“It was quite something to hear Republicans sounding like Elizabeth Warren on a trust-busting bender, but it is difficult to take seriously the proposition that what’s at work here is concern about monopoly power, Supreme Court precedents, or anything of the sort: This is about friends and enemies, and Republicans have decided that Silicon Valley is the enemy.” [Kevin Williamson, National Review] “Trump allies propose nationalizing Facebook, Google data” [Jason Tashea, ABA Journal] And see John Hinderaker, PowerLine, on a tape showing Google employees disappointed by the results of the last election (“Break them up under the Sherman Act? Turn them into regulated public utilities, with public employee-level salaries and no stock options? Those are all possibilities.”) Related: Thomas Hazlett, “Making the Fairness Doctrine Great Again,” Reason, March.
A bill called the First Amendment Defense Act, or FADA, with many Republican sponsors, would establish a new protected class in discrimination law, enabling what might develop into a major new sector of litigation. It would bestow on advocates of putative traditional family values — but not their opposite thinkers — new legal rights to sue over adverse government treatment of any kind, including the withholding of subsidies, government contracts or indeed any other public action. The protected status would even extend to acts taken as public employees and clothed with official force. It’s an extraordinarily one-sided, wildly impractical set of proposals whose theme, I argue at Newsweek, is not pluralist accommodation but merely to empower one side, when wielding public authority or tax moneys, to engage in a wide range of punitive and coercive measures against their culture war opponents. And that has less than nothing to do with the First Amendment.
Whole piece here. Dale Carpenter at Volokh Conspiracy has some kind words for my piece along with thoughts about the possible constitutional infirmities of the draft bill’s blatant enlistment of government power on behalf of one viewpoint and set of beliefs as against others; he also links to this Christianity Today piece by three leading religious liberty scholars, Richard Garnett, John Inazu, and Michael McConnell, who acknowledge some of the problems with FADA in present form while urging support for a less sweeping measure (“We think the best approach is to tailor FADA to the core area of concern: religious nonprofits.”)
P.S.: Stephen Bainbridge reprints a letter in which I link and summarize some of my recent writing on religious accommodation.
- New York Times suggests Justice Clarence Thomas’s opinions borrow too much language from briefs and lower courts. Orin Kerr on why that’s unfair;
- Prosecutors have too much leeway to request freeze on defendant’s assets pending trial [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
- Certiorari petition arising from Newman/Chiasson prosecution: “Obama Administration Gambles On Supreme Court Review Of Insider-Trading Case” [Daniel Fisher]
- “Another Chance To Clean Up ‘Trial by Formula’ Class Actions” [Andrew Grossman/Cato, SCOTUSBlog on Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo]
- “Bench Memos” to the barricades: National Review builds case for “resistance” to Supreme Court decisions” [my two cents at Cato on rhetoric likening Obergefell to Dred Scott]
- Media firms including Time, Meredith, Advance, NPR jump into Spokeo case before high court, warn of Fair Credit Reporting Act litigation “quagmire” [Media Post]
- After a tainted-food episode, managers convicted without a showing of mens rea? Egg case deserves a closer look [Ilya Shapiro, Cato]
I was preparing a post on the case from Idaho in which husband and wife Donald and Evelyn Knapp have pre-emptively sued (complaint, motion for TRO) to prevent the application of the city of Coeur d’Alene’s public accommodation law from being used to require their wedding chapel business, the Hitching Post, to handle same-sex weddings. In the mean time Andrew Sullivan has done a post pulling together most of what I planned to say, so go read that instead.
Sullivan quotes my observation on Facebook:
I will note that I have learned through hard experience not to run with stories from ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom) or Todd Starnes without seeking additional corroboration. As a libertarian, I oppose subjecting this family business to any legal compulsion whatsoever, but it’s also important (as in the Dallas pastors case) to get the facts straight before feeding a panic.
While I hope the Knapps succeed in establishing their exemption from this law, I am still shaking my head at the ADF’s framing efforts, which via Starnes set off a predictable panic about dangers to religious liberty (see also, last week, on the Houston pastors subpoena). In this instance, those efforts amount to something very akin to hiding the ball, including (as cited by Sullivan) the quiet legal revamping of the business onto a religious basis in recent weeks and the silent removal of extensive language on its website that until earlier this month had promoted the chapel as a venue for civil, non-religious wedding ceremonies.
Now, the Knapps are free (or should be, in my view) to change their establishment’s business plan overnight to one that welcomes only ceremonies consistent with Foursquare Evangelical beliefs. But shouldn’t their lawyers be upfront that this is what’s going on? Especially since even sophisticated commentators, let alone casual readers, are construing the city of Coeur d’Alene’s legal position by reference to what its lawyer said back in May, when the Knapps were running the business the old way. (Back then, as Doug Mataconis notes, coverage included the following: “Knapp said he’s okay with other ministers performing marriages at their facilities but it is not something he will do.” — a position that appears to have changed, again without acknowledgment.)
Let’s be blunt. ADF, which was involved in helping the Knapps revamp their enterprise onto a religious basis, is by the omissions in its narrative encouraging alarmed sympathizers to misread the situation.
Could the city of Coeur d’Alene force the Knapps to provide ministerial officiation of same-sex weddings? As Eugene Volokh explains, in a post based on the initial reports, the clear answer is no, since such compulsion would be an unconstitutional forcing of speech and “would also violate Idaho’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
Besides those two distinct layers of legal protection, they are likely to benefit from a third, noted in this May article in the Spokane Statesman-Review: “religious entities are exempt from the Coeur d’Alene ordinance” and “pastors in the city are not obligated to perform same-sex weddings.” (Todd Starnes links to the Spokane article, but makes no reference to these bits.)
Possibly — the statements of municipal lawyer Warren Wilson in May are ambiguous — the city saw the then-secular Hitching Post as obliged not only to provide the equivalent of a hall rental to same-sex applicants, and sell them silk flowers and other incidentals, but also connect them with an outside officiant sympathetic to their union to pronounce the ceremony. It is by no means clear that the city would apply the same requirements to the Knapps’ newly revamped and far more explicitly religious Hitching Post. It is even more of a stretch to imply, as Starnes does, that the city is on the verge of “arresting” the Knapps.
Even absent any obligation to officiate, it seems to me that a family business in this situation has at least as sympathetic a case as the cake bakers, wedding photographers, invitation engravers, and hall providers who sought exemptions in previous episodes. But really, isn’t our libertarian case strong enough that it can stand on an accurate description of what’s actually going on?
Update: Via Eugene Volokh, Coeur d’Alene’s attorney has now sent a letter making clear the city’s position that even the newly reorganized Hitching Post is subject to the law because the law’s religious exemption covers by its terms “nonprofit” religious corporations, which theirs is not. Volokh argues, I think plausibly, that this position will fail in court if applied to compel the provision of ceremonies because both the constitutional right against forced speech and the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act extend in their application beyond nonprofits. Indeed, the city lawyer’s own letter cites a provision, section 9.56.040, in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance, stating that the ordinance “shall be construed and applied in a manner consistent with first amendment jurisprudence regarding the freedom of speech and exercise of religion”. This provision would appear not merely to permit, but to require, the city to back off enforcement efforts that conflict with speech and religious freedoms, whether exercised in a non-profit or for-profit setting. The letter — which in its reference to “services” draws no distinction between functions like hall and equipment rental, and expressive ceremonial services — would thus appear to put the city on a collision course with the speech and religious freedoms of the Knapps.
One day later: City says it’s considered the matter further and realizes now that nonprofit status is not required to qualify for exemption. [Boise State Public Radio via Shackford] Quoting BSPR: “The group that helped create Coeur d’Alene’s anti-discrimination ordinance says the Hitching Post shouldn’t have to perform same-sex marriages. The Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations says in a letter to the mayor and city council that the Knapps fall under the religious exemption in the law.” More coverage: KREM, Boise Weekly, Religion News Service, Sarah Posner/Religion Dispatches (discussing this post).
George Leef reviews a new book by John Compton, political scientist at Chapman University, on how evangelical anti-vice campaigns against gambling, liquor and other social ills helped undermine the Constitution’s curbs on centralized power, paving the way for later Progressive gains.
The tension between moral reformers who insisted on a virtually unlimited view of the “police powers” of government (i.e., to regulate in ways intended to protect the health and morals of the citizenry) and the Constitution’s framers, who feared the results of allowing factions to use government power for their ends, was crucial in shaping constitutional law during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The book shows that by the time the New Deal’s aggressive expansions of federal power came before the Supreme Court, its earlier decisions in favor of approving legislation against liquor and lotteries had so undermined the defenses of property rights, contract, and federalism that it was nearly inevitable that the Court would cave in.
For example, when the Court decided the 1934 case of Blaisdell v. Savings and Loan, gutting the former understanding of the impairment of contracts clause, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes cited an earlier decision on interstate shipment of lottery tickets which had acquiesced in a new extension of the police power, on the grounds that a previously sacrosanct constitutional barrier could be “qualified” when a state needed to “safeguard the interests of its people.” [Forbes]
- Sad and bad: “House Republicans vote to block Obama’s new pardon attorneys” [MSNBC, Jacob Sullum, my Cato take]
- Ready for sorghum-patch unrest? More than 100 U.S. Department of Agriculture agents are armed with submachine guns [Matt Welch]
- “Cop who punched Occupy Wall Street protester gets tax-free disability pension” [New York Daily News, video of punch]
- “Officials could identify just one [Bronx] prosecutor since 1975 … disciplined in any respect for misbehavior while prosecuting a criminal case.” [City Limits via Radley Balko]
- Georgia drug raid: flash-bang grenade thrown into crib badly burning toddler [Tim Lynch, PoliceMisconduct.net “Worst of the Month”]
- New book by Sidney Powell critical of USDOJ explores Ted Stevens, Enron prosecutions, has foreword by Judge Alex Kozinski [“Licensed to Lie”: Craig Malisow/Houston Press, Legal Ethics Forum, Amazon]
- Two times over the legal limit, hmm. Would it help to flash my badge? [Prosecutorial Accountability on state bar discipline against San Francisco deputy d.a.]
I could find about a thousand far more sympathetic examples of folks screwed over by government land use regulations — e.g. people whose puddle in the backyard is suddenly a wetlands that they can’t build on. But for some reason Conservatives all rushed to pile on this one example. Stupid.
Only a thousand?
- “Bryon Farmer of the Blackfeet Tribe Jailed For Talking About Corruption In Tribal Government” [Ken at Popehat] “Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas” [same]
- Persons with federal government contracts can’t give to federal candidates or parties. Too broad? [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato]
- “Together at last! ‘Some US conservatives laud Russia’s anti-gay bill.'” [@jon_rauch on Associated Press re: “propaganda” measure]
- More on Second Circuit decision ruling scientific conclusions akin to protected opinion for defamation purposes [Digital Media Law Project, earlier]
- San Antonio bars appointment to its city boards and commissions of anyone who has ever said anything demonstrating bias “against any person, group or organization on the basis of race” or various other protected categories [Eugene Volokh]
- Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader wins defamation suit holding gossip site operator liable for user comments [Sporting News] Michigan: “Ionia newspaper editor files defamation suit against critics” [MLive, Popehat with a critical view, update at Popehat following dismissal]
- “Hate speech” at issue: “Twitter releases users’ identities to French authorities after tough legal battles.” [JOLT]
- Already firebombed once: “Satirical French Magazine Publishes Caricatures Of Mohammed, White House Rebukes.” [Mediaite] More calls for punishing makers of anti-Muslim YouTube video for supposed incitement [Ann Althouse on Sarah Chayes, earlier here and here; also, the late Christopher Hitchens on “fire in a crowded theater” arguments] “The people who instigate these protests seek a very particular goal: an extension of Egyptian and Pakistani style blasphemy laws into the West.” [David Frum]
- “$60,000 Verdict for Blogging the Truth About A Person Intending to Get Him Fired – Reversed” [Volokh]
- Judge closes probe of opinion-maker influence in Google-Oracle battle [The Recorder, earlier]
- Weight-loss device promoter files, then drops suit against Public Citizen, consumerist website Fair Warning [Paul Alan Levy, Fair Warning]
- “How Ag Gag Laws Suppress Free Speech and the Marketplace of Ideas” [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, etc.]
- Big government Republicans in charge: “GOP Platform Changed To Now Target All Forms Of Pornography” [Andrew Kirell, Mediaite; Volokh]
- Missouri activist starts website criticizing local cops and soon the department’s halls display what looks very much like a “Wanted” poster of him [Eapen Thampy, Agitator]
The American Family Association’s zany yet high-profile Bryan Fischer is in the news for calling for an “Underground Railroad” by which his fellow believers would “rescue” kids from gay parents. In my new Huffington Post piece, just up, I trace two main threads in his argument — that gay parents are a menace to their kids, and that extralegal steps are called for to put “God’s law over man’s” – and show how the same messages have been emanating lately from some rather more respectable social-conservative quarters, in Princeton, N.J. and elsewhere. The controversy develops in part from the Miller-Jenkins custody and kidnapping case, long a topic of coverage in this space; in the latest development, Mennonite clergyman Kenneth Miller (applauded by Fischer) has just gone on trial for allegedly abetting the spiriting of Isabella Miller-Jenkins (no relation), now 10, out of the country in defiance of court orders.
Fischer now says he wasn’t suggesting that kids of same-sex couples be abducted from their beds by Christians unrelated to those children, but he definitely is encouraging believers to use extralegal force in cases that pit one of theirs against a gay parent in a custody dispute. He hints broadly that the next test case after Miller-Jenkins will be that of a divorced woman he describes who is losing custody to her gay ex-husband, and who just might disappear with the child into the “Underground Railroad” he promotes. Meanwhile, the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., whose faculty has multiple connections with Lisa Miller’s side of the Miller-Jenkins litigation, stirred criticism when related civil-disobedience precepts reportedly emerged as part of the curriculum in a class.
It might be added that this, like so many unsettling developments on the Right, is not without its parallels on the Left. Since the 1980s and the famous Elizabeth Morgan case, some feminists have operated a so-called Underground Railroad to enable mothers to defy court orders and abduct their kids away from fathers with shared custody or visitation orders. Usually some allegation is made of abuse, but the tactic has been used and applauded even where a judge has considered the abuse allegations and declined to accept them. (Law prof Nancy Polikoff discusses her mixed feelings about the Miller-Jenkins case here).
Reacting to the potential for lawlessness in this realm, Congress has passed at least two statutes of relevance: the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, and the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
Update Aug. 15: Jury convicts Kenneth Miller.