Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Donald Trump vs. the Washington Post

Do you think Donald Trump is the first U.S. politico to menace publishers over bad coverage? Not even close. My new Cato piece cites a few examples from a depressingly long history. Plus: reprinted at Newsweek.

Bonus: Sen. Sherman Minton (D-Ind.) who put forth the remarkable proposal to make it “a crime to publish anything as a fact anything known to be false,” and who had led a Senate committee’s investigation of the Gannett newspaper chain over its (then) Republican-leaning politics, was later nominated by President Harry Truman to be an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served for seven years and became a leading exponent of judicial deference to the executive branch.

“It’s None Of The Government’s Business If Facebook Hates Conservatives”

No, Sen. Thune (R-S.D.), a U.S. lawmaker shouldn’t be firing off a letter to Facebook insisting that it account for the alleged political slant of its judgment in selecting content. As for supposed victims of the practice, writes Amy Alkon, “if your news comes from the tiny trending bits on the sidebar of Facebook, you’re about as informed politically as my desk lamp, and I ask that you not vote.”

First Amendment roundup

  • How the courts came to extend First Amendment protection to art, music, movies, and other expression not originally classed as “press” or “speech” [new Mark Tushnet, Alan Chen, and Joseph Blocher book via Ronald Collins]
  • Cato amicus: church enterprises should be eligible for recycling program on same terms as secular businesses [Ilya Shapiro and Jayme Weber]
  • “A Political Attack On Free Speech And Privacy Thwarted — For Now” [George Leef, Forbes on AFP v. Harris, earlier] Bill filed by Rep. Peter Roskam would keep IRS from collecting names of donors to nonprofits [Center for Competitive Politics]
  • Newly enacted Tennessee conscience exemption for psychological counselors and therapists avoids some of the dangers of compelled speech [Scott Shackford, Reason]
  • Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, benchslapped by Judge Richard Posner after sending credit card companies letters urging them to cut off dealings with Backpage.com, now seeks Supreme Court certiorari review [Ronald Collins, earlier here, here, and here]
  • One problem with that Mississippi law: it gives extra protection to some religious beliefs about sex and marriage but not others [Popehat; my guest appearance on Mike Slater show, San Diego’s KFMB]

What’s the problem with Rhode Island officials and free speech, anyway?

Seriously, what’s their problem? [Hans Bader on the Rhode Island attorney general’s proposal for a ban on many hostile social media posts, covered here earlier] Meanwhile, a Providence Journal editorial blasts home-state Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

…in dealing with [carbon dioxide emissions], or any crisis, it is vitally important that America not discard its essential values of freedom.

Regrettably, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., continues to make noises about using government to prosecute some of those who willfully persist in questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. …

This is troubling: a U.S. senator and attorney general [Loretta Lynch], both sworn to uphold the Constitution, mulling legal action against American citizens and companies for the “crime” of challenging a scientific theory. A number of Democratic attorneys general — including Rhode Island’s Peter Kilmartin — have also expressed interest in prosecuting those whom they believe are deliberately misleading the public about this issue.

Turning such disagreements into punishable acts of fraud would seem to be legally difficult. But that may not be the point. The threat alone could have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence. Such an approach would be an affront to the scientific method, which involves the free exploration of ideas. …

President Thomas Jefferson said in his first inaugural address: “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

There is no reason to pit environmentalism and free speech against one other. We can join together to protect our planet without trying to silence those who argue against us.

Some more recent commentary on the AG subpoena investigation Sen. Whitehouse helped orchestrate: Richard Epstein, George Will, Ronald Rotunda. As Prof. Rotunda points out, the government not only declines to prosecute advocacy research in other contexts, but often funds it. And the 2012 Alvarez v. U.S. (stolen valor) case establishes that outright, knowing lying for advantage often receives constitutional protection as well, on the recognition by the courts that “if the government can punish that, we go down a steep slippery slope. … The marketplace of ideas, not the subpoena power of government, should decide what is true or false.” More: “The environmental campaign that punishes free speech” [Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman (CEI), Washington Post]

Federal court slaps down Kamala Harris grab for donor lists

“Today a US District Court ruled in favor of Americans for Prosperity Foundation’s lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris, ruling that her demands for the Foundation to hand over its list of members and supporters is unconstitutional.” [AFP] We’ve repeatedly covered Harris’s unprecedented drive to demand disclosure of donor lists by nonprofits that carry on activities in California, a step likely to lead to private and public retaliation against individuals and groups revealed to have donated to unpopular or controversial causes.

As the WSJ notes in an editorial, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real “declared her disclosure requirement an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights,” finding that there was scant evidence the disclosures were necessary to prevent charity fraud, that (contrary to assurances) her office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality” of nonprofits’ donor lists, some 1,400 of which Harris’s office had in fact published online. As for retaliation against donors, “although the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from [the civil rights] era,” he wrote, “this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”

A plaintiff’s lawyer and union ally, Harris recently surfaced as an apparently key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal investigatory powers to probe so-called climate denial at non-profit research and advocacy groups as well as at energy companies like ExxonMobil. That makes at least two episodes in which Harris has signaled interest in unprecedented and aggressive steps to pry open the internal workings of private advocacy organizations that take positions adverse to hers. Harris is a leading contender in the Democratic Senate primary to succeed California Senator Barbara Boxer.

Update: Now expanded and adapted into a longer post at Cato.

Can a city deny Donald Trump a rally permit?

The other day 34-year-old Mayor Lindsey Horvath of West Hollywood, Calif. said Republican presidential contender Donald Trump and his campaign were “not welcome” in her city. She also “instructed City staff that they are able to refuse to issue special events permits to Trump should he attempt to schedule a rally,” reported Gabby Morrongiello in the Washington Examiner. “Horvath has also called on the other 87 mayors in Los Angeles County to follow suit and block the billionaire from campaigning in their cities.”

Those comments might have set her community up for a costly lawsuit, since her position is plainly unconstitutional. Courts in the United States have made it clear that cities are not free to turn down a permit for one candidate that they would have approved for another simply because they disapprove of the first candidate’s viewpoint. Yet when contacted by law professor/blogger and First Amendment specialist Eugene Volokh, Horvath stuck by her position.

However, city attorney Michael Jenkins, evidently better informed, gave a response that directly contradicted the mayor’s when Volokh contacted him for a follow-up: “The City would consider an application from the Trump campaign no differently than from any other campaign.” Notes Volokh: “The city attorney’s position is consistent with First Amendment law; the mayor’s is not.”

There is no indication that Trump has planned any rallies for West Hollywood, notwithstanding a tweet in February by author Bret Easton Ellis that raised some eyebrows about the possibility that the billionaire might have an untapped constituency there.

P.S. In comments, Chris Bray notes that under West Hollywood’s system of governance, which delegates executive power to a city manager while a largely ceremonial position as mayor rotates among city councilpersons, it appears Horvath could not order city staff to adopt any policy on her own.

CEI subpoenaed over climate wrongthink

The campaign to attach legal consequences to supposed “climate denial” has now crossed a fateful line:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.” More coverage of the subpoena at the Washington Times and Daily Caller.

A few observations:

  • If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.
  • This article in the Observer details the current push to expand the probe of climate advocacy, which first enlisted New York AG Eric Schneiderman and then California’s Kamala Harris, into a broader coalition of AGs, with Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands just having signed on. More than a dozen others, such as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, seem to be signaling support but have not formally jumped in. More: Peggy Little, Federalist Society.
  • CEI people, many of them longtime friends of this site, have been active critics of the Schneiderman effort, with Hans Bader, a senior attorney there, highly critical just a week ago.
  • In these working groups of attorneys general, legal efforts are commonly parceled out among the states in a deliberate and strategic way, with particular tasks being assigned to AGs who have comparative advantage in some respect (such as an unusually favorable state law to work with, or superior staff expertise or media access). Why would one of the most politically sensitive tasks of all — opening up a legal attack against CEI, a long-established nonprofit well known in Washington and in libertarian and conservative ideological circles — be assigned to the AG from a tiny and remote jurisdiction? Is it that a subpoena coming from the Virgin Islands is logistically inconvenient to fight in some way, or that local counsel capable of standing up to this AG are scarce on the ground there, or that a politician in the Caribbean is less exposed to political backlash from CEI’s friends and fans than one in a major media center? Or what?
  • I recommend checking out the new Free Speech and Science Project, which intends to fight back against criminalization of advocacy by, among other things, organizing legal defense and seeking to hold officials accountable for misusing the law to attack advocacy.
  • This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

[cross-posted at Cato at Liberty and reprinted at FEE; see also new Cato podcast with CEI’s Myron Ebell (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up.”)]

Free speech roundup

  • Soon after reports that World Health Organization wants to keep kids from viewing classic films depicting smoking, purported class action lawsuit seeks damages from Hollywood for not instituting such a ratings policy [Courthouse News]
  • UK police arrest another man over dumb political tweet, defend our First Amendment to make sure such things don’t happen here in US [Telegraph] “How about we ‘defend European values’ by not arresting people who say stupid things?” [Brendan O’Neill, Spectator]
  • The monocle that blinked: New Yorker magazine now often found on wrong side of free speech issues [Jamie Kirchick/Commentary, earlier]
  • What does Donald Trump really think about suing the press? Ann Althouse goes line by line through what he told the Washington Post at an editorial board meeting [earlier here, here, etc.]
  • High court should step in against law regulating speech regarding ballot measures by small, low-budget groups [John Kramer, Institute for Justice on Justice v. Hosemann] Paul Sherman of Institute for Justice joins Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell for a discussion of the First Amendment, political and occupational speech [Libertarianism.org]
  • Merrick Garland’s record on First Amendment issues [Ronald Collins] State of play in the Supreme Court on First Amendment cases this term [same; published before 4-4 outcome in Friedrichs]

Investment-adviser fiduciary rule could trip up broadcast personalities

Brokers who advise retirement investors are bracing for more intense regulation under the Labor Department’s new “fiduciary” rule, and some are already planning to reduce the business they do. The rule is also expected to accelerate a shift toward fee-based investment advice, and is welcomed by some fee-based advisors. [Michael Wursthorn, WSJ] Perhaps less expectedly, the rule could trip up large numbers of persons who less obviously fit the role of financial advisor. John Berlau, Forbes:

Experts both for and against the rule I have talked to agree its broad reach could extend to financial media personalities who offer tips to individual audience members, a group that includes not just Ramsey but TV hosts like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer, as well as many other broadcasters who opine on business and investment matters. They would be ensnared by the rule’s broad redefinition of a vast swath of financial professionals as “fiduciaries” and its mandate that these “fiduciaries” only serve the “best interest” of IRA and 401(k) holders.

One insurance agent, Michael Markey, has written that such media personalities need to “be regulated and to be held accountable” by the government for the opinions he dish out, and “hailed the Labor Department rule as ushering a new era in which “entertainers …can no longer evade the pursuit of regulatory oversight.” Prof. Bainbridge wonders whether there might be a First Amendment issue lurking here, as well as an impulse to support regulation that works to handicap one’s competitors.

Because witches come not singly but in covens

Investigating Exxon over climate wrongthink just the start: “Democratic congressmen California Rep. Ted Lieu, alongside Vermont Rep. Peter Welch and Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the country’s top attorney open an investigation of Shell’s history regarding climate change.” They claim the tobacco episode furnishes a precedent for prosecuting businesses “for colluding within their industry to deliberately mislead the public.” [Chris White, Daily Caller] Ten years ago in this space, we deplored as dangerous to free speech the Department of Justice’s embrace of the position that it could charge businesses with racketeering for taking what it called “false and misleading positions on issues.” [emphasis added].