Friday, June 22, 2018

ACLU's competing values and principles (Updated)

On Thursday, a memo leaked showing the national* ACLU's new policies on undertaking representation where the litigated issue conflicts with the organization's other values and principles, notably equality and the rights of historically disadvantaged groups. The memo lists general case-selection criteria. It then identifies five considerations specific to free-speech cases--whether the speaker seeks to engage in or promote violence, whether the speaker seeks to carry weapons, the impact of the proposed speech and its suppression (including how the speech advances white supremacy or negatively affects oppressed communities or historic social inequalities), the extent to which the ACLU can represent the speaker while publicly denouncing the speech, and the extent to which it can mitigate the conflict (such as by earmarking recovered attorney's fees to groups the speaker attacks).

[*] The memo states that the policy binds the national office, but does not and cannot bind local affiliates.

The memo is being read and garnering attention as the ACLU backing away from its historic protection for free speech, especially its paradigmatic protection of Nazis marching past a village full of Shoah survivors. It seems to make unlikely (if not outright preclude) that the national office will represent Nazis or white supremacists in the future. The memo purports to demand a balance--how much the speech will attack certain groups, compared with how much the speech restriction, left unchallenged, will harm free speech (presumably by also being used against pro-equality speakers). This tries to read as a balancing test, a "stop-and-think" policy that requires the group to "make every effort to consider the consequences of our actions" before taking or declining representation. But it is hard to envision a case in which that balance is going to weigh towards representing a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-whatever group, when that representation is certain to anger those oppressed groups that the ACLU wants to maintain as allies.

Like any vesting of discretion, we must await application. But it does not bode well.

[Update: CoOp publishes remarks by ACLU President David Cole responding to some criticisms of the policy, insisting these are guidelines and that the organization will continue to represent "even the most repugnant speakers."]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 22, 2018 at 04:24 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

(SCOTUS Term): Deciding little, deciding few, and competing judicial functions

I had thoughts similar to what Dahlia Lithwick and Eugene Volokh argue. This Court does not want to decide substantive constitutional issues--to make constitutional law--that can guide lower court, other branches and governments, and the public. In addition to the standing punt in Gill (which retains the gerrymandered status quo, so it is not a neutral result), Volokh points to Tuesday's decision in Lozman and last week's decision in Masterpiece as examples of the Court failing to resolve the tricky substantive issues presented in the cases. The acid test will be whether the Court does something similar with the travel ban. (Eugene also mentions Janus, although the outcome in that case is so over-determined, it feels like waiting for the inevitable).

The wisdom of so-called minimalism or reliance on "passive virtues" or what Dahlia derides as the Chief fearing political criticism must be measured against the Court's shrinking docket. The Court will decide fewer than 70 cases this Term. And the cases it decides will not have the long-term prospective effects that we expect from a Court of last resort working with an almost-entirely discretionary docket. The nature of that docket focuses the Court on its rulemaking, as opposed to its error correction, function. So what is the Court doing and how does it see its role?

On the rulemaking/error-correction line: We might think of Lozman and Masterpiece as failures of discretionary case selection, creating confusion between those competing roles of the Court. In both cases, the Court realized it had the wrong vehicle for resolving the core constitutional issue. Neither case presented the paradigm case for the supposed legal issue. And both had unique features that allowed for narrow resolution of the case at hand (in other words, correcting lower-court error) while providing little general guidance (rulemaking).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2018 at 09:59 PM in 2018 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

(SCOTUS Term): Behold the passive virtues

The Court had not one but two shots at partisan gerrymandering this term. And those chances included limiting (if not avoiding) charges of political bias, because both sides oxen were being gored--one case was Republican gerrymandering to screw Democrats and one case was Democratic gerrymandering to screw Republicans. Alas, the Court punted in both.

Gill v. Whitford, the Republicans-screwing-Democrats case from Wisconsin, was the higher-profile. The Court unanimously rejected the case on standing grounds. The Chief's opinion (joined by everyone at least in part) emphasized the individual nature of the standing inquiry in a vote-dilution case--each plaintiff must show the injury she suffered to her vote in her gerrymandered district, without regard to the makeup of any other district or the statewide balance of partisan power. The Court remanded to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to plead and offer evidence of standing, although Justices Thomas and Gorsuch did not join this part. Justice Kagan, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor (but not Kennedy), concurred to provide a roadmap for how plaintiffs can establish standing on a vote-dilution theory. This may include statewide evidence of harm to plaintiffs in districts throughout the state warranting a statewide remedy to relieve the injury to plaintiffs in multiple districts (on the assumption that the case include plaintiffs from all or most districts). Kagan also mapped how plaintiffs, including a political party, could establish standing on a First Amendment association theory, which by definition focuses on statewide harms.

Benisek v. Lamone was the Democrats-screwing-Republicans case from Maryland and was framed as lower stakes, focusing only on vote dilution in one district and not seeking to combat systemic statewide gerrymandering. Standing was not an issue. But the Court in a per curiam held that the  non-merits elements of the preliminary-injunction analysis were not satisfied, including the public interest and balance of equities.  The Court emphasized plaintiffs' delay in seeking an injunction and the impossibility, if the current map cannot be used, of drawing a new map that could be used in 2018.

Hasen points out that a third partisan gerrymandering case awaits the Court decision on whether to assert jurisdiction that includes a free-association challenge to explicit statewide partisan districting. But the case has similar standing concerns. We will see on remand how much mileage plaintiffs can get from Kagan's concurrence.

The analysis in Gill shows how inextricable standing is from the merits in constitutional litigation, especially seeking systemic mandatory injunctive relief. So inextricable that it confirms William Fletcher's view that standing is merits and lack of standing the failure of a claim. Gill shows this in two respects. First, it shows that the separation of injury and right makes no sense, because the injury depends on the right and the theory of right asserted. Second, the problem as to several plaintiffs was not the early allegations of injury but the failure to provide evidence at trial of that injury. But standing is supposed to be a jurisdictional threshold issue. If we are still arguing about it at trial, we are passed the threshold, so we should consider this as part of the substantive merits at trial.

The other point of note is the Chief's efforts to limit the prospective effect of Kagan's concurrence. On p. 17, he writes: "[T]he opinion of the Court rests on the understanding that we lack jurisdiction to decide this case, much less to draw speculative and advisory conclusions regarding others . . . The reasoning of this Court with respect to the disposition of this case is set forth in this opinion and none other."

 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2018 at 02:47 PM in 2018 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)

(SCOTUS Term): Municipal gadflies on a busy day at SCOTUS

SCOTUS resolved five cases on Monday. This included the partisan-gerrymandering cases (about which, more later), while leaving unresolved many critical doctrinal questions.

Monday's haul included Lozman v. Riviera Beach, a victory of sorts for a local gadfly. Lozman was arrested (on later-dropped charges) in November 2006 while attempting to speak at the public-comment portion of a City Council meeting. The case was briefed and argued on the proper standard for First Amendment retaliatory arrest claims: Whether probable cause to arrest on some charge defeats the claim or whether courts must consider whether the officer would have arrested the plaintiff even absent his speech.

An 8-Justice majority resolved the case on different terms, as an unusual and narrow retaliation case. Lozman had not sued the arresting officer and he did not claim a First Amendment violation from the officer stopping him from speaking at the November 2006 meeting. Lozman sued the city, alleging that council members (one in particular) enacted a policy to retaliate against him for his pre-November 2006 expressive activity, including critical public statements and filing a state open-records action; the arrest effected that policy. That made this case unique and uniquely problematic. Retaliatory policies, as opposed to ill-motivated officers making ad hoc decisions, are a "particularly troubling and potent form of retaliation" for which a First Amendment claim is the only remedy (whereas a plaintiff could have an individual disciplined or fired--although neither happens). Probable cause plays no role in such a case, because the arresting officer's immediate concerns at the time of arrest are unrelated to the policy targeting past speech. Finally, the policy targeting high-value petition activity.

Lozman's road remains difficult, as he must show that the Council members established a policy, that the policy was retaliatory (that it would not have been established but-for his expression), and that the arrest was pursuant to that policy--all issues on which courts are notoriously stingy. The road for similarly situated future plaintiffs to take advantage of this decision remains more difficult. Lozman had the advantage of a transcript of a closed-door Council meeting at which members spoke in retaliatory terms; most plaintiffs will not be so fortunate. In essence, the court traded a difficult-to-prove issues on the effect of probable cause on individual retaliation for a different set of difficult-to-prove issues surrounding the establishment of municipal liability.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 18, 2018 at 11:52 AM in 2018 End of Term, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Legal ethics in Hulk Hogan v. Gawker

Steve Lubet reviewed the new book by Ryan Holiday, Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue. Lubet focuses on the book's revelation that neither Hogan nor his lawyers knew until after the verdict that Thiel was funding the litigation (communications and payments were anonymous and through an anonymous intermediary), which violates Florida ethics rules in several respects. This also sheds a different light on Hogan declining a $ 10 million settlement offer. I argued that Hogan's decision not to settle was beside the point to any free-speech concerns, regardless of Thiel's funding efforts. Lubet offers a legal-ethics twist on this. Whilee it is not clear whether or how much Thiel influenced the decision not to settle, it is not clear Hogan's lawyers counter-offered with Hogan's drop-dead figure of $ 20 million or shared with Hogan the risks of declining the offer and proceeding to trial (namely more of the video, including Hogan's racist comments, becoming public).

Steve's review is worth a read and Holiday's book sounds interesting and detailed. I still need to watch the Netflix documentary on the case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 14, 2018 at 06:49 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

(SCOTUS Term): Court rejects ban on political apparel in polling places

Although it did not deal with compelled speech on the anniversary of Barnette, the Court did knock out one of its free-speech cases--Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky. The Chief wrote for seven Justices, declaring invalid a state law prohibiting "political badge, political button, or other political insignia" being worn "at or about the polling place."

The polling place is a nonpublic forum and the statute was viewpoint neutral. But it was not reasonable. The word "political" is undefined. It is broader than "campaign" (a category dealt with in a different, unchallenged provision), but its scope remains uncertain and is not clarified by various administrative-guidance policies, which offer examples that appear contradictory. Roberts argued this "poses riddles that even the State's top lawyers struggle to solve," citing to the extensive, inconsistent hypotheticals the Court peppered counsel with during argument. That uncertainty also vested too much discretion in the election-day judges, who cannot know all the "issues" that might be reflected by a piece of apparel.

The sort of parsing for over- or under-inclusiveness that the Court does here typically is part of strict or intermediate scrutiny, rather than reasonableness. But the result makes sense, as a word like political is seemingly boundless. And the Court remained at least nominally deferential of the state's interest in making the polling place a space of calm reflection and cited approvingly to narrower laws in other states (Red and Blue) aimed at the same goal.

Justice Sotomayor dissented for herself and Justice Breyer, arguing that the Court should certify to the question of the statute's precise meaning to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Chief dropped a footnote to reject certification, emphasizing the discretionary nature of certification, the lateness of the state's suggestion of certification in the litigation, that the state had offered an interpretation for the Court to use in the case, and that there is no obvious alternative interpretation that the state court might adopt.

This is the second time in two Terms that Sotomayor has argued for certification to avoid a First Amendment decision (Justice Alito joined her prior attempt). It is interesting that Court has stated that certification (like Pullman abstention, the doctrine it arguably supersedes) should be used sparingly in First Amendment cases, given the chilling effect caused by delays in the certification process.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 14, 2018 at 11:00 AM in 2018 End of Term, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

(SCOTUS Term): Barnette at 75

Today marks the 75th anniversary of W. Va. Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, which John Q. Barrett commemorates at his blog on all things Justice Jackson. Barnette must be among the Top 5 most important SCOTUS First Amendment decisions and one of the first to combine soaring free-speech rhetoric with a victory for the free-speech claimants. The decision remains relevant to modern free-speech controversies, between controversies over flag-related speech and new concerns over compelled expression. Two cases from OT17 implicated Barnette and compelled speech--Masterpiece Cakeshop although only Justice Thomas, citing Barnette, took the free speech route, and NIFLA v. Becerra, a pure compelled speech case that will certainly rely on Barntte. NIFLA is still out, although it would be ironic if the Court issued that case today.

The anniversary also gives me a chance to publicize the FIU Law Review Symposium, Barnette at 75, hosted at FIU on October 5, 2018. Panelists include John Q. Barrett (St. Johns), Ronald Collins (Washington), Erica Goldberg (Dayton), Abner Greene (Fordham), Paul Horwitz (Alabama), John Inazu (Wash U.), Leslie Kendrick (Virginia), Genevieve Lakier (Chicago), Aaron Saiger (Fordham), Seana Shiffrin (UCLA), Steven Smith (San Diego), and Brad Snyder (Georgetown).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 14, 2018 at 06:08 AM in 2018 End of Term, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, June 08, 2018

Ali/Trump

Before leaving for Canada, the President made statements at the White House that he is "very seriously" thinking about issuing a pardon for Muhammad Ali and that protesting NFL players should let him know about "people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system" or of "friends of theirs or people they know about." I know this was Trump speaking off the cuff, which is not something he is good at (at least if we are looking for things that make sense). And it is on a silly subject, compared with other behavior by him and his administration. But there is a lot here that illustrates how the President understands (or misunderstands) the world, politics, the Constitution, his power, and law.

• Ali's conviction for refusing induction was reversed on appeal, the United States never reprosecuted him, and DOJ conceded that Ali's objections to induction were religiously based and that his beliefs were sincerely held. As Ali's lawyer stated in response to the President's offer, there is nothing for which Ali must be pardoned, as he has no existing conviction and is not under threat of future prosecution for his past actions. Is Trump aware of that?

• In Trump's world, someone who declines to engage in a patriotic ritual derogates and insults the military and should be deported; someone who refuses to join the military and fight in time of war does not, such that a conviction for disregarding his legal obligation to fight reflects an unfair sentence warranting a pardon. Such disparate understanding of symbolic patriotism compared with fighting for the cause is striking and incoherent. But it is consistent with the NFL's symbolic patriotism. And it is consistent with the President's symbolic patriotism, as he similarly went out of his way to avoid service in Vietnam, without having to justify his reasons for not going or losing four years of his career to his efforts.

• All politics is personal. The NFL players must be speaking out about injustices done to their friends or specific people they know and want to help, just as the President uses the pardon power to help his friends or individuals he knows and wants to help. He does not conceive of systemic problems that affect thousands of people, who need help not by the individual remedy of a pardon but by systemic reform. Nor does he appear to understand why players would protest for a cause disconnected to individuals that they know and care about.

• The players are protesting systemic racism, violence, and differential treatment in the criminal-justice system This includes police killing unarmed or non-threatening persons of color with impunity. How does a pardon affect that? Walter Scott is dead, so a pardon does not do him much good. Of course, one of the President's pardons was granted to Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for refusing court orders to stop discriminating and using unjustified violence in his role as a police officer.This President is more likely to pardon Michael Slager, the officer who shot and killed Scott and is serving a federal prison sentence on a civil rights charge.

• Most law enforcement, and so most of what the players are protesting, involves state and local police and the state criminal-justice system. The President can pardon federal crimes, not state crimes. So even if Colin Kaepernick had ten friends wrongfully convicted, Trump could not do a thing about it. So this is demagoguery--an empty and impossible gesture, used to fool the unaware into siding with him against a group and message to which he is opposed. Or the President is unaware of the limits of his pardon power.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 8, 2018 at 04:05 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The White House defines free speech

When asked how President Trump reconciled his belief that a baker has a free-speech right not to sell a cake for a same-sex wedding with his insistence that there is no free-speech right to kneel (or just stay in a different location), Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "The president doesn’t think this is an issue simply of free speech. He thinks it’s about respecting the men and women of our military; it’s about respecting our national anthem.”

Someone opposed to the position of the baker in Masterpiece could say something similar: "It isn't simply an issue of the baker's free speech. It's about respecting same-sex couples who wish to get married and to shop in the marketplace on the same terms as everyone else; it's about respecting equality." Sanders, on behalf of the President, is really saying there is no such thing as free speech. Speech should be stopped when the President agrees with the message being criticized (the flag and the power of police to use whatever force they deem necessary), while speech should be allowed when the President disagrees with the message being criticized (equal rights for same-sex couples).

That one's position on free speech depends on what is on the other side is not surprising; many people approach the First Amendment this way. It is disturbing when it becomes the official position of the White House, as opposed to the position of a bunch of college students.

Next Thursday, June 14, marks the 75th anniversary of West Virginia Bd. v. Barnette. It is ironic and troubling that the principle that a person cannot be compelled to utter patriotic tropes or engage in patriotic rituals is again up for grabs, as the rhetoric around this heats up and makes this into a significant free-speech controversy.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 6, 2018 at 08:11 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Another day, another NFL protest

Two new items for today. President Trump canceled the Philadelphia Eagles White House visit, amid reports that fewer than ten players were going to show. Nikolas Bowie (about to begin teaching at Harvard) argues at Slate that NFL rules banning player protests violate several state constitutions.

On the Eagles visit. I found it interesting that the press release said that the Eagles "disagree with their President" (emphasis mine) about anthem protests. I know it is folly to parse White Statements, but "their" hints to me of some Dear Leader stuff--I am your President and how dare you disagree with your President (whatever that disagreement may be). The team visit is being replaced with a rally at which the anthem (the words of which Trump almost certainly does not know) will be proudly played for the 1000 fans who planned to attend. The question is how many of those 1000 will still show if the team--the reason most of them wanted to attend--will not be there. Congressional Democrats invited the team to the Capitol, with promises of Wawa coffee.

The President later tweeted, in response to the new NFL protest policy that has not been implemented yet (and had nothing to do with the Eagles visit) that "[s]taying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling." This supports my point that players wishing to protest can make a statement by staying off the field, if in sufficient numbers or with sufficient coverage. This also should drive home to the league and the teams that appeasement does not work and only makes them look worse. The league forced through a compromise that the players (and some owners) hated and that did not achieve the one thing they wanted to achieve, pacifying the President.

By the way, at SEALS on Thursday, August 9, I will be moderating a discussion group on the NFL protests.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 5, 2018 at 08:18 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 04, 2018

SCOTUS Term: Free Exercise "Happy talk" (Two Updates)

The Court decided Masterpiece Cake on the narrowest, least generally applicable grounds it could find--that some Colorado Civil Rights Commissioners made anti-religion statements in deciding the case, thereby failing to decide the case with the "religious neutrality that the Constitution requires"  or the "neutral and respectful considerations to which the baker was entitled. But the Court did not recognize Free-Exercise exception to public-accommodation laws and seemed to accept that religious beliefs do not provide an out to public-accommodations laws. That is, the problem was not the decision the Commission made (and the state courts affirmed), but the statements made in the course of making that decision.

• The majority's basic rationale is incoherent. It criticizes the "lack of due consideration for Phillips' free exercise rights and the dilemma he faced" and the failure to consider his religious objection "with the neutrality" required by the First Amendment. But the point of Smith is that there is no dilemma. Religious preferences, no matter how deeply held, yield to laws of general applicability. The required neutrality is in the law's application--the law cannot treat conduct performed for religious reasons less favorably than identical conduct performed for non-religious reasons. The majority here imposes some sort of neutrality of consideration. But what it really imposes is a "happy-talk" requirement--officials must speak respectfully and kindly and happily about religion religious objections to neutral laws, even while rejecting those objections. Because allowing those objections would eviscerate public accommodations laws.

• I have not seen this argued anywhere, but why wasn't this case moot? I believe I read that Phillips closed his bakery. So the sanctions imposed on him--cease-and-desist discriminating, comprehensive staff training, and quarterly compliance reports--no longer have any effect. [Update: In light of comments and further thought, the mootness point seems clear--the possibility of reopening the business renders the case not moot. I was incorrectly recalling a case in which the Court held that closing a nude bar did not render moot the challenge to an anti-nude-dancing ordinance. Apologies for raising an unnecessary issue]

[Second Update: So what happens next. The case came to SCOTUS on direct review from the state court, which was reviewing the Commission decision. The state court of appeals decision affirming the commission is reversed and so, therefore, is the Commission decision and order. One commentator to the Civ Pro listserv described this as an "implicit remand"--the Colorado court now can remand to the Commission to do the case over in a "neutral" manner. Then the question is whether the Commission wants to pursue the case anew, which may get us back into the question of whether Phillips is still running the bakery and/or whether he intends to do so in the future.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on June 4, 2018 at 01:18 PM in 2018 End of Term, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (17)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Law, Religion, and Health Care

In a number of health care settings, religious values come into conflict with the desires of patients or the medical judgment of physicians and other providers of health care. A doctor or hospital might invoke considerations of conscience to deny patients access to abortion. Or parents might invoke religious beliefs to refuse medical care for their children.

In a forthcoming article (available here), I argue that while the free exercise of religion is a fundamental right, the interest in protecting individual conscience can be secured without consideration of religious  belief when it comes to deciding about access to health care.

For treatment decisions in which a provider’s religious belief deserves respect, there always will be a legitimate nonreligious basis for refusing to provide care. For example, just as physicians can view abortion as immoral on religious grounds so can they view abortion as immoral on nonreligious grounds. Thus, for example, the Church Amendment protects individuals or facilities for whom abortion is “contrary to . . . religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The moral conviction language is broad enough to encompass both the sectarian and the secular.

On the other hand, if we cannot find sufficient nonreligious reasons for objecting to the care, then religious objections are insufficient as well. For example, if principles of child abuse and neglect generally would prohibit parents from rejecting a particular medical treatment for their children, then a parent’s religious beliefs would not justify an exemption from the obligation to agree to the treatment. Parental religious beliefs should not permit a parent to refuse a polio vaccine or an appendectomy for a child because there is no legitimate nonreligious reason for rejecting ordinary medical treatments that can prevent death or other serious harm to the child’s health.

Are there any exceptions to the connection between religious reasons and secular reasons? Are there times when one should be able to invoke religious beliefs even when there are no legitimate nonreligious bases for the exercise of conscience? If religious freedom is measured in secular terms, then we could easily undermine the whole idea of religious freedom.

While there are circumstances outside of the delivery of health care for recognizing religious beliefs that do not have a secular counterpart, it is difficult to identify a situation in which a person’s religious belief alone could justify the denial of beneficial care. We should not allow religious doctrine to trump a patient’s interests in health. In other words, even when someone has a valid free exercise interest, the state’s interest in protecting the health of its citizens outweighs the religious interest—the state has a compelling interest that overcomes the fundamental right.

There’s also an important advantage to looking to secular morality rather than religious belief. It can be difficult for courts to assess the sincerity or legitimacy of a religious belief, as with arguments about complicity. Analyzing matters such as complicity in secular terms allows a court to give due regard to religious beliefs without having to make religious judgments.

Posted by David Orentlicher on May 31, 2018 at 12:49 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Religion | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

When does encouragement become overwhelming or coercive?

Depositions in Colin Kaepernick's collusion grievance reveal that President Trump spoke to at least one owner about halting the protests lest Trump make a political meal out of it. And fear of criticism by Trump, and the public being worked into a froth by that criticism, influenced other owners.

A private person or entity acts under color of law of law when there is a "close nexus" between the constitutionally violative private conduct and the government or government officials coercing, compelling, or overwhelmingly encouraging that conduct. So could we see constitutional challenges* either to the league's new protest policy or to the blackballing of protesting players?**

[*] Because the close nexus would be with a federal official, this would be a Bivens rather than § 1983 action against the NFL or individual owners. That presents two questions I leave aside for now: 1) Would the Court reject this as an improper "extension" of Bivens and 2) Whether and how the "under color" tests from § 1983 translate to Bivens, a point on which lower courts divide.

[**] This one faces the additional problem that the NLRA grievance process would qualify as an alternative statutory scheme.

The key is what coercion, compulsion, or overwhelming encouragement means. Trump wants the owners to stop the protests and he wants to make political hay out it. Do those efforts to influence the NFL and its owners qualify as overwhelming encouragement, by threatening to create a public backlash that would hurt the league and its business? Can we see Trump as coercing (through threat of harm to the league's business)  the owners to silence the players, something Trump himself cannot do? While Trump's speech is protected as government speech, can it form the link for NFL liability?

I doubt this would work. But it is worth considering.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 30, 2018 at 05:47 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

NFL protests in African-American historical perspective

Chad Williams, a professor of African Studies at Brandeis, places the NFL's efforts to halt player protests in the historical context of patri0tism during World War I, particularly W.E.B. DuBois' 1918 call for African-Americans to "close ranks" during the War and not to air African-Americans' "special grievances." DuBois' efforts backfired, as the period during and after WW I was marked by an increase in racial violence and lynchings. Williams argues that the NFL is attempt to enforce the same form of "love-it-or-leave-it" patriotism on its players.

I wonder if staying in the locker room, which the new league rules allow, could become an effective form of protest. There are many ways to counter-speak to a symbol or ritual, including by absenting oneself from the ritual; players can be conspicuous by their absence from the sideline, with that absence expressing something.   The key will be the media--do the broadcast cameras, reporters, or some other sources report on who is absent so it becomes known and public? Or is the protest hidden and unknown, protesters pushed to dark corners?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 29, 2018 at 11:39 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trumps' Twitter blocking violates First Amendment

District court decision here. Eugene Volokh comments. I agree with the First Amendment analysis. While a public official can speak on his own, the dispute here is over an interactive part of Twitter and who gets to engage on those features.

After the jump, I consider several procedural points.

• The court did not rely on the "one good plaintiff" approach to standing. After finding that the four individual plaintiffs had standing, the court considered whether the Knight Foundation had standing on its own (based on wanting to read comments from one of the blocked individuals).

• The Court linked standing to Ex Parte Young and recognized that Young allowed for claims for prospective relief against federal officials as much as state officials. The latter can be based on § 1983 while the former are based on the judicially created equitable claim. But the precedents overlap.

• The big standing issue involved Trump's aide Daniel Scavino, who has the power to control access to the account (including blocking or unblocking users), but did not block the individual plaintiffs. But the plaintiffs remained injured so long as blocked. Because Scavino could unblock, their ongoing injury was traceable to him.

• The court discussed whether the President or Scavino were state actors in managing the account, although the analysis was buried in the public-forum analysis. By contrast, in Davis v. Loudon County Board of Supervisors, involving a local official blocking members of the public from her Facebook page, the court focused on state action.

• The court gave a lengthy discussion of whether a court can enjoin the President. It rejected the categorical argument that the President cannot be enjoined, acknowledged that courts must hesitate and balance separation-of-powers concerns, and found that an injunction here would only compel the President to act constitutionally without interfering with executive discretion. The court declined to resolve the issue, because an injunction against Scavino and a declaratory judgment offered sufficient relief. (The court's decision to issue only declaratory relief without an injunction highlights a point Sam Bray made--declaratory relief is a sufficient remedy where limited judicial oversight or management is necessary).

• The court's decision not to issue an injunction deprived it of an opportunity to make the injunction universal and prohibit Trump and/or Scavino from blocking anyone from his Twitter account, in a case in which such a non-particularized remedy is unwarranted. But this reminds us that a declaratory judgment should be as party-particularized as an injunction. If Trump or Scavino block people other than the plaintiffs from the account, they would not act inconsistent with the judgment and it would not alone be a basis for converting the D/J into an injunction. New Twitter users must sue to assert their own rights to their own judgments, regardless of whether the judgment is a declaration or an injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2018 at 06:37 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Lewis & Clark faculty statement on free expression

Jeff Schmitt argues that speech norms should be different in law schools, given the style and manner of legal education in compelling students to engage with disagreeable ideas. Jeff's argument is similar to Heather Gerken's argument, last summer, explaining why we had seen fewer disruptions and counter-protests in law schools. That was before Josh Blackman at CUNY and the protest/disruption of Christina Sommers at Lewis & Clark.

Last month, the L&C law faculty issued a unanimous statement that "pluralism, professionalism, and First Amendment values are all essential to our mission, and we as a faculty reaffirm our commitment to each." Worth a read.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 2, 2018 at 08:49 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

U Va Law bans non-students from library during exams

Story here (forwarded to me by a colleague with the subject line "Glad I'm Not a Dean"). Nothing wrong with that policy on the surface--many schools do that to ensure that law students have sufficient study space during the high-stress period. The potential problem is that the policy change was enacted in response to white-supremacist leader Jason Kessler using the library, which triggered a wave of protests, public forums, and demands for the school to take action. So what happens with a content-neutral policy enacted for blatantly viewpoint-discriminatory reasons?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 28, 2018 at 11:03 AM in First Amendment, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (7)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Universal injunctions in Trump v. Hawaii and Chicago v. Sessions

SCOTUS hears argument on Wednesday in Trump v. Hawaii on the constitutional and statutory validity of the third travel ban, including (perhaps) the validity of the universal injunction. Marty Lederman explores the scope-of-injunction issue; he concludes that if the court reaches the scope question, it may be entirely dicta. A Supreme Court decision declaring the ban constitutionally invalid will, in almost all cases, result in the government suspending enforcement across the board. So the Court passing on the scope issue will have no practical effect.

Meanwhile, a divided Seventh Circuit panel affirmed the universal injunction as to the sanctuary-city-funding regulations. Sam Bray critiques the ruling at the VC. I will be spending the coming week updating some writing on the subject.

A few thoughts after the jump.

Marty's argument that a Supreme Court decision has the same effect as a universal injunction is right as a formal matter, because the President tends to proceed on an assumption of judicial supremacy--the Court's constitutional word is the last constitutional word. Much of the public shares that assumption, so the President may be politically bound to do the same. But a committed judicial-departmentalist executive could make these questions interesting.

Marty touches on the plaintiffs' Establishment Clause argument in favor of universality--that a limited injunction "fail[s] to 'remove the stigmatic harm that respondents suffer based on ‘the simple enactment’ of the Government’s policy.'”  Although I do not discuss it in my article, this argument has never made sense to me. The traditional conception is that the simple enactment of a law, regulation, or policy does not violate constitutional rights; only the (actual, attempted, or threatened) enforcement of the law, regulation, or policy violates constitutional rights. And I do not believe there is anything unique about the Establishment Clause in this regard. The E/C cases involving stigmatic harm have involved executive actions sending a message of exclusion--religious displays, football prayer, legislative prayer, etc. Stigmatic harm has not been a basis (to my recollection--I have not looked at this recently) for challenging the enactment and existence of the law itself. If it were, the injunction would have to compel repeal of the law or regulation, rather than prohibiting its enforcement. This logic, if it prevails, could not be limited to the Establishment Clause. It also should apply to speech cases, because the "simple enactment" of the law would have a chilling effect even on those not threatened with enforcement, justifying an injunction to protect them along with the threatened (so as to have standing) plaintiffs.

Hawaii also argues that it cannot identify in advance who might seek to study there so as to be protected by the injunction, so everyone must be protected. But the difficulty of identifying those with a sufficient connection with the plaintiff can be left for future enforcement of the injunction protecting Hawaii; it need not be decided at the point of issuance.

As for Chicago and sanctuary cities, the court deserves credit for offering a detailed and non-conclusory defense of universality, only the second court to do so (the other being the district court it was affirming). Sam captured the defects in the opinion. The problem remains the same. The attempt to allow this universal injunction while limiting universal injunctions to "rare circumstances" fails, because the limiting principles are not limiting principles and appear to justify a universal injunction in every case.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 22, 2018 at 05:59 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What is a heckler's veto?

Paul's post about reexamining the doctrine surrounding the heckler's veto, in response to some comments on this post, leads to an open question: What is a heckler's veto and what is the doctrine surrounding heckler's vetos?

The phrase "heckler's veto" appears only 12 times in the U.S. Supreme Court's database, often in dissents or in passing, including in two non-free-speech cases. None involves the paradigm cases, which I think are the following: 1) Police arresting or restricting a speaker because the people around him become violent and threaten to hurt the speaker or damage property (this is TerminielloFeiner, and the Nazis in Skokie); 2) Laws setting a legal standard that burdens a speaker because of actual or anticipated audience reaction (this is Forsyth County); and true no-platforming, in which a university denies or rescinds a speaker invitation or permit in response to threats of disruption. Close to the center are cases in which police or other authorities do nothing and allow the hecklers to attack or otherwise physically disrupt the speaker (there might be a DeShaney problem here, unless the speaker can show the failure to act was because of his speech). The point is that overnment must do something (or refrain from acting for a speech-discriminatory reason) to create the veto. The doctrine is clear--such vetoes are impermissible,* at least outside of narrow contexts (such as the community standards prong of obscenity or the "disruption" concern for student speech) or if there is a compelling interest in not having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on security.

[*] Although Feiner famously came out the other way, the prevailing view is that this no longer is good law.

The question--and there is no Supreme Court doctrine on this--remains if and when literal heckling, as a form of expression, becomes a heckler's veto without government action to halt the original speaker. Is it a heckler's veto if police or government officials do nothing and two speakers talk over one another until one gives up or is unable to proceed? We have to answer that question before we can figure out whether the heckler's veto doctrine must be reconsidered, because it is not obvious how that doctrine applies to these situations in the first place.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 18, 2018 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

If everyone is a Nazi . . .

Josh Blackman wrote at length about being the target of protests at CUNY Law when he went to do a Fed Soc lecture on free speech on campus. Josh's post includes photos of the gauntlet of signs he walked in the hallway, as well as events inside the room. After several minutes of organized interruptions (including one law student exclaiming "fuck the law") and a warning from school administrators, Josh was able to engage with some audience members and the protesters left the room, after which Blackman did Q&A with the remaining students for more than an hour.

The underlying premise of many protests and attempts at "no-platforming" begin from the premise that the appropriate First Amendment rule, whatever the First Amendment's scope otherwise, should be "no free speech for Nazis and white supremacists." Putting aside the other problems with such a rule, its core problem is that it seems inevitable that everyone becomes (or at least everyone who disagrees with you) becomes a Nazi and white supremacist who must be shut down. Many of the protest signs reflect this misunderstanding.

Erica Goldberg tries to identify the line between the right to speech and the right to protest speech, drawing the line at "coordinated efforts to silence a speaker." Erica distinguishes "an errant 'hey, you're wrong'" from "an effective, premeditated campaign" to shout down a speaker invited to use a designated forum. She also suggests drawing a line around "[s]ubstantive, informed, respectful discussions" and "civil, open-minded, orderly discourse."

I have been trying to identify the same lines, focusing on location (protesters inside the forum v. protesters outside the forum). Erica suggests that some forms of protest, including some verbal protest, are permissible within the forum, which is broader than I had thought of going. But I question whether coordination or terms such as substantive, civil, and open-minded can do much work. The First Amendment does not trust the government to define these terms (and where they begin or end) anymore than it trusts the government to pay a principled line between unprotected outrageous caricatures and protected sharp political commentary. Or between a protected conservative and an unprotected white supremacist.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 14, 2018 at 04:18 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics, Teaching Law | Permalink | Comments (16)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Truth, Trust, and the First Amendment in the Digital Age

The University of Missouri Schools of Law and Journalism co-sponsored a symposium last week at the National Press Club in D.C. entitled Truth, Trust, and the First Amendment in the Digital Age. C-Span carried the symposium, including the keynote by the inestimably fabulous First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams.

If you're interested, the panels and keynote are available to watch on C-Span at this LINK

Barbara Cochran of the School of Journalism moderated the journalism panel, which included remarks by:

Peter Baker, The New York Times
Dan Balz, The Washington Post
Major Garrett, CBS News
Hadas Gold, CNN
Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune
Chris Buskirk, American Greatness
Margaret Talev, Bloomberg News

I moderated the media law scholars and media lawyers panel, which included remarks by:

Amy Gajda, Tulane University School of Law
Ronnell Andersen Jones, University of Utah College of Law
Mary-Rose Papandrea, University of North Carolina School of Law
Charles Tobin, Ballard Spahr LLP
Sonja West, University of Georgia School of Law
Kurt Wimmer, Covington & Burling LLP

 

 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on April 11, 2018 at 10:59 AM in Constitutional thoughts, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky, Symposium | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

12(b)(6) denied in Beckman v. Chicago Bears

I wrote last year about Beckman v. Chicago Bears, a First Amendment lawsuit by a Green Bay Packers fan who holds season tickets and a Personal Seat License ("PSL") at Soldier Field and was prohibited from participating in an on-field event for season-ticket holders because he was wearing a Packers jersey. The district court denied the Bears' 12(b)(6); Beckman plausibly pleaded a connection between the event and the Chicago Parks District to make the Bears a state actor and viewpoint discrimination. (The court granted the NFL's motion to dismiss on standing grounds).

The state-action analysis relies on a combination of the CPD retaining power to approve certain on-field events for PSL-holders and receiving revenues from certain PSL sales. Beckman filed the complaint pro se, so the court's Iqbal analysis bent-over backwards to draw inferences in the plaintiff's favor. The court identified several inferences as plausible despite no express allegations to fill the gap. For example, there was no allegation that CPD approved the event at issue or that Beckman held one of the PSLs from which CPD gained revenues, both facts necessary to the state-action analysis. But the court insisted that both inferences were plausible, which was sufficient.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 31, 2018 at 10:30 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Student suspended for uttering profanity to congressional staffer

A 17-year-old high schooler in Reno was suspended last week for using profanity in a phone call with a staffer of Nevada Representative Mark Amodei. The student, identified as Noah C., participated in the school walk-out (for which he received an unexcused tardy), during which participants called elected officials to advocate for gun control; Noah told the Amodei staffer that "congress people who are not acting on gun control reforms need to get off their fucking asses and do something." Amodei's office called the school, which suspended Noah (a suspension that also precludes him from serving in the class-council position to which he was elected).

The ACLU of Nevada sent letters to the school and to Amodei. The letter to the school laid-out the First Amendment argument the ACLU would make in a lawsuit. This could not have been in-school speech because it was made during a non-school-sanctioned event for which Noah was marked as being impermissibly out of school; if at school, it was non-disruptive because no one in school heard what he said; and the punishment was more severe because of Noah's viewpoint and his past expressive activities (during a school debate, Noah criticized Donald Trump, rather than talking about the assigned topic). I find the first point especially important--if speech made while a student is impermissibly outside of school is school speech, then the school can reach everything a student does. The letter demands rescission of the punishments imposed, which also presumably would be the remedy sought in the lawsuit, along with nominal damages.*

[*] This case illustrates a unique remedial and framing problem. Noah is presumably in 11th Grade, so he likely will have graduated by the time litigation is complete, allowing the school to vacate any remedy and avoid attorney's fees when the case becomes moot. The claim for nominal damages avoids the mootness problem. But a claim for nominal damages is subject to qualified immunity and there is almost certainly no robust consensus of authority arising from factually similar cases. Noah could sue the school, which does not enjoy immunity, but then the problem is whether the principal who imposed the suspension is the policymaker for the entire school board or school district. I will have to keep this in mind for class.

The letter to Amodei called for a public apology for retaliating against the student by enlisting the school to sanction him, ending with the rhetorical flourish that "[w]hat actions you take next will determine you and your office’s commitment to the First Amendment and the Constitution you swore to uphold and defend." The idea of a Bivens action against the congressman (which the letter did not threaten) raises two interesting problems: 1) causation and 2) Speech or Debate immunity (constituent interactions are viewed as political rather than legislative), but it would be fun to see the argument play out.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 21, 2018 at 04:20 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (10)

Friday, March 09, 2018

A quick word on the speech controversy at Lewis & Clark

A quick thought on the students at Lewis & Clark Law School protesting Christina Sommers earlier this week. I confess to knowing nothing about Sommers or why she generated such anger from the students. I was surprised by the heat the event generated--the discussion on the ConLawProf listserv became quite stark. People may have been a bit surprised to see this happening at a law school (recall Heather Gerken's argument last summer that the nature of legal education affects how students go about protesting). There was some discussion of whether the protesters' actions warranted school code-of-conduct charges, which must be reported to the Bar and can create longer-term professional headaches than they would for undergrads.

Having watched the several videos, it appears there were two groups of protesters, inside and outside the room and the building. So this case illustrates the vision of counter-speech and heckling I have been trying to formulate. The latter group was engaged in protected activity. Although they made noise and made it more difficult for Sommers to be heard, they were not interfering with her use of a reserved space in which one speaker had priority right. It appears they were in an otherwise public outdoor space (although I do not know the details or rules about spaces at L&C); if so, their speech in that space should receive equal footing with Sommers' speech in the classroom.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 9, 2018 at 12:32 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Facing imminent defeat

Is it possible to imagine more-certain defeat for a party before argument even begins than for the union (and the continuing vitality of Abood) in Janus v. AFSCME this morning? A Gorusch-less Court divided 4-4 on this issue two years ago. Alito is on record as wanting to overrule Abood; the Chief believes that every small thing a public union does--even negotiating a coffee break--is political, so compelling fees is compelling support of political speech; and Kennedy tends to go along with speech claimants. Gorsuch breaks the tie--and like most judicial (as opposed to academic) originalists, his originalist views invariably align with conservative and Republican anti-union political preferences.

The likely battle lines are known going in for most cases with this Court, although sometimes there is some room for play in the joints. But this issue has been so many years in the making. Scalia's death delayed it. But it feels as if it delayed the inevitable until this morning.

And for an advocate, how do you steel yourself for that situation?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 26, 2018 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tinker wept

upon reading this missive from the superintendent of the Needville (TX) School District. Some of the quotations reflect an unfortunate picture of the connection between education and the creation of an engaged People in a democracy. "A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally," which somehow does not include caring or becoming involved in matters of public concern. Students must "[r]espect yourself, your fellow students and the Needville Independent School District and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest." So speaking on matters of public concern is not educational and is a sign of disrespect for oneself and other (perhaps respect is the new unity that I argue is anathema to free expression).

Rhodes can do this and get away with it. A student walk-out would constitute "disruption" by in-school speech that schools are free under modern student-speech doctrine to halt or punish. He couched it in an unfortunately over-officious tone and a genuine disrespect for students as individuals with First Amendment rights. It appears he believes students do shed their First Amendment rights at his schoolhouse gates.

I am interested to see if and how students may respond to this if committed to engaging in protest. How might Rhodes respond to a silent protest with black armbands--is he going to ignore Tinker? And, whatever the trend in student-speech cases, is a court? Alternatively, if protests gain sufficient critical mass and Rhodes attempts to suspend hundreds of students, would his job survive the parental anger? Alternatively, what if students all stay home that day and then attend a protest at a dedicated time--would Rhodes challenge the decision of dozes or hundreds of parents to keep their children home and would his job survive the parental anger if he tried?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 22, 2018 at 11:40 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Judging Access to the Court System

A very curious lawsuit is currently playing out in Chicago, involving four different state and federal courts. It should be of interest to anyone who teaches or follows developments in First Amendment law, federal court abstention, or court administration. It’s also a fascinating example of judges being asked to decide what obligations the courts themselves owe to the public.

The case involves a First Amendment challenge to records access in the Cook County court system. Last November, the Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Cook County clerk’s office and clerk Dorothy Brown, alleging that the clerk’s office was not immediately disclosing certain electronically filed complaints that were a matter of public record. The gist of the allegations is that lawsuits filed in hard copy are immediately accessible to journalists or any member of the public, but e-filed lawsuits must first be administratively processed, which can delay public access for days. CNS sought injunctive and declaratory relief.

The lawsuit came as Cook County was already struggling to bring its civil case filing system into alignment with the rest of the state. The Illinois Supreme Court set a date of January 1, 2018 for the county to make its system fully compatible, but granted a six-month extension at the end of December when it became apparent that the county and its vendor were nowhere close to meeting that deadline. (The county asked for a one-year extension, which was rejected.)  In granting the extension, the state supreme court announced that its own administrative staff would attend future implementation meetings to assure that the project was completed in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, Brown’s office responded to the CNS lawsuit by arguing that it has no First Amendment obligation to make any document public until it is “accepted for filing,” citing a standing order requiring the clerk’s office to remove certain categories of documents from the public domain. That argument was evidently unpersuasive. In early January, the federal district court granted a preliminary injunction to CNS, and gave Brown 30 days to create a system to allow the press to obtain immediate access to e-filed complaints. The district court held that “In the absence of an injunction, CNS will continue to be deprived of its First Amendment right of timely (immediate and contemporaneous) access to e-filed complaints."

From that point, it started to get really interesting.

Over the past several weeks, Dorothy Brown’s work life must have felt positively Shakespearean. In late January, she petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court again, asking for leniency with respect to the deadline for e-filing integration, and explicitly seeking permission to comply with the federal court order by making e-filed documents (including documents filed under seal) immediately available to the public. When the Supreme Court did not respond right away, Brown twice asked the federal district court to stay the injunction. Twice the court rejected her request, the second rejection coming on February 13.

Brown again took the offensive. Moments after the district court’s denial of her second motion, she filed a motion with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the district court should have declined to hear the case under the abstention doctrine in Younger v. Harris (1971), and instead should have referred the matter to an Illinois state judge. Brown also argued that her office had been wrongly sued, and that the proper defendants were the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts and the Office of the Cook County Chief Judge.

The Seventh Circuit has yet to rule on the Brown's motion. But the Illinois Supreme Court weighed in again on February 14, curtly denying Brown’s January petition without further comment.

What to make of this?

In some ways I feel bad for Dorothy Brown, who has portrayed herself (with some success) as a mere bureaucrat who is trying to follow conflicting sets of orders. There seems to be no question that her office is simply incapable of complying with the federal court’s e-filing order at this juncture. And the irony of Cook County’s paper filing system (which is by any account remarkably byzantine and chaotic) being more accessible than its e-filing system should not be lost on the observer.

But we should not pity Ms. Brown and her colleagues too much. While the causes of her office's dysfunction on this matter are not entirely clear, it would come as no surprise if they boiled down to some combination of inadequate resources, poor management, ordinary negligence, and politics. At the same time, if her office had shown expended half the time, energy, money and creativity in implementing a competent e-filing system as it has in defending this lawsuit in multiple courts, the issue probably would have been resolved long ago.

Posted by Jordan Singer on February 21, 2018 at 04:10 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Judicial Process | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Ross Douthat on banning pornography

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat has a column contending that we should "ban" hard-core pornography.  Although the Supreme Court's precedents allow, in theory, governments to ban "obscene" material, my sense (and what I tell my Freedom of Speech students) is that, practically speaking -- because of the ubiquity of and ease of accessing online pornography, because of prosecutors' resource-allocation decisions, etc. -- pornography is, in practice, both unregulated and unregulatable (by the government, anyway -- employers, universities, etc., might be a different story).

I suspect (but maybe I'm wrong!) most of us think Douthat is mistaken.  I admit, my own view of the First Amendment's free-speech guarantee tends to be the maximalist, old-school-ACLU-type, thrill-to-the-rhetoric-in-Barnette libertarian position -- i.e., the government may almost never regulate expression because of its content or because of the "viewpoint" it expresses and, in a free society, the remedy for bad speech is good speech.  I hold this view (which, it seems to me, the Court's precedents support) not so much because I think it is compelled, or even very strongly supported, by the First (or the Fourteenth) Amendment's original public meaning but because my intuition is that, all things considered, it is "worth it" to endure offensive, misguided, foolish, and even dangerous speech rather than to trust officials with the task of identifying and policing, in a consistent and unbiased way, a line between speech that will be permitted and speech that is not.

I admit, though, that I'm not and have never been entirely comfortable with this view (and not only because, again, it seems hard to square with what I understand to be the original meaning of "the freedom of speech").  Sometimes, those who hold this view justify it on the asserted ground that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me."  I don't believe this, though.  Speech causes "harms" to others, to the community, to the self, and to the moral ecosystem.  The freedom of speech, as we understand it, has costs.  What's more, there is no reason to think that these harms and costs are distributed in an equitable way or that they are borne by those who benefit the most from, or are best able to protect themselves in, a libertarian speech regime.  Still, my well-grounded confidence that the power to regulate speech would be abused (e.g., it would be employed overconfidently in the service of the arc of "history") makes me reluctant to depart from the near-absolutist position.

And yet:  I agree that pornography is both immoral and harmful, including in the ways Douthat discusses.  (It seems to me that the scathing piece Douthat wrote after Hugh Hefner's death was spot on.  Hefner was "a pornographer and chauvinist who got rich on masturbation, consumerism and the exploitation of women, aged into a leering grotesque in a captain’s hat, and died a pack rat in a decaying manse where porn blared during his pathetic orgies.")  It's increasingly difficult for me to resist the suggestion that it should, at least, be regulated more than it is -- or, at least, it should be marginalized and disapproved more than it currently is -- and that meaningful lines between Pornhub and, say, The Rosy Crucifixion might not actually be as elusive as my fellow near-absolutists warn.  

Or . . . maybe not.  Still, I can't disagree with Douthat that there's something worrisome, and sad, when the New York Times Magazine is suggesting ways to teach kids "critical thinking" and self-esteem-preserving techniques with respect to the massive amounts of online pornography they are viewing, by themselves.

Posted by Rick Garnett on February 11, 2018 at 02:04 PM in First Amendment, Rick Garnett | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Florida bans counter-speech, too

Parallel bills in the Florida House and Senate would do two things: Prohibit schools from establishing free-speech zones (while permitting content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions) and prohibit students from "materially disrupt[ing] previously scheduled or reserved activities on campus occurring at the same time." Both rights are enforceable with a private action for damages and attorney's fees against the university. The ACLU opposed the second piece of the bill, arguing that it gives universities a financial incentive to halt counter-speech "out of concern that someone might boo too loudly." This bill sounds in similar efforts by the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.

Give what I have been writing about hecklers and counter-speech, I believe the second piece is a terrible idea. It has a vagueness problem, since the bill does not define materially disrupt. It limits the disruption to "previously scheduled or reserved activities," trying to create some speaker priority within certain spaces. But it still faces the problem that counter-speakers have some First Amendment right to heckle and counter-speak and boo, including being louder and more audible than the "original" speaker. This bill defines one speaker as a speaker and the other as a material disruptor--and gives the state a financial incentive to limit the disruptor. But it does not explain when counter-speech ends and disruption begins or how the balance applies in different forums (e.g., counter-speakers in a reserved auditorium and seeking to rush the stage as opposed to counter-speakers in an outside public space).

The sponsor of the Senate bill argued that the universities should be able to impose rules for civil discourse just as legislatures do. Civil discourse might be a worthy goal. But the First Amendment does not allow government to impose that as a necessary obligation. Public debate should be more "uninhibited, robust, and wide-open" than what occurs in a legislature or other governing body. There is a power balance within a legislature--every member of the body stands on roughly equal footing and all can work the levers of institutional power within the body to achieve some ends. People in the public arena ork against a power imbalance, speaking against those who wield real power (government officials, police, private individuals who wield greater power and influence), where speaking is the only action available to them. The powerless need greater leeway, even to the point of "vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks."

In the public forum, in other words, speakers must be able to persist, even after being warned and given an explanation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 7, 2018 at 11:56 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (8)

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Universal injunctions at the state level (Updated)

Judge Crabtree of the District of Kansas preliminarily enjoined, as violative of the First Amendment, a Kansas law requiring those who enter into contracts with the state to certify that they are not engaged in boycotts of Israel. The court enjoined the Commissioner of Education from enforcing any statute, law, policy, or practice that requires independent contractors to certify that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel. And the court enjoined "defendant from requiring any independent contractor" to sign a certification that they are not participating in a boycott of Israel as a condition of contracting with the state.

In other words, the court entered a universal injunction. The decision shows that judges are issuing these orders unthinkingly and automatically. And it shows that the problematic phenomenon is not limited to challenges to federal law. It also shows why universal better describes these injunctions. The non-particularized scope of the injunction's "who" remains whether the challenged law is a federal law applying to people across the nation  or a state law applying to people in one state--the injunction purports to protect the universe of people who might be subject to the law's reach, whatever that law's reach. The court again saw itself not as resolving a challenge by one plaintiff to threatened enforcement of a constitutionally suspect law against him, but as resolving the status of the law itself.* Even if universal injunctions are sometimes warranted, this does not appear to be an appropriate case--it is difficult to see how this plaintiff is denied complete relief if the state can enforce the certification requirement against other independent contractors.

[*] This vision affected the mootness analysis. The state had given the plaintiff a waiver from the certification requirement. But the court held that the waiver did not moot the case because the state could deny the same waiver to others. If the court properly understood the issue as the validity of enforcement as to the plaintiff, enforcement against others should not matter.

Update: Josh Blackman emailed to remind me that Judge Crabtree issued a similarly worded universal injunction barring enforcement of the Kansas same-sex marriage ban as to any and all couples seeking licenses.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 1, 2018 at 11:10 PM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Judging balls and strikes in Husted

I am a few days late on this from the oral argument in Husted v. A Philip Randolph Institute, on whether an Ohio process of removing voters from voting rolls based, in part, on failure to vote violated federal law. (I listened to the audio rather than reading the transcript, but could not to so until this weekend).

On a substantive point, it is interesting to hear Paul Smith, the respondent's attorney, the Chief, and Justice Alito repeatedly talk past one another. Ohio's program goes as follows--if a voter fails to vote in a two-year period, a notice is sent to the voter's listed address; if the voter fails to return the notice card and does not vote in the next four-year period, she is removed from the rolls. The Chief and Alito repeatedly pushed Smith as to whether failure to vote could be used to confirm other evidence that a person had moved or died, in this case, the non-return of the card; Smith argued that the program relied on failure to vote (in violation of federal law), because the non-return of the card was not reliable evidence of moving and the state had no other evidence of the voter having moved other than the failure to vote. The Justices never seemed to catch that argument or how it differed from what they were saying.

On a fun point, Smith and Justice Kagan showed that judging really is about balls and strikes with the following exchange, on proximate cause:

MR. SMITH: * * * And calling the non-return of the notice the proximate cause is like saying when you strike out, the only proximate cause is strike two. It just doesn't -- it doesn't really make sense.

* * *

JUSTICE KAGAN: I don't understand why it's just -- it is proximate cause, but both -­ strike one, strike two, strike three. They're all proximate causes of the strikeout.

MR. SMITH: Well, I agree with that, Your Honor, as well.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 14, 2018 at 03:02 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (6)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

JOTWELL: Campos on Shapira and Zingales on DuPont and discovery costs

The new Courts Law essay comes from Sergio Campos (Miami), reviewing Roy Shapira and Luigi Zingales, Is Pollution Value-Maximizing? The DuPont Case, which Campos uses to show the problem with focusing on discovery costs to the exclusion of the benefits discovery provides in revealing wrongdoing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 9, 2018 at 11:10 AM in Article Spotlight, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 05, 2018

"Fire and Fury" is not The Pentagon Papers

There is a tendency (to which I have been susceptible) to treat Donald Trump's norm-breaking as a constitutional crisis. The latest is the response to the cease-and-desist letter that Trump's  private attorneys sent to the publishers of the forthcoming Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine paints the letter as the next step on the road to book banning and book burning, as reminiscent of the Nixon Administration's actions as to The Pentagon Papers (which are on everyone's mind).

That reaction seems overstated, even allowing that the President is a uniquely powerful figure. A cease-and-desist letter has no legal force; it is an act of bluster, allowing the lawyer to flash his fangs and sound smart.  The show of "force" behind it is not connected to Trump being President or wielding state authority, but to being a wealthy individual who can afford a high-priced blustering private lawyer and who has made a career out of this very tactic. There is no show of government force here. As Mike Dorf points out, the letter does not threaten to seek an injunction to halt publication of the book, so there is no explicit legal risk of prior restraint. It does float the possibility of suit for defamation or other torts.* But that suit could be based on excerpts already published (the demands retraction and apology for what has gotten out). And the letter reserves the right to even if the publisher caves to the threat and halts publication.

[*] Dorf shows the flaw in the threatened claim of tortious interference by inducing Steve Bannon to breaking his non-disclosure agreement.

So comparing this to DOJ obtaining an injunction barring publication, on pain of contempt of court, is way over the top. I do not see the difference between this letter and the letter Trump's lawyers sent during the 2016 campaign threatening to sue The New York Times for its reporting on the sexual-assault allegations against Trump. Both sought to make speech go away by the pressuring the speaker to retract and apologize for what already was out and refrain from publishing anything further, in addition to threatening a suit for damages. And even if the express demand to stop publication of a book constitutes a unique "prior restraint," the doctrinal treatment of prior restraint as categorically worse than post-publication liability has been questioned--the chill on speech and the threat to First Amendment values is no different, although there may be some procedural and proof differences.

In writing about the exchange with The Times during the campaign, I argued that threatening to sue critics in the press was another norm Trump was destroying--public officials do not threaten to sue their critics because it is legally difficult-to-impossible under Sullivan and politically weak. But I do not think it poses a greater First Amendment threat than any other powerful public person threatening to sue his critics.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 5, 2018 at 05:00 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Common theme: Insanity swirls around this administration

About the only basis I could think of for one short post touching three disparate issues wafting from this administration:

1) Paul Manafort sued Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunction invalidating Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller and the actions Mueller has taken in investigating and bringing charges against Manafort. Steve Vladeck is quoted in this Slate article arguing that the district may abstain on Younger/equitable grounds. I think Steve is right. Although not challenging the constitutionality of the statute of conviction (the typical Younger case), the action challenges the legal basis for a criminal prosecution and seeks an order that would require dismissal of the pending prosecution. The Slate piece is right--this lawsuit looks more political than legally sound.

2) Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan has asked DOJ to examine whether California Governor Jerry Brown and other officials in sanctuary jurisdictions are violating the federal law prohibiting harboring of aliens. This is far from my area. But it seems to me the statute requires a defendant to conceal or harbor a specific person; it is not enough to know that many aliens are present and not to do something to help the government some or all of them. It also seems that a state or local official should be able to assert a Tenth Amendment limitation on a statute that would criminalize officials for making state policy. If federal law cannot impress state or local governments to enforce federal law, it cannot allow for the arrest and prosecution of state and local officials who control those governments and who make and enforce those policies refusing to enforce federal law.

3) Does a news organization that receives one of the President's media awards wear it as a badge of First Amendment honor? As a Bizarro Pulitzer Prize?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 3, 2018 at 07:00 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Indiana tries to stop NFL kneeling--and would fail

An Indiana legislator has introduced legislation that would require the Indianapolis Colts to grant fans a refund if players kneel during the national anthem. Fans would have to demand the refund during the first quarter. The article does not say whether the fan would be permitted to stay at the game upon receipt of the refund.* The sponsor insists the law is constitutionally valid, because it does not stop anyone from kneeling. But it seems to me the law suffers from three obvious problems. 

[*] Otherwise, think of the perverse incentives. I am not offended by players kneeling. But I might claim to be if I could get my $ 200 back, still watch the game, and screw one of the worst organizations in the NFL

As the ACLU said in the article, the law infringes the Colts' First Amendment rights by sanctioning them (or setting them up for sanction) if they do not prohibit their players from kneeling. If we understand the team as exercising its First Amendment rights when it decides what its players can do, the law abridges that right and for reasons of disagreement with the team's speech in allowing its players to kneel.

A law also can violate a person's rights even if it does not prohibit some actions, by empowering or obligating private persons to take certain steps that harm that person. For example, courts have declared invalid ordinances that fine landlords for 911 calls to their properties; the laws have been found to violate the rights of (usually female) tenants who are deterred from seeking police protection from domestic violence out of fear that a 911 call leads to a fine on the landlord which leads to the landlord evicting the tenant to avoid future fines. (And these are the second generation of such ordinances--the first generation required licensed landlords to evict or prohibited them from renting to individuals who had made multiple 911 calls). The same logic is at work with this statute--the Colts are essentially being fined for not stopping the players from kneeling and so will prohibit kneeling to avoid the fine.

A different version of that scenario might set the Colts up to be sued for a First Amendment violation by players prohibited from kneeling, by causing the Colts to act under color of law. A private entity acts under color when it engages in some conduct under the "overwhelming coercion" of the government. Here, the Colts would bar players from kneeling on pain of having to offer refunds to fans that ask, which the team would be required to do by state law. Although it is less direct than a law requiring the team to stop the players from kneeling, the loss of money could constitute the necessary coercion.

This is probably moot because the law will not be passed and/or the NFL is going to force the NFLPA to accept a rule requiring players to stand (as the NBA now has). But it gives me a chance to link to this article describing the letters written by citizens to USOC and IOC head Avery Brundage* about Tommie Smith and John Carlos following their protest at the 1968 Olympics, which sound identical to the complaints being made about Colin Kaepernick and his NFL brethren.

[*] One of history's truly despicable sporteuacrats.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 2, 2018 at 03:36 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, December 22, 2017

#AALS2018 Panel Alert: Fake News, Alternative Facts, and the Future of Journalism

If you're in San Diego for AALS, I hope you'll come to the fake news panel organized by the Defamation & Privacy and Mass Communication Law sections. The program will take place on Jan. 3, 2018, at 1:30 pm. Here's our description of the panel: 

A discourse with no anchor in truth ceases to have value as discourse. The President’s accusations that the media are perpetuating “fake news” have raised numerous legal and ethical questions for lawyers, journalists, government officials, and citizens. This panel, comprised of experts in journalism and media law, will consider the phenomenon and politics of fake news; the law’s role, if any, in regulating truth in public discourse; the media’s role in ensuring public discourse is anchored in truth and their contribution to the fake news phenomenon; the role of independent fact-checking websites such as Snopes.com and Politifact.com in helping debunk fake news; and the potential impact of the fake news debate on First Amendment press freedoms.

 

LaVonda Reed (of Syracuse University College of Law) and I (now of the U. of Missouri Law School!) will be moderating. Speakers include Amy Gajda of Tulane Law School, Lili Levi of Miami Law School, Scott Lewis from the Voice of San Diego, Richard Marosi of the LA Times, David Mikkelson of Snopes.com, Rebecca Nee of San Diego State University, and Jestin Coler of DisInfoMedia. 

Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on December 22, 2017 at 02:32 PM in First Amendment, Lyrissa Lidsky, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nazis and free speech

Apropos of nothing: Nazis are the focal point for all sides in the debate over free speech. Those seeking a narrower approach to free speech want a rule that specifically and explicitly excludes actual Nazis from First Amendment protection; consider one comment to this post and the repeated  position of Elie Mystal in this RadioLab "More Perfect" Debate. Those who defend the current expansive understanding of free speech consider protection for Nazis, especially in Skokie, as a high point in the fight for free speech.

No conclusion to be drawn; just an observation.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 10, 2017 at 03:10 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Casablanca and the greatest heckler's veto in cinema history (Updated Twice)

(New Update: The film turns 75 this year and the New York Post tells the backstory of the movie's travails and unexpected success).

Steve Lubet at Faculty Lounge links to a 2015 essay calling the "Le Marseillaise" scene from Casablana the greatest in movie history and the turning point in the film.

 

But this scene involves what some now label as a heckler's veto. Major Strasser and the Nazis are Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter or Charles Murray; everyone else in the bar are angry campus liberals or SJWs; and the latter spoke so loudly over the former as to drown-out its speech, make it impossible to be heard, and cause them to stop speaking. If, as some say, this is a heckler's veto, the government could have stopped the house band from playing or, as happened in the film, shut down the forum (although only after collecting its winnings). And so we lose the turning-point moment that galvanized what everyone regards as the "good guys" in the story.

Mark Tushnet and Erwin Chemerinsky/Howard Gillman have argued that it may depend on the nature of the space. In an open space, the Nazis did not have a superseding right of access compared with the supporters of France, so they did not have a superseding right to speak and be heard. But others insist that government can stop one speaker from being so loud as to make it impossible for another to be heard--that this is disruption, not counter-speech. Perhaps the Allies in the bar should have allowed the Nazis to finish their song and then sung their own. Or they should have gone to another space. Or they should have listened to the ideas in the Nazi song and given them a chance to persuade.

I do not have the answer to this problem and I am still turning it over for a future article. But I like this scene because it illustrates the complexity of the balance.

Update: Lubet offers an interesting take in response to my original post. He hits one point that I have heard from several people on these issues--the Allies were not singing to drown out their rivals, but to inspire the audience with their own message and their is a difference between presenting your message, loudly, and presenting a message with the intent of drowning out. I do not think intent matters, because it is difficult to separate--inspiring the Allies in the bar required that their voices down out those of the Nazi--even if the  Nazis do not stop singing, they could not be heard, which was the point.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 7, 2017 at 05:12 PM in Culture, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (24)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop

Having read the transcript, I have no idea where this is going or what standard anyone seems to be gravitating to. The only one of the four advocates who really got an opportunity to frame a legal standard was David Cole of the ACLU on behalf of the complainants, who was given the time to explain how O'Brien fits the scheme. Otherwise, counsel for the petitioners got caught up in an escalating series of hypotheticals involving make-up artists and sandwich artists and the difference between chefs and bakers (and, I thought, fumbled a bail-out question from Justice Alito about the expressive nature of architecture). SG Noel Francisco acknowledged the Court may not adopt his "race is different" position, although he did put across a "predominant" purpose or effect idea. And everyone fought the justices' hypotheticals (there seems to be more of that going on this Term).

The justices also seemed all over the map. Only Justice Alito asked questions obviously designed to support the attorneys on one side and challenge the attorneys on the other. The other Justices were asking pointed and prodding questions of both sides. And a lot of those questions read like a Donald Trump speech--"It's a great cake, it's a beautiful cake."

We did learn a few things: 1) Justice Alito does not go to may five-star restaurants; 2) part of Francisco's wedding cake remains in his freezer; 3) Justice Gorsuch does not like the taste of wedding cake*; 4) Ollie's Barbecue and Piggie Park have not gotten this much attention in 50 years.

[*] We were lucky. Our wedding cake was delicious.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 5, 2017 at 05:39 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Reminder: Discovery is a two-way street

Attorneys for Alabama Media Group responded (copy of letter, free from typos and grammatical errors, in story) to the insane and incoherent letter from Roy Moore's attorney. In addition to standing by the story and denying the claims in the initial letter, AMG's lawyers say they expect litigation "would also reveal other important information about your clients" and makes a counter-demand that Moore preserve and maintain documents, materials, and information that "is or could remotely be relevant in any manner to any of the claims that you have made." This includes information relevant to Moore's "romantic relationships or physical encounters (whether consensual or not)."

This was not as brazen as the New York Times letter from October 2016, which expressly dared Trump to sue. But both are interesting examples of an emerging genre of legal writing.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 19, 2017 at 11:46 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Two hours of First Amendment training

Greg Thatcher, a professor of public health at Fresno State, has settled a First Amendment lawsuit claiming he erased students' chalked messages on campus sidewalks. Thatcher will pay $ 1000 to each of the students, pay $ 15,000 in attorney's fees to the Alliance Defending Freedom, and undergo two hours of "First Amendment training" with ADF. Two thoughts.

I hope "First Amendment training" does not become the new "diversity training" or "sexual harassment training."

I think there is an interesting under-color-of-law question here. Is everything a professor does on a public-university campus during school hours under color? He was not in the classroom, his office, or his building. He is dressed like he is going to the gym (although, in fairness, so do I on non-teaching days). In the encounter, he sometimes strikes a position of a competing speaker and sometimes strikes a position of an authority enforcing (erroneously understood) campus-speech regulations. And it is not clear enforcing those rules is any part of his job, although students may not understand that. He did tell/order/ask some of his students to erase the messages with him, which reflects an exercise of his obvious authority.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 14, 2017 at 08:42 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 13, 2017

First Amendment Day at SCOTUS

SCOTUS granted cert in three First Amendment cases today. The big one is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a challenge to a California law requiring that crisis pregnancy centers provide notice that publicly funded family-planning services are available elsewhere and that unlicensed clinics are unlicensed; the Court took it as a compelled-speech case and a vehicle to resolve a circuit split over the standard for "professional speech" (the Ninth Circuit applied intermediate scrutiny, while the Fourth Circuit applied strict scrutiny in invalidating similar regulations in Maryland.

The political valance of the case is interesting, as Dahlia Lithwick argues. The plaintiff here is a crisis-pregnancy center, resisting regulations that, in the name of protecting women's health, require the clinics to disclose information about the limits of their services (not providing abortion or contraception) and directing patients elsewhere for those services. But if these regulations violate the First Amendment, so should regulations in many states requiring clinics to provide pre-abortion counseling or to provide arguably false medical information about links between abortion and breast cancer, suicide, and mental-health consequences, designed to dissuade women from going through with the procedure.

Incidentally, this case meets the procedural posture I was looking for: The trial court denied a preliminary injunction, the court of appeals affirmed, and SCOTUS granted cert (to reverse, if I had to predict).

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 13, 2017 at 07:59 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Procedural posture in First Amendment cases (Updated)

Update: Note the clarification below, as I was not precise enough. The questioner was asking about cases in which a preliminary injunction was sought and denied. In White (and one case I thought of, Simon & Schuster), the plaintiff did not move for a preliminary injunction. Instead, the parties went straight to cross-motions for summary judgment on permanent injunctive relief.

A question was asked of me: Can we think of significant First Amendment cases in which the lower courts denied a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of a law, then SCOTUS granted cert., reversed, and held that the challenged law is not enforceable?

The only one I could come up with off the top of my head is Steffel v. Thompson. And there the lower courts denied relief on standing and Younger grounds, never reaching the First Amendment merits.

Any cases that fit this description, where the lower courts declared the law constitutionally valid and declined to enjoin, then SCOTUS granted cert to reverse?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 10, 2017 at 12:07 AM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Are The Bangles no longer welcome at Reed College, either?

Read the intro. Whatever else is happening, this demonstrates a point that came out in the comments to this post: The level of offense and the level of evil that protesters see in objectionable speech is beyond what we saw previously, which explains the more-intense reactions and confrontations between speech and counter-speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 4, 2017 at 05:18 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Chemerinsky and Gillman on disruption as free speech

Erwin Chemerinsky and Howard Gillman (Chancellor at UC-Irvine) have a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing when and if disruption of one speaker constitutes free speech by the counter-speaker. The piece captures a lot of what I have been thinking and trying to get at in my posts on the subject. I like the argument and it works as a jumping-off point.

They argue that in an open forum, including on campus, no speaker has a superseding right of access and no speaker has a right to speak uninterrupted. A limited public forum with rules and reservation processes creates a preferred right of access to the original speaker and thus limits the counter-speech rights, such as to non-disruptive protests or to counter-speech activities outside the forum. This distinction works, although defining the nature of the forum remains important and perhaps difficult. We also have to find a way to address the situation in which loud counter-protesters in the general forum (where, H&C argue, they can be as loud as they want to be) drown-out the speaker inside the limited forum.

I disagree that we should label what counter-speakers are doing here as a heckler's veto, which I believe requires government action. I agree that the attitude reflected is "'If we can’t get the government to censor the speech, then we’ll do it ourselves'", but we need a different term. The better description might be civil disobedience--these protesters are breaking the rules, although for expressive purposes, and are subject to arrest for doing so. Government's obligation, H&C argue, is to allow the speaker to go forward by removing the disrupters. And when government fails to do so, that is a heckler's veto.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 1, 2017 at 05:17 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

How far we have come, in the wrong direction (Updated)

Gyree Durante, a freshman backup quarterback at Albright College, a D-III school in Pennsylvania, was kicked off the team for kneeling during the national anthem. The team's "leadership council" had decided to kneel during the coin toss (because racial injustice is intimately associated with coin tosses) but stand for the anthem. Durante thus acted against the team decision that was an "expression of team unity and out of the mutual respect team members have for one another and the value they place on their differences."

[Updated: Upon further consideration, I must marvel at how so much anti-intellectualism and raw majoritarianism was packed into such a seemingly anodyne statement. Because the majority won, in a rout. The athlete inclined to do so was denied the opportunity to express a criticism of an aspect of American society in a meaningful way, unless kneeling or coin tosses per se mean something about racially disparate police violence. The majority deigned to allow him a small expressive token, but that token is meaningless as a message (or the message the athlete wanted to send), again unless kneeling or coin tosses say something about racism and police violence. Yet this is praised as  "mutual respect for differences."  There was no mutual respect at work here--the majority got what it wanted by prohibiting a protest around the symbol of what some people see as the social problem to be protested; Duarte got nothing of expressive consequence.]

In this article, I discussed Toni Smith, who in 2003 was a member of the women's basketball team at Manhattanville College, a D-III school in New York. During the ramp-up to the Iraq invasion (which was being sold to the public as a necessary national-security response to 9/11), Smith would turn her back to the flag during the anthem. She was not sanctioned and was supported by her teammates, coaches, and school administrators. Some fans booed or jeered and one person walked onto the court mid-game to get in her face. A Google search revealed that Smith (now Smith-Thompson) is an organizer with the NYCLU and wrote an open letter to Colin Kaepernick in 2016.

But it is striking that such protests (which I describe in the article as symbolic counter-speech, in that a person counter-speaks to a symbol through the symbol itself) draw more public anger and less support from teammates and those around the protester today than 15 years ago, on the eve of what at the time was a popular military action. That speaks depressing volumes to our willingness to protect political dissent (or at least certain forms of political dissent). Smith-Thompson suggested the difference is social media. Another difference is that President George W. Bush did not make a hobby of calling out dissenters as unpatriotic sons-of-bitches.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 11, 2017 at 10:39 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (7)

Against unity

Unity is the enemy of the freedom of speech.

If unity is a primary value or principle, then free speech cannot exist.  If the goal is for society (or some segment of it) to be "unified," then speech that "divides"--that undermines unity or does something other than unify--cannot be tolerated. But another word for speech that "divides" is speech that anyone disagrees with, Holmes's "thought that we hate." If the goal is unity, then ideas and speech that divide-- ideas that anyone disagrees with--can be and must be suppressed or pushed out of sight. A society that values unity uber alles has no need to protect the freedom of speech and will not protect the freedom of speech. A "united" community will not seek to suppress speech that unites everyone in agreement, only speech that divides. But division undermines unity, so that society is justified in suppressing that dividing speech.

This means that "unity" is not a neutral or benign principle. A governing entity (the NFL, the President's spokesperson, whoever)  that argues about the need for unity is really arguing that it can and should be able to suppress speech. Because those who utter divisive--i.e., unpopular or dissenting--ideas divide, undermining that goal of unity.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 11, 2017 at 09:31 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (23)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

University of Wisconsin bans counter-speech

An intentionally provocative headline, but not too far off. The Board of Regents adopted a policy that "students found to have twice engaged in violence or other disorderly conduct that disrupts others' free speech would be suspended. Students found to have disrupted others' free expression three times would be expelled." (H/T: Steven Lubet). The  linked article contains quotations capturing both sides of this: The regent who says the policy promotes listening and that "drowning out another speaker" does not qualify as freedom of speech, compared with the student who argues that the First Amendment is supposed to be messy and contentious.

The policy is glaringly vague (what is "disorderly conduct," what is "disruption"), etc.).  I expect the university to try to clear that up in its implementing regulations. Meanwhile, I wonder if a constitutional challenge now would be deemed unripe, since the policy is not yet at the point of implementation. In any event, I do not see how the university could write regulations that are clear enough to pass constitutional muster. If the counter-demonstrating, where the counter-demonstrators outnumber and outshout the original speakers, does that necessarily become disruption? Even if listening is a worthy goal to promote, can the state give people a choice between listening (which sounds compelled) or staying away, with talking back no longer an option?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2017 at 02:59 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (17)

Barnette and flag-related speech

Video in this post shows a female fan at last night's Lakers game (played in Ontario, CA) throwing a drink and swearing at two fans who knelt during the Star Spangled Banner. As John Q. Barrett pointed out last week, next year is the 75th anniversary of West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, a high point of First Amendment jurisprudence.

But Barnette's legacy has split in unfortunate ways. Barnette stands for the prohibition on compelled expression, an idea that is popular and thriving, expanding to all manner of expression and expressive conduct, such as baking cakes. But Barnette also stands for a prohibition on compelled participation in flag-related ceremonies, which carries with it the right to express one's own message through that non-participation. The actions described above and the general public reaction to and controversy over the anthem at sporting events shows broad public rejection of that piece of Barnette. The public seems less accepting and tolerant of flag counter-speech, derived from Barnette, now than it was 13 years ago, when I wrote this in the early days of Iraq War. And recall that several Justices changed their minds on this issue from Gobitis to Barnette in part because of the violence directed against Jehovah's Witnesses following the first decision; the shift to protecting the right to opt-out was designed to protect dissenters.

We are organizing a symposium at FIU on Barnette's 75th anniversary for next fall. The seeming demise of this part of Barnette could be an important point of discussion.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 7, 2017 at 12:00 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, October 06, 2017

ACLU, free speech, and discrimination

The New York Times writes about soul-searching at the ACLU in the wake of Charlottesville. Two items of note.

First, Executive Director Anthony Romero discusses the new policy of not representing protesters who plan to march while armed. Romero ties this to early ACLU policies opposing permits for Nazi groups "drilling with arms." He argues that the ACLU has come full circle with respect to Nazi groups. The analogue to Charlottesville is not Skokie, where counter-protesters outnumbered Nazis 70-to-1, the Nazis were unarmed, and the danger was angry spectators attacking them. Charlottesville is more like the 1930s, when fascism was ascendant in Europe and sufficiently popular in the United States to draw large crowds.

Second, the article describes an open letter by around 200 staffers, arguing that the ACLU's "broader mission — which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment — continues to be undermined by our rigid stance" on hate speech. It is easy to criticize the 200 (as some have) for not understanding what the ACLU is about, given its history, and to tell them to find a different advocacy group. But the signatories are onto something. The modern ACLU has made certain forms of equality part of its core mission. And absolutist protection for free speech does conflict with certain visions of racial justice that would not protect speech advocating for inequality or against equality. It is not the first time this potential conflict has caused the organization problems--in the early '90s, the organization was only lukewarm in its opposition to hate-speech laws and it supported sentence enhancement for racially motivated crimes. And recall the ACLU's 2015 Workplan of major civil-liberties issues, which did not say much about the First Amendment. The signatories have exposed an internal tension of the organization's own making. The usual response to the tension is that speech must be protected for all, lest government turn its censoriousness on equality-promoting groups (consider that the Supreme Court case declaring sentence-enhancement valid involved a prosecution of African-Americans for assaulting white victims). But many racial-justice advocates reject that idea.

The focus on this tension reminds me of the potential tension between "civil liberties" (commonly understood as individual rights as against government, such as free speech) and "civil rights" (commonly understood as equality--both in the face of government discrimination and government efforts to stop private discrimination by legislation). I recall the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law review publishing a symposium on whether its name is an oxymoron. The ACLU may be facing the same problem, as some of its staffers and supporters recognize that they signed up the equality rather than the speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 6, 2017 at 09:31 AM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink | Comments (2)