Change in the federal appeals courts is not a rapid process. Some reasons for both sides to calm down about the supposed Republican capture of the federal judiciary [Martin Siegel, New York Times] I wrote in February that “the nature of the courts in our system is not that one side wins any permanent victories on judicial selection. And that’s a good thing.”
Charles Harder, a lawyer representing Donald Trump, last month “sent what has to be one of the most ridiculous threat letters I’ve seen (and that’s saying something) to CNN promising to sue the company for its ‘biased’ coverage of the possible Trump impeachment process.” Rather than defamation, a frequent cause of action threatened by Trump, the letter invokes the Lanham Act, alleging that the network is engaged in false advertising by describing itself as employing “journalists” who are “fair and balanced.” “Everything about the letter is pretty crazy, especially from a President whose fans like to pretend he he supports free speech.” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
“When public officials or those running for office call out the political donations of people they don’t like, what’s the goal? Is it merely to shame them?” I comment in this new Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown.
More on the controversy over Rep. Joaquin Castro’s (D-Tex.) tweet: Katie Rogers and Annie Karni, New York Times; Bradley Smith, National Review, Christian Britschgi, Reason; and earlier episodes, not exactly parallel but with some points of similarity, involving Sen. Marco Rubio (Maduro-cozying restaurant owner) and the then-campaigning Donald Trump (“They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”).
- “Arkansas Passes Bill to Prevent Sale of ‘Cauliflower Rice'” [Bettina Makalintal, Vice via Anthony M. Kreis (“Carolene Products of our time”, and more on that celebrated filled-milk case]
- Ted Frank has another case raising the cy pres issues the Supreme Court just sidestepped in Frank v. Gaos [Marcia Coyle on rewards-program class action settlement in Perryman v. Romero]
- Feds recommend 12 year sentence for copyright and ADA troll Paul Hansmeier [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
- Didn’t realize New York City still had such a substantial fur industry – much of it in the district of an elected official who’s keen to ban it [Carl Campanile, New York Post]
- “Who’s Afraid of Big Tech?” Cato conference with Matthew Feeney, Alec Stapp, Jonathan Rauch, Julian Sanchez, Peter Van Doren, and John Samples, among many others [panels one (“Big Brother in Big Tech”), two (“Is Big Tech Too Big?”), three (“Free Speech in an Age of Social Media”)]
- Looking forward to this one, due out from New York lawyer James Zirin in September: Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits [St. Martin’s Press]
- “In Cato’s latest ‘funny brief,’ Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus are once again telling the Court that scandalous speech is valuable to society and that there’s no way for a government office to be trusted to decide what’s ‘scandalous.'” [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus on Cato certiorari amicus brief (with P.J. O’Rourke, Nadine Strossen, and others) in trademark registration case of Iancu v. Brunetti]
- Could someone remind the President of the United States that there’s no law against making fun of him on TV? [Jacob Sullum]
- New Zealand declares it a crime to possess or distribute manifesto of Christchurch mass murderer, begins filing charges against persons who shared on social media [Charlotte Graham-McLay, New York Times via Josh Blackman, Tripti Lahiri/Quartz]
- Airport concession flap appears to set up a First Amendment case that Chick-fil-A would win, should it choose to pursue its rights against the city of San Antonio [KSAT, Hans Bader] Courts take seriously the doctrine of First Amendment retaliation even in otherwise discretionary areas of government operation [David French on Riley’s American Heritage Farms v. Claremont Unified School District, C.D. Calif. (school field trips to “living history farm” with outspokenly conservative owner)]
- Courts should narrowly construe “true threat” exception to free speech law to cases where there is objective threat, not just malicious intent [Ilya Shapiro and Michael Finch on Cato certiorari amicus brief in Knox v. Pennsylvania]
- Did a federal magistrate judge order the Chicago Sun-Times not to publish a juicy, mistakenly unsealed FBI affidavit from the city’s unfolding corruption case? (The paper published anyway) [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
President Donald Trump’s backing of a version of the First Step Act is a big deal. Among noteworthy features: retrospective relief on some overlong sentences currently being served. In this new Cato Podcast, Caleb Brown interviews Molly Gill of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
- Repercussions of Supreme Court’s Janus ruling on bar associations’ compulsory extraction of dues from nonmembers [Maxine Bernstein, Oregonian] “State Supreme Court calls a ‘timeout’ for Washington Bar Association to review its rules” [Steve Miletich, Seattle Times] “ABA Model Rule 8.4(g) Cannot Survive the Supreme Court’s Recent Decisions in NIFLA and Matal” [Kim Colby, Federalist Society, earlier on rule banning some types of speech and expression by lawyers on anti-discrimination grounds]
- Pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio sues New York Times for libel [Quint Forgey, Politico; Joe Setyon, Reason; over the years]
- When may governments boycott private companies’ output because those companies promote disapproved ideas? [Eugene Volokh, more]
- First Amendment has consistently foiled Donald Trump’s designs against critics’ speech [Jacob Sullum; related, David Henderson] “The culture of free speech has been deteriorating for long enough that politics, sadly and predictably, is catching up.” [Matt Welch] “Threats of violence discourage people from participating in civic life. This is an unusually good opportunity to deter them.” [Conor Friedersdorf during Ford-Kavanaugh episode]
- “Fighting Words and Free Speech” [John Samples] “A New Podcast on Free Speech: Many Victories, Many Struggles” [same on Jacob Mchangama podcast series]
- “U.K. Supreme Court: Baker Doesn’t Have to Place Pro-Gay Marriage Message on Cake” [Dale Carpenter, Peter Tatchell, Lee v. Ashers]
- North Carolina’s heartbalm law strikes again, as judge orders man who slept with married woman to pay jilted husband $8.8 million [Virginia Bridges, Raleigh News & Observer, more on homewrecker tort]
- Cornell economist Rick Geddes explains the federal government’s postal monopoly [David Henderson]
- Trademark swagger: “Chicago Poke Chain Sends C&D To Hawaiian Poke Joint Demanding It Not Be Named ‘Aloha Poke'” [Timothy Geigner, Techdirt] “Shipyard Brewing Loses Its Lawsuit Over Ships and The Word ‘Head'” [same]
- “Man files lawsuit under False Claims Act against manufacturer of batteries for use in intercontinental ballistic missile launch controls, asks for $30 mil, settles for $1.7 mil. What follows is—in the trial court’s words—a “hellish” dispute over the man’s attorneys’ fees. Third Circuit: We feel you; the order reducing requested fees is affirmed in almost every respect.” [John K. Ross, Short Circuit, on U.S. ex rel. Palmer v. C&D Technologies]
- Using the law to suppress one’s competition: New York Taxi Workers Alliance cheers City Council’s move to cap Uber and ridesharing [Reuters] It’s totally normal and not at all suspicious that the city council president who wants tougher enforcement against Airbnb is also president of the state’s hotel lobby [Eric Boehm, Reason; Biloxi, Mississippi]
- For those still keeping score, it’s improper and prejudicial for the head of the nation’s law enforcement apparatus to declaim publicly against a criminal trial in progress, whether or not the defendant happens to be his own campaign manager [David Post, Volokh; April Post and podcast on inapplicable “fruit of the poisonous tree” claim]
The Supreme Court yesterday in a 5-4 decision upheld the Trump administration’s travel ban, citing the relevant statute’s extreme deference toward executive branch national security determinations on the entry of persons, as well as the Court’s own historic deference toward executive branch discretion in this area.
The four liberal justices dissented, but did not agree on reasoning. Breyer and Kagan went for a low-key, minimalist fix — keep the injunction in place while ordering additional factfinding about implementation — that might have begun as an effort to craft a narrow decision conservatives would join. Only two Justices, Sotomayor and Ginsburg, went along with the arguments that persuaded the Ninth Circuit judges below.
Both dissents, however, stressed the significance of improper animus / discrimination against religious belief, the same issue championed by the Court’s conservatives in Masterpiece Cakeshop earlier this month.
Legal buffs may be interested in Thomas’s concurrence in which he pronounces universal injunctions “legally and historically dubious.”
Finally, and of interest to all Americans, the Court through its majority opinion officially repudiated Korematsu v. U.S. (1944), the decision in which it once upheld forced wartime internment of Japanese-Americans. Korematsu had never been officially repudiated until today.
As we mentioned in a brief earlier item, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has “directed the Department of Financial Services to urge insurance companies, New York State-chartered banks, and other financial services companies licensed in New York to review any relationships they may have with the National Rifle Association and other similar organizations. Upon this review, the companies are encouraged to consider whether such ties harm their corporate reputations and jeopardize public safety.” [Cuomo press release] Maria T. Vullo, Superintendent of Financial Services for the state of New York, issued a guidance memorandum. In language not altogether typical of safety-and-soundness financial regulation, Vullo wrote:
While the social backlash against the National Rifle Association (the “NRA”) and similar organizations that promote guns that lead to senseless violence has in the past been strong, the nature and the intensity of the voices now speaking out, including the voices of the passionate, courageous, and articulate young people who have experienced this recent horror first hand, is a strong reminder that such voices can no longer be ignored and that society, as a whole, has a responsibility to act and is no longer willing to stand by and wait and witness more tragedies caused by gun violence, but instead is demanding change now.
Brian Knight writes at FinRegRag:
This request could easily be construed is a thinly veiled threat. While the NYDFS statement does not explicitly say that NY FIs (financial institutions) that may face regulatory sanction for failing to cut ties with the NRA, it doesn’t rule out the possibility either. If the NYDFS had no intention of threatening regulatory sanctions, they could clearly have added language taking the threat of enforcement off of the table. They didn’t, which indicates they want NY FIs to think there is a potential the government will come after them if they don’t end their relationships with groups like the NRA.
These instructions to NY FIs could also be seen as an attempt to suppress political speech that some New York policy makers disagree with. Whatever one thinks of the NRA, it is an organization engaged in legal political speech and advocacy. Cutting off the NRA’s access to financial services could change the political debate by reducing opposition to political efforts to tighten gun laws. The NYDFS release says, “This is not just a matter of reputation, it is a matter of public safety, and working together, we can put an end to gun violence in New York once and for all.” Given that the NRA does not make a product that could pose a direct risk to public safety, this release is clearly referencing the NRA’s political advocacy.
Knight compares the initiative to the Operation Choke Point episode, in which federal regulators steered banks away from dealing with various controversial but lawful lines of business, including some that were politically fraught. But in that episode, at least, the target enterprises were primarily engaged in the sale of goods and services and thus might in principle have faced financial risks related by fraud or unfulfillable obligations to customers.
The NYDFS order appears to be inherently about political speech. After all, there is no allegation that the NRA is committing fraud against its members. Rather, the argument is that the NRA’s positions are so dangerous that they are harmful to the community and pose a risk to the reputation of any FI that works with them. This could fairly be seen as an attempt to restrict the NRA’s ability to operate in the political arena and marketplace of ideals.
The guidance memorandum might thus accomplish by indirection what it would be plainly improper for the state to attempt directly:
There is no law that says a FI (financial institution) cannot do business with a gun rights group and such a law would almost assuredly be unconstitutional. However if the regulator declares that such an affiliation poses a reputational risk to the FI (that the regulator, not the market, determined existed), it has leverage to force the FI to comply.
The NRA has filed a suit against the governor and New York officials saying the program amounts to “coercion” aimed at depriving the association and its constituents of First Amendment rights. More: Scott Greenfield.
Meanwhile, in other news of regulatory retaliation — see also our tag on that — U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly urged the U.S. Postal Service to double its rates for handling packages shipped by Amazon.com, linked in his mind through founder Jeff Bezos with his journalistic nemesis the Washington Post. Postmaster General Megan Brennan is said to have “resisted Trump’s suggestion in private conversations in 2017 and 2018, telling him that package delivery rates are set by contract and reviewed by an independent commission” and that the Postal Service does not get a bad deal from its arrangements with Amazon and other e-commerce firms. [Reuters]