Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

“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.

Free speech roundup

  • Supreme Court’s sleeper case of the term, Reed v. Town of Gilbert, may greatly toughen First Amendment scrutiny of many laws [Adam Liptak, New York Times]
  • Authorities to press charges against Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly, arrested last year in a McDonald’s during Ferguson protests [Newsweek]
  • Having said obnoxious things is grounds for exclusion from Canada. Right? [CTV] Related musings about speech that affronts us [Ken at Popehat]
  • In case paralleling issues in SBA List v. Driehaus, Massachusetts high court strikes down false-campaign-speech law that enabled incumbent to inflict legal woe on critics; state’s attorney general comes off poorly in account [Ilya Shapiro and Gabriel Latner/Cato]
  • Court strikes down of Idaho ag-gag law, and Prof. Volokh notes some parallels to Planned Parenthood covert filming battle;
  • Update: city of Inglewood, Calif. not faring well in effort to use copyright law to keep a critic from putting video clips of its council proceedings on YouTube [Adam Steinbaugh, earlier]
  • Denver digs itself deeper in charges over leafleting by jury nullification activists [Jacob Sullum, earlier]