Cornell law professor Sherry F. Colb comments on a decision the U.S. Supreme Court issued toward the end of the last term, in which a majority of the Court ruled that as long as police have probable cause for an arrest, it does not matter if their actual motivation for arresting someone violates the person’s First Amendment rights. Colb considers whether such pretextual, speech-based arrests are a problem, how they differ from other pretextual arrests, and how the ruling in this case resembles the law of a seemingly different area—post-conviction incarceration for convicted criminals.
Cornell law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on Facebook’s global efforts to block hate speech and other offensive content and explains why formula-based policy necessarily makes very little sense. As Dorf explains, accurate determinations of hate speech require cultural understanding and evaluations of cases on an individual basis, but this approach also necessarily injects individual bias into those decisions. Thus, Facebook’s policy, while not ideal, may be but one of a handful of inadequate options.
SMU Dedman School of Law professor Joanna L. Grossman comments on the recent oral argument in NIFLA v. Becerra, in which so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers challenge California’s Reproductive FACT Act as violating their First Amendment right to free speech by requiring posted information about medical licensure and abortion. Grossman points out that Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor seemed to believe that if California’s FACT Act violates the First Amendment, then so too would laws in other states requiring that doctors engage in anti-abortion (or abortion-deterrent) speech.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein describe and analyze the two main legal doctrines that give rise to the action in the blockbuster movie The Post, which chronicles the efforts of journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers. As Amar and Brownstein explain, the rule against prior restraint and the collateral bar rule animated many of the motives, moves, and countermoves that were documented in the acclaimed film.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf considers how President Trump’s attacks on CNN affect the Justice Department’s efforts to block AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner (by requiring AT&T to sell off Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, or DirecTV). As Dorf points out, illicit intent can taint policies that without such intent would pass constitutional muster. Dorf explains why AT&T likely can meet the threshold of making a “credible showing of different treatment of similarly situated persons” to advance allegations of selective prosecution based on free speech.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf describes a principle most famously articulated by Thomas Jefferson, under which there should be a right to avoid providing financial support for causes one strongly opposes. Dorf argues that the Jeffersonian principle has lately run amok. He points out that the government’s argument against allowing a seventeen-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody to obtain a privately funded abortion is but one example of the government’s too-broad definition of “facilitation” of acts with which it disagrees. Dorf argues that adoption of such a position would convert every objectionable private exercise of rights into government participation.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein propose and analyze a law to prevent hostile listeners from “shouting down” controversial speakers that, arguably, would pass constitutional muster. Amar and Brownstein do not fully agree on which standard of review should apply to the regulation they propose, but they do agree that the mere fact that a general law is applied to conventionally expressive conduct does not always justify increasing the standard of review applied to it.
Leading church-state scholar Marci A. Hamilton comments on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in which it held that a female principal of a Catholic school has no legal recourse when a priest engages in gender discrimination that would be actionable in any other setting. Hamilton explains that this is a product of the misguided ministerial exception, which is part of a larger, more troubling social pattern of religious entities demanding a right to discriminate and harm others.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Matal v. Tam, in which the Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the federal trademark registration statute that prohibits registration of disparaging marks. Amar points out that the Court’s decision in Matal is difficult to square with its reasoning and holding in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Soldiers, a case from two years ago in which the Court upheld Texas’s refusal to approve a specialty license plate design that made extensive use of the Confederate flag image.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf analyzes the arguments made by Donald Trump’s lawyers in defending against Summer Zervos’s defamation suit against him, specifically the argument that Trump’s comments were mere “hyperbole” and “fiery rhetoric,” which, in the context of a presidential campaign, do not amount to defamation under state law. Dorf argues that existing law already offers politicians some protections against frivolous lawsuits, and what Trump’s lawyers are asking for is essentially a license for a candidate to lie about anyone and anything so long as the controversy has some connection to politics.
Marci A. Hamilton, a leading church/state scholar and Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, comments on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, which Hamilton argues reflects a common-sense application of existing jurisprudence on the Free Exercise Clause. Hamilton laments that legislators are not acting with the same level of common sense as they develop and interpret dangerous Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar laments recent instances of censored speech, particularly on university campuses, and reminds us that freedom of speech and academic freedom protect even those speakers whose message might be perceived odious, racist, sexist, or hateful. Amar points out that both freedom of speech and academic freedom are rooted in the principle that ideas and arguments ought to be evaluated on their substance and that the essence of both kinds of freedom is the opportunity to persuade others of the merits of one's argument, rather than the use of power to coerce or silence others.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on the recent election of Republican Greg Gianforte in Montana, despite Gianforte’s being charged with misdemeanor assault for body-slamming a reporter. Dorf considers the broader implications of voters’ apparent indifference to the assault.
Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, pens an open letter to the American people warning of the dangers of trusting any president without questioning. Hamilton explains that the framers of the Constitution envisioned that those in power could not be trusted and for that reason empowered the press to check those with power. Hamilton argues that the Trump Administration is encouraging the American people to abandon this part of the social contract.
John W. Dean, former counsel to President Richard Nixon, explains how President Trump’s poor relations with mainstream news outlets will damage his presidency. Specifically, Dean focuses on the endless leaks, the First Amendment, and the ill will Trump is creating for himself.
Marci Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania and leading church/state scholar, outlines what the United States must do to restore true religious liberty under the First Amendment, rather than go down the path of extreme religious liberty supported by right-wing Christian lobbyists. Hamilton argues that President Trump needs to remove Steve Bannon, unhinge himself from the extreme religious right, and open his eyes to the plain discrimination directly in front of him.
Illinois Law dean and professor Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law professor Alan Brownstein discuss a law the Philadelphia mayor recently signed into law that prohibits employers in that city from asking job applicants to provide their past salary data, in an attempt to reduce the wage gap between men and women. Amar and Brownstein specifically consider some of the arguments that the law violates the First Amendment.
Chapman University law professor Ronald Rotunda describes how freedom—specifically freedom of speech—was recognized as important as far back as ancient Athens, and how it remains important in the United States today, not only for its inherent value but also in setting an example for the rest of the world to use. Rotunda argues that when the United States restricts speech, other countries will use our example to justify their own repression.