First Amendment

  • November 30, 2016

    by Caroline Fredrickson

    President-elect Trump posted one outlandish tweet after another all the way to the White House. But his latest tweet on flag-burning topped most of the others.

    On Nov. 29, Trump tweeted:

    Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!

    The tone and text of the post read like something that a ruler from a bygone era without the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution would say.  Most alarming is the sweeping and ominous part about “consequences.” Fortunately, a chorus of critics checked Trump.

    The very next day, both The New York Times and The Washington Post editorialized against Trump’s tweet.  The headline in the Post’s View summed up the problem, “In one tweet, Trump trashes two constitutional amendments.”

    In 140 characters, the next president knocked the First and 14th Amendments. The Supreme Court ruled almost three decades ago that burning a flag is protected speech under the First Amendment. Ironically, Trump’s model of the ideal Supreme Court Justice, the late Antonin Scalia, joined the majority decision in the 1989 case, Texas v. Johnson.

    Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) chimed in right after the tweet to educate the public and president-elect about the First Amendment protection. Both members of Congress felt compelled to voice their support for this protected speech. McCarthy tried to shut down the debate by stating the unlikelihood of congressional action.

  • August 26, 2016
    Guest Post

    Thomas Wolf, Counsel, Democracy Program, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

    *This post originally appeared on the Brennan Center for Justice website. 

    Partisan gerrymandering has long befuddled the courts. Although judges have recognized the harm of the practice, they have been unable to agree on a standard for policing it. But for the second time in a year, a partisan-gerrymandering challenge has cleared a critical hurdle.

    Earlier this week, voters challenging the drawing of Maryland’s 2011 congressional map got the green light to proceed with their First Amendment claim when a panel of three federal judges voted 2-1 to deny a motion to dismiss from Maryland’s attorney general. The voters — plaintiffs in the long-running case Shapiro v. McManus — will now be able to conduct discovery in preparation for a trial. The victory gives new momentum to a case that, along with a partisan-gerrymandering challenge pending in Wisconsin, could soon be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Justices will have their first opportunity in more than a decade to decide whether partisan gerrymandering violates the Constitution.

    The panel’s opinion focuses on the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ complaint, which challenges the 2011 congressional redistricting plan enacted by the Maryland General Assembly. The plaintiffs alleged the legislature deliberately used information about voters’ partisan affiliations and voting histories to flip Maryland’s Sixth District from an otherwise reliably Republican stronghold into a safe Democratic seat, all in a successful attempt to punish Republican voters for casting ballots for their party’s candidates. On those facts, the panel ruled, the plaintiffs stated a claim that could go to trial, endorsing the plaintiffs’ theory that these kinds of districting machinations violate the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment problem with Maryland’s redistricting, the panel explained, was that it diluted the plaintiffs’ votes — that is, made their votes less powerful than other voters’ — by placing them in districts where they were outnumbered and repeatedly outvoted by Democrats, and did so simply because the plaintiffs had voted Republican in the past. That dilution was an example — albeit a novel one — of the kind of retaliation for political speech and association that the First Amendment bars.

  • August 12, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Tom Nolan, Associate Professor of Criminology, Merrimack College; 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department 

    On Wednesday, August 10, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released the findings of its investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) that followed troubling allegations raised in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the BPD in April of 2015. At that time (as well as long before and continuing to the present), there were consistent and hauntingly similar reports that the department had repeatedly and pervasively engaged in practices and policies that infringed upon the First and Fourth Amendment rights of community residents in Baltimore, and particularly residents in communities of color.

    The investigation by the DOJ found that the BPD “makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.” The DOJ report found that the BPD engages in “pattern and practice” violations of the Fourth Amendment, specifically in “focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act.”

    In addition to engaging in repeated practices of using excessive force, the DOJ investigation reported that the BPD also “interact(s) with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The BPD was also found to have engaged in a pattern and practice of repeatedly violating the rights of individuals and groups that are protected under the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

  • August 2, 2016

    By Kevin Battersby Witenoff

    In the Huffington Post, Michael Curtis reflects on the recent decision in North Carolina’s 4th Circuit Court and shares his belief that there is still hope that democratic ideas will prevail across the country.

    Citing a new report produced by the United Nations, Thaddeus Talbot uses the ACLU’s Blog to decry that our right to assembly is being eroded.

    Sarah Kliff explains that there is more to the gender wage gap than meets the eye in an article for Vox. She shares often overlooked contributions to the perpetual gap.

    In Slate, Zachary Roth highlights the recent major voting rights victories across the country and challenges us, and our courts, to go even further. 

  • February 19, 2016

    by Nanya Springer 

    In The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson urges the U.S. Senate to fulfill its constitutional duty and “give fair and prompt consideration” to any Supreme Court nominee.

    ACS Director of Strategic Engagement Jill Dash comments to Paul Waldman in The Washington Post about the improbability that a new Supreme Court would immediately overturn high-profile decisions. “The four more liberal justices currently on the Court take precedent and stare decisis seriously,” adds ACS Issue Brief author Samuel Bagenstos.

    Perry Cooper at Bloomberg BNA says class actions may see a Renaissance in the near future and notes ACS Board member Erwin Chemerinsky’s prediction that Spokeo Inc. v. Robins will result in a 4-4 split decision.

    In the Emory Corporate Governance and Accountability Review, Caroline Poplin examines the pharmaceutical industry’s misuse of First Amendment doctrine, and ACS Board member Reuben Guttman, with Paul J. Zwier, examines wrongful marketing and pricing practices.