Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a recent concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas in a case in which the Court vacated as moot a federal appeals court ruling that the president cannot block users’ access to his Twitter account. Professor Dorf explains why Justice Thomas’s reasoning is deeply flawed, but he points out that Justice Thomas’s conclusion that the First Amendment might permit Congress to forbid Twitter from moderating content on its site finds unlikely support in arguments historically put forth by progressive politicians and scholars. In their view, very large private actors who exercise power over people’s lives comparable to and sometimes even exceeding that of government should be subject to the same sorts of norms that the Constitution applies to the government.
Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf comments on a brief filed by Donald Trump’s former lawyer Sidney Powell in a defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems. Professor Dorf argues that Powell’s motion to dismiss the case should fail, but he notes that the argument presented in her brief is more subtle than is generally acknowledged.
Illinois law dean and professor Vikram David Amar discusses a recent controversy involving the termination of a Wisconsin public school security guard under a zero-tolerance policy on racial epithets. Amar explains why, if the guard had chosen to sue, he likely would have lost in court based on current precedent, and Amar uses the apparent injustice of that outcome to illustrate that public employees often don’t realize how much their speech can be proscribed and prescribed by their government employers.
Marci A. Hamilton, a professor and resident senior fellow in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, reacts to the oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm’n, in which the Supreme Court will decide whether a Colorado baker may refuse to serve a same-sex couple on the basis that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Hamilton argues that lawyer for the baker, as well as the solicitor general arguing in support of the baker’s position in the case, took the nonsensical position that the cake serves as the baker’s speech in the couple’s private ceremony. Hamilton points out that the cake is actually the couple’s expression to each other and to those present at the ceremony, just as any other product is simply a product imbued only with the meaning intended by its purchaser.
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.
Illinois Law dean Vikram David Amar and UC Davis Law emeritus professor Alan E. Brownstein point out that the US Supreme Court has no comprehensive doctrine on compelled speech under the First Amendment, especially as compared to its very nuanced doctrine on suppression of speech. Amar and Brownstein identify core elements that should comprise a comprehensive doctrine and call upon the Supreme Court to adopt similar guidelines when it decides an upcoming case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker challenges a Colorado public accommodations law on First Amendment grounds, citing compelled speech. Without taking a position on how this dispute should be resolved as a matter of social policy, Amar and Brownstein argue that the doctrinal framework they describe does not support rigorous review in this case.
Cornell University law professor Michael C. Dorf uses the refusal of private internet domain registrars to do business with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer to illustrate the need for a change in the law. Dorf acknowledges that in the case of The Daily Stormer, no rights were violated, and the companies acted within their terms of service. However, Dorf argues that Congress should impose obligations to respect freedom of speech on companies that provide essential internet services to avoid the future possibility that such private companies stifle speech of worthy organizations and legitimate causes.
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 explains the significance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding New York credit card surcharge laws as free speech. Dorf argues that the decision reflects an alarming trend of the Roberts Court to agree to recognize challenges to economic regulations on free speech grounds.
Marci A. Hamilton, a Fox Distinguished Scholar in the Fox Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania, defends those protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration this week in the face of those calling for “unity.” Hamilton argues that “unity” in this case is simply a euphemism for “uniformity” and that the very democratic process demands that the people speak out and have their voices heard.