Articles Posted in Free Speech

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the organizers of a 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia are seeking to invoke a Civil War-era statute in utilizing the defendants' online statements to prove that they engaged in an illegal conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence. Defendants insist that their actions are protected by the First Amendment, though the judge in this case has declined to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint on free speech grounds. The outcome of this case will likely be a strong indicator of whether and to what extent the statute at issue can be relied upon to curb online hate speech and its consequences.


The National Labor Relations Board ordered Google to remind employees that they have the right to talk about politics and other issues at work.


On Friday, August 30, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected lawyer Arnold Fleck's challenge to the State Bar Association of North Dakota's collection of mandatory bar association dues. Fleck v. Wetch, No. 16-4564 (8th Cir. 2019), was remanded to the Eighth Circuit from the United States Supreme Court in light of the Supreme Court's June 2018 ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, 585 U.S. ___ (2018), holding that public-sector unions may not collect mandatory fees from nonmember employees unless the employees waive their First Amendment rights.


On Friday, August 16, 2019, Judge Brian C. Wimes of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ruled that Mike Campbell was deprived of his constitutional right to free speech when Missouri Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch blocked Campbell from her Twitter page after Campbell retweeted a comment criticizing Reisch's political views. Judge Wimes granted Campbell's request for declaratory and injunctive relief against Reisch under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 


On Tuesday, July 9, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that President Donald J. Trump engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, in violation of the First Amendment, by blocking certain users' access to his Twitter account based on those users' speech on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the President on behalf of seven Twitter users who were blocked from the President's Twitter account after said users tweeted replies to the President critical of his personality and policies. Judge Barrington D. Parker concluded "that the First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees."


On Monday, June 24, 2019, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Iancu v. Brunetti, 588 U.S. ___ (2019), holding that the Lanham Act's bar on registration of immoral or scandalous trademarks violates the First Amendment. At issue in the case is the trademark FUCT, pronounced as four letters, which is the clothing brand founded by Erik Brunetti. Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, wrote that the Lanham Act's bar on immoral or scandalous trademarks is viewpoint-based discrimination in violation of the First Amendment. 


The ruling stemmed from the arrest of a man who had yelled "f--- you" out of his car window at an Arkansas state trooper.


The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the city was justified in attempting to prevent sexual orientation discrimination by withholding referrals of foster children to agencies that do not work with same-sex parents. It did not find any religious persecution or bias that would make the policy unconstitutional under the First Amendment.


On Tuesday, April 2, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Maryland, on behalf of five former federal employees challenging the constitutionality of prepublication review. Former government and intelligence agency employees must submit manuscripts and drafts for government review before publication due to a lifelong obligation to keep national security secrets for as long as the information is considered classified by the government. The lawsuit alleges violations of both the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.


On Tuesday, February 19, 2019, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in Katherine Mae McKee v. William H. Cosby, Jr., 586 U.S. ___ (2019), a lawsuit concerning Katherine McKee's claim against Bill Cosby for defamation where Cosby's lawyers released a letter allegedly damaging McKee's reputation for truthfulness and honesty. The First Circuit found McKee became a limited-purpose public figure when she made sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby and, as such, would need to prove that the statements in the letter were both false and made with actual malice. United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writing a concurring opinion in the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari, called for a reconsideration of the doctrinal basis for First Amendment cases concerning defamation and libel.