Julie Hilden
Julie Hilden

Julie Hilden graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School, where she served as a Teaching Assistant and a Notes Editor on the Yale Law Journal. 

From 1992-93, Hilden clerked for then-Chief Judge Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. 

From 1993-95, she earned an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Cornell, and taught a course in Legal Writing at Cornell Law School. 

From 1995-96, she clerked for Judge Kimba M. Wood of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

From 1996-99, she was a litigation associate at the Washington, D.C. firm of Williams & Connolly, where she focused primarily on First Amendment issues. 

From 2000, Hilden worked as a freelance writer and editor. Her novel, 3, was published in 2003 and optioned for film. From 2000 to 2010, her legal commentary appeared regularly on FindLaw.com’s Writ and occasionally on other media venues such as Good Morning America, Court TV, CNN.com, NPR, and Slate.com.

Hilden passed away in 2018.

Columns by Julie Hilden
Why Tennessee Might—and Should—Reject Its Proposed “Ag Gag” Bill

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a Tennessee controversy over a proposed ag-gag law that would require anyone who intentionally records images of animal abuse to submit their unedited footage or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours. Hilden argues that, as Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper—who called the proposed law “constitutionally suspect”—has argued, it has numerous serious flaws.

A New Mexico School District Censors Students’ Attempts to Use Plastic Fetus Dolls to Talk About Abortion

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a New Mexico free speech case, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled against students’ First Amendment claims, among other claims that their attorneys had brought. Hilden argues that the students’ First Amendment claims were valid, and should have been upheld by the court. She also raises an interesting wrinkle regarding the Tinker test for speech in public schools: What if the speaker is not the disruptor of the school environment, and other students are, but the seed of the other students’ disruption did come from the speaker?

The First Amendment and Ag-Gag Laws

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden writes in opposition to Ag-Gag laws, which penalize those who (1) covertly take videos of abuse at facilities where animals are held; and/or (2) apply for a job at such a facility without revealing that they are affiliated with an animal rights group. She also comments on Duke law professor Jed Purdy’s argument in a recent New York Times Op Ed that webcams should be placed in slaughterhouses and other animal facilities, because Purdy doesn’t go further to advocate the use of such cameras to make slaughterhouses a thing of the past.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Rules in Favor of a Public Elementary School Student Who Sought to Pass Out Invitations to Her Church’s Party to Her Classmates

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent school speech decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The case involved a fifth grader who had sought to invite her classmates to her church's Christmas party. The court invoked the Tinker test, which asks whether student speech causes substantial disruption in the school's setting. The case also raised the intriguing question of how old students need to be to have their speech in the school setting protected by the Tinker precedent.

Is Hawaii’s Steven Tyler Act Consistent With the First Amendment?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on Hawaii’s Steven Tyler Act, which seeks to attract more celebrities to Hawaii by addressing the paparazzi problem for those celebrities who may want to vacation there—or have a house there, as well-known musician Steven Tyler does. Hilden contends that the Act raises two key First Amendment issues—one regarding failed attempts to photograph celebrities, and another regarding how much consideration should have to be exchanged to trigger a violation of the statute.

Can California’s Anti-Paparazzi Statute Survive a First Amendment Challenge?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the first case invoking the 2010 California anti-paparazzi statute. The paparazzo at issue had mounted a high-speed chase following Justin Bieber, which fell within the statute’s prohibitions; he was then charged not only with reckless driving, but also with an offense under the anti-paparazzi statute. But does that statute violate the First Amendment? Hilden explains why it might be thought to. Notably, if the statute is upheld, Hilden suggests that it may substantially change the cat-and-mouse games that paparazzi play with the celebrities whom they seek to photograph.

The Minnesota Supreme Court Rules for the Defendant in a Suit Alleging Online Defamation

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a case of online defamation, in which a doctor sued a patient’s son for the son’s harsh online reviews regarding the doctor’s care of the patient's father. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that none of the statements in the son’s reviews could be sued upon, either because they were substantially true, because they were not capable of defamatory meaning, or because, in one case, the statement at issue was a statement of pure opinion. Hilden explains why the online-review-writer prevailed here, and notes some other reasons why online reviews may or may not successfully be sued upon.

The First Amendment and a New York State Newspaper’s Reportage of the Names of All Area Individuals Holding Pistol Permits

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the controversial decision by the suburban New York newspaper The Journal News to report the names of area residents who possess pistol permits. Hilden discusses both a possible defense for the newspaper’s controversial action, and also some reasons why that action, while legal under area law and First-Amendment-protected, may not have been prudent—particularly since revealing who is armed in a given community also implicitly reveals who is unarmed and thus potentially vulnerable and therefore, the newspaper’s reportage might cause many area residents to arm themselves.

Why North Carolina’s New Law Making It a Crime for Students to Bully Teachers Online Is Deeply Troubling From a First Amendment Standpoint

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden covers a new North Carolina law, described by the North Carolina ACLU as possibly the first of its kind in the United States, which seeks to protect teachers from students’ (1) building a fake online profile or website of the teacher; (2) posting the teacher’s private, personal, or sexual information; (3) tampering with the teacher’s online networks, data or accounts; (4) signing the teacher up to a pornographic website; or (5) making any statement, whether true or false, that is likely to provoke someone else to stalk or harass the teacher. Violations of any of these five provisions carry criminal penalties. Hilden argues that the law’s genuine concern for protecting teachers is already sufficiently addressed by existing civil and/or criminal law, and that to the extent that the provisions go further than existing law, they may raise serious First Amendment issues—issues that have already left the North Carolina ACLU primed to challenge the statute. Hilden also underlines the point that teachers typically have far greater resources and maturity to deal with bullying than students do, and thus, she argues, teachers need less protection from bullying than students do.

A Mississippi Public School Student’s Rap Song Gets Him a Suspension, and a First Amendment Case

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a federal district court case that was brought after Mississippi teen Taylor Bell was suspended based on the lyrics of a rap song he wrote and posted on Facebook and YouTube, where it was heard by his high school classmates. Hilden explains why the case implicated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines, even if the rap song fell short of constituting a “true threat” under other free speech precedents. Taylor lost before the federal district court, but, as Hilden explains, his attorney has noted a number of key points that will likely help strengthen Taylor’s case in the planned appeal.

A First Amendment Fight At Oregon State University Leads to an Interesting Decision From a Panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit panel decision arising out of a controversy regarding the treatment by Oregon State University (OSU) of a conservative student newspaper, The Liberty. While OSU's traditional newspaper, The Barometer, was allowed to use on-campus newsbins, The Liberty first had its copies dumped out of its newsbins, with no prior notice, and then was allowed to put The Liberty in only two designated areas on campus, whereas The Barometer suffered under no such restrictions. Hilden argues that the Ninth Circuit panel was right to rule that the student newspapers should have been treated equally, with The Liberty accorded the same access as The Barometer.

Why a Missouri School Speech Case Doesn’t Merit Supreme Court Review, and What Kind of School Speech Case Likely Will

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent school speech case from Missouri in which twin brothers, both high-school juniors, created a blog that derogated fellow students in racist and sexist ways. Hilden argues that it’s no surprise that the brothers were suspended from their school and required to continue their studies elsewhere, given that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Comm. Sch. Dist. allows students to be punished when substantial disruption foreseeably results from speech that they directed at their school. She also notes that it is unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would grant review in a case like this one, and describes the kind of school-speech case that might, conversely, be a good candidate for the Court’s review.

The Controversy Over a Teacher’s Criticism of a Student’s Romney/Ryan T-Shirt, and a Possible Solution for the Future

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the recent controversy over a Philadelphia public school geometry teacher's deriding student Samantha Pawlucy for wearing a Romney/Ryan T-shirt. The incident blew up into a full-blown controversy, with Romney personally calling the girl and speaking with her parents. Hilden parallels the incident to the key 1969 Supreme Court student-speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines Ind. Comm. Sch. Dist., in which students near Pawlucy's age wore black armbands in school in order to protest the Vietnam War. Hilden also argues that Pawlucy’s is an easy case, and that she would have a much harder First Amendment case, had the incident occurred in a History or Social Studies class. Finally, Hilden questions whether this was a case of teacher/student bullying, and suggests that teachers and students alike should be required to learn basic school-speech First Amendment tenets.

A Chicago Judge Rules in Favor of “Occupy Chicago” Protesters: Why He Made The Right First Amendment Call

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on an important recent First Amendment ruling by a Chicago judge, Thomas More Donnelly. Judge Donnelly ruled in favor of Occupy Chicago protesters who broke the 11:00 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew for Grant Park, and were consequently arrested. Significant in Judge Donnelly's decision were the Illinois Constitution’s especially broad right of assembly; the fact that, in 2008, Obama rally participants were allowed to break the curfew in Grant Park without suffering arrest or other consequences; and the poor treatment that the Occupy Chicago protesters had earlier endured from the Chicago police, before the Grant Park arrests. Hilden argues that Judge Donnelly was correct to rule for the protesters.

A Federal Judge Declines to Grant a Motion to Dismiss a Minnesota Student’s First (and Fourth) Amendment Complaint Based on Her School’s Demand That She Give Up Her Facebook and Email Passwords

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by a Minnesota-based federal court, regarding a student whose school punished her for two postings she had made on Facebook, after forcing her to give over to the school her personal Facebook and email passwords. The court, as Hilden explains, refused to dismiss the student’s complaint, and offered in its opinion an excellent summary of the existing law regarding schools’ ability—or, in some cases, their lack thereof—to punish students’ off-campus, after-hours speech.

Can Celebrities Successfully Sue to Keep Their Stolen Wedding Photos Private? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Say Yes, in a Case Pitting Latin American Celebrities Against a Gossip Magazine

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a fair-use case that one judge on the Ninth Circuit panel compared to a telenovela. When a thief stole wedding and wedding-night photos from two Latin American celebrities that revealed that they were secretly married, and had been for several years, a gossip magazine published the photos. The two celebrities then registered their copyrights in the photos, and went to court to enforce them. The magazine, however, mounted a “fair use” defense, in order to try to avoid liability. Hilden describes and comments on the Ninth Circuit decision in the case, which sparked a dissent. Going through the four key fair-use factors one by one, the majority opinion suggests that the magazine has a steep uphill battle in proving fair use, as Hilden notes. Hilden also takes issue with the panel majority’s view that only “pictorial” photographs and those “factual” photographs that depict events should be protected, in this context. She argues that, to the contrary, even mechanical photo-booth photos ought to be protected in such situations.

The Michigan Supreme Court Holds That the First Amendment Protects Drivers From Being Punished for Their Purely Verbal Disagreements With Parking Ticket Officers

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent Michigan Supreme Court First Amendment case, regarding a Michigan State University (MSU) ordinance. The ordinance makes it a misdemeanor to disrupt an MSU officer from performing his or her normal activities. In this case, a man whose car has been ticketed went up to the officer whom he believed gave him the ticket, and began shouting at him; a misdemeanor conviction ensued. The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately heard the case, addressing the key question whether a purely verbal interaction could constitutionally count as falling within the ordinance. Relying on a closely parallel Supreme Court precedent, the Michigan Supreme Court held that it could not.

A Florida Court Allows a College Professor to Learn the Name of a Student Who Lodged a Complaint Against Him: Was This the Right Result?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on an interesting case regarding educational privacy. The case arose when a Florida college instructor sought to find out the name of the student who had filed a complaint with the college against him. Federal and Florida law regarding student privacy were stumbling blocks, but the instructor ultimately did find out the name of the complaining student. As Hilden explains, precedent indicates that students’ educational privacy rights yield only if a given communication is held to be not directly, but only tangentially, related to a student. Here, that very holding was made—since although the student sent the complaint, the substance of the complaint was about the professor. Hilden questions the court’s reasoning, and questions, more broadly, whether privacy is much needed in the education context in the first place.

The Supreme Court Strikes Down the Stolen Valor Act: Was It the Right Call?

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling striking down the Stolen Valor Act (SVA), a federal criminal statute that punishes lies about winning medals, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. Hilden covers the majority opinion striking down the SVA, Justice Breyer’s concurrence, and the adamant, fact-filled, and passionate dissent. Hilden contends that this case was not only interesting in its own right—because the SVA permitted criminal consequences simply for a proven lie, and nothing more than that—but also interesting as a political litmus test of sorts: Liberals, she suggests, will tend to worry about imposing harsh criminal penalties on mere bar-room braggadocio, while conservatives will tend to worry about the dilution, by false claims, of the significance of the medals that cost so much, and mean so much, to the recipients and their families.

Why The D.C. Court of Appeals Rejected the Claim that Performing a Rap Constituted Making a Criminal Threat

Justia columnist and attorney Julie Hilden comments on a recent decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals—D.C.’s highest court—regarding the First Amendment and the “true threats” doctrine, which holds that true threats are not First Amendment-protected. Hilden notes that the case was unusual as it involved not just a statement, but a rap. After covering three key U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding the “true threats” doctrine, Hilden goes on to consider why the court ruled in favor of the speaker, and to agree with the court’s result. She also emphasizes the importance of context in the decision whether a given comment counts as a true threat or First-Amendment-protected speech, and notes a number of factors that might cut for or against a “true threat” finding in particular cases.