- Those who want to protect American university life from mob intimidation, speak now or forever hold your peace [Conor Friedersdorf on Yale and Missouri incidents, Greg Lukianoff on Yale, Thom Lambert on Missouri; more on Missouri; John Samples/Cato] “Sorry, kids, the First Amendment does protect ‘hate speech'” [Michael McGough, L.A. Times]
- #ExxonKnew folks, please listen: “engaging in scientific research and public advocacy shouldn’t be crimes in a free country. Using the criminal law to shame and encumber companies that do so is a dangerous arrogation of power.” [Bloomberg View editorial, earlier here, etc.]
- Judge orders Facebook post taken down as campaign contribution improper under Colorado law; while target of enforcement was public charter school, logic of ruling could extend to entirely private entities as well [Megan Geuss, ArsTechnica]
- Did anyone really not see this coming? Hate speech laws give authorities powerful weapon with which to crack down on speech by critics and minorities [Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Reason, on Kenya]
- Cato amicus brief, Kentucky Court of Appeals: printers shouldn’t be forced to print gay-pride messages they don’t agree with [Ilya Shapiro/Cato, Eugene Volokh]
- “That’s not harassing, stalking, libeling or cyber bullying. That’s called reporting.” Florida Man offers to help with online reputation management but digs himself and client in further [Tim Cushing, TechDirt, background]
- Feminist lawprof we’ve met before attacks Internet-protecting Section 230, confusion ensues [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
Months of agitation promoting a government investigation of supposedly wrongful advocacy on the issue of climate change have begun to pay off. As Holman Jenkins [paywall] notes, purportedly levelheaded Democrats and environmentalists are now jumping on the bandwagon for a probe of possible unlawful speech or non-speech by energy companies and advocacy groups they’ve backed. Perhaps the most remarkable name on that list is Hillary Clinton, who said the other day in New Hampshire, referring to Exxon, “There’s a lot of evidence that they misled people.” That’s right: Hillary Clinton, of all people, now wants to make it unlawful for those who engage in public controversy to mislead people.
The first high-profile law enforcer to bite, it seems, will be Eric Schneiderman, whose doings I’ve examined at length lately. “The New York attorney general has launched an investigation into Exxon Mobil to determine whether the country’s largest oil and gas company lied to investors about how global warming could hurt its balance sheets and also hid the risks posed by climate change from the public,” reports U.S. News. Show me the denier, as someone almost said, and I will find you the crime: “The Martin Act is a nearly empty vessel into which the AG can pour virtually any content that he wants,” as Reuters points out. More on the Martin Act here and here.
At Forbes, Daniel Fisher notes the possible origins of the legal action in an environmentalist-litigator confab in 2012 (“Climate Accountability Initiative”) in which participants speculated that getting access to the internal files of energy companies and advocacy groups could be a way to blow up the climate controversy politically. Fisher also notes that Justice Stephen Breyer, in the Nike v. Kasky case dismissed 12 years ago on other grounds, warned that it will tend to chill advocacy both truthful and otherwise by businesses if opponents can seize on disagreements on contentious public issues and run to court with complaints of consumer (or presumably securities) fraud.
Perhaps in this case chilling advocacy is the whole point. And very much related: my colleague Roger Pilon’s post last week, “Whatever Happened to the Left’s Love of Free Speech?“; Robert Samuelson (“The advocates of a probe into Exxon Mobil are essentially proposing that the company be punished for expressing its opinions.”)
- Understanding the liberal-conservative gap on what “free expression” means [Ronald K. L. Collins]
- Foes of Yik Yak “want universities to ban the very app that gives marginalized students a voice on campus” [Amanda Hess, earlier] No-platforming: “It is an anti-Enlightenment movement.” [Claire Lehmann on Germaine Greer case] At UCLA, administrators and activists are attacking the core right to free speech [Conor Friedersdorf]
- “If you know what you’re doing, you bring in the litigators before you start running your mouth.” [Popehat on game developer’s lawsuit threats, language]
- “Climate change, Galileo, and our modern Inquisition” [Edward Dougherty, Public Discourse/MercatorNet on climate RICO] “Veteran campaigner Bill McKibben and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders demand the Obama administration launch a criminal investigation [over Exxon’s allegedly improper issue advocacy]… victory over deniers and climate criminals is always just around the corner” [Holman Jenkins, Jr., WSJ, paywall]
- In Denmark, courage of cartoon editors belatedly recognized, yet fear governs press [Jacob Mchangama, Politico Europe]
- Federal judge: First Amendment forbids Kentucky officials to shut down parenting column written by N.C. psychologist on grounds that it constitutes practice of psychology in Kentucky without a license [Caleb Trotter, Pacific Legal Foundation]
- “To Tweet or Not to Tweet: How FDA Social Media Guidelines Violate the First Amendment” [Kirby Griffis and Tamara Fishman Barago, Washington Legal Foundation]
Delivering the 2015 Richard S. Salant Lecture on Freedom of the Press, former ACLU president Nadine Strossen voiced concerns that universities, prodded by the federal government’s Department of Education and its Office for Civil Rights, are become hostile to ideas and expressions that could make students uncomfortable. “Strossen listed numerous examples of repression of academic freedom that have resulted from university sexual harassment policies, including: a sexual harassment investigation against a Northwestern University professor for writing an article that criticized such sexual harassment policies; a U.S. Naval War College professor who was placed on administrative leave for quoting a Machiavelli comment that included the mention of rape; and an Appalachian State University sociology professor who was suspended for showing a documentary that critically examined the adult film industry. At Harvard, Strossen said, a chilling effect is also in place.” She said OCR has threatened to yank federal funding from schools that fail to “enact sexual misconduct policies that violate many civil liberties.” [Shorenstein Center; my 2013 piece]
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 Watchdog.org 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 Watchdog.org. “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.”
“Sen. Sanders goes one step further. He would require that nominees publicly commit to case outcomes…. Although under President Sanders’ proposal judicial impartiality in fact and in appearance will suffer, there is a bright side. If President Sanders filled a majority of seats on the Court with pre-committed Justices, lawyers before the Court could significantly reduce the time and effort expended on the argument sections of their briefs.” [Raymond McKoski, Legal Ethics Forum]
Note also that Sanders managed to find a position on Citizens United worse than Hillary Clinton’s “Banning a critical movie about me should’ve been OK.”
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]
Do you oppose laws banning hateful expression? You might be one of those American “speech nuts,” akin to “gun nuts,” that so puzzle observers in places like Europe where they do things differently [via Greg Lukianoff, Kelefa Sanneh/New Yorker; pushback from Anthony Fisher/Reason, FIRE first and second posts]
- “Denver DA charges man with tampering for handing out jury nullification flyers” [Denver Post, earlier New York case covered here, here, here, etc.] More: Tim Lynch, Cato.
- Occupational licensure vs. the First Amendment: Texas regulators seek to shutter doc’s veterinary advice website [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- Fired for waving rebel flag? Unlikely to raise a First Amendment issue unless you work for the government, or it twisted your employer’s arm [Huntsville (Ala.) Times, Daniel Schwartz]
- “Twitter joke thieves are getting DMCA takedowns” [BoingBoing]
- A reminder of Gawker’s jaw-droppingly bad stuff on freedom of speech (“Arrest Climate Change Deniers”) [Coyote, related]
- Canadian lawyer/journalist Ezra Levant facing discipline proceeding “for being disrespectful towards a government agency” [Financial Post, earlier]
- “‘Shouting fire in a theater’: The life and times of constitutional law’s most enduring analogy” [Carlton Larson via Eugene Volokh, also Christopher Hitchens on the analogy]
- Eugene Volokh weighs in again on Oregon Sweet Cakes case, agrees with my view that agency’s order against Melissa and Aaron Klein’s speech is overbroad;
- Canada: “Ruling in Twitter harassment trial could have enormous fallout for free speech” [Christie Blatchford/National Post, earlier]
- Also in Canada: Law Society of Alberta cites controversial-speech veteran Ezra Levant, a lawyer, over column criticizing human rights commission [National Post]
- “Lawyer Can’t Unmask Anonymous Critic on Avvo, Court Rules” [Robert Ambrogi]
- “Couple ordered to pay $280K for ‘frivolous’ lawsuit against Hoboken bloggers, judge says” [Jersey Journal via @NJCivilJustice]
- Las Vegas lawyer’s libel suit provokes laughs but there’s a serious point at stake [Adam Steinbaugh, Popehat]
- “Freedom will not bow to bloody attacks”: legislature in Iceland repeals blasphemy law in response to Paris massacre [IB Times] But Charlie Hebdo itself, in Paris, says it will run no more prophet Muhammad cartoons [WaPo and more: Michael Moynihan, Politico Europe]