First Amendment Newsflash 10/16-10/29

Welcome to First Amendment Newsflash, the First Amendment Law Review’s bi-weekly roundup of the latest in free expression and religious freedom news and commentary. Check here every other Sunday for a new edition! Need First Amendment news in the meantime? Follow FALR on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates.


Supreme Court News

During its Friday conference, the Supreme Court considered many petitions for certiorari in First Amendment cases: A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic v. Becerra, Livingwell Medical Clinic, Inc. v. Becerra, Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.

Connecticut has filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the case of a woman convicted of breaching the peace for using foul language toward a grocery store manager. The state Supreme Court overturned the woman’s conviction on First Amendment grounds, and the State now asks the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether the conviction can be reinstated under the fighting words doctrine.
Other Federal Court News

In a former prosecutor’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Baltimore State’s Attorney for firing her for political reasons, the Fourth Circuit ruled that elected prosecutors may legally terminate the employment of assistant prosecutors for political reasons.

A federal judge ruled in a defamation suit that Greenpeace’s statements against a logging company were First Amendment-protected opinion statements, and thus the case was dismissed.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that a 40-foot tall, cross-shaped WWI memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland violates the establishment clause.

The 2009 Christmas underwear bomber has sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons, alleging that his First Amendment right to free exercise has been violated by guards harassing him during prayer time and denying him the ability to engage in congregational prayer. He also argues that his right to freedom of speech has been violated by restrictions placed on his communications.

A federal judge ruled that a Kentucky law restricting sex offenders’ access to the internet violates the First Amendment because it “burdens substantially more speech than necessary” to further the state’s interest. For an analysis of this issue in general, see FALR staff member Joscelyn Solomon’s recent blog post here.

A Pennsylvania woman has sued her township, alleging that ordinances restricting the number of temporary signs–including political signs–allowed in resident yards is unconstitutional. The township has voluntarily temporarily stopped enforcing the ordinance.

A local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has sued a Louisiana parish on First Amendment grounds after the parish voted to remove a confederate monument from courthouse grounds.

The former Utah Attorney General has argued a free speech defense in a legal action in which the FEC alleges he engaged in illegal campaign finance actions.

A nonprofit educational organization and YouTube channel has sued YouTube and Google for violating its First Amendment rights by inappropriately placing age restrictions on videos. The complaint alleges that Google has “h[e]ld YouTube out to the public as a forum intended to defend and protect free speech where members of the general public may speak, express, and exchange their ideas.”

Charges against Republican National Convention protesters who were arrested during a flag burning at the convention in 2016 were dismissed.

A firm involved in a dossier that alleged the Trump campaign worked with Russians to influence the U.S. election has filed a complaint to prevent its bank from disclosing its records subject to a congressional subpoena, alleging that the subpoena violates its First Amendment rights.

The Trump administration has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit filed by Tea Party-connected organizations that alleged they were subject to viewpoint-discriminatory hurdles when applying for tax-exempt status during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Trump campaign attorneys argued in an invasion of privacy suit that WikiLeaks’ publication of DNC emails was First Amendment-protected activity.

In another case dealing with the social media accounts of public servants, a Florida County Clerk of Court’s office faces a lawsuit alleging that it deleted comments and blocked users, which violated the First Amendment.

A College Republicans chapter has sued Southern Illinois University, alleging that the university’s regulation of student speech outside a designated “free speech zone” violates the First Amendment.
State Court News

Sued for defamation for alleging that an orphanage founder is a pedophile, a Maine man has asked a state judge to dismiss the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP provision.

A California man arrested for trespassing while protesting in a public square during an event has asked the court to consider a First Amendment defense.

The Ohio Supreme Court held that a state law requiring disclosure of HIV status does not violate the First Amendment.


Federal Legislative News

After Trump suggested on Twitter that NBC’s license should be revoked, Senator Blumenthal wrote a letter to the chairman of the FCC asking for the commission’s “unwavering commitment” to free speech.


Federal Executive News

In response to Trump’s tweet regarding media licenses, the FCC chairman stated “I believe in the First Amendment.”

The Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in a federal student speech lawsuit against Pierce College, in which a student alleges administrators stopped him from handing out Spanish language constitutions outside the college’s “free speech zone.”

The Department of Justice altered its rules regarding internet service providers alerting users of agency requests to access their information, leading to Microsoft dropping its First Amendment suit against the Department. An Electronic Frontier Foundation analysis can be found here.

The DOJ also asked the Supreme Court for permission to speak during oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakes, the case that pits anti-discrimination laws against First Amendment rights to free exercise and free speech.

The FCC will vote to stop prohibiting common ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations in the same area.


State Legislative News

In an apparent protest of gun ownership licensure, an Indiana lawmaker has broadened his proposal to license the press by proposing to also license free speech, religious freedom, and other rights.


Other News & Commentary

Yale Law professor and former dean Robert C. Post wrote for Vox that the First Amendment does not apply on public college campuses. In a response, also for Vox, Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky argues that students enjoy robust First Amendment protections on campus.

Joe Biden participated in an event at the University of Delaware and encouraged liberals to stand up for free speech, referencing the historical liberal fight for free expression.

The New York Times published a discussion of the future financial viability of the Newseum, a museum in Washington, D.C. that celebrates the history of journalism as well as the First Amendment.

The University of Florida hosted controversial speaker Richard Spencer, an event that prompted counter-protests as well as nationwide discussions about free speech on campus. Ohio State University denied a request by a graduate student to have Spencer speak on campus, and the student has sued the university based on this denial. Penn State also faces a suit for denying a request for Spencer to speak on campus. The University of Cincinnati approved a request for Spencer to speak.

The University of California announced that it will open a center in Washington, D.C. focused on the First Amendment and related research.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression expressed concern over the Trump administration’s dealings with the press.

And finally, the First Amendment Law Review hosted its long-awaited symposium: Distorting the Truth: “Fake News” and Free Speech on Friday, October 27. Thank you to everyone who came out, or tuned in to, our program. Check out our Twitter for photos and live tweets!


That’s it for your First Amendment Newsflash Oct. 16-29. See you again on Nov. 12! 

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