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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 20, 2012

  • Already firebombed once: “Satirical French Magazine Publishes Caricatures Of Mohammed, White House Rebukes.” [Mediaite] More calls for punishing makers of anti-Muslim YouTube video for supposed incitement [Ann Althouse on Sarah Chayes, earlier here and here; also, the late Christopher Hitchens on "fire in a crowded theater" arguments] “The people who instigate these protests seek a very particular goal: an extension of Egyptian and Pakistani style blasphemy laws into the West.” [David Frum]
  • “$60,000 Verdict for Blogging the Truth About A Person Intending to Get Him Fired – Reversed” [Volokh]
  • Judge closes probe of opinion-maker influence in Google-Oracle battle [The Recorder, earlier]
  • Weight-loss device promoter files, then drops suit against Public Citizen, consumerist website Fair Warning [Paul Alan Levy, Fair Warning]
  • “How Ag Gag Laws Suppress Free Speech and the Marketplace of Ideas” [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, etc.]
  • Big government Republicans in charge: “GOP Platform Changed To Now Target All Forms Of Pornography” [Andrew Kirell, Mediaite; Volokh]
  • Missouri activist starts website criticizing local cops and soon the department’s halls display what looks very much like a “Wanted” poster of him [Eapen Thampy, Agitator]

“Earlier in the week, YouTube said it found that the video was “clearly within” its guidelines.” [L.A. Times, Washington Post, Jesse Walker, Matt Welch, Paul Alan Levy; previously on calls to suppress putative "hate speech" in response to riots in the Middle East and elsewhere] Per news accounts, YouTube chose to block access to the video in certain Arab countries where outbreaks of violence have occurred. More: “Google rejects White House request to pull Mohammad film clip” [Reuters]

Meanwhile, L.A. County sheriffs swoop down to round up the alleged filmmaker for questioning, supposedly for probation violations. Ann Althouse has a thing or two to say about that. But see defense lawyer and former prosecutor Ken at Popehat (viewing arrest as not unusual if a defendant in serious fraud case involving aliases is observed to violate probation terms by doing business under alias)(more).


Peter Spiro of Temple, one of the more prominent international-law specialists in the legal academy, claims that the killing of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya, following demonstrations over a video produced by private U.S. citizens denouncing Mohammed, “bolsters” the case for free-speech laws by adding a foreign-policy rationale, and warns that on matters of unfettered speech (“The First Amendment? Call me a relativist”) “international law is going … in a different direction than we are.” [Opinio Juris] (Later news reports suggest that the Benghazi attack, though taking advantage of a mob demonstration for cover, was in fact a well-planned paramilitary operation.) Meanwhile, a religious-studies professor has proposed arrest of the offending filmmaker, even though “If there is anyone who values free speech, it is a tenured professor!” [Anthea Butler (U. Penn.), USA Today] And here’s the background climate of opinion at the United Nations. More: Ken White/Salon, and Alana Goodman/Commentary on the elusive “Sam Bacile.”

More: Eugene Volokh traces how Prof. Spiro and Prof. Harold Koh — now top State Department legal adviser — propose to use international law to adjust First Amendment norms toward those prevailing elsewhere.

Further from Volokh (“I think such suppression would likely lead to more riots and more deaths, not less.”) and more (modernist views often vulnerable to being characterized as an “intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others”), and Ken at Popehat (“We can’t cave on this in the face of demands that we censor. We can’t. Today it’s bigoted videos. Tomorrow it’s any representation whatsoever of Mohammed.”)


“Choc ice”

by Walter Olson on July 19, 2012

In Britain, which has hate-speech laws, police investigate a racially derogatory Tweet. [Telegraph]


Law schools roundup

by Walter Olson on July 10, 2012

  • The Chart of Death: “Law School Tuition Over the Last 40 Years” [Orin Kerr summarizing Paul Campos, PDF] Staggering debt projections (often $200K+) for law students, broken down by school (in more than one sense) [Law School Transparency]
  • Schools For Misrule dept.: “Some things that are big in the legal academy are considered irrelevant or crackpot by judges” [Yale's Fred Shapiro via Ann Althouse] But as we’ve noted, the influence in legal academia of Critical Theory and suchlike coteries has waned [Tony Mauro, NLJ] In defense of the faculty lounge [Stephen Carter, Bloomberg]
  • “I don’t know why law professors get such large advances for their mystery novels, just like I don’t know why Americans like to name motel chains after numbers.” [Kyle Graham]
  • Jim Chen and others review Brian Tamanaha’s new book Failing Law Schools [Paul Caron, TaxProf; earlier including my Liberty and Law symposium entry with Chen and Tamanaha] “After law school deregulation” [Dave Hoffman, ConcurOp] “Five Ways To Mitigate the Crisis In Legal Education” [bring in more practitioner/adjuncts, dump the library requirements; Andrew Trask, Class Strategist]
  • Since Prof. Leiter’s views will never prevail in the United States, Rep. Paul Ryan is free to go on speaking all he pleases [SSRN; more on Jeremy Waldron]
  • George Will on Elizabeth Warren race-box furor [WaPo, earlier]
  • Obsession with law schools’ prestige levels: is there any way out? [William Henderson and Rachel Zahorsky, ABA Journal; Henderson, Legal Whiteboard]

There are a great many reasons to be grateful that the United States declared its independence on this date in 1776, but one reason is that we, unlike Great Britain, managed soon thereafter to secure a First Amendment in our Constitution to protect the freedom of speech. That means we, unlike Lincolnshire pensioner John Richards, are unlikely to be threatened with arrest should we choose to put up a small sign in our window promoting atheism, on the grounds that it might cause distress to passersby [Boston Standard via Popehat] Relatedly, we need not worry that NYU law prof Jeremy Waldron, advocate of “hate speech” bans, will see his views enacted into U.S. policy anytime soon [Erica Goldberg, ConcurOp], despite repeated signals from places like Harvard Law School and the New York Times that he is a Very Serious Person whose views we need to engage.

And while not all the differences between British libel law and ours can be traced to our First Amendment, we are also fortunate that it is a fair bit harder for public figures and organizations here to use defamation charges to ruin critics and authors [Guardian; novelist Amanda Craig, Telegraph] We have likewise been spared the activities of any exact equivalent of Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority, recently reported as banning a “fathers’ rights” ad [BoingBoing]. And so forth.

Enjoy the Fourth, and our freedoms.


Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 21, 2012

  • Courtesy Stanley Fish, Prof. Jeremy Waldron gets a long, favorable hearing in the New York Times for his let’s-suppress-hate-speech proposals [Opinionator]
  • On the other hand, free speech scores huge victory in Canada as parliament mostly along party lines votes to repeal notorious Section 13 of Canadian Human Rights Act, authorizing private federal complaints over alleged hate speech [Jonathan Kay]
  • “Christian Nation” historical writer and Texas curriculum reshaper David Barton sues critics; don’t let him find out what Ed Brayton keeps writing [Reason]
  • Pennsylvania bill: “Crime for Minor to Post or Send Messages That ‘Emotional[ly] Distress’ Another Minor?” [Volokh]
  • Norfolk, Va. business puts up a big sign protesting eminent domain scheme to seize its property; guess what happens next [Marc Scribner, Open Market]
  • Chris Evans nastygram to Lipstick Alley: Has Hollywood already forgotten about the Streisand effect? [Paul Alan Levy, Mike Masnick/TechDirt] Also at Public Citizen, the dispute over a boilermaker union official’s effort to unmask an online critic has now been settled (earlier);
  • Interesting bank case: “Employer SLAPPed for Suing Ex-Employee” [Shaw Valenza]


Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 25, 2012

  • Boilermaker union president resorts to litigation against satirical site [Levy; another case on demands for disclosure of anonymous commenters] More on ghastly NY bill to strip protection from anonymous online speech [David Kravets/Wired, Daily Caller, my take]
  • Defending people like Aaron Worthing and Patterico shouldn’t be a left-right matter [Popehat, Tapscott/Examiner, earlier] Maryland and indeed all states need stronger statutory protection against vexatious litigants [Ace of Spades] And as a longtime Charles Schwab customer I was at first distressed to find the Schwab Charitable Fund on this list, but since the fund is billed as “donor-advised” I take it some Schwab customer rather than the company itself got to choose the beneficiary;
  • “Indonesia Prosecution for Posting ‘God Doesn’t Exist’ on Facebook” [Volokh] Curious to see an argument for Euro-style hate speech laws appearing on the Liberty and Law site [David Conway]
  • “Cyberbullying and Bullying Used As Pretexts for Censorship” [Bader]
  • “EEOC: Wearing Confederate Flag T-Shirts May Be ‘Hostile Work Environment Harassment'” [Volokh, more, Bader]
  • Video on new freedom of assembly book [FedSoc]
  • Maybe Citizens United turned out so badly for the speech-suppressive side because a government lawyer was imprudently candid before the Court [Jacob Sullum, earlier on Toobin New Yorker piece]


Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 2, 2012

  • “People’s Rights Amendment” paves way for government control of media and trampling of many other rights. Is your Rep a sponsor? [Volokh, more, Somin]
  • Indian skeptic charged with blasphemy for revealing secret behind “miracle” of weeping cross [Doctorow] “Arab world’s most famous comedian” jailed in Egypt on charges of “insulting Islam” [Volokh]
  • “Is the Real Intent of Cyber-Bullying Laws to Eliminate Criticism of Politicians?” [Coyote]
  • Timothy Kincaid: why I oppose the California “don’t say ex-gay” therapy-ban bill [BTB]
  • More on unreasonable IRS demands of tea party groups seeking nonprofit status [Stoll, Anne Sorock/Bill Jacobson, Houston Chronicle, earlier]
  • Denmark Supreme Court, 7-0, strikes down conviction of Lars Hedegaard for criticizing Islam in own home [Mark Steyn] Institute of Public Affairs launches campaign to defend free speech in Australia [Andrew Bolt case earlier] Free speech in Britain looking the worse for wear [Cooke, NRO] Belgian court throws out lawsuit seeking ban on allegedly racist “Tintin” comic book [Volokh] Group files criminal complaint against Swiss magazine over cover story on Roma crime [Spiegel]


Updated twice: According to college paper Nota Bene, the student bar association Senate at George Washington University is asking the law school to consider a proposed policy which would attach substantial new restrictions to student decisions to invite speakers from “hate groups” to campus. (More: GW Patriot; a list of the asked-for restrictions, which include hiring security personnel at the expense of the inviting group and making “this is a hate group speaker” pre-announcements to audiences, is here; Nota Bene reports that the demand will not be considered this semester, and other sources say NB coverage has overstated how far the proposal managed to get). Making matters especially problematic, the blacklist would consist of groups designated as “hate groups” by Morris Dees’s Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] or the Anti-Defamation League.

Dees, long a deeply controversial public figure and polemicist, has been roundly criticized in recent years for expanding his list of “hate” and “extremist” groups, sent to law enforcement groups across the country, far beyond violent and criminal groups to include organizations and websites that advocate various (typically conservative) causes in a vehement and unpleasant manner, and thus offend liberal SPLC donors (and typically offend me as well). This year SPLC came in for widespread derision when it added a new category in its hate group report for “pickup artist” blogs, a target of feminist ire.

The demands for a policy change at GW were apparently triggered by an appearance on campus by the anti-gay Family Research Council, a spinoff of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family group. I have about as low an opinion of the FRC as it’s possible to have, but it’s not exactly to be confused with the Aryan Nations — major Republican politicians are willing to appear at its events, for example — and if you’re a student at a law school, it’s probably not a bad idea to be made aware that there are people out there with a wide range of views on the controversies of the day.

When I speak to audiences about the ideological law school atmosphere described in Schools for Misrule, I’m sometimes asked whether the pressures for conformity and silence are getting worse. Usually I argue the reverse, that law schools have tended to become more open in recent years to a broad spectrum of debate. If the advocates pushing the GWU initiative manage to get their proposal taken seriously by the law faculty, I may need to revise my thinking. [Updated 3/28 to reflect subsequent NotaBene report and questioning of its coverage; h/t Peter Bonilla, FIRE]


Life without a First Amendment: a student in Swansea, Wales, is jailed for posting racially offensive comments on Twitter while drunk [Nick Cohen, Spectator]


March 13 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 13, 2012

  • “Are Courts Dragging Out the Housing Crisis?” [Mark Calabria, Cato] “Boom-Era Property Speculators to Get Foreclosure Aid” [Bloomberg News via Bader, CEI] Community organizing groups expect to cash in on state AGs’ robosigning settlement [Neil Munro, Daily Caller, earlier] As does NAAG itself [Daniel Fisher] More: Kevin Funnell.
  • “Non-standard explanation offered for bugging wife’s bedroom” [Lowering the Bar]
  • Chris DeMuth on James Q. Wilson [Weekly Standard, earlier] I wrote about Wilson’s work on at least two occasions: the Baltimore Sun had me review a book of his on “abuse excuses” and other difficulties of psychiatric testimony in court, a good book if a mere foothill in the mountain range of his overall scholarship; on another occasion in Reason I challenged his uncharacteristic backing of a “family policy” proposal ripe with potential for unintended consequences;
  • Boston city councilor: make valet kid at restaurant responsible if patron drives off drunk [NPR via Alkon]
  • “Texas is being stiff armed by the EPA at every turn” [Munro/DC quoting Texas attorney general Greg Abbott] NYT’s “modest” offshore drilling restrictions: “I hate to think what immodest restrictions would look like” [John Steele Gordon]
  • “The Southern Poverty Law Center Is Now Writing About Pickup Artists as Hate Groups” [Mike Riggs]
  • SFO rental car garage offers a whiff of Prop 65 absurdity [Stoll]


“The Delhi High Court has ordered 21 companies, which have already been asked to develop a mechanism to block objectionable material in India, to present their plans for policing their services in the next 15 days.” A private complaint had charged the internet firms with permitting the dissemination of material offensive to Hindus, Muslims and Christians. [Emil Protalinski, ZDNet]


European roundup

by Walter Olson on February 2, 2012

  • Overseas press excoriates new FATCA tax-Americans’-foreign-earnings law; some foreign banks now turn away American customers [Dan Mitchell, Cato, Reason] “The Fatca story is really kind of insane.” [Caplin & Drysdale's H. David Rosenbloom, NYT via TaxProf] Will Congress back down? [Peter Spiro/OJ, more]
  • Important new book from James Maxeiner (University of Baltimore) and co-authors Gyooho Lee and Armin Weber on what the U.S. can learn from legal procedure overseas: “Failures of American Civil Justice in International Perspective” [TortsProf]
  • Don’t do it: British administration mulls further move away from loser-pays rule in search of — what exactly, a yet more Americanized litigation culture? [Guardian, Law Society]
  • Apparently in Norway it’s possible to lose one’s kids by feeding them by hand [Shikha Dalmia, Reason]
  • Financial transaction tax? Ask the Swedes how that worked out [Mike "Mish" Shedlock, Business Insider]
  • Notes from conference on globalization of class actions [Karlsgodt] Related: Adam Zimmerman;
  • “Another conviction in Europe for insulting religion” [Volokh; Polish pop star] Campus secularists’ speech under fire in the U.K. as “Jesus and Mo” controversy spreads to LSE [Popehat] British speech prosecution of soccer star [Suneal Bedi and William Marra, NRO]

“An Austrian appellate court has upheld the conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a Viennese housewife and anti-Jihad activist, for ‘denigrating religious beliefs’ after giving a series of seminars about the dangers of radical Islam.” [Soeren Kern, Hudson New York via Volokh]


  • “Stamp Out Online Misogyny?” [Wendy Kaminer, Brendan O'Neill]
  • Jacob Mchangama of Danish think tank CEPOS on blasphemy laws and Islam-critical speech [Nov. 4 FedSoc., PDF]
  • Niall Ferguson to sue LRB scribe? “If he won’t apologise for calling me a racist, I will persecute him until he does” [Guardian; more, Atlantic Wire] New York judge quashes subpoena seeking to identify anonymous bloggers in rabbi-defamation suit [Paul Alan Levy]
  • “If bullying has gone down, how can it be a pandemic?” By broadening its definition to include such behaviors as “eye-rolling” and pointed non-invitation [Hans Bader/Examiner, Neal McCluskey/Cato]
  • “I strongly recommend an umbrella policy for all bloggers. Defending myself cost nearly $100,000, thankfully paid by insurance.” [@DianaHsieh]
  • Federal crime under CFAA to lie on the internet? [Kerr, more, yet more, Balko]
  • “Will Canada Repeal its Hate Speech Law?” [Peter Worthington, Frum Forum]

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October 31 roundup

by Walter Olson on October 31, 2011

  • A pack of gum, e.g.: “What the Proceeds of a BlackBerry Class Action Could Buy” [Rebecca Greenfield, Atlantic Wire]
  • A million law firm ads later: “Pfizer’s Anti-Smoking Drug [Chantix] Isn’t Riskier Than Patches, FDA Says” [Bloomberg]
  • Over 9/11 attacks: “Court Recommends al-Qaida Pay $9 Billion to Insurers” [NYLJ]
  • Green alarmism over cosmetics — justified? [Dana Joel Gattuso, CEI; related here, here]
  • Arpaio-Thomas follies continue in Arizona courtroom [Coyote, earlier]
  • Upcoming: November 4 conference “Silenced” in D.C. on blasphemy laws and hate speech; Bruce Bawer, Nina Shea et al. [Federalist Society]
  • “I dreamed I swayed the jury… in my Maidenform bra” [Retronaut, scroll]


Sighs of relief after a decision in a defamation case (Crooks v. Newton) reported on earlier. [Michael Geist] Justice Abella:

I would conclude that a hyperlink, by itself, should never be seen as “publication” of the content to which it refers.

Adventurous litigants in U.S. defamation cases have occasionally argued otherwise. On Canada, see also proposals to criminalize links to so-called hate speech.

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