An opinion by the Fourth Circuit sees a big difference between legal representation of unions or complainants — idealistic, pro-rights, good in short — versus legal representation of businesses. Is that so? And should the role of the First Amendment apply equally across the two cases? I explore the case of Capital Associated Industries Inc. v. Stein, from North Carolina, in a new post at Cato at Liberty.
Racial activist Deray Mckesson led a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that illegally occupied a roadway; in the ensuing confrontations, an unidentified person threw a missile that seriously injured a police officer. Can the officer sue Mckesson for lawbreaking acts that foreseeably created dangerous conditions that led to his injury?
In August a panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled unanimously that the First Amendment did not block such a suit; earlier this month the panel reissued an altered opinion after one of its members, Judge Don Willett, changed his mind and wrote a partial dissent finding Mckesson to have a First Amendment defense. [Jonathan Adler, Volokh Conspiracy] Central to the constitutional issues at play here is the 1982 case of NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, in which a unanimous Supreme Court held that the First Amendment can bar the imposition of civil liability on organizers of protests even when some participants commit, or threaten, acts of violence.
Eugene Volokh has now written a series of posts on the case. Part I asks: why didn’t Mckesson’s lawyers invoke doctrines precluding recovery by rescue professionals (“firefighters’ rule”) to bar the officer’s claim? Part II is on the tort law side of the case (independent of the First Amendment angle), and so far as I can see Volokh and Willett reach different conclusions. In Part III, Volokh addresses the First Amendment issues, in the light of precedents like Claiborne Hardware. While the analysis is not a simple one, Volokh is “inclined to say that the First Amendment doesn’t require” immunity for foreseeable civil harms resulting from unlawful blocking of public roads as a protest.
- “New legislation aimed at curbing foreign influence in U.S. elections also appears to be aimed at curbing Americans’ influence in U.S. elections.” [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Scott Blackburn of the Institute for Free Speech on SHIELD Act]
- “Everyone always talks about how much money there is in politics. This is the wrong framing. The right framing is… why is there so little money in politics?” [Scott Alexander]
- Free speech advances other freedoms: “Frederick Douglass’s “Plea for Freedom of Speech in Boston”” [Law and Liberty, Kurt Lash introduction] The very idea of a gay rights organization once seemed unthinkable in America, and might have remained so “in the absence of a strong and particularly libertarian First Amendment.” [Dale Carpenter, SSRN and Volokh Conspiracy summary]
- “That unlimited right to lobby the lawmakers who make decisions that affect your life, your family, and your fortune is one that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) thinks American businesses should not have.” [Peter Suderman; Bradley Smith and Luke Wachob, NRO] A federal appeals court says an independent Missouri activist doesn’t have to register as a lobbyist to talk to lawmakers [Cato Daily Podcast with Caleb Brown and Zac Morgan of the Institute for Free Speech]
- “Every Democrat in the Senate Supports a Constitutional Amendment That Would Radically Curtail Freedom of Speech” [Jacob Sullum] Same bunch “Still Fundraising Off Citizens United, Still Wrong About What It Means” [Elizabeth Nolan Brown]
- “Essentially, L.A. has passed a law saying people with one interest in a decision by the council can support candidates, but the other side can’t.” [Christian Britschgi, Reason on city’s ban on contributions by developer but not anti-development interests]
- New federal bill seeks middle ground on LGBT discrimination law and religious accommodation [Kelsey Dallas/Deseret News, “Fairness For All” coalition, sponsor Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) on bill] Early criticism from left and right [Daniel Silliman, Christianity Today; Katelyn Burns, Vox] The impulse to get past Culture War enmities is to be praised, even if, alas, some of the bill’s provisions would extend the coercive reach of federal law in ways libertarians would oppose;
- Third Circuit panel, Judge Thomas Hardiman writing, rules in favor of atheist group challenging Pennsylvania county’s rejection of bus ads. Creates split with D.C. Circuit [Charles Gallmeyer, Jurist; Hemant Mehta; Northeastern Pennsylvania Freethought Society v. County of Lackawanna Transit System]
- “Eighth Circuit holds that videographers have First Amendment free speech right to refuse to provide services at same-sex weddings” [Joseph Singer, KNSI (Minnesota); Telescope Media Group v. Lucero] Update on Sweet Cakes by Melissa case in Oregon [Adam Gustafson, Federalist Society; earlier] Federalist Society teleforum on Brush & Nib case [Phoenix wedding calligraphy] with Eric M. Fraser, Jennifer Perkins, and Jonathan Scruggs, and earlier;
- And speaking of which: SCOTUS should resolve “expressive wedding vendor” issue once and for all [Ilya Shapiro and Michael Collins on Cato certiorari brief in (latest stage of) Arlene’s Flowers v. Washington, noting that “Cato is the only organization in the country to have filed briefs in support of both Jim Obergefell (lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage case) and Jack Phillips (owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop)”; earlier]
- Article takes issue with currently popular idea that claims of harm to third parties should routinely defeat claims to religious accommodation [Mark Storslee, University of Chicago Law Review/SSRN]
- “Top Scholars, Diverse Religious Groups Ask SCOTUS to Reconsider Employment Division v. Smith — Again” [Joseph Davis, Becket/Federalist Society on certiorari petition in Ricks v. Idaho Board of Contractors]
- Massachusetts state lawmaker who introduced much-derided bill to criminalize the word “bitch” when directed at another person says he “filed the bill after being asked to do so by a constituent.” [Alex Griswold, Free Beacon]
- Presidents have long used their power to retaliate against the press. When does the constitution direct or permit the courts to do anything about that? [First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere for FIRE, part one and part two]
- After two students shout racial slur loud enough for others to hear, University of Connecticut arrests and charges them “under a rarely-used, unconstitutional state law prohibiting ‘ridicule.'” [Adam Steinbaugh, FIRE]
- “May a company get an injunction to block a defendant from invoking the Streisand Effect?” [Paul Alan Levy]
- How courts draw the line on when menacing language triggers the “true threat” exception to First Amendment protection [Federalist Society teleforum with Eugene Volokh, John Elwood, and Michael Dreeben]
- “Should Congress Pass A ‘Deep Fakes’ Law? A few tentative thoughts.” [Orin Kerr, Volokh Conspiracy]
Watch out when Establishment figures “declare that they’ve changed their mind on free speech and now think there should be less of it,” I write in my new piece at Cato:
This new Washington Post opinion piece (“Why America needs a hate speech law”) is by Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2013 to 2016. In that post, he was charged with representing America’s values to the world.
Honestly, could Stengel’s argument be any weaker? “Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. … it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another.”
If the prospect of violence by offended groups is what causes us to censor, we are well on the way toward closing down speech at the whim of whichever mobs, here or abroad, decide to be violent….
Whole thing here.
“A libertarian attorney filed a lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Louisiana State Bar Association’s monopoly on the legal profession, joining a wave of similar litigation in other states. New Orleans insurance defense lawyer Randy Boudreaux alleges in the federal court suit that his rights of free speech and free association are being violated because the bar association collects his mandatory dues while taking positions on controversial issues like the death penalty and LGBT rights…. Boudreaux, a married gay man, said he agrees with the bar association’s position in favor of LGBT rights. But he’s opposed to the idea of compelling his fellow lawyers to pay for a group with which they disagree.” [Matt Sledge, NOLA.com, earlier] But note: Eighth Circuit rejects argument that North Dakota bar fees are open to challenge under Janus [Fleck v. Wetch]
I’m in today’s Wall Street Journal [paywalled for some readers] with a piece on last week’s vote by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to brand the National Rifle Association a “domestic terrorist organization.” The resolution repeatedly takes the view that “advocacy,” “propaganda” and “promotion” of certain political viewpoints, or of gun ownership, constitutes terrorism or, as the case may be, “material support” for it.
First Amendment aside, there’s more than just symbolism in the board’s divisive attempt to change the meaning of words by main force. The resolution also declares a crackdown on city contractors who do business with the gun-advocacy group, and under current law that is very likely to be struck down in itself as inconsistent with the First Amendment under a 1996 Supreme Court precedent.
Some related links: the resolution; the 1996 Board of County Commissioners v. Umbehr case, in which the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the First Amendment restrains localities’ discretion to shun contractors because of their politics; Jonathan Adler in 2015 on the Chick-Fil-A controversies; and reporting on the San Francisco supervisors’ resolution to use nicer, not-so-dehumanizing terminology about criminals (Jim Geraghty at National Review noticed this before me).
“If you’ve read op-eds about free speech in America, or listened to talking heads on the news, you’ve almost certainly encountered empty, misleading, or simply false tropes about the First Amendment,” argues Los Angeles litigator Ken White in an Atlantic essay. “Those tired tropes are barriers to serious discussions about free speech.” Among verbal gestures that help very little or not at all when you’re trying to establish whether particular speech is protected under current First Amendment law:
* “Not all speech is protected; there are exceptions to the First Amendment.” [true but usually not helpful]
* “This speech isn’t protected, because you can’t shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.” [see above; also, an empty rhetorical device deployed in a case that’s no longer good law]
* “Incitement and threats are not free speech.” [true, but regularly misapplied to speech that does not meet the law’s narrow definitions of these terms]
* “Fighting words are not free speech.” [same, even assuming that Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942) is still good law]
* “Hate speech is not free speech.” [no, it mostly is]
* “Stochastic terrorism is not free speech.” [same]
* “We must balance free speech with [social good].” / “There is a line between free speech and [social evil].”
* “They do it in Europe!”
* “We talked to a professor and a litigator who said this is not protected speech.”
* “This speech may be protected right now, but the law is always changing.”
Watch and (if you’re like me) cheer as Ken dispatches them all.
[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]
- Second Circuit decision restricting public officials from blocking foes on Twitter is likely to discourage local electeds from sharing on social media, among its other problems [Gabriel Malor thread, John Samples/Cato, earlier]
- State of Washington defines lawyers’ pro bono work as “campaign expenditure,” even when it goes toward ballot access effort for a measure that never reached the ballot to be campaigned over. Review and clarification by high court sorely needed [Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus and Patrick Moran on Cato amicus brief in Evergreen Freedom Foundation v. State of Washington]
- Freedom of press not just for those who own one: “Minnesota Supreme Court Holds That Nonmedia Speakers Are Fully Protected by First Amendment” [Eugene Volokh, defamation law]
- “Publishing Court Records Containing Home Address Not Actionable Invasion of Privacy” [Volokh on a pattern that sometimes gives rise to claims of “doxxing”]
- FOSTA, the law hailed as creating a pioneering exception to Section 230 for speech promoting “sex trafficking,” isn’t just your ordinary incursion on Internet freedom. It comes with a body count [Mike Masnick, Techdirt; related, Violet Blue, Engadget]
- If they’re farming, don’t you be filming: John Stossel on ag-gag laws [Reason video and story, earlier]