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free speech

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on November 19, 2014

  • “Court agrees that Google’s search results qualify as free speech” [Megan Geuss, ArsTechnica]
  • “Manassas detective in teen sexting case sues teen’s lawyer for defamation” [Washington Post]
  • Reports of SLAPP suit out of Chicago not quite as initially portrayed [Ken at Popehat]
  • Compelled-speech update: Lexington, Ky. anti-bias commission orders employee training for t-shirt maker that objected to printing gay-pride messages [Kentucky.com, earlier]
  • “NY high court says anti-cyberbullying law won’t pass First Amendment muster” [ABA Journal] New Arizona law against sending naked photos without subject’s consent could criminalize many sorts of speech [ACLU]
  • UK scheme to muzzle nonviolent “extremists” just as horrid as it sounds, cont’d [Brendan O'Neill/Reason, earlier] Political director of U.K. Huffington Post calls for “sanctions” for press outlets that engage in “dishonest, demonizing” coverage of Muslims, immigrants, and asylum seekers [Guardian]
  • SCOTUS should hear case re: right to engage in political advocacy without registering with government [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato; Vermont Right to Life Committee v. Sorrell]

“Theresa May, the Home Secretary, unveiled plans last month for so-called Extremism Disruption Orders, which would allow judges to ban people deemed extremists from broadcasting, protesting in certain places or even posting messages on Facebook or Twitter without permission.” Who’s an extremist? Funny you should ask. It’s not just preachers of violent jihad:

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has made clear in a letter to constituents that the aim of the orders would be to “eliminate extremism in all its forms” and that they would be used to curtail the activities of those who “spread hate but do not break laws”.

He explained that that the new orders, which will be in the Conservative election manifesto, would extend to any activities that “justify hatred” against people on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

He also disclosed that anyone seeking to challenge such an order would have to go the High Court, appealing on a point of law rather than fact.

An outcry has been arising from groups including both conservative Christians and atheists, both of whom suspect that their own controversial speech will be subject to restriction under the new rules. [Daily Telegraph; earlier]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2014

George Will, hard-hitting but on target, on what happened to people who took the wrong side of the Wisconsin public-employee wars:

The early-morning paramilitary-style raids on citizens’ homes were conducted by law enforcement officers, sometimes wearing bulletproof vests and lugging battering rams, pounding on doors and issuing threats. Spouses were separated as the police seized computers, including those of children still in pajamas. Clothes drawers, including the children’s, were ransacked, cellphones were confiscated and the citizens were told that it would be a crime to tell anyone of the raids.

Earlier on the Wisconsin John Doe raids, including this Cato piece. More Will:

Chisholm’s aim — to have a chilling effect on conservative speech — has been achieved by bombarding Walker supporters with raids and subpoenas: Instead of raising money to disseminate their political speech, conservative individuals and groups, harassed and intimidated, have gone into a defensive crouch, raising little money and spending much money on defensive litigation. Liberal groups have not been targeted for their activities that are indistinguishable from those of their conservative counterparts.

Such misbehavior takes a toll on something that already is in short supply: belief in government’s legitimacy. The federal government’s most intrusive and potentially punitive institution, the IRS, unquestionably worked for Barack Obama’s reelection by suppressing activities by conservative groups. … Would the race between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke be as close as it is if a process susceptible to abuse had not been so flagrantly abused to silence groups on one side of Wisconsin’s debate? Surely not.

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Both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature have passed and sent to Gov. Tom Corbett a bill “allowing judges to issue injunctions, or grant any other ‘appropriate relief’ if there is ‘conduct’ by a criminal ‘offender’ that ‘perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Such an effect is specified to include, though it is not limited to, a “temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.” The “revictimization remedy” bill, S. 508, is apparently aimed at providing a way to go after a much-cooed-over convicted cop-killer for delivering recorded speeches at college campuses, to the distress of the family of the policeman he shot; Paul Alan Levy describes the bill’s use of the word “conduct” as a “fig leaf” for its intent to restrict speech. What Levy calls the “exceptional breadth” of the bill’s language could imperil or chill a wide range of other activity that might tread on victims’ feelings, such as campaigns to rally public opinion against a conviction or in favor of clemency. The bill, Levy says, “threatens to make Pennsylvania a national laughing stock.” [Consumer Law & Policy; Fox News; NBC Philadelphia; more, Joel Mathis, Philadelphia mag] More on the ever-popular “victims’ rights” cause from Steve Chapman and Roger Pilon.

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“Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives.” [Telegraph] The Spectator joins other critics in noting that the idea, floated by Home Secretary Theresa May, could conceivably be used not only against proponents of violent Islamism but also (for example) radicals of right and left, Irish nationalists, and animal-rights protesters:

Labour’s ‘hate crime’ laws have already been used to pursue Christian street preachers criticising homosexuality and Englishmen being rude about Scots. This magazine was once contacted by the CID, which was ‘investigating’ an article about Islamic fundamentalism — the police were trying to establish if we had violated the parameters of argument defined by New Labour. Rather than repeal such laws, Mrs May seems to want to extend them.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 30, 2014

  • Coverage of Cato Constitution Day panel on First Amendment with Nadine Strossen, P.J. O’Rourke, Eric Rassbach, Ilya Shapiro [Concurring Opinions] And First-Amendment-oriented articles in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review: Judge David Sentelle on freedom of speech as liberty for all and not just for the organized press, Allen Dickerson on McCutcheon v. FEC, Ilya Shapiro on SBA List v. Driehaus, and Trevor Burrus on protest buffer zones;
  • Eric Holder “the worst Attorney General on press freedom issues in a generation, possibly since Richard Nixon’s John Mitchell” [Trevor Timm]
  • “7 Things Cracked Got Wrong About Free Speech” [Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, who has a new short book out entitled "Freedom From Speech"]
  • As ACLU recognizes, Arizona law purportedly banning revenge porn would do more than that [Masnick, Popehat, Greenfield, Sullum/Reason]
  • Critical overview of “media reform” movement led by wildly misnamed pressure group Free Press [Barbara Joanna Lucas, Capital Research Center]
  • In lawsuits against Yelp arising from bad reviews, courts have not been impressed by theory that the service extorts reviewed businesses [Paul Alan Levy; a restaurateur upset at Yelp strikes back in a different way]
  • Proposal to make scientific misconduct a crime “would seem to raise serious First Amendment problems” [Howard Wasserman]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 3, 2014

  • Lawprofs vs. speech: new book by Prof. Danielle Citron (U. of Maryland) urges stepped-up legal penalties for online expression as “harassment” ["Hate Crimes in Cyberspace," Harvard University Press]
  • European high court’s Google-unindexing folly: “The truth is, you’ve never had the ‘right to be forgotten'” [Jack Shafer; example, WSJ]
  • Feds’ National Science Foundation spending nearly $1 million to create online database monitoring “suspicious memes”, “false and misleading ideas” on Twitter [Free Beacon]
  • Flap over fantasy-art DMCA takedown demand seems to be over, but we can still enjoy Ken’s take [Popehat] More Popehat highlights: 7th Circuit affirms sanctions vs. Team Prenda of copyright troll fame; multi-level marketer threatens blogger; controversial doctor resorts “to threats and legal analysis that are at least as innovative as his cancer theories“; “In 2014, minimal legal competence requires an attorney to anticipate and understand the Streisand Effect“;
  • When occupational licensure laws stifle speech [Dana Berliner (IJ), NYT Room for Debate]
  • Inside a deposition in the Shirley Sherrod defamation lawsuit [J. Christian Adams, earlier here, etc.] Write if you dare about Michael Mann, just hope he doesn’t sue you over it [Trevor Burrus, earlier here, etc.]
  • U.S. Civil Rights Commission member Michael Yaki argues for campus speech codes [Hans Bader, Eugene Volokh] Per EEOC: “Illegal ‘hostile work environment’ harassment for co-workers to wear Confederate flag T-shirts” [Volokh; also]

“…will inevitably be used to protect police and others in power, not…the weak.” [Ken White/Popehat on case of Thomas G. Smith, whose conviction, later overturned, for "disorderly conduct" and "unlawful use of a computerized communication system" was based on an obscenity-filled rant against cops on the Facebook page of the Village of Arena, Wisc. police department]

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Ken at Popehat has the story on a court’s ruling for fees and costs in Ergun Caner v. Jonathan Autry, filed by a religious leader who had come under criticism for less-than-forthright descriptions of his own past. “The court ruled that Caner (1) pursued the case after Autry took the videos down, (2) demanded, as a condition of settlement, that Autry’s young children sign a non-disparagement agreement, (3) delayed the case, (4) failed to seek discovery, opposed the motion to dismiss on the grounds that he needed to take discovery, but could not articulate what discovery he needed, (5) contradicted himself, (6) made unreasonable legal arguments without any support (like the ‘you must be qualified to criticize’ argument), and most importantly (7) filed the case to silence criticism.” Under the prevailing “American Rule” on fees it’s extremely hard for the victim of a meritless suit to recover attorney’s costs, but this one was extreme enough to be an exception.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 7, 2014

  • Why are PEN and Index on Censorship luminaries supporting Hacked Off press control campaign in UK? [Brendan O'Neill]
  • Religious offense, hate speech and blasphemy: meet India’s self-appointed “Ban Man” [WaPo]
  • “Like a free press? Thank corporate personhood.” [Dylan Matthews, Vox]
  • Participant’s memoir: “spontaneous” mob violence against Danish cartoons was anything but [Lars Hvidberg, Freedom House]
  • Floyd Abrams testifies at Senate hearing on proposed constitutional amendments to curtail First Amendment for purposes of limiting campaign speech [Volokh]
  • Ruling: Pennsylvania high court judge can proceed with libel suit against Philadelphia newspapers [Philadelphia mag, Inquirer]
  • Missouri gun activist ordered to remove material from internet about police encounter wins settlement [Volokh, earlier]

Too close to the regulation of speech content, too chancy in its impact on the rule of law [Jonathan Turley, Washington Post]:

Many of us recoil at the reference to skin color as a team identity. The problem is that the Redskins case is just the latest example of a federal agency going beyond its brief to inappropriately insert itself in social or political debates. …

The Supreme Court affirmed in 1983 that the IRS could yank tax exemption whenever it decided that an organization is behaving “contrary to established public policy” — whatever that public policy may be. … There is an obvious problem when the sanctioning of free exercise of religion or speech becomes a matter of discretionary agency action. And it goes beyond trademarks and taxes.

Earlier here and here.

Less than a mile before a police DUI checkpoint in Parma, Ohio, resident Doug Odolecki held a sign reading “Check point ahead turn now.” Police gave him a ticket and confiscated the sign: “Odolecki was issued a ticket and forced to hand over his sign. “Parma Police tell us they can’t get into the details of the pending case but a Sergeant told me that Odolecki was obstructing officers ability to do their job. They also said that the issue was with the part of the sign that said ‘turn now.'” [WOIO via AOL]

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The Supreme Court unanimously ruled this morning in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that a lower court challenge can proceed against Ohio’s law purporting to ban untruthful campaign speech. [decision, SCOTUSBlog, earlier Overlawyered coverage] The ruling was widely expected: “not a single amicus brief was filed on behalf of the state of Ohio, and even liberal groups conceded that allowing the state to arbitrate truth or falsity in political campaigns was troubling. During oral argument, the Justices seemed profoundly skeptical of the law’s underlying constitutionality.” [MSNBC]

The Court did not decide the First Amendment merits. Its ruling instead turns on the cluster of issues relating to standing: was there injury in fact from the law sufficient to support a challenge even though the original complaint had been dropped? While the two wings of the Court often divide on standing, they united in taking an expansive view this time. Here and there Justice Thomas’s opinion for the 9-0 Court does brush up against the underlying First Amendment problem of the chilling of speech, which will now move front and center as the lower court again takes up the case. A passage of particular interest from pp. 15-16 (footnotes omitted):

As the Ohio Attorney General himself notes, the “practical effect” of the Ohio false statement scheme is “to permit a private complainant . . . to gain a campaign advantage without ever having to prove the falsity of a statement.” “[C]omplainants may time their submissions to achieve maximum disruption of their political opponents while calculating that an ultimate decision on the merits will be deferred until after the relevant election.” Moreover, the target of a false statement complaint may be forced to divert significant time and resources to hire legal counsel and respond to discovery requests in the crucial days leading up to an election.

Here’s the entertaining and hilarious amicus brief (what a concept) filed by my Cato colleagues Trevor Burrus, Ilya Shapiro, and Gabriel Latner on behalf of humorist and Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke (who explains his involvement; more from Ilya and Trevor). And Ilya has a reaction to the opinion at Cato at Liberty (“Chilling speech is no laughing matter… today was a banner morning for free speech and judicial engagement.”)

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2014

  • “Tenured Wisconsin Prof Sues Former Student Over Online Comments on Her Teaching” [Caron/TaxProf]
  • Recent Paul Alan Levy profile: “The web bully’s worst enemy” [Washingtonian] HHS signals it won’t pursue case against blogger [Levy, earlier] Arizona Yelp case angle [Scott Greenfield]
  • Get your ideas out of town: threats against hotel “have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and other guests” [Deadline Detroit; "men's rights movement" conference]
  • UK police investigate Baptist church after “burn in Hell” sign reported as “hate incident” [Secular Right]
  • Please don’t give him ideas: “Should it be against the law to criticize Harry Reid?” [Trevor Burrus, Boston Herald]
  • “MAP: The places where blasphemy could get you punished” [Washington Post]
  • Only three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas — have laws inviting vengeful secret John Doe probes [Ilya Shapiro, earlier]

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ReportSpeechPoster The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a broad new policy barring employees, including faculty, from “improper use of social media,” which include content that “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or is “contrary to the best interests of the university,” with some narrow exceptions such as “academic instruction within the instructor’s area of expertise (emphasis added)” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among other groups, have argued that the new policy “authorizes punishment for constitutionally protected speech, and … leaves professors unsure of what speech a university might sanction them for,” the result being a chilling effect on both free speech and academic freedom [FIRE, NPR]. The policy was adopted at the behest of critics of one professor’s controversial anti-gun tweet, and Charles C.W. Cooke at NRO says conservative regents should have been among the first to realize that professor-muzzling is not the way to respond.

KSU’s Dan Warner did a series of posters (Creative Commons permissions) skewering the new policy, including the one above; more on that here.

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The syndicated columnist praises Judge Rudolph Randa’s

remarkably emphatic ruling against an especially egregious example of Democrats using government power to suppress conservatives’ political speech.

Wisconsin’s sordid episode began, appropriately, with a sound of tyranny — fists pounding on the doors of private citizens in pre-dawn raids. While sheriff’s deputies used floodlights to illuminate the citizens’ homes, armed raiders seized documents, computers, cellphones and other devices.

Earlier here, here, etc.

And two Republican Wisconsin lawmakers are calling for a thorough review into the activities of the state Government Accountability Board, which “oversees Wisconsin campaign and election laws,” and whose contracted investigator, Dean Nickel, is reported to have played a role in setting in motion the process which resulted in the investigation of dozens of conservative organizations. [M.D. Kittle, Wisconsin Reporter/Watchdog.org] More: Milwaukee Federalist Society chapter roundup of coverage.

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A federal judge has quashed the stunningly abusive “John Doe” proceedings that had resulted in midnight raids on the homes of leading conservative activists across the state. I’ve got more in a new Cato post; fuller coverage at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Watchdog.org (and series), and the decision itself is here. Earlier coverage here, here, and here. I conclude:

The citizens of Wisconsin must now demand a full accounting of how these raids could have happened. They should also insist on changes in state law, in particular the “John Doe” law, aimed at ensuring that nothing like them ever happens again.

Update: Seventh Circuit panel stays ruling pending appeal.

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