Posts Tagged ‘ACLU’

Dissension in ACLU ranks over NRA brief

Last month we noted that the ACLU had filed a brief on the side of the NRA in its regulatory-retaliation First Amendment suit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The brief “strikes me as quite sound legally,” writes Eugene Volokh, who quotes and annotates its text. But the action has roused passionate opposition within the organization itself, reports Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. For example, the ACLU’s New York affiliate declined to join the brief and its officials issued a public statement critical of it. Among their arguments: the NRA “has enormous resources and is fully able to present its First Amendment claim.” Others argue that the dispute is at least in part fact-intensive and does not rest entirely on First Amendment issues, since Cuomo had denounced a particular insurance product marketed by the NRA as unlawful — although the governor’s own statements make clear that his call for regulators to squeeze the group’s finances went beyond that, and indeed included a call for them to put the squeeze on groups with advocacy missions similar to the NRA’s. Yet other factions within the ACLU charge that for it to side with the NRA is to advance “white supremacy.” More: Scott Greenfield.

The legal role the ACLU is playing here, it should be noted, is amicus, as distinct from pro bono defense. As Howard Wasserman, writing at PrawfsBlawg, notes:

The resources argument (putting aside whether it has any merit) strikes me as inapposite in this case. The ACLU is not representing the NRA in this case, so any expenditure of ACLU resources does not relieve the NRA of the burden to spend money on its own lawyers to make its own arguments. The benefit of the ACLU’s brief, on which it did expend some of its limited resources, is to the NRA’s legal position, not to its wallet. An argument that the ACLU not only should not represent well-resourced parties* but should not provide amicus support for well-resourced parties seems over-inclusive, tying the merits of a party’s constitutional position to the money in its bank account.

ACLU: don’t let New York regulators squelch NRA’s First Amendment rights

I’ve been critical of the ACLU lately but its amicus-brief defense of the NRA’s First Amendment rights against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s strong-arm use of insurance and bank regulation is vital, timely, and right:

Public officials are, of course, free to criticize groups with which they disagree. But they cannot use their regulatory authority to penalize advocacy groups by threatening companies that do business with those groups. And here the state has admitted, in its own words, that it focused on the NRA and other groups not because of any illegal conduct, but because they engage in “gun promotion” — in other words, because they advocate a lawful activity.

Substitute Planned Parenthood or the Communist Party for the NRA, and the point is clear. If Cuomo can do this to the NRA, then conservative governors could have their financial regulators threaten banks and financial institutions that do business with any other group whose political views the governor opposes. The First Amendment bars state officials from using their regulatory power to penalize groups merely because they promote disapproved ideas.

My post from May on the topic is here. More on the ACLU brief: Dan M. Clark, New York Law Journal; Declan McCullagh.

Constitutional law roundup

  • Judge says Emoluments Clause suit based on Trump’s DC hotel can proceed [Andrew M. Harris, Bloomberg, Washington Post; two views at Volokh Conspiracy from David Post and Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman; earlier on Emoluments Clause litigation] Last year I noted the hotel-competitor fact pattern as the kind of emoluments case most likely to clear the standing hurdle;
  • Excessive fines are unconstitutional, whether levied on persons or on groups of persons [Ilya Shapiro and Matthew Larosiere and Dave Kopel on Cato/Independence Institute brief in Colorado Dept. of Labor v. Dami Hospitality]
  • Federalist Society conversation with author Joseph Tartakovsky about his new book, The Lives of the Constitution: Ten Exceptional Minds that Shaped America’s Supreme Law;
  • “In 2016, Birmingham, Ala. officials imposed $10.10 minimum wage, but the next day state legislators preempted it, enacting a statewide minimum wage of $7.25. Plaintiffs: Which discriminates against blacks, who make up 72 percent of Birmingham and most of its City Council. Eleventh Circuit: ‘Today, racism is no longer pledged from the portico of the capitol or exclaimed from the floor of the constitutional convention; it hides, abashed, cloaked beneath ostensibly neutral laws and legitimate bases, steering government power toward no less invidious ends.’ Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim should not have been dismissed.” [John Kenneth Ross, Short Circuit, on Lewis v. Governor of Alabama]
  • “This is the old ‘why do you make him hit you?’ argument applied to civil liberties. It excuses the actions of the abuser—the state in this case—as reactions to the missteps of the abused.” [J.D. Tuccille on curious ACLU argument that maintaining expansive Second Amendment rights just provokes the state into wider crackdowns]
  • North Carolina’s constitution has a clause endorsing right to “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor” which might furnish ground to challenge some economic regulation [Eugene Volokh]

Free speech roundup

  • Senators have big plans for government regulation of social media but U.S. Constitution keeps getting in way [John Samples, Cato; David McCabe, Axios, earlier] “Censorship breeds censorship envy, and that’s true of private suppression by massively influential platforms such as Facebook as well as of governmental censorship.” [John Samples, Eugene Volokh]
  • Is it lawful for a state lawmaker to block someone on Twitter who’s publicly discussed ways of murdering him? [Dorit Reiss, PrawfsBlawg, earlier]
  • European Parliament delays adopting online copyright directive that critics said would result in Internet content filtering and royalties for linking [Thomas McMullan/Alphr, BBC earlier]
  • Is the ACLU OK with French catcalling law? [Robby Soave] With using government to keep the wrong sorts of people from owning radio outlets? [Scott Shackford, related]
  • Federalist Society telecast on Ninth Circuit decision on Idaho “ag-gag” law with UCLA lawprof Eugene Volokh and Andrew Varcoe of Boyden Gray & Associates;
  • “Arrests for offensive Facebook and Twitter posts soar in London” [Sadie Levy Gale, Independent] Downhill in Denmark: “How the Right Abandoned Free Speech in Europe” [Cato podcast and Reason interview with Jacob Mchangama]

Free speech roundup

  • Is ACLU changing its tune on free speech for the worse? [Wendy Kaminer, David Cole, Ira Glasser, Nadine Strossen] Symposium on Louis Michael Seidman essay, “Can Free Speech Be Progressive?” [First Amendment Watch, essay excerpt]
  • Series of posts and law review article by Eugene Volokh on how Founding-era public understanding of freedom of the press encompassed a much wider swath of activity than just commercial or professional press enterprise [Volokh Conspiracy]
  • “Perhaps it would be easier if [Councilman Justin] Brannan just issued a list of who is allowed to speak in his community.” [Karol Markowicz on Brooklyn pol who’s bragged of pressuring venues to cancel GOP and NRA events]
  • “Free Speech in International Perspective” symposium this month at Cato Unbound includes Jacob Mchangama, Anthony Leaker, Jeremy Waldron, Jonathan Rauch;
  • “An opinion, however moronic or unfair, is absolutely protected [absent special circumstances not present here]…. Though I celebrate an apology for wrongdoing, I can’t celebrate a surrender at swordpoint that encourages censorious litigation.” [Ken at Popehat on $3.375 million Southern Poverty Law Center settlement with Maajid Nawaz]
  • Why veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell changed his mind on Northern Ireland cake controversy [The Sun, BBC]

First Amendment roundup

  • Dangerous and misguided: Michigan pursues prosecution on charges of jury tampering of man who handed out “jury nullification” pamphlets on public sidewalk outside courthouse [Jay Schweikert, Cato; Jacob Sullum, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • “‘Worst of Both Worlds’ FOSTA Signed Into Law, Completing Section 230’s Evisceration” [Eric Goldman] Among first casualties: Craigslist personals [Merrit Kennedy/NPR, Elizabeth Nolan Brown] And Elizabeth Nolan Brown joins (no relation) Caleb Brown on a Cato Daily Podcast;
  • Is reprinting thumbnail headshots fair use? [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
  • “16 Pulse survivors sue Google, Facebook, Twitter for ‘supporting’ ISIS” [Daniel Dahm, WKMG Orlando]
  • Not the group it used to be: ACLU calls for government-owned broadband, claims First Amendment may require as opposed to forbid state-operated communications infrastructure [Randolph May and Theodore Bolema, Free State Foundation] More: Scott Greenfield;
  • Cato amicus commercial speech triple-header: Virginia’s ban on promoting happy hours (bars may hold them, but not promote them off premises) is an irrational leftover of Prohibition [Ilya Shapiro] While some commercial speech can be mandated, Ninth Circuit goes too far in upholding government-ordered scripts [Shapiro and Meggan Dewitt on structured-mortgage-payment case Nationwide Biweekly Administration v. Hubanks] Sign laws face tough scrutiny under 2015’s Reed v. Town of Gilbert, and Tennessee’s billboard law, which applies even to noncommercial speech, may run into trouble [Shapiro and Aaron Barnes]

November 1 roundup

  • Antitrust crackdown on Big Tech based on predictions of where markets may head in future? Just don’t [Alan Reynolds in part three of series; parts one and two]
  • Copyright holder sends mass demands to IP address holders, but for lower amounts and as “fines” rather than settlements. A move away from troll model, or refinement of it? [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
  • Among the many issues far afield from Bill of Rights that ACLU is up to lately: defending drive-by ADA filing operations against remedial legislation [ACLU, earlier on its drift from civil liberties mission]
  • Texas AG sues arguing unconstitutionality of Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA); case involves blocking of “adoption [that] has the support of the boy’s biological parents and grandmother, Paxton said.” [Texas Tribune] More: Timothy Sandefur, NR;
  • More local and personal than my usual fare, I ramble about my education and upbringing, why I live where I live, as well as some policy matters [Frederick News-Post “Frederick Uncut” local-newsmaker podcast with Colin McGuire and Danielle Gaines]
  • “What’s the Difference between ‘Major,’ ‘Significant,’ and All Those Other Federal Rule Categories?” [Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., CEI]

My new WSJ: will ACLU defend its own right to speak?

I’ve got a new opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal about the extraordinary recent happenings at William & Mary, part of the Virginia public university system, where activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement shouted down the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Claire Gastañaga, at a scheduled talk where she was to deliver remarks on freedom of speech. Among the cries and chants heard: “ACLU, you protect Hitler, too,” “the oppressed are not impressed,” “the revolution will not uphold the Constitution,” and “liberalism is white supremacy.”

The follow-up was perhaps more disturbing still: after initially releasing a firm statement condemning the disruption, the ACLU of Virginia went back and removed much of the strongest language, acknowledging debate within its own ranks. In particular, it dropped language pointing out that the Constitution does not protect disruption (the so-called heckler’s veto) that prevents a speaker from speaking or audience members from hearing the speaker, and another passage pointing out that public campuses are subject to constitutional standards.

It’s enough (I argue) to remind you of Robert Frost’s quip about a liberal as someone too broadminded to take his own side in an argument. More seriously, it signals the continued erosion of the ACLU’s commitment to core speech and civil liberties issues, under pressure from a tide of activists who joined in its activities in pursuit of equality and social justice, not Bill of Rights issues. Further reading: Wendy Kaminer and followup.

Free speech roundup

  • ACLU of Oregon has it right: even in near aftermath of violent Portland attack, government cannot revoke rally permits because of disapproval of the message being sent [Ronald K.L. Collins, Scott Shackford/Reason, John Samples/Cato]
  • “The ‘eye for an eye’ theory of respecting free speech is particularly pernicious because it represents the worst sort of collectivism, something the principled Right ought reject.” [Ken White, Popehat] Courts have been doing a stellar job of upholding free speech. Other sectors of U.S. society, less so [same]
  • tl:dr version: yes, legally it can. “Can Charlotte Pride parade exclude Gays for Trump float?” [Eugene Volokh]
  • “California AG agrees: Calif. law does not preclude private citizens from displaying Confederate battle flag at county fairs” [Volokh, earlier]
  • “Germany Raids Homes of 36 People Accused of Hateful Postings Over Social Media” [David Shimer, New York Times] Per David Meyer-Lindenberg, German police launched 234,341 investigations over insult or other hurtful speech last year [Scott Greenfield] A vigilant comrade has reported your tweet of Wednesday last to the constabulary as doubleplus ungood [Matt Burgess, Wired, last August on Met Police plans in U.K.]
  • On inviting controversial speakers: “A response to Scott Alexander” [Flemming Rose, Cato]

May 17 roundup

  • Deadline passes for repeal of Obama-era regulations through the Congressional Review Act, at least those that were properly reported to Congress at the time [David Jordan and Nia Prater, Medill/Charlotte Observer, I’m quoted]
  • “Removal of Trump’s Muslim Comments Raise Travel Ban Questions” [Cogan Schneier, National Law Journal, and thanks for quote]
  • What happened to the ACLU? [Wendy Kaminer/Alan Dershowitz, WSJ]
  • Canada’s Charter allows for override of judicial rulings, and 2015 Canadian Supreme CourtCanadaMapleLeaf ruling finding a constitutional right to strikes in essential public services would make a good occasion for it [Conrad Black, National Post, with a further discussion of the native residential schools issue]
  • New Jersey legislature passes a bill, which Gov. Chris Christie then vetoes, banning couples both 17 year old from marrying each other even when both sets of parents or a judge approve [Daily Caller; CBS News report quotes no critic of the idea]
  • Protesters from inauguration-trashing DisruptJ20 among those at home of FCC chairman: “Alt-left targets Ajit Pai” [Elizabeth Harrington, Washington Free Beacon]