This week forty-eight senators are seeking to amend the Bill of Rights so as to give the government more power to control campaign speech. While some advocates pretend that the effect of the amendment would “only” be to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, it would actually go a good bit farther than that. [Jacob Sullum, Reason; George Will; Trevor Burrus at Forbes ("political stunt," yet "terrifying"); related, David Boaz]
Concur: ACLU. Update: measure fails.
Whichever way you come down on the sidewalk-buffer-zone series of cases, it’s time to retire the wheeze about how the U.S. Supreme Court is supposedly being inconsistent by not inviting protesters up really close to its entrance doors — though the taunt does conceal something of a genuine point about how smaller, poorer organizations are more likely to have to put up with the annoyances and inconveniences of public space and its concomitant public forum doctrine, as they also do when the forums involved are public parks or schools [Eugene Volokh, earlier]
Among its other duties, the Federal Election Commission hands out — under conditions that may involve some discretion — hall passes giving permission for political candidates to publish books without legal hassle. [Providence Journal editorial] Last fall, in a (highly recommended) Yale Law Journal piece, Stanford law professor and former appeals judge Michael McConnell proposed that the Supreme Court’s much-demonized Citizens United decision would have rested on firmer ground had the Court characterized it as a free press rather than a free speech ruling; the case arose from a complaint against the makers of a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton.
In more than a dozen states in recent years, governors, legislators or both have arranged through law or regulation to install unions to represent the fast-growing ranks of home health and child care workers, who in many instances are family members receiving a state stipend for looking after their own loved ones. In Harris v. Quinn, a five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it violates the First Amendment rights of these recipients to require them to pay dues to a union of whose views and activities they may not approve. It did not alter — for now, at least — the 1977 Abood precedent under which full-fledged public workers can be required to pay such dues, instead recognizing a new category of “partial public employees.”
I explore some of the implications in this Cato podcast with interviewer Caleb Brown. Earlier on Harris v. Quinn here.
P.S. A tip-off from SCOTUS on where it intends to take Harris logic? One view from the Left [In These Times] Ruling is rebuke to various governors, including Maryland’s Martin O’Malley, who have employed executive orders to unionize home health carers [Marc Kilmer, MPPI; related, George Leef] Eugene Volokh dissents on the underlying “bedrock” First Amendment issue [Volokh Conspiracy] Will a teacher’s case called Friedrich v. CTA be the vehicle for revisiting Abood? [Jason Bedrick, Cato] And some clues that the first draft of Harris v. Quinn might have overturned Abood, before the majority reconsidered and pulled back [Jack Goldsmith, Sachs, Homer, at On Labor]
Cross-posted from Cato at Liberty, a guest post from my Cato colleague Andrew Grossman:
Enough is enough, the Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn regarding the power of government to force public employees to associate with a labor union and pay for its speech. Although the Court did not overturn its 1977 precedent, Abood, allowing states to make their workers contribute to labor unions, it declined to extend that principle to reach recipients of state subsidies—in this case, home-care workers who receive modest stipends from the state of Illinois’ Medicaid program but are not properly considered “employees” of the state.
The Court is right that Abood is “something of an anomaly” because it sacrifices public workers’ First Amendment rights of speech and association to avoid their “free-riding” on the dues of workers who’ve chosen to join a union, the kind of thing that rarely if ever is sufficient to overcome First Amendment objections. But Abood treated that issue as already decided by prior cases, which the Harris Court recognizes it was not–a point discussed at length in Cato’s amicus brief. Abood was a serious mistake, Harris concludes, because public-sector union speech on “core issues such as wages, pensions, and benefits are important political issues” and cannot be distinguished from other political speech, which is due the First Amendment’s strongest protection. A ruling along those lines would spell the end of compulsory support of public-sector unions, a major source of funds and their clout.
It was enough, however, in Harris for the Court to decline Illinois’ invitation “to approve a very substantial expansion of Abood’s reach.” Illinois claimed that home-care workers were public employees for one purpose only: collective bargaining. But these workers were not hired or fired by the state, supervised by the state, given benefits by the state, or otherwise treated as state workers. And for that reason, Abood’s purposes, which relate only to actual “public employees,” simply do not apply. Were the law otherwise, the Court observed, “a host of workers who receive payments from a governmental entity for some sort of service would be candidates for inclusion within Abood’s reach.”
While Harris is not a watershed opinion that remakes labor law consistent with First Amendment principles, it does put an end to the forced unionization of home-based workers, a practice that has spread to nearly a dozen states and had provided a substantial number of new workers to the labor movement in recent years. Harris also lays the groundwork for a challenge to what it calls “Abood’s questionable foundations.” If recent Roberts Court precedents like Shelby County and Citizens United are any guide, Harris is a warning shot that the Abood regime is not long for this world and that the next case will be the one to vindicate all public workers’ First Amendment rights.
In January Andrew published a thorough preview of the issues of the case. Earlier coverage here.
Why should trademark law ban “disparagement” in first place? Caleb Brown interviews me on the Washington Redskins case for the Cato Daily Podcast. Earlier here.
David Post has a post at the Volokh Conspiracy laying out the unexpectedly complicated relationship between the federal Lanham Act and state trademark common law. And he presents the First Amendment problem with “disparagement” doctrine head on:
…the constitutional question is also, for me, pretty cut-and-dried; this is precisely the sort of thing the First Amendment prohibits: an agency of the federal government doling out benefits on the basis of whether or not you have used a word or phrase that is ‘disparaging,’ or that “bring into contempt, or disrepute” any “institutions, beliefs, or national symbols.” … [Whether my view of the matter is in tune with current doctrine is another question entirely]
I’ll be one of the panelists on a webinar this Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern (fee-based, CLE credit available) presented by the ABA’s State and Local Government Law Section on Town of Greece v. Galloway, the Supreme Court’s recent case on invocational prayer at town councils and similar legislative bodies (earlier here and here). Other panelists include Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Mark Burkland of Holland & Knight, while Patricia Salkin, Dean and Professor of Law at Touro Law Center, will serve as moderator. More at Inverse Condemnation.
I discuss yesterday’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway at Secular Right, and conclude that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s carefully measured majority opinion, while satisfying neither side in the culture wars, is one I and most other Americans can live with (& welcome Eugene Volokh, SCOTUSBlog, and Scott Greenfield readers).
“…Yet”. Daniel Fisher explains yesterday’s 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in McCutcheon v. FEC, which may be more significant as a clue to the direction of future Court thinking on campaign finance and the First Amendment as for its actual direct effect. Cato submitted an amicus brief on the side that prevailed, and my colleagues Trevor Burrus and Ilya Shapiro have flash reactions (earlier). More: Ilya Shapiro now has a longer treatment out at SCOTUSBlog.
New WSJ op-ed by Eugene Volokh and my colleague Ilya Shapiro, with which I agree 100%: “We support the extension of marriage to same-sex couples. Yet too many who agree with us on that issue think little of subverting the liberties of those who oppose gay marriage. Increasingly, legislative and judicial actions sacrifice individual rights at the altar of antidiscrimination law.” Existing precedent affords a handy if narrow way to reverse New Mexico’s wrong-headed Elane Photography decision: “The Supreme Court’s ruling in Wooley guarantees the right of photographers, writers, actors, painters, actors, and singers to decide which commissions, roles or gigs they take, and which they reject.”
Related on bake-my-cake laws: in the absence of more robust rights to freedom of association, could we at least narrow what’s a public accommodation? [Scott Shackford, Reason; David Link, Independent Gay Forum (on precedent of landlord reluctance to rent to cohabitors] Earlier on photography and cake cases here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, etc.
P.S. Cato podcast with Caleb Brown interviewing Ilya Shapiro on the topic.
Trevor Burrus on the serious side of the case that elicited Cato’s humorous amicus brief the other day [Forbes]:
Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus… will be argued [before the Supreme Court] in April. The case is a challenge to Ohio’s bizarre statute prohibiting knowingly or recklessly making “false” statements about a political candidate or ballot initiative. In other words, the Ohio Election Commission (OEC) essentially runs a ministry of truth to which any citizen can submit a complaint. Amazingly, twenty other states have such laws.
Laws against lying in political speech are not administered by disinterested truth seekers, but by people with their own political convictions. They chill large amounts of truthful speech and deprive the public of hearing a robust debate on the issues. And, as we will see, they are used by political opponents to turn campaigning into litigation.
It’s actually on a serious subject: can a state (Ohio) purport to ban false, exaggerated or “truthy” speech about candidates, or does that impermissibly chill speech protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment? My colleagues Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus and Gabriel Latner co-authored it on behalf of political humorist/Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke in the pending SCOTUS case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus. Read it here, alongside Ilya Shapiro’s summary, and here’s David Lat of Above the Law calling it the “Best Amicus Brief Ever.“
I’ve got a new post at Cato asking how that could have come to be. Earlier on Elane Photography v. Willock here, here, etc.
Reacting to my Cato post, a couple of readers have responded, in effect: Isn’t the ACLU just a doctrinaire Left-liberal organization these days, rather than a bulwark of civil liberties? To which my answer is: I’d describe it as an organization with lively internal divisions, some factions of which push it in a doctrinaire Left direction, others of which want it to be more of a robust civil liberties organization. (As witness last year’s “Mayors vs. Chick-Fil-A” controversy, in which the ACLU of Illinois took a strong and clear civil libertarian stand while the ACLU of Massachusetts seemed to lean more toward a doctrinaire-Left position.) Some speak ironically of the “civil liberties caucus” that soldiers on thanklessly within the ACLU. I want to encourage that caucus and let it know it is appreciated. (& Stephen Richer/Purple Elephant, Coyote).
“A federal appeals court has shot down a Massachusetts consumer protection case against two doctors, a medical journal and its publisher over an allegedly flawed article cited by defendants in birth-injury medical malpractice cases. That means plaintiffs’ attorneys will have to challenge the article’s validity in each case in which the defense wishes to cite it.” The First Circuit did not reach the issue of constitutional free speech, but upheld a lower court’s ruling that the plaintiff had not shown adequately that expert testimony reliance on the allegedly faulty article had resulted in the loss of the litigation in question. [Sheri Qualters, NLJ] Earlier on A.G. v. Elsevier here.
The Supreme Court yesterday granted certiorari in Harris v. Quinn, a case raising potentially major issues of federal labor law and forced political association. Via SCOTUSBlog:
Issue: (1) Whether a state may, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs; and (2) whether the lower court erred in holding that the claims of providers in the Home Based Support Services Program are not ripe for judicial review.
My colleagues at the Cato Institute filed an amicus brief seeking cert in the case. More: Will Baude.