If a thin-skinned academic sues a magazine for criticizing him too harshly, and you find yourself hoping the magazine will get sued into bankruptcy because you disagree with its views, you might not want to claim for yourself the honorable word liberal [Damon Linker/The Week, Stephen Carter/Bloomberg, Eugene Volokh on role of libel insurance, earlier here, here, etc.]
- Though ruled unconstitutional a half century ago, Louisiana’s criminal defamation law has remained on the books and could still cause you grief, especially if a sheriff’s office thinks you’ve defamed it [Sara Pagones and Katie Moore, NOLA.com]
- Certiorari petition filed asking Supreme Court to stop climatologist Michael Mann’s lawsuit against National Review [NR, earlier]
- Latest sassy response to a cease-and-desist demand (language) [Mike Masnick, TechDirt; “Diamond and Silk” versus Wonkette] Person “threatens to sue the Guinness World Record folks for removing his records” [same]
- Also Techdirt-related: “Defamation lawsuit brought by self-proclaimed email ‘inventor’ settles” [Cyrus Farivar, NBC, related]
- New Hampshire high court: inventor and company weren’t defamed by being called patent troll [ABA Journal, earlier here and here] Lawsuit alleging adult defamation of a seventh grader results in liability but no damages [Eugene Volokh; Massachusetts Superior Court]
- Council in Peachtree City, Ga. considers proposal to pay legal bills of city workers and officials who sue critics for defamation [George Franco, Fox 5 Atlanta]
- We’ll pass the bill first, and let the courts tell us later whether it violates the First Amendment. That’s not how it’s supposed to work [my Free State Notes on a Maryland “cyberbullying” bill]
- Local laws requiring government contractors to disclose/disclaim ties to the anti-Israel BDS movement have rightly come under criticism. Will that spill over to a constitutionally dubious new Los Angeles ordinance requiring contractors to disclose ties with an advocacy group devoted to a different issue, the NRA? [Eugene Volokh]
- “Lust on Trial,” new book by Amy Werbel on celebrated vice crusader Anthony Comstock [Kurt Conklin with Alex Joseph, Hue (Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC); podcasts at FIRE with Nico Perrino and ABA Journal with Lee Rawles]
- “The Rushdie affair became a template for global intellectual terrorism” from Paris and Copenhagen to Garland, Tex.; in a different way, it also foreshadowed the far pettier heresy hunts and sanctity trials of callout culture [Jonathan Rauch]
- $250 million libel suits as a fantasy way to own the libs? In real life meanwhile big-ticket libel suits are used to silence conservatives [Competitive Enterprise Institute press release (leading media orgs including RCFP, SPJ, ASNE support rehearing of D.C. court ruling favorable toward Michael Mann defamation action), NR editors, Jack Fowler] “The media’s Covington coverage was appalling, but Nick Sandman’s libel lawsuit is not the answer” [Robby Soave, Irina Manta] Another part of the forest: Justice Clarence Thomas criticizes New York Times v. Sullivan [Will Baude, Cass Sunstein, Ramesh Ponnuru]
- “A new documentary showcased by PBS presents Montana as a success story of campaign finance reform and Wisconsin’s John Doe investigations as a failure.” But “Dark Money” has some omissions [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Steve Klein of the Pillar of Law Institute]
“Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, whose research argues the U.S. power grid could run exclusively on renewable energy by 2050, is taking his critics to court. Jacobson filed a $10 million libel lawsuit in September against Chris Clack, a mathematician and chief executive of Vibrant Clean Energy, and the National Academy of Sciences, after the Academy published an article by Clack and 20 co-authors criticizing the 2015 study. The co-authors are not named in the suit.” [Lindsay Marchello/Reason, Keith Pickering/Daily Kos, Robert Bryce/NRO] Here’s Jonathan Adler:
…Some of the arguments made in the complaint are a bit bizarre. For instance, Jacobson claims the NAS violated its conflict-of-interest disclosure policies by failing to note that some of the contributors to the Clack, et al., paper are “advocates” for various policy positions. Yet Jacobson’s own paper doesn’t list his own policy advocacy as a potential conflict of interest either.
The idea that academic researchers should turn to court when their work is criticized or contradicted by other researchers is a pernicious one, challenging the sort of robust inquiry upon which scientific research and the discovery of knowledge require. It is absolutely essential that researchers are free to posit hypotheses and subject others’ hypotheses to critique. This inevitably entails not just questioning other researchers’ conclusions, but also pointing out potential errors and mistakes. Of course it’s true that strong critiques of one’s academic work may have an effect on one’s academic reputation, but that goes with the territory. The same goes for making erroneous allegations against other researchers. If the fear of such reputational harms is compounded by the threat of litigation, academic inquiry will be chilled as researchers become more reluctant to point out the problems in each others’ work….
Like Michael Mann’s long-running defamation suit, this complaint appears to be little more than an effort to use a legal club to stifle robust critique and debate. (In that regard, it should be no surprise that Jacobson’s suit was filed in the same venue.)
- Good news for Donald Trump! Sticking with speech-protective opinion rule, New York judge dismisses libel suit by PR consultant against him based on his derogatory tweets [ABA Journal]
- “Jawboning” at FCC, under which media companies bend to commissioners’ wishes on content and hiring rather than risk their disapproval, should be recognized as danger to both First Amendment and rule of law [Brent Skorup and Christopher Koopman, Regulation via Cato Institute Tumblr summary]
- The family of Ahmed Mohamed, of schoolboy clock fame, may have to pay $200,000 or more to targets of frivolous libel suits [Popehat]
- Harsh epithets, calls for investigation and accusations of whitewashing, rhetorical comparisons to infamous persons could all lead to media liability if D.C. Court of Appeals reasoning in Michael Mann case isn’t overturned [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry, Cato, earlier]
- NYC, San Francisco criminalize listing property on AirBnB except on authorized conditions. A question of commercial speech [Glenn Lammi, WLF]
- Can Colorado regulate groups that run ads with the message “call your lawmaker to support this bill”? [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry]
- Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention panel discussion on Justice Scalia, originalism, and the First Amendment with Profs. Nadine Strossen, David Forte, Michael McConnell, and David Rabban, moderated by Judge Carlos Bea;
- Sad day for liberal Netherlands tradition of free political opinion [CNN on conviction of Geert Wilders, leader of prominent political party] More Euro speech-throttling: France mulls ban on anti-abortion websites (only) that “mislead” or “manipulate” [Guardian]
- Judge grants motions to dismiss, and to strike as SLAPP, the suit in California demanding “R” ratings on films with tobacco use [Greg Herbers, Washington Legal Foundation, earlier here and here, related here and here]
- “Congress’s rotten idea for fighting anti-Semitism” [Jacob Sullum, New York Post on S. 10, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016]
- “Lawyer seeks to identify author of three-word ‘horrible’ Google review” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal; Eugene Volokh]
- Section 230 vindicated: “Judge Tosses Charges Against Backpage Execs, Tells Kamala Harris To Take It Up With Congress” [Tim Cushing/TechDirt, Elizabeth Nolan Brown/Reason]
- Breaking Thursday morning: court allows defamation claims by climate scientist Michael Mann to go forward against several defendants including Rand Simberg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and columnist Mark Steyn, but throws out claim against National Review editor Rich Lowry over editorial [BuzzFeed, Jonathan Adler, CEI statement quoting CEI’s Sam Kazman and attorney Andrew Grossman]
- Venezuela files suit in U.S. against American website, Dolar Today, that is critical of its currency policies [George Selgin]
- Michigan: “Felony prosecution for distributing pro-jury-nullification leaflets outside courthouse” [Eugene Volokh, earlier here, here, etc.] More: Judge tosses Denver D.A.’s attempt to jail jury nullification pamphleteers [Jacob Sullum, earlier]
- Federal agencies should not get to decide for themselves whether they’re violating the First Amendment [Ilya Shapiro, Cato on cert petition in POM Wonderful v. Federal Trade Commission]
- “After all, a wall can be built around many things, but not around the First Amendment.” One election lawyer’s response to cease/desist letter from Donald Trump [Chris Cillizza/Washington Post, letter courtesy Politico]
- Court in Turkey considering a doctor’s comparison of Turkish President Erdogan with “Lord of Rings” character Gollum, and the results are preciousss [Sarah McLaughlin, Popehat]
- Update on climatologist Michael Mann’s defamation suit, still in progress [Jonathan Adler, earlier]
- Attacks on the right to speak one’s mind are multiplying. Would better civics education help? [George Leef, Forbes]
- 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]
Many organizations and individuals have now filed amicus briefs in the case filed by climate scientist Michael Mann against bloggers, journalists and a think tank (the Competitive Enterprise Institute) that had published or linked to hostile commentary about him. Among them is a brief filed on behalf of the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Individual Rights Foundation, and Goldwater Institute whose point, as Ilya Shapiro explains, is to “urge the court to stay out of the business of refereeing scientific debates.” Among filers of other briefs just entered: Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 26 other organizations, online publishers and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and defendant/commentator Mark Steyn. Earlier here, etc. More: Alison Frankel, Reuters.
Unrelatedly, a Maryland judge has ruled in favor of a large group of defendant-bloggers and entered a directed verdict against Brett Kimberlin’s defamation suit; claims he has filed in federal court remain unresolved. Reporter Dave Weigel was there, and tweeted: “Kimberlin says the bloggers will face ‘endless lawsuits for the rest of their lives.'” [Legal Insurrection, Ken White, Popehat; recent background on federal-court side of case from Paul Alan Levy and more, earlier] (Updated to clarify which of the matters Levy was writing about). More: Weigel in the Daily Beast.
Prof. Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia is among the nation’s leading law-and-religion scholars. Many of his positions on church-state matters would normally be taken for quite liberal; for example, he argued the recent Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway on behalf of those objecting to sectarian prayer of any sort before town council meetings. At the same time, as noted on an earlier occasion, Prof. Laycock happens to favor a broad application of religious-accommodation laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This has led him to support proposals for state RFRAs with broad definitions, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, and also to file an amicus brief on behalf of employer Hobby Lobby in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.
Now comes the price to pay [Charlottesville Daily Progress]:
Laycock, who is married to UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan, is the subject of a Freedom of Information Act records request by two UVa student activists — Gregory Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro. In an open letter to the professor, Lewis and Montenegro said that while they respect Laycock’s right to academic freedom, they believe his writings supporting controversial religious freedom laws are holding back progressive causes such as access to contraceptives and gay marriage.
An outside group has been promoting the action [C-ville.com]:
“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL. …
Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups. … Meanwhile, GetEQUAL has launched a national e-mail campaign calling out Laycock for his role in shoring up the legal arguments of those who support “religious bigotry.”
If the issue of FOIA-ing U.Va. professors rings a bell, it’s because it’s happened at least twice before. Around 2009 Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, FOIAed the university demanding correspondence and documents relating to former professor Patrick Michaels (now at Cato), who had espoused skeptical views on global warming. Then allies of former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli filed a FOIA request seeking similar documents for Michael Mann, a prominent advocate of global warming theories. [C-ville.com, WaPo]
No one could doubt that Laycock’s views on religious accommodation are part of a set of intellectually derived convictions that run through decades of his work. (In addition to opposing such forms of church-state entanglement as officially sponsored prayer, he supports the right of gays to marry.) It’s simply a matter of trying to arm-twist a tenured, well-recognized scholar who takes a position that the Forces of Unanimity consider wrong.
Of course, the student activists deny that anything like that is on their minds:
Lewis said they’re not trying to smear Laycock, and they’re not trying to undermine academic freedom. They just want a dialogue, he said.
Prof. Bainbridge isn’t buying it:
[B.S.] You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. ….It’s time to start fighting back.
It might also be time for legislators to clarify state open-records laws to determine under what circumstances they can be used to go after academics, and consider altering them, where appropriate, to provide for financial or other sanctions when they are misused.
Note also: conservative-leaning groups have launched a series of FOIA requests seeking records of professors at state universities in North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. The left-leaning Institute for Southern Studies has a critical account here. (& welcome readers from Steve Miller, IGF; Paul Caron, TaxProf; Jonathan Adler, Volokh; Ramesh Ponnuru/NRO “Corner”; Prof. Bainbridge; Will Creeley/FIRE; Dahlia Lithwick, Slate; Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View)