First Amendment

  • February 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Harvey Fiser, Associate Professor of Business Law at Millsaps College

    All eyes are once again focused on our southern states and their leaders for again defying federal court orders.  This time, as last, is about violating the constitutional rights of its citizens.  The latest in the long line of outspoken obstructionists is Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore.  Moore, infamous for once being removed from his position on the Alabama Supreme Court for defying a federal court order to remove a 2.6-ton monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of Alabama’s Supreme Court building, is the lead mouth-piece on the current issue of same-sex marriage. 

    On Monday, February 9, after a denial of a stay request by both the Eleventh Circuit and the United States Supreme Court, United States District Court Judge Granade’s order took effect.  The order declared Alabama’s bans on same-sex marriage violate the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  On that Monday, same-sex couples were allowed the same marriage rights as all other couples in Alabama – until they weren’t. 

    Perhaps forgetting the commandment, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8),” Justice Moore, on Sunday, February 8, set aside any Sabbath work restrictions and issued an Administrative Order prohibiting all probate judges in Alabama from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the federal court order.  Moore supported his order with the technical fact that neither the United States Supreme Court nor the Supreme Court of Alabama had ruled on the Alabama laws – never mentioning the denial of a stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit five days prior.  The U.S. Supreme Court did act the next day, and, on Monday, February 9, the path was cleared for same-sex couples to marry in Alabama again.  Surely this satisfied Moore’s Sunday declaration.  Except, it didn’t.

  • January 30, 2015

     
    Five years after the Supreme Court in Citizens United struck down restrictions on corporate spending in elections, the American political landscape has become one where influence can be bought and the voices of wealthy donors drown out other perspectives. 

    Almost immediately after the Citizens United decision, outside spending in elections spiked.  Over the next five years, it more than doubled.  Super PACs used hefty budgets to produce attack ads against candidates who were not to their liking—affecting outcomes in not only political races, but also in state judicial elections. 

    Judges perceived as being unfriendly to PACs’ interests were attacked under the pretense of being “soft on crime,” resulting in measurably harsher treatment of criminal defendants by state supreme court justices.  Further, the last five years have seen a flood of dark money into elections.  As many commentators have noted, donor secrecy breeds mistrust and, possibly, corruption.

    Americans expect the courts to be fair and impartial, but as special interest groups spend more and more money to influence courts, public faith in these institutions is waning.  Soon, the Supreme Court will have to decide how important judicial independence is to our justice system in Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, a case that could, if wrongly decided, further diminish public trust in the courts.  For those concerned about Citizens United, Williams-Yulee, or the corrosive impact of unrestrained special interest spending on our democracy, see the following ACS resources:

    Skewed Justice: Citizens United, Television Advertising and State Supreme Court Justices’ Decisions in Criminal Cases, Joanna Shepherd and Michael S. Kang

    Five Years Later, Citizens United Wreaks Havoc on Our Democracy, Fred Wertheimer, ACSblog

    The Top Five Myths About the Democracy For All Amendment, John Bonifaz, ACSblog

    Supreme Court Briefing: Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar, Video

    Interview with Professor Tracey George on Williams-Yulee, Video

    Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United, Video

     

  • January 22, 2015
    BookTalk
    Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment
    By: 
    Burt Neuborne

    by Burt Neuborne, Inez Milholland Professor of Civil Liberties, NYU Law, and Founding Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice

    We honor James Madison as the driving force behind the Bill of Rights.  We recognize him as Thomas Jefferson’s indispensable political lieutenant.  We applaud him as the nation’s fourth president.  But we will never do Madison full justice until we revere him as a great poet.

    Not a literary poet like Wallace Stevens, or a prophet-poet like Abraham Lincoln, or even a peoples’ poet like Ronald Reagan.  Madison’s poetic genius was structural – a mastery of the interplay between democracy and individual liberty.  His poetic voice speaks to us in the harmony of the 462 words, 31 ideas, and 10 amendments – each in its perfectly chosen place and all interacting to form a coherent whole – that is the magnificent poem to democracy and individual freedom called the Bill of Rights.

    Today, we hear only broken fragments of Madison’s music.  Madison’s poetic vision of the interplay between democracy and individual freedom is hiding in plain sight in the brilliantly ordered text and structure of the Bill of Rights, but we have forgotten how to look for it.  Instead of seeking harmony and coherence in the Bill of Rights, the current Supreme Court majority reads the Bill of Rights as a set of self-contained commands, as if each clause – and at times, each word of each clause – existed in splendid isolation from the body of the constitutional text.  Consider the fate of the 45 words in Madison’s remarkable First Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble; and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • January 7, 2015

    by Geoffrey R. Stone. He is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law for the University of Chicago, the former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter, and a Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter

    *This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.


    In light of recent events that have tested the commitment of colleges and universities across the nation to free and open discourse on campus, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer appointed a faculty committee, chaired by me, to prepare a statement articulating the University of Chicago's commitment "to free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation among all members of the University's community."

    After carefully reviewing the University's history, examining events at other institutions, and consulting a broad range of individuals both inside and outside the University of Chicago, the committee crafted the following statement, which "reflects the long-standing and distinctive values of the University of Chicago and affirms the importance of maintaining and, indeed, celebrating those values for the future." I thought it might be instructive to share this statement more generally.

    From its very founding, the University of Chicago has dedicated itself to the preservation and celebration of the freedom of expression as an essential element of the University's culture. In 1902, in his address marking the University's decennial, President William Rainey Harper declared that "the principle of complete freedom of speech on all subjects has from the beginning been regarded as fundamental in the University of Chicago" and that "this principle can neither now nor at any future time be called in question."

    Thirty years later, a student organization invited William Z. Foster, the Communist Party's candidate for President, to lecture on campus. This triggered a storm of protest from critics both on and off campus. To those who condemned the University for allowing the event, President Robert M. Hutchins responded that "our students . . . should have freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself." He insisted that the "cure" for ideas we oppose "lies through open discussion rather than through inhibition." On a later occasion, Hutchins added that "free inquiry is indispensable to the good life, that universities exist for the sake of such inquiry, [and] that without it they cease to be universities."

  • December 23, 2014

    by Nanya Springer

    Just because a prisoner relinquishes her freedom doesn’t mean she must also relinquish her freedom of religion. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be, pursuant to the Constitution’s First Amendment.

    Unfortunately for Sakeena Majeed—and countless inmates in facilities throughout the U.S.—the fact that inmates retain their fundamental constitutional rights is either not well known, or simply not well respected. 

    Majeed argues in a recently filed lawsuit that upon her arrival to serve a 60-day sentence at the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland, Ohio, a corrections officer told her attendance at weekly Christian prayer services was mandatory. When she objected to mandatory participation, explaining she was Muslim, the corrections officer threatened to send her to solitary confinement. Majeed was therefore forced to attend Christian services every Friday for the duration of her sentence, at one point being publicly mocked by another corrections officer for not actively participating in the worship.

    This is not a difficult case if the corrections officer is found to have coerced Majeed into religious practice. The Supreme Court has held repeatedly and unequivocally that the Constitution prohibits the government from compelling individuals to engage in religious practices, and that includes inmates. 

    Though not a difficult case, it is one that occurs far too often, as Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State points out. Boston notes that coercing inmates to participate in faith-based programs and services is not an uncommon occurrence in American jails and prisons. Even following release, former inmates have been compelled to participate in religious-themed programs as a condition of parole.

    Majeed’s case is indicative of a broader trend, one in which government institutions abuse their authority by forcing religion on a captive and powerless population. Prisoners give up many rights, but their right to engage (or not engage) in a faith of their choosing isn’t one of them.