Johnson’s & Stein’s Exclusion from 2012 Presidential Debates Constitutional

Gary Johnson and Jill Stein–the respective nominees of the Libertarian and Green parties–were excluded from the 2012 presidential debates.  They sued, claiming that the Commission of Presidential Debates violated their First Amendment rights by excluding them based on their viewpoints. Last month, their case was finally decided by a federal appellate court.  The D.C. Circuit… Read More Johnson’s & Stein’s Exclusion from 2012 Presidential Debates Constitutional

Missouri Town Allowed to Ban “All Commercial Activity” in the Park

On the outskirts of St. Louis, the 400-person town of Twin Oaks, Missouri, dedicated a 11-acre park to the public in 1994. To “protect” the park, the town enacted a comprehensive ordinance that prohibited, among other things, obstruction of walkways, vehicles, hunting, and “all commercial activity” except with a permit. The park is quite picturesque.… Read More Missouri Town Allowed to Ban “All Commercial Activity” in the Park

Wyoming Ban on Gathering “Resource Data” Subject to the First Amendment

Wyoming makes it a crime to cross private land (trespass) and “collect resource data” on adjacent public land–a crime that carries a more severe punishment than ordinary trespassing. The law broadly defines both “collect” and “resource data.” The former applies whenever people “take a sample of material” or “acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in… Read More Wyoming Ban on Gathering “Resource Data” Subject to the First Amendment

First Amendment Claim Plays Critical Role in Texas Sanctuary Cities Case

Last week, a federal district judge temporarily blocked parts of a Texas state immigration law (known as SB4) that would have outlawed sanctuary cities and penalized local officials who did not cooperate with federal immigration-enforcement efforts.  Plaintiffs–a group of cities that challenged the state law–made claims under the First, Fourth, Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments.… Read More First Amendment Claim Plays Critical Role in Texas Sanctuary Cities Case

Police Department’s Policy Banning Discussion of K-9 Program Unconstitutional

Nevada Highway Patrol Major Kevin Tice announced a policy prohibiting officers from talking about the K-9 program with anyone outside the department.  Some officers complained that Tice’s policy was designed to prevent them from publicizing problems in the K9 program.  So they sued Tice, alleging that the policy’s restriction on speech violated the First Amendment.… Read More Police Department’s Policy Banning Discussion of K-9 Program Unconstitutional

New Orleans Suburb Cannot Require Panhandlers to Obtain Permits

Slidell, Louisiana, is a city of about 30,000 people about 35 miles from downtown New Orleans. In the last two years, they received 70 complaints related to panhandling, but police were only able to identify the individuals complained of for 14 of those 70 complaints. In response, the city enacted an ordinance meant to help… Read More New Orleans Suburb Cannot Require Panhandlers to Obtain Permits

No Right to Free Speech in Public Job Interview

Dustin Buxton applied to the Radiation Therapy Program at a Baltimore-area community college. The 65-credit program grants an Associate of Applied Science, and graduates are poised to become radiation therapists for health-care providers, working with x-rays, MRIs, etc. Dustin got past the first stage of the application process (which was just a review of his… Read More No Right to Free Speech in Public Job Interview

Unconstitutional for DOJ to Require Legal-Aid Non-Profit to Formally Represent Clients

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (“NWIRP”) is a non-profit that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants. They went toe-to-toe with the Department of Justice earlier this year over a somewhat-nuanced, but important procedural rule that affected NWIRP’s work. A lawsuit ensued, NWIRP invoked the First Amendment, and prevailed.   NWIRP helps immigrants in a… Read More Unconstitutional for DOJ to Require Legal-Aid Non-Profit to Formally Represent Clients

Nebraska Allowed to Restrict Funeral Protests

You may have heard about people protesting military funerals. If you haven’t, here’s a quick primer. The Westboro Baptist Church (“WBC”) views military funerals as ceremonies which suggest that God approves of national policies that WBC thinks are contrary to the Bible’s teachings. For example, some WBC members state that funerals are a form of… Read More Nebraska Allowed to Restrict Funeral Protests

“Occupy Chicago” Protesters Lose Their Free Speech Challenge After Nearly Six Years

Remember the “Occupy” movement/protests from fall 2011? Well some participants in the Chicago chapter of the movement got their (likely) final day in court this summer. Occupy Chicago took place mainly in Grant Park in downtown Chicago, right along Lake Michigan. The city generally didn’t interfere with the movement until over 100 protesters sought “permanent… Read More “Occupy Chicago” Protesters Lose Their Free Speech Challenge After Nearly Six Years

Minnesota Allowed to Restrict “Robocalls” That Contain Political Speech

Have you ever gotten an annoying “robocall” around election time–those pre-recorded messages that campaigns make? Well the state of Minnesota sought to restrict their use, and the state recently prevailed against a First Amendment challenge. The law requires simply that, before placing a robocall (any robocall–not just a political one), the recipient must have given… Read More Minnesota Allowed to Restrict “Robocalls” That Contain Political Speech

Cleveland Sued for Requiring Permit for “First Amendment Activities”

The Cleveland Metroparks Department requires a “First Amendment Permit” to engage in “First Amendment Activities” in a Cleveland park. (You can check out their policy and application here and here.) An applicant must apply at least a week in advance, providing her name, address, phone number, name of organization, number of people participating, and the requested… Read More Cleveland Sued for Requiring Permit for “First Amendment Activities”

President Trump’s Lawyers Say First Amendment Prohibits Protesters’ Suit

Three protesters attended a Trump Campaign rally and held up some signs.  The signs drew Trump’s attention, at which point he said “Get ’em out of here,”  (he later added “Don’t hurt ’em”).  The protesters say that some audience members assaulted them.  They sued, claiming then-candidate Trump’s words incited the violence. In late March, the district judge… Read More President Trump’s Lawyers Say First Amendment Prohibits Protesters’ Suit

South Carolina Prison Guard Fired for Whistle-Blowing About Inmate Mistreatment

Michael Billioni worked in the central control area of a prison where he could see all the security camera footage–past and present. He saw something disturbing, told his wife (who told a reporter), denied to his boss that he told anyone, later confessed, and then was fired. Now, he’s suing, claiming that he had a First… Read More South Carolina Prison Guard Fired for Whistle-Blowing About Inmate Mistreatment

Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

This is the second case in the last 7 days involving people using Facebook to raise public-corruption concerns. Brian Davison is a conscious public citizen, active in local politics. Among other things, he’s concerned about potential corruption in his local government–specifically conflicts of interest among the local school board. Earlier this year, Brian went to… Read More Virginia Official Violated First Amendment by Blocking Man From Commenting on Her Facebook Page

Louisiana Sheriff Prosecutes Blogger, Likely Violated First Amendment

Jennifer Anderson set up an anonymous blog and Facebook page called “Exposedat.” Her goal was to highlight and question intertwined personal and business relationships involving public officials in her parish in Louisiana. (Louisiana doesn’t have counties; they have “parishes.”) She made a particular set of postings that got her into hot water with the local sheriff.… Read More Louisiana Sheriff Prosecutes Blogger, Likely Violated First Amendment

Texas Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Corporate Contributions to Political Candidates

Yes, this case is related to the Citizens United decision from 2010. But this Texas case shows what kind of campaign-finance laws are constitutionally allowed post-Citizens United. Okay, to explain what happened in this Texas case requires just a little in-the-weeds review of Citizens United (and in particular what wasn’t at issue in the case). A federal law… Read More Texas Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Corporate Contributions to Political Candidates

University Suspends Student For Tweeting “Graded” Version of Ex’s Apology Letter

Nick Lutz is a student at University of Central Florida. His ex-girlfriend (not a UCF student) sent him a handwritten apology letter after what one can presume was a bad breakup. So, Lutz ‘graded’ the handwritten letter like a school paper, calling out his ex’s spelling, grammar, and syntax errors.  He included feedback on the her handwriting.  He then posted her letter–with his… Read More University Suspends Student For Tweeting “Graded” Version of Ex’s Apology Letter

Connecticut Woman’s Profanity-Laced Tirade at Storekeeper Protected

Nina Baccala stopped by a store in Connecticut one afternoon to transfer some money through Western Union. The store’s manager said she was too late. Nina was not happy; she called the manager “fat” and “ugly” along with several other profanities. She was later convicted of breach of peace and sentenced to 25 days in jail. The Supreme Court of Connecticut… Read More Connecticut Woman’s Profanity-Laced Tirade at Storekeeper Protected

FBI’s Gag Orders to Internet Companies Are Constitutional

The FBI sometimes seeks the aid of private tech companies. Those companies have sometimes pushed back. Today’s case is the latest chapter. The FBI conducts national-security investigations. No real surprise there. To help them, a federal law authorizes the FBI to send a “national security letter” or “NSL” to a “wire or electronic communication service provider” requesting… Read More FBI’s Gag Orders to Internet Companies Are Constitutional

San Francisco Allowed to Prohibit Anti-Abortion Medical Clinics from Making False or Misleading Statements

A medical clinic in San Francisco called “First Resort” provided free, pregnancy-related medical services. It was an example of a so-called “crisis pregnancy center.” It was a pro-life non-profit, dedicated to building “an abortion-free world.” Thus, First Resort did not provide abortion services to its patients, nor would it refer its patients to a facility… Read More San Francisco Allowed to Prohibit Anti-Abortion Medical Clinics from Making False or Misleading Statements

ACLU Threatens Suit After Pennsylvania Town Says Naval Officer’s Nightly Taps Routine Is A Nuisance

Can a town stop someone from playing a military bugle call because they think it’s annoying? The ACLU doesn’t think so. Active-duty naval officer Joshua Corney played a recording of taps each night from his home in rural south-central Pennsylvania. (“Taps” is a one-minute bugle call played at various military ceremonies and at dusk on military bases.) After some time,… Read More ACLU Threatens Suit After Pennsylvania Town Says Naval Officer’s Nightly Taps Routine Is A Nuisance

A First Amendment Right to Access President Trump’s Twitter Account?

President Trump just got sued by Twitter users that he (or his aides) allegedly blocked from his Twitter account after those users posted comments to President Trump’s tweets critical of him or his administration. Those blocked users claim that their First Amendment rights are being violated. We read the 25-page complaint, and here is the… Read More A First Amendment Right to Access President Trump’s Twitter Account?

First Amendment Protects Right to Film On-Duty Police Officers

This is another decision affirming the right to record on-duty police officers in public. The facts here are unsurprising:  some people filmed some police officers, the officers didn’t like it, arrested the filmers, filmers sued. Filming police is–as the court said–a “common practice.”  Think of all of the on-duty police you’ve seen on film recently:… Read More First Amendment Protects Right to Film On-Duty Police Officers

Texas High School Allowed to Force Students to Recite Mexican Pledge of Allegiance for Teaching Purposes

When Brenda Brinsdon was a high-school sophomore in a small town called McAllen near the southern tip of Texas, her Spanish teacher required her and her class to memorize and recite the Mexican pledge of allegiance during a week meant to make the students aware of the culture and heritage of Mexico. Brenda didn’t want… Read More Texas High School Allowed to Force Students to Recite Mexican Pledge of Allegiance for Teaching Purposes

Iowa State Wrongly Discriminated Against Pro-Marijuana Student Group’s T-Shirts

There’s a group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, and they have a student chapter at Iowa State University. That chapter is an official student group like all the others. The student group made t-shirts that included their name, the Iowa State logo, and a marijuana leaf. The group had… Read More Iowa State Wrongly Discriminated Against Pro-Marijuana Student Group’s T-Shirts

Federal Government Cannot Ban Disparaging Trademarks

Okay, this is not the case involving the NFL football team from Washington, D.C., but it’s related. A young man named Simon Tam is the leader of an all-Asian-American band named “The Slants.” (They got the idea for their name from asking their friends about what Asians have in common, and they replied “slanted eyes.”)… Read More Federal Government Cannot Ban Disparaging Trademarks

North Carolina Cannot Prohibit Sex Offenders from Using Facebook

This case has the potential to be one of the most important First Amendment cases you might never hear about. Lester Packingham plead guilty in 2002 to “taking indecent liberties with a child” for having sex with a 13-year-old girl when he was 21. This made him a registered sex offender. Fast forward 8 years.… Read More North Carolina Cannot Prohibit Sex Offenders from Using Facebook

New York Law Prohibiting Surcharges for Credit-Card Users Might Violate the First Amendment

So this was not a full-blown First Amendment case, but it involved an important question that courts sometimes have to answer in First Amendment cases: is the government regulating speech or conduct? (Generally speaking, speech is protected by the First Amendment and conduct is not.) Expressions Hair Design is a company that specializes in…well you… Read More New York Law Prohibiting Surcharges for Credit-Card Users Might Violate the First Amendment