Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Lawsuit accuses Facebook of abetting terror

A lawsuit filed in New York accuses Facebook of allowing its service to used by Palestinian groups “to incite violent attacks against Israeli citizens.” Eugene Volokh predicts the case “is going nowhere” given both the First Amendment and Section 230, “47 U.S.C. § 230 — [which] prevents Internet service and content providers from being held liable for speech by their users.” More: Daniel Fisher notes a publicity angle.

“National Constitution Center’s ‘Interactive Constitution’”

Recommended by Eugene Volokh, the National Constitution Center’s “Interactive Constitution“. Its description:

On this site, constitutional experts interact with each other to explore the Constitution’s history and what it means today. For each provision of the Constitution, scholars of different perspectives discuss what they agree upon, and what they disagree about. These experts were selected with the guidance of leaders of two prominent constitutional law organizations — The American Constitution Society and The Federalist Society.

The writers include many familiar names and every contribution I’ve read so far, on both sides of questions, has been of high quality.

WSJ on climate RICO

An editorial in this morning’s Wall Street Journal is blunt:

Advocates of climate regulation are urging the Obama Administration to investigate people who don’t share their views.

Last month George Mason Professor Jagadish Shukla and 19 others signed a letter to President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and White House science adviser John Holdren urging punishment for climate dissenters. “One additional tool — recently proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse — is a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) investigation of corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change, as a means to forestall America’s response to climate change,” they wrote.

In other words, they want the feds to use a law created to prosecute the mafia against lawful businesses and scientists. … [RICO] can inflict treble damages upon a defendant. Enacted to stop organized crime and specifically to prosecute individuals tied to loansharking and murder-for-hire, it was long seen as so powerful a tool that the government warned prosecutors to limit its use.

The scientists’ RICO letter was “inadvertently posted” on the website of a group almost entirely funded by taxpayers [Ian Tuttle, National Review Online; Coyote] Rob Nikolewski at has more on the letter and its aftermath, and quotes me:

Walter Olson, senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, thinks that’s a dangerous step to take.

“This is core political persuasion,” Olson told “If this is illegal racketeering, then potentially an awful lot of things that people debate about are also illegal racketeering … It’s a dangerous power because it won’t be used even-handedly.”

Earlier coverage here, here, etc. Some possible insight into litigation strategies of climate-RICO promoters at Inside Climate News here and here.

“Using RICO against climate change skeptics an attack on free speech”

I’m interviewed at Vermont Watchdog about the truly terrible idea of aiming a civil RICO/racketeering action or investigation against the forces of “climate denial” over wrongful advocacy. The notion seems to have some well organized friends, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and, more recently, twenty scientists who recently signed a letter calling for such a probe. “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says one of the letter’s signers, a Vermont scientist, according to a companion report. I should note that when I speak of RICO in the interview transcript, I am referring to the civil-litigation side of the law (“civil RICO”) as distinct from the law’s other wing, “criminal RICO.”

I note, and reject, the idea that the First Amendment protects only truthful speech and thus has no application here because climate skepticism is false. (As Cato and many others argued in last year’s Supreme Court case of Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, controversial speech need not be true to be protected, and in practice an “only truth has rights” rule would give the state a stifling power to punish advocacy in debates that it considers settled.) In substantial part, I note, debate in Washington (and not just in Washington) proceeds by way of advocates’ deployment of half-truths, selectively marshaled data, scientific studies with agendas, and so forth. It is common for both sides to use these techniques. The same techniques are also accepted as standard currency within the adversary process itself, in which the law takes such pride, which makes it particularly absurd to propose defining it as unlawful racketeering to “use dubious information to advance a cause.”

Among those promoting this bad idea: BoingBoing, often regarded as a pro-free-speech site.

P.S. Adapted together with an earlier post into one at Cato at Liberty.

Because only Truth has rights

Scientists’ “Letter To President Obama: Investigate Deniers Under RICO” is exactly what it sounds like [Greg Laden, ScienceBlogs] We earlier noted, as a step toward attaching legal consequences to unwanted advocacy, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) op-ed “urg[ing] the U.S. Department of Justice to consider filing a racketeering suit against the oil and coal industries for having promoted wrongful thinking on climate change, with the activities of ‘conservative policy’ groups an apparent target of the investigation as well,” as well as Gawker’s call to “arrest climate change deniers.”

P.S. For more on the widely publicized book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, which condemns various scientists said to be too skeptical of the factual basis for regulation, see links gathered by Judith Curry, including this Reiner Grundmann review. Yet more: “I have no idea how it affects the First Amendment” says Vermont scientist who backs probe of wrongful advocacy [Bruce Parker/Watchdog, quotes me]

My Newsweek piece on the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)

A bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA, with many Republican sponsors, would establish a new protected class in discrimination law, enabling what might develop into a major new sector of litigation. It would bestow on advocates of putative traditional family values — but not their opposite thinkers — new legal rights to sue over adverse government treatment of any kind, including the withholding of subsidies, government contracts or indeed any other public action. The protected status would even extend to acts taken as public employees and clothed with official force. It’s an extraordinarily one-sided, wildly impractical set of proposals whose theme, I argue at Newsweek, is not pluralist accommodation but merely to empower one side, when wielding public authority or tax moneys, to engage in a wide range of punitive and coercive measures against their culture war opponents. And that has less than nothing to do with the First Amendment.

Whole piece here. Dale Carpenter at Volokh Conspiracy has some kind words for my piece along with thoughts about the possible constitutional infirmities of the draft bill’s blatant enlistment of government power on behalf of one viewpoint and set of beliefs as against others; he also links to this Christianity Today piece by three leading religious liberty scholars, Richard Garnett, John Inazu, and Michael McConnell, who acknowledge some of the problems with FADA in present form while urging support for a less sweeping measure (“We think the best approach is to tailor FADA to the core area of concern: religious nonprofits.”)

P.S.: Stephen Bainbridge reprints a letter in which I link and summarize some of my recent writing on religious accommodation.