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.
A plaintiff’s lawyer is suing a medical journal and two doctors for publishing a case report that makes it harder to win some birth-injury lawsuits.
Here are the details, as reported by Sheri Qualters of the National Law Journal. Some newborns are found to be suffering from brachial plexus injury, a type of harm to a child’s shoulder, arm, or hand that in a minority of cases results in permanent disability (so-called Erb’s palsy or a number of related conditions). A large volume of birth-injury litigation goes on as a result, in part because courts have tended to accept the idea that the only medically recognized cause of those conditions in newborns is excessive or traumatic use of physical force by clinicians (“traction”). In 2008, however, the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology published a case report of a delivery in which an infant was found to be suffering such injury although the physician by her own account had not applied any excessive traction during the birth. If instead natural forces of labor could cause the dislocation resulting in the condition, many lawsuits might rest on shakier ground. Since then, defense lawyers have cited the report — by Henry Lerner of Harvard Medical School and Eva Salamon of the Bond Clinic in Winter Park, Fla. — in litigation.
A Boston lawyer who claims to have debunked the Lerner-Salamon case study has proceeded to sue its two authors, Elsevier — which publishes AJOG and many other medical and scientific journals — and Dr. Salamon’s clinic for publishing and refusing to retract it. The damages are said to be $3 million each to two families of infant plaintiffs whose lawsuits did not succeed allegedly because of the case report. The lawsuit invokes a Massachusetts consumer protection law which allows treble damages, and also asks for a court order forbidding the report to be entered as evidence in future litigation. A trial court dismissed the case, in part on the grounds that the plaintiffs had not shown that the article was a material cause of the families’ failure to prevail in the suits. Now the case is on appeal to the First Circuit, where defense lawyers are arguing, inter alia, that if there are weaknesses in the article the remedy for plaintiffs is to introduce evidence to that effect to counter it in trials. “As for its own role, Elsevier argued that applying a state consumer protection law to its published material would violate its free-speech right under the First Amendment.”
First Amendment? Let’s not go to extremes. If we start applying the First Amendment, how are lawyers supposed to silence publications that inconvenience them?
Our “watch what you say about lawyers” tag — which perhaps we should rename as “watch what you say about lawyers or their cases” — is here (cross-posted at Cato at Liberty; & welcome readers from Jesse Walker, Reason, Prof. Bainbridge).
Eugene Volokh in a Federalist Society video on campaign regulation and the First Amendment. A dissent: Scott Greenfield.
P.S. Beware of setting up a state-level group to promote controversial views on issues, even if promoting candidates is not your primary purpose [Adler on cert petition in Corsi v. Ohio Elections Commission]
“Kentucky claims that writing an advice column that appears in a newspaper in the state — in the specific case of their complaint, the Lexington Herald-Leader, though it appears in others as well — is not an act of freedom of the press, but rather practicing psychology without the required license.” [Brian Doherty] “John Rosemond has been dispensing parenting advice in his newspaper column since 1976, making him one of the longest-running syndicated columnists in the country.” The Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology had its attention called to Rosemond by a local complaint about a column in which he advised parents about how to handle a sullen teen but did not recommend they seek professional help. The Board, along with the state’s attorney general, proceeded to demand that he submit to a cease-and-desist order on such matters as whether he can be bylined as a “psychologist”; Rosemond is licensed as such in his home state of North Carolina, but not in Kentucky. The Institute for Justice is defending Rosemond and has filed an action against the state. [AP]
Update from the Kentucky AG’s office: don’t blame us, we let our lawyers lend themselves out for state agency work and it was by inadvertence that our letterhead was used on what went to Rosemond. As Caleb Brown notes, this opens up new questions even if it answers some others.
Appropriately safeguarding the Second Amendment shouldn’t mean undermining the First. [Eugene Volokh]
A Sixth Circuit panel declines to strike down a state law under which public schools will no longer withhold union dues from teachers’ salaries. The Michigan Education Association had claimed that Public Act 53 interfered with its First Amendment right to speak. [David Shepardson, Detroit News]
Yes, on the First Amendment he’s been pretty decent, but as to the rest, surely you jest, Ms. Kaminer [Jacob Sullum]
So is that prior restraint? [Washington Post on Virginia case, background; Brian Wolfman and Paul Alan Levy, Public Citizen] More: Ken at Popehat.
I’ve expanded into a longer Cato post my item about how (according to the New York Times) incoming French president François Hollande demanded and got the dismissal of the editor of Le Figaro, the leading opposition (conservative) newspaper. If you think such things would never happen in this country, you might want to catch up on a couple of stories from Chicago and Boston. The post is here.
P.S. They’re still fighting in Washington over media cross-ownership rules.