open to reconsidering the matter, for now I am inclined to say that confidentiality agreements should be deemed contrary to public policy if they deny that possibility. I say this as a former law clerk who continues to respect fair norms of confidentiality. (Of course, in my case it was easy since Justice Hans Linde, not his law clerks, wrote all of his opinions.)

Justice Brennan was a great jurist even if he did not write the famous passage from Sullivan or even if he did not author NAACP v. Button (his clerk Richard Posner did). That said, let’s raise a glass to Steve Barnett and let’s credit him whenever we quote that “robust” language from Sullivan.  

» One more thing, by way of a related point — You know these words: “whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” The author? Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, of course, writing in Schenck v. United States (March 3, 1919).

But hold on. As Professor Lucas Powe has observed, in “the summer of 1918, Benjamin W. Shaw, defending (unsuccessfully until appeal) an Espionage Act case, uttered the following during his closing argument to the jury”:

‘Under all of the facts and circumstances disclosed by the evidence in this case, how can it be said that he wilfully [sic] said and did the things alleged? How can the words used under the circumstances detailed in the evidence have the tendency to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent?” 

John Fontana, “12 American State Trials 897, 932 (John D. Lawson, editor) (F.H. Thomas Book Co., 1920) (emphasis added), quoted in L. A. Powe, “Searching for the False Shout of ‘Fire,’” 19 Constitutional Commentary 345, 352, n. 61 (2002), discussed in Ronald Collins, The Fundamental Holmes  (2010), p. 234.

California Voters asked to weigh in on Citizens United 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 21.1 (First Amendment News) — Group Launches Litigation Campaign to Challenge Campus Speech Codes

L to Rt: Paul Gerlich & Erin Furleigh (Iowa St. U.), Robert Corn-Revere (DWT), Greg Lukianoff (FIRE) & Isaac Smith (Ohio U.)

L to Rt: Paul Gerlich & Erin Furleigh (Iowa St. U.), Robert Corn-Revere (DWT), Greg Lukianoff (FIRE) & Isaac Smith (Ohio U.)

July 1, 2014, National Press Club, Washington, D.C. Today, two powerhouses — one a free speech activist, the other a noted First Amendment lawyer — joined forces to challenge campus free speech codes that run afoul of the First Amendment. Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine (DWT), announced that the group and the law firm would work together in a litigation campaign to change the free speech culture on many campuses across the nation.

“Unconstitutional campus speech codes have been a national scandal for decades. But today, 25 years after the first of the modern generation of speech codes was defeated in court, 58% of public campuses still hold onto shockingly illiberal codes,” said Lukianoff. “For 15 years, FIRE has fought for free speech on campus using public awareness as our main weapon, but more is needed. Today, we announce the launch of the Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project, an expansive new campaign to eliminate speech codes nationwide.”

“We at Davis Wright Tremaine,” said Corn-Revere, “are honored to be asked to participate on the important work of helping to safeguard First Amendment and due process rights of America’s college campuses as part of FIRE’s Stand Up for Speech Litigation Project. It is a privilege to represent the courageous young women and men, and the faculty members, who have opted not to follow the path of least resistance, but instead have chosen to challenge the exercise of arbitrary and illegal authority. These are acts of civic virtue . . . .”

→ The DWT litigation team will include input from two seasoned First Amendment lawyers — Ronnie London and Lisa Zycherman.

Text of T-shirt banned at Ohio University.

Text of T-shirt banned at Ohio University.

The litigation campaign was launched to challenge speech codes at public institutions on behalf of students, student groups, and faculty members. Four lawsuits were filed today in federal district courts:

  1. Ohio University — Smith v. McDavis et al 
  2. Iowa State University — Gerlich & Fuleigh v. Leath et al
  3. Chicago State University – Berry & Bionaz v. Chicago State University Board of Trustees
  4. Citrus College — Sinapi-Riddle v. Citrus Community College et al

Three of the student plaintiffs in the lawsuits — Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh (Iowa State Univ.) and Isaach Smith (Ohio Univ.) — took part in the press conference. Mr. Smith and his group, Students Defending Students, were told by Ohio University officials that they could not wear certain T-shirts (see photo above) because such actions would violate a school policy that prohibits any “act that degrades, demeans, or disgraces” another student, in this case women. “I’m tired of having my university work so hard to stop people from speaking,” said Mr. Smith.

Ronald London (DWT)

Ronald London (DWT)

Over at Iowa State University the fight centered around another objectionable T-shrt, this time one that purportedly violated a school owned trademark (see here).  “I feel bad and I don’t think I should feel bad about it,” Ms. Furleigh complained about censorship against her and her group, the NORML chapter at ISU. “Our university administration has prevented us from even putting the word marijuana on our designs,” Furleigh added.

Lisa Zycherman, DWT lawyer

Lisa Zycherman (DWT)

The challenges concern:

  1. restrictions on the design of T-shirts for campus organizations at Ohio University and Iowa University,
  2. engaging in expressive political activities outside a “free speech zone” while seeking signatures for an anti-NSA petition at Citrus College, and
  3. retaliation against professors for statements on a blog, purportedly in violation of Chicago State University’s broad cyberbullying policy.

→ Starting with Doe v. University of Michigan in 1989, there has been a virtually unbroken string of victories in court challenges to various college campus speech codes.

Meanwhile, Mr. Corn-Revere and his DWT team await a decision in another campus speech case he argued in the 11th Circuit on June 13th of this year — Barnes v. Zaccari. 

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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 20.4 (First Amendment News) — 9 Comments on McCullen, the Abortion Buffer Zone Case

I thought it might be interesting to share excerpts from some of the commentary on McCullen v. Coakley. Here are 9 views on the case:

#1 — The American Civil Liberties Union

“This is a hard case and the majority opinion reflects the difficulty and importance of balancing two constitutional rights: the right of women to enter and leave abortion clinics free from the harassment, intimidation, and violence they have too often suffered in the past; and the right of peaceful protestors to express their opposition to abortion on the public streets outside abortion clinics.

We agree that a fixed buffer zone imposes serious First Amendment costs, but we also think the Court underestimated the proven difficulty of protecting the constitutional rights of women seeking abortions by enforcing other laws – especially regarding harassment – outside abortion clinics.

Today’s opinion makes it more important than ever that the police enforce the laws that do exist in order to ensure that women and staff can safely enter and leave abortion clinics.” Steven R. Shapiro (press release, June 26, 2014) (ACLU amicus brief here)

#2 – Judge Richard Posner

“Lecturing strangers on a sidewalk is not a means by which information and opinion are disseminated in our society,” he wrote in Slate. “Strangers don’t meet on the sidewalk to discuss ‘the issues of the day.’ (Has Chief Justice John Roberts, the author of the opinion, ever done such a thing?). The assertion that abortion protesters ‘wish to converse’ with women outside an abortion clinic is naive. They wish to prevent the women from entering the clinic, whether by showing them gruesome photos of aborted fetuses or calling down the wrath of God on them. This is harassment of people who are in a very uncomfortable position; the last thing a woman about to have an abortion needs is to be screamed at by the godly.”

#3 – Laurence Tribe

“The great virtue of our First Amendment is that it protects speech we hate just as vigorously as it protects speech we support. On Thursday, all nine justices united to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to allowing diverse views in our public spaces — although their unanimous result belied their divided reasoning.

Cases like McCullen force us to balance competing constitutional values: free speech against the safety and autonomy of women. Here the balance tips unquestionably toward speech. A woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy under Roe v. Wade guarantees her protection from the state. This protection does not include a right to be shielded by the state from fellow citizens hoping to peacefully convince her that she’s making the wrong choice.

In his quest to bring all his colleagues on board, Chief Justice Roberts wrote an opinion that implausibly described the Massachusetts statute as neutral as between anti-abortion speech and abortion rights speech — a neutrality that four conservative justices rightly dismissed as illusory, revealing a court sharply divided beneath its veneer of unanimity.

. . . [N]either empathy for their anguish, nor the need to protect the safety of women seeking such services, nor the clear need to guard against the rising tide of state laws designed to restrict access to abortions, can justify far-reaching measures that restrict peaceful conversation in public spaces.” (New York Times, June 26, 2014)

#4 – Walter Dellinger

“This case is really about the unwilling listener who is forced to submit to lectures she does not want to hear at a time of stress. (It would be easy enough to a protester standing a mere 12 yards away to hold up a sign saying, “Talk to me about your choice.”) Like many of the court’s decisions, this one draws a line across society on social and economic grounds. The wealthy elite—like Supreme Court justices—rarely if ever have to make their way through crowds that surround them and berate them or even plead with them in softer voices. Those who work at the Supreme Court (or at law firms like mine) most often drive (or are driven) into underground garages at work or at doctors’ offices. It is students, secretaries, school teachers, and other ordinary people who have to get off the bus or the subway and push their way through hostile crowds of those who may get in their faces and do everything they can to impede their entrance into a clinic. The gauntlet of the final entrance is but the final step that follows from the relentless creation of hurdles that are effectively depriving the most vulnerable women of the right that was promised to them in Roe v. Wade.

The creation of a relatively small space free of protesters in front of a clinic hardly shuts off debate. In defense of the notion that the space is relatively small, I post here one of the maps in the brief for Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (a brief on which I was co-counsel.)” (Slate, June 27, 2014)

#5 – Amy Howe

“Although we often think of Justice Anthony Kennedy as the pivotal vote on the Court in high-profile cases, yesterday it was Chief Justice John Roberts who played that role, writing an opinion that had the support of the four more liberal Justices — Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.” (SCOTUSblog, June 27, 2014)

#6 – Kevin Russell

“In today’s decision, the Court holds unconstitutional the Massachusetts law establishing a thirty-five-foot fixed buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state.  But did it, in the process, overrule Hill?  Certainly, the majority opinion by the Chief Justice does not do so expressly (in contrast with Justice Scalia’s dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas, which overtly calls for Hill to be overruled).  Indeed, it is notable that outside of a brief mention in describing the background of the case (noting that Massachusetts had originally enacted a narrower buffer-zone provision modeled on the statute upheld in Hill), the majority opinion makes no mention of Hill at all.

The question is whether the reasons the majority gives today would effectively render buffer zones like Colorado’s unconstitutional, despite the result in Hill.  There’s a good argument that they would.

To be sure, there is one big difference between the laws in the two cases: Hill involved an eight-foot floating buffer zone around individuals within a hundred feet of abortion clinics, while this case involved a thirty-five-foot fixed buffer zone.  One might think that the sheer size difference could be determinative – one can still talk (albeit loudly) to someone eight feet away, and offer her literature; the decision today noted that this is much harder from the distance of thirty-five feet.” (SCOTUSblog, June 26, 2014)

#7 – Dahlia Lithwick

“While the decision is not monumentally awful in ways some progressives most feared, and certainly affords the state substantial latitude in its future attempts to protect women seeking abortions from harassment, more than anything it seems to reflect a continued pattern of “free speech for me but not for thee” or, at least, ‘free speech for people who think like me, that pervades recent First Amendment decisions at the court. More importantly, I don’t know where to locate this ruling in the burgeoning doctrine of “the right to be let alone” that Justices Alito and Thomas and Breyer have espoused, nor do I know how to reconcile it with the court’s persistent second-rate treatment of any speech that threatens to harass the justices themselves. . . .

In a gorgeously un-self-aware way, the same Supreme Court that severely limits speech and protest in a buffer zone all around its own building, extolls the unique and wonderful properties of the American boulevard in today’s opinion . . . .

But it is exhausting to keep hearing from the pro-life movement that women seeking abortions are magical pixie princesses, who must be—thank you Justice Kennedy—babied and soothed and gently counseled for the brief moments in which they contemplate abortion. As though these “difficult conversations” are really only for their own benefit. Unlike mourners, or voters, or Supreme Court justices, they simply need to be told what to do. That’s why this case is harder than a simple “yay, speech wins” reaction can capture: Privileging “gentle counseling” for some isn’t quite the same as promoting free speech for all.”  (Slate, June 26, 2014)

#8 – Hadley Arkes

“The outcome in McCullen v. Coakley may not be as bad as Justice Scalia thinks it sounds. For my own part, I think that Justice Scalia is inescapably right in seeing the statute in Massachusetts as part of a scheme to close down, in the public forum, speech that is critical of abortion. But that critique may distract us from seeing what has been accomplished in this case. John Roberts, in his opinion for the majority, has picked up on some of the critical points that Scalia himself made during the oral argument in McCullen v. Coakley — most notably, that it was quite wrong to describe the speech of Eleanor McCullen as a “protest.” For Roberts it was as critical here, as it has been for Scalia, to put the accent on the fact that Eleanor McCullen works by quietly offering information to women entering an abortion clinic.” (National Review, June 26, 2014)

#9 – Geoffrey Stone

“Critics of the decision regard [the plurality's] approach as fundamentally naïve and unrealistic about what actually happens when anti-abortion protesters gather near the entrances to these facilities. These critics maintain that the image of the grandmotherly woman calmly approaching a young woman heading into the clinic in order to have an abortion and asking her if they might chat a bit about whether this is really a good idea is wholly fanciful and blinks the reality of what actually happens at these moments. . . .

In their view, a clean, simple rule, like the one enacted by Massachusetts, is a perfectly reasonable way to deal with the world as it is, rather than the world as Chief Justice Roberts imagines it to be. In the view of the critics, the more ‘narrowly-tailored’ restrictions that Roberts would approve are not really responsive to the complex, highly emotional, and often intimidating and even dangerous situations that actually arise in these settings.

The critics maintain that requiring people to stand 35 feet away from the entrance, while still allowing them to speak from there, is a sound and reasonable compromise between the free speech rights of those who oppose abortion and the rights of those who wish to exercise their constitutional right to reproductive freedom free of intimidation by others.

Although reasonable persons can differ about how best to reconcile these competing interests, I am inclined to agree with the critics of the decision that it unnecessarily and inappropriately set aside a reasonable and sensible compromise that better adjusted the competing interests than the more ‘narrowly-tailored’ alternatives that Chief Justice Roberts held would pass constitutional muster.

. . . . [I]t is worth noting that this case must have been especially difficult for the Court’s four ‘liberals,’ all of whom are strong protectors of both the freedom of speech and the right of a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. For them, Justice Roberts’ moderate, middle-ground probably gave them a resolution that, although perhaps not ideal, they could live with.” (Huffington Post, June 27, 2014)

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FAN 20.3 (First Amendment News) — The Roberts Court & Unanimous First Amendment Judgments

  • Who would have guessed the 9-0 vote in McCullen v. Coakley? Back in January there was this assessment from a veteran Court reporter:

Equally Divided: “Inside the Supreme Court, the questioning was fast and furious, with the justices apparently divided equally, and for the first time in memory, Chief Justice John Roberts asking no questions. The Chief Justice’s silence seemed to indicate that he likely will be the deciding vote in the case.” – Nina Totenberg, Jan. 15, 2014

That Catholic University Law Professor Mark L. Rienzi would have prevailed in his case in defense of the Petitioners seemed likely enough. But unanimous? The vote surely surprised many seasoned Court watchers.

Professor Mark Rienzi

Professor Mark Rienzi

Take note: It was the third time in one Term that the Roberts Court was unanimous in a free speech case, and also the first time that the Court was unanimous in sustaining a First Amendment free expression claim in two cases:

  1. Lane v. Franks (2014) [vote-9-0 on FA issue only, not on qualified immunity]
  2. McCullen v. Coakley (2014)

This is significant because in every other free speech case where there was a unanimous judgment the Court denied the First Amendment claim.  The 9 cases are:

  1. Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights (2006) [vote: 8-0]
  2. Davenport v. Washington Educ. Association (2007) [vote: 9-0]
  3. New York State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres (2008) [vote: 9-0]
  4. Pleasant Grove City, UT, et al v. Summum (2009) [vote: 9-0]
  5. Locke v. Karass (2009) [vote: 9-0]
  6. Milavetz, Gallop, & Milavetz v. United States (2010) [vote: 9-0]
  7. Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan (2011) [vote: 9-0]
  8. Reichle v. Howards (2012) [vote: 8-0]
  9. Wood v.Moss (2014) [vote: 9-0] [FA and qualified immunity]

A Princely Move?  

So what gives in McCullen? Not even a whisper of a separate opinion from any of the liberal Justices, especially the female ones. Could it be that the Chief Justice wanted unanimity enough that he stayed his hand in reversing Hill v. Coloradothis to secure four votes from the liberal bloc? Maybe Nina Totenberg was right; they were divided until, that is, the Chief Justice made his “Machiavellian” move. The result: the law is struck down, which pleases the conservatives, though on narrow grounds, which pleases the liberals. No one is really happy, but the judgment is unanimous . . . in an abortion case! 

Meanwhile, Justice Scalia (joined by Justices Kennedy, and Thomas) would have none of it:

Today’s opinion carries forward this Court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents. There is an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment applicable to speech against abortion. . . . This is an opinion that has Something for Everyone, and the more significant portion continues the onward march of abortion-speech-only jurisprudence. . . .  Just a few months past, the Court found it unnecessary to “parse the differences between . . . two [available] standards” where a statute challenged on First Amend­ment grounds “fail[s] even under the [less demanding] test.” McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n . . . (plurality opinion) What has changed since then? Quite simple: This is an abortion case, and McCutcheon was not. . . . In concluding that the statute is con­ tent based and therefore subject to strict scrutiny, neces­sarily conclude that Hill should be overruled. 

  One more thing: this is another First Amendment majority/plurality opinion by the Chief Justice (that makes 12). In that regard, he leads all other Justices by a wide margin.

NOTE: My next scheduled FAN column will provide detailed information re the Roberts Court’s overall record in First Amendment freedom of expression cases. It will also include facts and figure re the Court’s 1-A work this Term.

Last FAN Columns

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FAN 20.2 (First Amendment News) — 28 Briefs Filed in McCullen, Only 1 Cited by Court

The Court in McCullen v. Coakley had plenty of help offered to it — 28 amicus briefs were filed. Those submitting amicus briefs included the following groups:

  • Cato Institute (Ilya Shapiro) for Petitioners
  • American Center for Law & Justice (Jay Sekulow) for Petitioners
  • Rutherford Institute (John W. Whitehead) for Petitioners
  • Michigan & 11 other States (Bill Schuette) for Petitioners
  • ACLU (Steven R. Shapiro) for Neither Party
  • New York State, et  al (Eric T. Schneiderman) for Respondents
  • Planned Parenthood (Walter Dellinger) for Respondents
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, et al (Jack R. Bierig) for Respondents
  • National League of Cities, et al (Mary Jean Dolan) for Respondents
  • Anti-Defamation League, et al (Jeffrey S. Robbins) for Respondents
  • National Abortion Federation, et al (Maria T. Vullo) for Respondents

That said, the Court elected to reference only one amicus brief, and it did so in Chief Justice John Roberts opinion.

The brief the Chief Justice found particularly useful was one filed by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a brief submitted on behalf of New York and 12 other states along with the territory of the Virgin Islands.  The brief was submitted on behalf of the Respondents, who lost by way of a unanimous judgment.  

As it turned out, the Chief Justice and his colleagues referenced the New York brief  in support of the Petitioners:
The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests. At the outset, we note that the Act is truly exceptional: Respondents and their amici identify no other State with a law that creates fixed buffer zones around abortion clinics. [fn to NY et al amicus brief]  That of course does not mean that the law is invalid. It does, however, raise concern that the Commonwealth has too readily forgone options that could serve its interests just as well, without substantially burdening the kind of speech in which petitioners wish to engage. 

And then later in the opinion, the New York amicus brief was also tapped to help defeat the case for the Respondents:

If Massachusetts determines that broader prohibitions along the same lines are necessary, it could enact legislation similar to the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 (FACE Act), 18 U. S. C. §248(a)(1), which subjects to both crimi­ nal and civil penalties anyone who “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intim­ idate or interfere with any person because that person is or has been, or in order to intimidate such person or any other person or any class of persons from, obtaining or providing reproductive health services.” Some dozen other States have done so. See Brief for State of New York et al. as Amici Curiae 13, and n. 6.

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FAN 20.1 (First Amendment News) – Supreme Court Hands Down Abortion Buffer Zone Case (9-0)

Thursday, June 29, 10:28 a.m.: The Supreme Court just handed down its decision in McCullen v. Coakley (9-0).

→ The opinion can be found here.

→ Yet another First Amendment majority opinion by the Chief Justice (that makes 12).

Commentary by Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog: The abortion protests ruling is relatively narrow. The Court makes clear that states can pass laws that specifically ensure access to clinics. It holds that states cannot more broadly prohibit speech on public streets and sidewalks. It also notably rejects the protesters’ broadest arguments that such restrictions require strict constitutional scrutiny and are viewpoint based. A state can go beyond narrow laws that block obstructions to clinics, and more broadly ban abortion protests, only if it builds a record showing that the narrower measures don’t work. The S. Ct. majority says nothing about its prior buffer zone ruling in Hill, the validity of which now seems in real question. 

→ Harris v. Quinn (opinion to be handed down this Monday).

Review still pending in Minority Television Project, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission, which involves a federal law that prohibits public radio and television stations from transmitting paid advertisements for for-profit entities, issues of public importance or interest, and political candidates. The 9th Circuit, sitting en banc, ruled against the broadcasters. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski (joined by Judge John Noonan) dissented, and Judge Consuelo Callahan concurred in part and dissented in part.

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Petitioner: Eleanor McCullen (pic by Steven Senne)

The Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone Case: McCullen v. Coakley

Facts: “Three of the plaintiffs regularly engage in ‘sidewalk counseling’ at the Boston clinic. McCullen parks her car on Commonwealth Avenue and festoons it with pro-life signage; Zarrella sometimes prays aloud; and Cadin from time to time holds aloft a large pro-life sign. A fourth plaintiff, Smith, has demonstrated outside the Boston clinic for many years. He has displayed a crucifix, sung religious hymns, and prayed aloud. His prayers are meant to be heard by passersby in hopes of persuading them to opt against abortion. He sometimes brings a loudspeaker to amplify group prayers that occur outside the clinic on the second Saturday of every-month and on Good Friday.” (Source: 1st Cir. opinion)

A Massachusetts law provided for a fixed 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances, exits, and driveways of abortion clinics.

The issues in the case were:

(1) Whether the First Circuit erred in upholding Massachusetts’s selective exclusion law – which makes it a crime for speakers other than clinic “employees or agents . . . acting within the scope of their employment” to “enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of “a reproductive health care facility” – under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, on its face and as applied to petitioners; and

(2) whether, if Hill v. Colorado permits enforcement of this law, Hill should be limited or overruled.

The First Circuit rejected the Plaintiff’s First Amendment claims. The Supreme Court reversed.

Vote: 9-0

Majority Opinion: Chief Justice Roberts

Concurring Opinion: Justice Scalia (joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas) concurs in judgment. Justice Alito wrote a separate opinion, concurring in the judgment.

Justice Scalia argues that Hill v. Colorado  should be overruled, which today’s opinion does not formally do.

Counsel

  • Mark L. Rienzi for Petitioners
  • Jennifer Grace Miller for Respondents
  • Ian H. Gershengorn for United States (amicus curiae for Respondents)

Amicus Briefs

Among those filing amicus briefs were the following:

  • Cato Institute (Ilya Shapiro) for Petitioners
  • American Center for Law & Justice (Jay Sekulow) for Petitioners
  • Rutherford Institute (John W. Whitehead) for Petitioners
  • Michigan & 11 other States (Bill Schuette) for Petitioners
  • ACLU (Steven R. Shapiro) for Neither Party
  • New York State, et  al (Eric T. Schneiderman) for Respondents
  • Planned Parenthood (Walter Dellinger) for Respondents
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, et al (Jack R. Bierig) for Respondents
  • National League of Cities, et al (Mary Jean Dolan) for Respondents
  • Anti-Defamation League, et al (Jeffrey S. Robbins) for Respondents
  • National Abortion Federation, et al (Maria T. Vullo) for Respondents

Hat tip to SCOTUSblog for its remarkable real-time coverage of today’s decisions.

NOTE: My next scheduled FAN column will provided detailed information re the Roberts Court’s overall record in First Amendment freedom of expression cases. It will also include facts and figure re the Court’s 1-A work this term.

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FAN 20 (First Amendment News) — New Book, New Legislation, New Study & More News

No First Amendment cases from the Supreme Court today. Most likely tomorrow (perhaps Monday?).

→ What’s left? The only First Amendment free expression cases left to be decided this Term are:

  1. McCullen v. Coakley
  2. Harris v. Quinn

New Book — Tribe & Matz on Roberts Court & Free Speech 

Laurence Tribe

Laurence Tribe

In May of 2013 I profiled a forthcoming book, which has just been released. “Forty-five years after the publication of his first book (Technology: Process of Assessment and Choice), Laurence Tribe is preparing to release another book, tentatively titled Uncertain Justice (2014).” I wrote that in SCOTUSblog. “This forthcoming offering,” I added, “will come out six years after Tribe’s last book (The Invisible Constitution). The book will be the Harvard Law professor’s sixteenth. Like a few of his other works, Uncertain Justice will be co-authored – this time Joshua Matz is his literary partner on this work on the Roberts Court.” Well, wait no more; here it is: Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court & The Constitution (Henry Holt, 2014). Mr. Matz is a Harvard law graduate who clerked for Judge Stephen Reinhardt and will soon clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Joshua Matz

Joshua Matz

While Uncertain Justice has received some early favorable reviews, my focus here is on only two chapters in the book: Chapter 3 (“Campaign Finance: Follow the Money”) and Chapter 4  (“Freedom of Speech: Sex, Lies & Video Games”). Together, these chapters consume 165 of the book’s 320 pages of text.

↓→ Campaign Finance

“The truth is somewhere in the middle.”

In a galvanized world of frenzied litmus-test beliefs over the role of money in our electoral system, Tribe and Matz (T&M) can be refreshingly open-minded: “It is easy to lose sight of the fact that Citizens United posed incredibly difficult questions about free speech, popular sovereignty, and political equality,” they write. “Deciding when Congress can ban certain disfavored speakers from the marketplace of ideas or limit how much they can speak is no easy task. It certainly isn’t outlandish to conclude, as the Court did, that free speech rights must prevail over hard-to-document fears that corporate wealth will distort public discourse or corrupt politicians.”

Then again, they do speak of the “Roberts Court’s broader agenda of deregulating campaign finance” reforms.  On that score, they maintain that by “reshaping the architecture of money, influence, and political organization, the Roberts Court is transforming how America conducts — and funds — politics.” In an endnote (p. 342, n. 64) they state: “While we do not purport to identify specific instances in which electoral outcomes shifted because of trends triggered by Citizens United, it seems to us highly likely that this has occurred in at least some races.”

While the authors freely offer the views of the “many critics of Citizens United,” they also concede that “Citizens United was a hard case because the Court faced a choice among evils.” With welcome objectivity and nuance, they add: “it’s extremely hard to determine whether any given campaign finance rule has a big enough impact to survive judicial scrutiny.  Judges have long implemented the First Amendment by requiring — among other things — that  restrictions on speech demonstrably achieve a legitimate goal. The causes of political corruption in America,” they stress, “and the reasons why politicians act the way they do . . . are many and complex.  Money in politics is only part of that story . . . .”

On the one hand, T&M understand how the Roberts Court’s narrow definition of corruption might be viewed as necessary in order to foster a “workable” body of First Amendment law sensitive to the concerns of free speech. On the other hand, they think that the Citizens United Court might have resorted to a “more modest” course of action that would “have left more room for politicians to use campaign finance laws, carefully reviewed by courts, as one tool among many in their efforts to restore public confidence in government integrity.” In other words, they tread cautiously in this ideological minefield.

So what should reformers do? In an endnote, Professor Tribe discloses that he “assisted Representative Adam Schiff of California in drafting a proposed [constitutional] amendment that was introduced in the 112th Congress.” That said, no defense of such radical constitutional surgery is offered in the book. In fact, the authors skip quickly past calls for constitutional amendments. Instead, they counsel that “critics of Citizens United would be well served to move past issues like corporate personhood and money’s status as speech. Instead, they might aim to ensure greater transparency in our brave new world of Super PACs and 501(c) organizations.” {See DISCLOSE Act item below}

If there were ever to be a national forum on the First Amendment and campaign finance reform, the organizers would be wise to invite Messrs. Tribe and Matz, if only to add some light in an otherwise overheated universe.

Note: Since Uncertain Justice was completed in “early 2014,” the Court’s April 2014 ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC (2014) is not discussed.

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