Ilya Shapiro comments [link fixed now] on the Supreme Court’s ruling this morning in Yates v. United States that the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting law’s prohibition on evasive destruction of “tangible objects” cannot be used to prosecute a fisherman who discarded undersized grouper in hopes of avoiding enforcement. “How does one make a false entry on a fish?” asked Justice Samuel Alito in a concurrence, while dissenting Justice Elena Kagan, citing Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish Two Fish,” disagreed with the prevailing justices’ view that the statute’s prohibition on destruction of “tangible objects” should be read in conjunction with references elsewhere in its text to files and information. [David Lat/Above the Law; ABA Journal] Earlier here.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument March 23 in the case of Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, which on its face raises a relatively specialized issue — having offered to print specialty license plates for motorists, may the state of Texas then, as its statutes direct, “refuse to create a new specialty license plate if the design might be offensive to any member of the public”? (emphasis added).
The lawfulness of government cooperation in speech, however, should not turn on whether the speech “might be offensive to any member of the public,” a new Cato brief argues. One reason is the potential for subjectivity and inconsistency — Texas currently approves many license plates that would offend some people, but declined to approve one including a tiny version of the Confederate battle flag. But a more fundamental reason is that offensive speech itself can be a valuable part of the marketplace of ideas and should not lose First Amendment protection simply because someone takes offense at it. (The brief takes no position on whether specialty license plates count as a “quasi-public forum” or something else, a question that might keep the Court from needing to reach the offense issue; it also notes that the case at hand does not include any of the exceptions the Court has recognized to speech freedom, such as obscenity, incitement, or “true threat.”)
Like Cato’s brief last year in the “truthiness” Ohio campaign speech case, this one falls into the new category of “funny” brief — including references to jokes and comedy sequences, dropping cites to Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, and including among its signers Cato fellow P.J. O’Rourke as well as the Comic Book Defense Fund and noted First Amendment advocates Nat Hentoff, Nadine Strossen, and Martin Garbus. (It also includes a number of words often considered offensive, and which seldom find a place in Supreme Court briefs.)
Ilya Shapiro, counsel of record (joined by co-counsel, and noted First Amendment lawyer, Robert Corn-Revere) writes at the Cato blog:
Not only does the right to be offensive secure the livelihood of our favorite comedians, it protects scientific and medical researchers in their quest to push the limits of human knowledge into fields once considered taboo and enables one religion’s heretic to become another’s prophet. And should a member of a third faith, or no faith at all, wish to define himself as an iconoclast by mocking, degrading, or insulting that heretic cum prophet—be it Muhammad, L. Ron Hubbard, or Mark Steyn — that too, is protected by the First Amendment.
There’s no “offensiveness” exception to the First Amendment and it would be insulting for the Supreme Court to allow Texas to tell us what’s offensive. Those who are offended shouldn’t have a veto over free expression and putative offenders should be judged in the court of public opinion.
Another summary: Ronald Collins, Concurring Opinions.
Time to rethink a traditional law enforcement practice? “In City of Los Angeles v. Patel, which will be argued in the Supreme Court March 3rd, a group of hoteliers have challenged the city’s ordinance requiring them to hand over customer data whenever a police officer wants it.” The innkeepers prevailed in an en banc Ninth Circuit ruling and the case is now before the high court [Jim Harper, Cato] More: Tim Cushing, TechDirt.
For a second time, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which federal agricultural marketing order regulations compelled the Horne family of California to surrender about half their raisin crop for little if any compensation. [Will Baude, Ilya Somin, Michael McConnell] A previous high court ruling had kicked the case back to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings [earlier here and here.]
Should the Court deem the requisitions a taking for which compensation is due, the implications for other agricultural programs are considerable. “Similar USDA marketing order programs are in place for almonds, apricots, avocados, cherries (both sweet and tart), Florida and Texas citrus, cranberries, dates, grapes, hazelnuts, kiwifruit, olives, many onions and pears, pistachios, California plums and prunes, many potatoes, raisins, spearmint oil, tomatoes, and walnuts.” [Baylen Linnekin]
Also, wouldn’t this make a good illustration?
Daniel Fisher recounts oral argument in the case of Texas Dept. of Housing vs. The Inclusive Communities Project. Roger Clegg (more) and Terry Eastland comment on a “to exclude one is implicitly to include all others” argument made by some on the liberal side.
Interviewed at HousingWire, Mike Skojec of Ballard Spahr predicts major consequences from the case (including, paradoxically or otherwise, higher costs for the building of “affordable” housing should the liberal side win) and has this to say about how disparate-impact advocates have overplayed their hand:
In some disparate impact cases, the theory has worked effectively to lessen racial discrimination and the perpetuation of illegal segregation. However, the substantial increase in the use of the theory by advocacy groups and HUD for many kinds of claims for which it should not be used, such as how risk is evaluated in selling property insurance or how management companies screen the risk of criminal conduct and other bad acts by possible tenants, has caused the theory to be attacked and probably struck down.
Why “probably” struck down? Well, there are many signals of the Court’s intention:
The Court has wanted to examine this issue, as evidenced by accepting cert three times. It has repeatedly said that it only wanted to look at whether disparate impact applies under the Fair Housing Act and not what standard would apply if it does exist, even though there are many circuit court decisions using disparate impact, and they have used conflicting standards. Typically, the Court would want to decide an issue that is in conflict between the circuits, especially here, where HUD has already tried to resolve the conflicts with a rule. The Court’s refusal to consider a standard suggests that the majority of the justices already know disparate impact will no longer apply under the Fair Housing Act.
No, the Supreme Court did not rule that firing a woman for breastfeeding is okay because men can lactate too. [Philip Miles, Lawffice Space]
P.S. Snopes weighs in (headlines “create a grossly misleading impression based upon one very minor element of a single aspect of the case”), prompting the ACLU’s Galen Sherwin to try a rescue mission in hopes readers would not lose interest in the case entirely once deprived of its clickbait elements. Raw Story, which did much to spread the silly meme, has now appended an easy-to-miss correction; Slate, which slapped an equally ridiculous headline on an Amanda Marcotte post, as of this writing has not.
The Supreme Court is considering the case of a woman who sued torrid-youth retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, saying it discriminated against her based on religious belief when it failed to waive its “Look Policy,” in which sales personnel are expected to wear only clothes sold by the store, to accommodate her modesty headscarf. Never mind whether this demand would be a reasonable one in itself; the case has gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court in large part because of a second issue, whether the store was legally obliged to grasp the situation intuitively as based on religion and pre-emptively accommodate Samantha Elauf “even though Elauf never informed them that she would need a religious accommodation.” A district court ruled that it was so obliged, the Tenth Circuit reversed, and now the Supreme Court is hearing the case at the EEOC’s request.
Requiring employers to offer a religious accommodation before they are on notice that one is sought requires them to act on “crude stereotypes or pry into employees’ personal lives,” write Ilya Shapiro and Julio Colomba. Not all employee requests on subjects such as modesty, diet, or weekend attendance are associated with religious affiliation and observance, while conversely many persons with genuine or sincere religious affiliation or belief do not conform to stereotypical expectations about what their religion might require of them in the workplace. Individual employees are thus “in a significantly better position to identify conflicts than employers.” The Cato Institute has filed an amicus brief on Abercrombie’s side arguing that the Court should reject the EEOC’s position as unworkable, unfair, and not required by the statute.
Related: Eugene Volokh has been posting on religious-exemption and religious-accommodation law at Volokh Conspiracy. For those who imagine, reading the Hobby Lobby and state-RFRA coverage, that religious exemptions have mostly been favored by conservatives over liberal opposition, he reminds us that the actual history is nearer the opposite. And he explains why his own view is that an optimal approach would include a mix of legislatively and judicially crafted (consistent with legislative wishes) religious exemptions and accommodations, but not necessarily a constitutional entitlement to accommodation.
- King v. Burwell: next ObamaCare showdown at Supreme Court [Ilya Shapiro and Josh Blackman, David Bernstein on Cato brief, Adler v. Bagley Federalist video, Michael Greve with theory of Justice Kennedy riding off to Colorado with Dagny, earlier]
- “J&J says women being illegally solicited to join in mesh lawsuits” [Jessica Dye/Reuters, same on lawyers’ response, more on which]
- Invoking ACA, feds regulate non-profit hospitals to require periodic community needs assessment, limit collection methods [Treasury]
- Unless judges are vigilant, lawyers will take advantage of mass tort joinder to evade CAFA limits on forum-shopping [Steven Boranian, Drug & Device Law]
- Popular literature on IRBs/consent of research subjects can employ dubious definitions of “coercion” [Simon Whitney via Zachary Schrag]
- Qui tam lawyers vs. pharmaceutical companies, some empirical findings [Bill of Health]
- So that’s what “anatomical theatre” means: researcher checks into ostensible open-source medical journals and finds many “had suspicious addresses; one was actually inside a strip club.” [Fast Company on report finding that fake paper was accepted for publication by 17 journals]
- A student of David Henderson’s recalls the state of medicine under the Soviets: assignment to providers based on place of residence; the role of gifts, favors, and clout; how idealistic doctors became cynics; the black market as a safety valve. [EconLog]
- Should a sock used to hold pills count as “drug paraphernalia?” [NPR via Jeffrey Miron on Supreme Court case]
- Michael Greve: on Medicaid spending-forcing suits, behold the Obama administration taking the correct stance, U.S. Chamber the wrong [Liberty and Law, more]
- No, the justices don’t just use religious freedom cases to advance their own beliefs [Eugene Volokh]
- Can/should the courts correct misconduct by the EEOC in dealings with employers during the “conciliation” phase before litigation? [Robert Barnes/Washington Post, Julie Goldscheid/SCOTUSBlog, Michael Greve on oral argument in Mach Mining v. EEOC]
- Decision in Dart Cherokee case rejects presumption against removal of class actions [Richard Samp and M.C. Sungaila, WLF]
- When if ever may the President properly sign legislation he believes to be in part unconstitutional? [Will Baude]
- Most Justices have had little practical exposure to criminal law which can leave it a blind spot for them [Radley Balko]
- Pennsylvania has passed that grotesque new law seeking to muzzle convicts from discussing crimes when “mental anguish” to victims could result. Time for courts to strike it down [Radley Balko, earlier]
- “First Amendment challenge to broad gag order on family court litigants” [Eugene Volokh]
- Federally funded Indiana U. program to monitor political opinion on Twitter didn’t much like being monitored itself by critics [Free Beacon, earlier (project “intensely if covertly political”)]
- Holocaust denial laws abridge the freedom of speech. Do they even accomplish their own aims? [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard]
- Is it defamatory to call someone a “censorious a**hat”? [Adam Steinbaugh, Eric Turkewitz, earlier on Roca Labs case]
- We should take up a collection to translate Voltaire into French [Reason, Huffington Post on Dieudonne case, yesterday on talk of “Fox maligned Paris” suit]
- Some would-be speech suppressers upset over Citizens United ruling also quite happy to drown out Justices’ speech [Mark Walsh, SCOTUSBlog] “Campaign finance censors lose debate to Reddit” [Trevor Burrus] Citizens United “probably the most misunderstood case in modern legal history.” [Ilya Shapiro]