Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

Free speech roundup

  • Why Josh Blackman signed Wednesday’s New York Times ad protesting the AGs’ investigation and subpoenas on climate advocacy;
  • Proposed revision of ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct barring discrimination by lawyers could have major anti-speech implications [Eugene Volokh]
  • “Game Studio’s Plan To Deal With Critic Of Games: Sue Him To Hell” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
  • The Citizens United case was correctly decided, says Michael Kinsley. And he’s right. [Vanity Fair]
  • Fifth Circuit ruling prescribes attorney fee award after defeat of frivolous trademark litigation under Lanham Act [Popehat]
  • So what’s a good way to support teaching evolution without climbing in bed with folks who put free speech in scare quotes? [National Center for Science Education on Twitter: “Tobacco Science, Climate Denial, and ‘Free Speech'”]

What’s the problem with Rhode Island officials and free speech, anyway?

Seriously, what’s their problem? [Hans Bader on the Rhode Island attorney general’s proposal for a ban on many hostile social media posts, covered here earlier] Meanwhile, a Providence Journal editorial blasts home-state Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse:

…in dealing with [carbon dioxide emissions], or any crisis, it is vitally important that America not discard its essential values of freedom.

Regrettably, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., continues to make noises about using government to prosecute some of those who willfully persist in questioning the scientific consensus on climate change. …

This is troubling: a U.S. senator and attorney general [Loretta Lynch], both sworn to uphold the Constitution, mulling legal action against American citizens and companies for the “crime” of challenging a scientific theory. A number of Democratic attorneys general — including Rhode Island’s Peter Kilmartin — have also expressed interest in prosecuting those whom they believe are deliberately misleading the public about this issue.

Turning such disagreements into punishable acts of fraud would seem to be legally difficult. But that may not be the point. The threat alone could have a chilling effect on free speech, by intimidating dissenters into silence. Such an approach would be an affront to the scientific method, which involves the free exploration of ideas. …

President Thomas Jefferson said in his first inaugural address: “Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

There is no reason to pit environmentalism and free speech against one other. We can join together to protect our planet without trying to silence those who argue against us.

Some more recent commentary on the AG subpoena investigation Sen. Whitehouse helped orchestrate: Richard Epstein, George Will, Ronald Rotunda. As Prof. Rotunda points out, the government not only declines to prosecute advocacy research in other contexts, but often funds it. And the 2012 Alvarez v. U.S. (stolen valor) case establishes that outright, knowing lying for advantage often receives constitutional protection as well, on the recognition by the courts that “if the government can punish that, we go down a steep slippery slope. … The marketplace of ideas, not the subpoena power of government, should decide what is true or false.” More: “The environmental campaign that punishes free speech” [Sam Kazman and Kent Lassman (CEI), Washington Post]

Campus climate roundup

  • New college freshmen show scant knowledge about or commitment to free speech. How’d that happen? [Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky, L.A. Times via Josh Blackman] New Gallup survey of students on campus speech [Knight Foundation and report] Greg Lukianoff (FIRE) interviewed [Fault Lines]
  • Senior Ohio State administrator coolly advises protesters that not retreating from their “occupied space” will involve getting arrested and expelled [Eric Owens, Daily Caller]
  • Mizzou’s chief diversity officer asked university administration to assist protesters with logistics. And it did. [Jillian Kay Melchior, Heat Street]
  • No, the regents of a public university should not be saying that “anti-Zionism” has “no place at the University of California.” [Eugene Volokh]
  • “In Her Own Words: Laura Kipnis’ ‘Title IX Inquisition’ at Northwestern” [FIRE interview, earlier] Title IX complainant at U.Va.: that mural must go [Charlotte Allen, IWF]
  • National Coalition Against Censorship, AAUP, FIRE, and Student Press Law Center voice opposition to calls to ban anonymous speech apps such as Yik Yak on campus [NCAC, College Fix, earlier]

Free speech roundup

More on the CEI subpoena

As we noted on Friday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, more recently joined by several other state attorneys general, has pursued an investigation of the ExxonMobil corporation and its links to “climate denial” that has now resulted in a subpoena (from the attorney general of the U. S. Virgin Islands, Claude E. Walker) demanding ten years’ worth of internal documents from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. CEI, which issued a statement last week (with the text of the subpoena) vowing to resist the legal attack, has a further statement and links here; CEI’s Myron Ebell also recorded a Cato podcast (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up”) with interviewer Caleb Brown.

Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View, calls the new developments “an attempt to criminalize advocacy”:

State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions — some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok….

The rule of law, and our norms about free speech, represent a sort of truce between both sides. We all agree to let other people talk, because we don’t want to live in a world where we ourselves are not free to speak. Because we do not want to be silenced by an ambitious prosecutor, we should all be vigilant when ambitious prosecutors try to silence anyone else.

Hans von Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation:

This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition. It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials who are willing to exploit their power to achieve ideological ends….

Given the coalition that has been formed by state attorneys general to conduct a grand inquisition against climate change deniers, this subpoena from the Virgin Islands attorney general is probably just the first assault in their quasi-religious war against unbelievers. Researchers, scientists, think tanks, universities, and anyone else who works or speaks in this area should be aware that they may soon become a target of these malicious investigations.

Hans Bader of CEI, at Law and Liberty:

As the Washington state supreme court noted in Rickert v. State Pub. Disclosure Commission (2007), our forefathers “did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us” in the realm of politics.

A sobering aspect of the state AGs’ crusade is what is taking place outside of courtrooms: they are pressuring companies to cut off donations to nonprofit groups that employ “climate-change deniers.” … New York’s and California’s attorneys general have investigated Exxon for making donations to think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and lobbying groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council. Schneiderman complains that these two specifically are “even more aggressive climate change deniers” than the run of the mill. (Ironically, while these large organizations include a few people labeled as “climate change deniers,” they focus mostly on issues having nothing to do with climate change.)

…even if being a “climate change denier” were a crime (rather than constitutionally protected speech, as it in fact is), a donation to a nonprofit that employs such a person would not be a crime.

In February we noted Bader’s strong argument that a “prolonged investigation in response to someone’s speech can violate the First Amendment” in itself even when “eventually dropped without imposing any fine or disciplinary action.”

I’m also quoted in a piece in Vermont Watchdog by Michael Bielawski and Bruce Parker that came out just before the subpoena report, on some of the issues in the investigation.

Free speech roundup

  • Soon after reports that World Health Organization wants to keep kids from viewing classic films depicting smoking, purported class action lawsuit seeks damages from Hollywood for not instituting such a ratings policy [Courthouse News]
  • UK police arrest another man over dumb political tweet, defend our First Amendment to make sure such things don’t happen here in US [Telegraph] “How about we ‘defend European values’ by not arresting people who say stupid things?” [Brendan O’Neill, Spectator]
  • The monocle that blinked: New Yorker magazine now often found on wrong side of free speech issues [Jamie Kirchick/Commentary, earlier]
  • What does Donald Trump really think about suing the press? Ann Althouse goes line by line through what he told the Washington Post at an editorial board meeting [earlier here, here, etc.]
  • High court should step in against law regulating speech regarding ballot measures by small, low-budget groups [John Kramer, Institute for Justice on Justice v. Hosemann] Paul Sherman of Institute for Justice joins Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell for a discussion of the First Amendment, political and occupational speech [Libertarianism.org]
  • Merrick Garland’s record on First Amendment issues [Ronald Collins] State of play in the Supreme Court on First Amendment cases this term [same; published before 4-4 outcome in Friedrichs]

Behind that “scientists’ letter” on climate denial as legal offense

Remember that “scientists’ letter” in which twenty or so credentialed scientists signed their names to a letter asking that so-called climate deniers be investigated, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had been demanding? On inquiry, however, some of the signatories did not seem to know much about the letter or to be particularly committed to the idea. According to David Rifkin and Andrew Grossman’s new Wall Street Journal piece (ungated here), open records requests have now established that the letter was coordinated by Sen. Whitehouse himself. Background here, here, etc.

Rifkin and Grossman also announce the formation of a new, and badly needed, Free Speech in Science Project. “The project will fund legal advice and defense to those who need it, while executing an offense to turn the tables on abusive officials.”

Free speech roundup

  • Unbowed by terror: interview with heroic Danish editor Flemming Rose [Simon Cottee/The Atlantic]
  • “If The Left Had Its Way On Citizens United, ‘Funny Or Die’ Would Not Be Allowed To Ridicule Trump” [Luke Wachob, Independent Journal]
  • Justice Department considers push for law criminalizing support of domestic terror groups [Reuters] Per federally funded police-support center, possible indicators of “extremist and disaffected individuals” include display of “Don’t Tread on Me” flag [Jesse Walker, Reason]
  • U.S. BigLaw firm Squire Patton Boggs represents Venezuela as it tries to shut down U.S.-published DolarToday for publishing data about inflation [Jim Wyss/Miami Herald, Cyrus Farivar/Ars Technica, earlier here, etc.]
  • When scandal broke about IRS targeting of opposing groups, even President Obama talked about accountability. After press attention waned came refusal to press charges, whitewash, denial [Glenn Reynolds, USA Today]
  • Bad, bad bar: behind recent rise in blasphemy prosecutions in Pakistan is a lawyers’ group [Reuters]

On disrupting opponents’ political events

I’ve got a new piece at Cato noting that an important plank of American political consensus over the past century — that it’s wrong to disrupt and shout down your opponents’ speeches and events — seems to be on the verge of collapsing. An obvious parallel, of course, is to the speech-intolerant “shut-’em-down” culture on many American campuses; but the actions of Black Lives Matter supporters in taking over microphones and blockading freeways have also played an important role.

I begin the piece with the story of a speech I attended at a Federalist Society event last Friday at which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was shouted down by a squad of disrupters sent, incredibly, by the (c)(4) affiliate of a major think tank in Washington, the Center for American Progress:

(“Today at @SenOrrinHatch’s SCOTUS book event, we said #DoYourJob and vote on on a SCOTUS nominee. They didn’t listen.”)

To which @thomasehopson replied:

More thoughts on shoutdowns and organized heckling as a tactic: Ed Krayewski; Eugene Volokh on the legality/illegality of disrupting events and of some responses to disruption. And: while left-on-right disruption appears to have been more common in recent years, note also this coverage of the equally objectionable other way round, from an Austin town hall on ObamaCare. Plus, Marc Thiessen: disrupters go after Trump rallies in well-organized groups. Yet a “responsible leader tries to calm a volatile situation.”