Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

Government oversight of social media moderation would infringe First Amendment liberties

Mike Masnick, TechDirt:

[J]ust after Twitter and Facebook appeared before Congress, the DOJ released a statement saying that it was investigating whether or not actions by the big internet companies was “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas.” The full statement was short and to the point:

We listened to today’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms closely. The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.

The competition question is one that the DOJ’s antitrust division clearly has authority over, but alarms should be raised about the DOJ or state AGs arguing that these platforms are “stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.” Because while — on its face — that might sound like it’s supporting free speech, it’s actually an almost certain First Amendment violation by the DOJ and whatever state AGs are involved.

There are lots and lots of cases on the books about this, but government entities aren’t supposed to be in the business of telling private businesses what content they can or cannot host. Cases such as Near v. Minnesota and Bantam Books v. Sullivan have long made it clear that governments can’t be in the business of regulating the speech of private organizations — though those are both about regulations to suppress speech.

More: “How Regulating Platforms’ Content Moderation Means Regulating Speech – Even Yours” [Cathy Gellis]; John Samples, Cato Daily Podcast on Trump’s comments about Google searches; Federalist Society debate on social media antitrust; “if you’re going to make an allegation that there’s a big [anti-conservative] conspiracy [on search engine results], you should do your due diligence.” [Zachary Graves] Earlier here, etc.

New: Cato Supreme Court Review (including me on gerrymandering and the Constitution)

On Monday the Cato Institute published its annual Cato Supreme Court Review for the 2017-18 Supreme Court term. Included is my 7,000-word article on the Supreme Court’s cases last term on partisan gerrymandering, Gill v. Whitford (Wisconsin) and Benisek v. Lamone (Maryland). Several people have told me that I managed to make a dry and complicated subject understandable and even entertaining, which I take as the highest compliment.

The entire CSCR is online, and here are its contents. I assisted in the editing of the pieces by Joseph Bishop-Henchman on the Internet sales tax case South Dakota v. Wayfair, and by Jennifer Mascott on the government-structure case Lucia v. SEC.

FOREWORD AND INTRODUCTION

The Battle for the Court: Politics vs. Principles by Roger Pilon
Introduction By Ilya Shapiro

ANNUAL KENNETH B. SIMON LECTURE

The Administrative Threat to Civil Liberties by Philip Hamburger

IMMIGRATION AND NATIONAL SECURITY

The Travel Bans by Josh Blackman

POLITICAL GERRYMANDERING

The Ghost Ship of Gerrymandering Law by Walter Olson

THE CRIMINAL LAW

Katz Nipped and Katz Cradled: Carpenter and the Evolving Fourth Amendment by Trevor Burrus and James Knight

Class v. United States: Bargained Justice and a System of Efficiencies by Lucian E. Dervan

THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND THE CULTURE WARS

Masterpiece Cakeshop: A Romer for Religious Objectors? by Thomas C. Berg

To Speak or Not to Speak, That Is Your Right: Janus v. AFSCME by David Forte

NIFLA v. Becerra: A Seismic Decision Protecting Occupational Speech by Robert McNamara and Paul Sherman

Regulation of Political Apparel in Polling Places: Why the Supreme Court’s Mansky Opinion Did Not Go Far Enough by Rodney A. Smolla

FEDERALISM AND GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE

Betting on Federalism: Murphy v. NCAA and the Future of Sports Gambling by Mark Brnovich

Internet Sales Taxes from 1789 to the Present Day: South Dakota v. Wayfair by Joseph Bishop-Henchman

“Officers” in the Supreme Court: Lucia v. SEC by Jennifer Mascott

NEXT YEAR

Looking Ahead: October Term 2018 by Erin E. Murphy

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.

Free speech roundup

  • Getting together to do a national We’re-Not-The-Enemy-Of-The-People Day might not play to the strengths of an independent press [Jack Shafer; New York Post on why it did join, and L.A. Times on why it didn’t] Kevin Williamson wishes that many in the institutional press were more than just fair-weather friends of free speech values [NRO]
  • ““Racial Ridicule” Is a Crime in Connecticut — and People Are Being Prosecuted” [Eugene Volokh]
  • “Can Fake News Be Regulated?” Federalist Society policy brief video with Thomas Arnold;
  • Once you get past the headline, Adam Liptak’s NYT account of First Amendment differences at the Supreme Court is well done [Roger Pilon]
  • Is Internet freedom failing? [Knight Institute symposium with Jack Goldsmith et al.] How does moderation actually work at leading social media firms? [Kate Klonick, Harvard Law Review]
  • The ABA’s Model Rule 8.4(g), in the name of combating harassment and discrimination, encourages states to regulate many expressions of speech and association by lawyers that have incidental professional implications. The Supreme Court in its recent NIFLA v. Becerra decision cast a shadow on that [Josh Blackman, Scott Greenfield]

Literally (for once) weaponizing the First Amendment

The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it: even after opponents manage to talk a judge into issuing a prior restraint order on speech, gun blueprints are still online in widely available libraries and will remain so. And making a gun at home in the U.S. remains legal, as it has been all along, though subject to a recent law on those undetectable by scanner technology [Brian Doherty, David French/NRO, Declan McCullagh, Josh Blackman thread, Erica GoldbergCodeIsFreeSpeech.com] And I only read Playboy for the articles about guns written by colleague Matt Larosiere (“Fully 3-D printed guns are still ineffective, probably less effective than firearms you can craft from hardware store scraps.”) Earlier on Defense Distributed “arms export” controversy here and here, and more from David Kopel and Cyrus Farivar on the lawsuit settlement. More: Trevor Burrus (“Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Blueprints for Homemade Muskets”).

Mississippi: drawing digital lines on satellite map requires surveyor’s license

The state of Mississippi insists that a company called Vizaline, by selling a program that uses satellite imagery to translate “metes and bounds” language into polygonal lines on a map, is practicing land surveying without a license, and should be made to shut down and refund all money it has earned in the state. Attorneys from the Institute for Justice say that virtual land measurement is not only not part of an occupation subject to licensure, but is a form of expression and communication and subject to First Amendment protections. [Cyrus Farivar, ArsTechnica]

Free speech roundup

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposes to regulate social media bots, or to put it differently, to regulate a form of speech carried on through automated mechanisms [John Samples, Cato]
  • “The State of New Jersey Wants to Subsidize News. Uh-oh.” [Jack Shafer, Politico] Canada, farther down this road, moves toward outright government subsidies to newspapers [Mylene Crete and Jordan Press, Canadian Press]
  • “Court tosses disbarred lawyer’s suit over newspaper article on his ethics case with a ‘crime’ header” [ABA Journal]
  • Compelled speech in NIFLA v. Becerra: “A First Amendment Win in a Case That Was NOT about Abortion” [Ilya Shapiro and Meggan DeWitt, Eugene Volokh, Erica Goldberg] More: DeWitt Cato podcast;
  • New Nadine Strossen book on hate speech challenges some conventionally accepted ideas about its effects [John Samples, earlier] Man in Pennsylvania charged with felony ethnic intimidation after calling officers who were arresting him Nazis, skinheads, and Gestapo [Joshua Vaughn, The Appeal]
  • Will lawyers face punishment for using wrong-gender pronouns in social or bar-association activities? Lambda Legal suggests the answer is yes [Eugene Volokh]

Free speech, Brett Kavanaugh, and the Supreme Court

Yesterday was a two-podcast day for me. The first was a discussion at FIRE on prospects for free speech at the Supreme Court after Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Other panelists were First Amendment experts Robert Corn-Revere and Paul Sherman and the moderator was FIRE’s Nico Perrino.

At the Cato Daily Podcast, Caleb Brown interviewed me about what we know from nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s career as a judge, which has been spent on the influential but atypical D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. That means we know a lot about his views on some subjects (regulatory and administrative law, separation of powers, national security law) but much less about his approach toward issues that loom larger as a share of the docket in other circuits, such as disputes involving schools, land use, police abuse and prisoner cases, torts, and so forth.

Related to both podcasts, Ken at Popehat assesses Kavanaugh’s record on the First Amendment and finds it quite speech-protective, while Jonathan Adler has more.

Not very closely related: you’ve probably heard the theory that Trump made the choice he did because Kavanaugh doesn’t think Presidents should be investigated or charged with criminal offenses. Here’s Ben Wittes, who’s anything but a Trump fan, on the problems with that theory. [Lawfare]

More: And now a video of the FIRE panel:

A look at Justice Anthony Kennedy’s record

Roger Pilon and I join Caleb Brown in This Cato podcast assessing the 30-year tenure of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who usually reached sound outcomes but often not by the reasoning we might have liked. Among the topics discussed: the gay rights cases, Kennedy’s change of tune on enumerated powers, and his authorship of Citizens United.