Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New Groups Taking Advantage of Concealed Election Spending

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Can we have the DISCLOSE Act now? USA Today reports that more than a dozen groups have been organized since June to take advantage of the lax election spending rules left by the Citizens United decision earlier this year…and most of them aren’t going to tell us who’s funding them:

In many cases, the public will not know who has funded the ads until long after they have aired.

"This is the new order of political finance," says Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. Outside groups can "sling mud with hidden money."

Since June 1, at least 15 organizations have launched these operations to influence congressional races, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

In Mother Jones, Peter Stone explains one reason why corporate interests are jumping through hoops to influence elections without being noticed:

You might wonder: Given that Citizens United allowed companies, say General Motors or Aetna, to get involved in elections directly, why would they need to go through groups like BIPAC or the US Chamber of Commerce? The problem, says Larry Noble, a former general counsel at the FEC, is that the decision is so ...

Debating the Great Questions at Brandeis: A Look Forward

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

With orientation sessions, meet-and-greets, and motivational speeches, college and university leaders are ushering in the Class of 2014. One such welcome message, delivered this past Sunday by Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz to the school's freshman class, caught FIRE's attention. Here's a portion of Reinharz's address, as reported by the Boston Globe:

"The next four years of your life are going to be, in my view, the best of your life. They are going to be a real new beginning for all of you," Reinharz said to students and their families, according to a statement released by the university. "You're going to be able to debate the great questions that have been debated by every generation before you and new ones that my generation and your parents['] generation never even dreamed of."

That is, unless these debates happen to offend someone's sensibilities. It is well-documented fact that, under the current Brandeis administration, the wrong words can be grounds to shut down debate. This was made especially apparent in the case of Brandeis Professor Donald Hindley, whose critique of the racial epithet "wetbacks" in his Latin American politics course led to his being found guilty of harassment ...

WI-Senate, Ron Johnson’s extremism takes aim at cultural center

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Ron Johnson, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin running to unseat Sen. Russ Feingold, has been on a tear lately, apparently trying to out-crazy himself at every turn.

Yesterday I read that he was pushing an absurd theory of global warming being caused by sun spots -- part of his personal war on climate science. See, Johnson is a pro-corporate extremist who wants no regulation on polluters or protections for the environment that might get in the way of short-term profits for his corporate buddies. So, naturally, he has taken the view, "I absolutely do not believe in the science of man-caused climate change. It's not proven by any stretch of the imagination."

In the same TPM post by Eric Kleefeld, Johnson is quoted downplaying global warming by saying, "There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland, it was actually green at one point in time. And it's been, since, it's a whole lot whiter now." Ugh... *smacks forehead*

Now, Johnson's jumping into the Cordoba House/Park51 fracas.

From Steve Singiser at DailyKos:

"Those folks are trying to poke a stick in our eye," Johnson said. "I just hope the zoning officials and the city, the state revisit that, ...

Preview of Upcoming First Amendment Cases at Supreme Court

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Last term, the First Amendment was front and center on the Supreme Court’s docket, producing a major decision on campaign-finance regulation and an array of other rulings on topics ranging from a Christian cross in the Mojave Desert to animal-cruelty videos.

 

It’s still early, but the next Supreme Court term is shaping up similarly, with First Amendment disputes comprising some of the most important and provocative cases that are already docketed. The Court has also agreed to consider a Freedom of Information Act case and a privacy case, both of which may affect information-gathering by the government.

Read more.

Discussing Victory in ‘McCauley’ at ‘The Legal Satyricon’

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
I had the honor of being invited to author a guest post for The Legal Satyricon, First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza's intelligent and irreverent blog, about last week's big Third Circuit victory in McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands. My entry, which explains why McCauley is a bigger deal than media coverage indicates, has now been published. I encourage you to check it outand my thanks to Marc for the opportunity.

Jury Invalidates One of EFF’s ‘Most Wanted’ Patents

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Good news in the fight against bad software patents: a jury in the Eastern District of Texas recently found the Firepond/Polaris patent (U.S. Patent No. 6,411,947) invalid. This patent was on EFF's "Most Wanted" list, targeted because it claimed nothing more than a system using natural language processing to respond to customers' online inquires by email.

EFF was not involved in this case, in which Bright Response, LLC — the technical owner of the patent — sued Google, Inc., Yahoo!, Inc. and eight other companies, alleging that Google's AdWords and Yahoo!'s Sponsored Search infringes the Firepond/Polaris patent. The jury found three of the patent's claims invalid based on the public use bar, obviousness, and for lacking written description. The jury also found that neither Google nor Yahoo! infringed those claims. Finally, the jury found the entire patent invalid due to improper inventorship.

In addition to the jury's findings, the Patent and Trademark Office is nearing completion of a reexamination of the patent, instituted by Google, that narrows the scope of that patent's claims.

"This is a great outcome and good news for people and developers who create new products related to customer service or email," ...

Bloggers cry foul over Philadelphia business fee

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

PHILADELPHIA — Bloggers in Philadelphia are upset over a city business fee that they say is an unfair tax on their Internet musings.

The city's so-called business privilege license costs $50 a year or $300 for a lifetime.

If a blog takes money for advertising, or sells photographs or other goods, the city says it's a business and must pay for a license — no matter how little it makes — plus taxes on profits.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter says the license is nothing new and is required for any moneymaking enterprise, from large corporations to neighborhood pizza joints and all other kinds of mom-and-pop businesses.

But the idea of the city mandating a license for people who blog in their spare time and garner some income, no matter how minuscule, has rankled the blogosphere, though it is clear there is a distinction that some bloggers are pros, while others are just hobbyists.

"It's also something the city of Philadelphia has been doing to freelance writers for a certain amount of time," Joey Sweeney, publisher and editor of the websites Philebrity.com and phoodie.info, told the Associated Press yesterday. "We had to get a business privilege license a few ...

Neb. prosecutors, funeral protester reach deal

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Editor’s note: The original version of this story contained erroneous information from the Associated Press that has since been removed.

PAPILLION, Neb. — Prosecutors and a member of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church have reached a deal that will keep both sides out of court over actions stemming from the church’s 2007 protest of a serviceman’s funeral.

The 11th-hour deal was signed yesterday, the same day Shirley Phelps-Roper’s trial was to begin on charges of disturbing the peace and negligent child abuse. Those charges will be dismissed, and in exchange Phelps-Roper, 52, will drop a federal lawsuit against Nebraska authorities accusing them of malicious prosecution.

As part of the deal pending a judge’s expected Aug. 31 approval, Phelps-Roper also agreed to remove Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov from a separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s funeral-protest law. Defendants in that ongoing federal suit include Republican Gov. Dave Heineman and state Attorney General Jon Bruning.

The charges against Phelps-Roper stemmed from her protest at the funeral of Nebraska Army National Guard Spc. William Lee “Bill” Bailey of Bellevue. During the protest, Phelps-Roper allowed her 10-year-old son to stand on an American flag, while she wore a flag as a skirt ...

Supporters: Church ignored in NYC mosque furor

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

NEW YORK — Supporters of a Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near ground zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt.

But the World Trade Center site's owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues.

Though the projects are not related, supporters — including George Pataki, New York's governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks — have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas' future while they lead a debate on whether and where the mosque should be built.

"What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?" asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us."

In an effort to deal with the furor over the planned location of the Islamic center, Gov. David Paterson has suggested that state land farther away from ground zero be used. He ...

Steve Jobs Is Watching You: Apple Seeking to Patent Spyware

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

It looks like Apple, Inc., is exploring a new business opportunity: spyware and what we're calling "traitorware." While users were celebrating the new jailbreaking and unlocking exemptions, Apple was quietly preparing to apply for a patent on technology that, among other things, would allow Apple to identify and punish users who take advantage of those exemptions or otherwise tinker with their devices. This patent application does nothing short of providing a roadmap for how Apple can — and presumably will — spy on its customers and control the way its customers use Apple products. As Sony-BMG learned, spying on your customers is bad for business. And the kind of spying enabled here is especially creepy — it's not just spyware, it's "traitorware," since it is designed to allow Apple to retaliate against you if you do something Apple doesn't like.

Essentially, Apple's patent provides for a device to investigate a user's identity, ostensibly to determine if and when that user is "unauthorized," or, in other words, stolen. More specifically, the technology would allow Apple to record the voice of the device's user, take a photo of the device's user's current location or even detect and record the heartbeat of the ...

UPDATED: Security Researcher Arrested for Refusing to Disclose Anonymous Source

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

An Indian computer scientist was arrested this weekend when he refused to disclose an anonymous source who provided an electronic voting machine to a team of security researchers.

Hari Prasad is the managing director of Netindia Ltd., an Indian research and development firm. He and other researchers have long questioned the security of India's paperless electronic voting machines. Despite repeated reports of election irregularities and concerns about fraud, the Election Commission of India insists that the machines are tamper-proof.

In 2009, the commission publicly challenged Prasad to show that India's voting machines could be compromised, but refused to give him access to the machines to perform a review. Earlier this year, an anonymous source provided an Indian voting machine to a research team led by Prasad, Alex Halderman, and Rop Gonggrijp. The team exposed security flaws that could allow an attacker to change election results and compromise ballot secrecy. They published a paper detailing their findings, which you can read here.

According to Halderman, Prasad was questioned Saturday morning at his home in Hyderabad by authorities who wanted to know the identity of the source who gave the voting machine to the research team. Prasad was ultimately arrested and ...

Disclosure Laws Under Attack

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Even after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rolled back longstanding state and federal laws that attempted to limit corporate influence in democracy, opponents of any type of campaign finance rules have redoubled their efforts to weaken transparency in elections. Two right-wing political organizations and a business group recently sued to block the state of Minnesota from enforcing campaign disclosure and donation laws. They are seeking an injunction to prevent the implementation of the state's rule for corporations to disclose their political activities. In addition, they "seek to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties." Currently, as a result of Citizens United, corporations can fund advocacy groups who can support and oppose certain candidates, but not the candidates themselves. If their lawsuit is successful, corporate financing of campaigns would expand to even greater levels.

Due to the state's current disclosure rules, donations from companies such as Target and BestBuy to the right-wing group MN Forward came to light. Without the DISCLOSE Act, organizations involved in federal elections are already able to conceal their donors, and President Obama recently warned against "a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names." "They don't want you ...

FIRE Welcomes New Program Associate Joanna Brenner

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

FIRE is pleased to announce that Joanna Brenner has joined us as our new Program Associate for FIRE's Public Awareness Project.

Joanna is a 2009 graduate of James Madison University, where she majored in Media Arts and Design with a minor in Creative Writing and served as Editor in Chief of the student yearbook The Bluestone. She has also interned and freelanced for The Washington Times and The Baltimore Sun, and last fall was a journalism intern and feature writer at the Student Press Law Center, one of FIRE's frequent partners in defending student rights. It was at SPLC that Joanna's passion for protecting students' First Amendment rights blossomedand where she was introduced to FIRE's efforts (including at her alma mater). 

As our newest Program Associate, Joanna will be responsible for much of the maintenance of our website and our blog, and will be instrumental in the design and editing of our many annual publications. Joanna will be a frequent contributor to The Torch as well. I speak for all of us here when I say that I'm glad Joanna's love of journalism and bottomless belief in the virtues of free speech have found ...

The Price of Justice

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a startling report today on the skyrocketing cost of state Supreme Court elections. The amount of money spent on state judicial races in the 38 states that have them has more than doubled in the 2000-2009 decade compared to the decade before, the report finds—and most of it has come from big spenders with big agendas, such as the Chamber of Commerce and trial lawyers’ groups.

The sway of big money over judicial elections, the report argues, is only likely to intensify in the post-Citizens United world, where big spenders will be able to pour more money into judicial races while “using shell organizations to keep their role out of the public eye.”

Take the case of Louis Butler, a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who was nominated to fill a vacancy in the court in 2004, and four years later ran for a full term. Shortly after losing the election in 2008, Butler described his experience in a panel discussion at Georgetown. NPR reports:

"Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce decided at that point that: 'OK, we've had this court for all ...

California Bans Newspaper Censorship at Charter Schools

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
Though FIRE's mission is dedicated to free speech rights and academic freedom in higher education, we pay attention to free speech developments in high schools as well, since courts sometimes (erroneously, in our opinion) apply rulings governing the speech rights of K-12 children to the adults who populate our nation's college campuses. That's why a law introduced by California Senator Leland Yee and signed into effect by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is worth noting. As The Orange County Register reported last week:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law Tuesday a student free-speech bill that the author says will close a legal loophole that allowed Orange County's largest charter school to censor its student newspaper last year.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 438 in January in response to Orange County High School of the Arts' insistence that administrators broke no laws when they halted printing of the student newspaper in fall 2009 over objections to its content.

...

SB 438 passed in the Senate unanimously in January and in a bipartisan 51-19 Assembly vote earlier this month.

The article then describes some pretty stunning acts of censorship on the part of the administration of the Orange County High ...

Community Response Saves Beaver Statue

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
Over the holiday weekend, the town of Bemidji, Minnesota removed a piece of public artwork by Deborah Davis entitled Gaea.  It is a statue of a beaver, one of ten in the city.  The reason for its removal was over what was depicted on the beaver’s belly.  The artist said it is supposed to be [...]

Song of Solomon Prevails in Franklin Township!

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
After a long and drawn-out challenge process, this week Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon finally prevailed in Franklin Township!  The denouement to this extended drama came down to a special convening of the Franklin Township school board set for this past Monday evening (July 6th).  No one knew how it would turn out.  New members [...]

Second Circuit Strikes Down FCC Regulations on Fleeting Expletives on Constitutional Grounds

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
There is some good news in the prolonged battle of fleeting expletives in the media, FCC v. Fox Television Stations.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the FCC’s ban on fleeting expletives is unconstitutionally vague. This comes off the heels of a Supreme Court decision upholding the FCC’s authority under the Administrative [...]

Overbroad Internet Obscenity Law Comes Into Effect in Massachusetts

Monday, August 23rd, 2010
Massachusetts has become the latest state to try to try to protect minors from sexual content online at the expense of First Amendment rights. Like many states, Massachusetts has long had laws on the books making it a crime to provide minors with material deemed “harmful to minors.” But the law did not extend to [...]

“E-Personation” Bill Could Be Used to Punish Online Critics, Undermine First Amendment Protections for Parody

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

A bill that could undermine a new and important form of online activism has quietly worked its way through the California legislature. If signed by the governor, the new law would make it a crime to impersonate someone online in order to “harm” that person. In other words, it could be illegal to create a Facebook or Twitter account with someone else’s name, and then use that account to embarrass that person (including a corporate person like British Petroleum or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or a public official).

Here’s the problem: temporarily "impersonating" corporations and public officials has become an important and powerful form of political activism, especially online. For example, the Yes Men, a group of artists and activists, pioneered “identity correction,” posing as business and government representatives and making statements on their behalf to raise popular awareness of the real effects of those entities’ activities, like the failure to Dow to adequately compensate victims of the Bhopal disaster and the U.S. government’s destruction of public housing units in New Orleans. These sorts of actions regularly receive widespread media coverage, sparking further public debate. Last year, the activists staged a thinly veiled hoax, presenting themselves at a press ...

Soldiers say they were punished for skipping Christian concert

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — The Army said Aug. 20 it was investigating a claim that dozens of soldiers who refused to attend a Christian band’s concert at a Virginia military base were banished to their barracks and told to clean them up.

Fort Eustis spokesman Rick Haverinen told the Associated Press he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the investigation. At the Pentagon, Army spokesman Col. Thomas Collins said the military shouldn’t impose religious views on soldiers.

“If something like that were to have happened, it would be contrary to Army policy,” Collins said.

Pvt. Anthony Smith said he and other soldiers felt pressured to attend the May concert while stationed at the Newport News base, home of the Army’s Transportation Corps.

“My whole issue was I don’t need to be preached at,” Smith said in a phone interview from Phoenix, where he is stationed with the National Guard. “That’s not what I signed up for.”

Smith, 21, was stationed in Virginia for nearly seven months for helicopter electrician training when the Christian rock group BarlowGirl played as part of the “Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concerts.”

Smith said a staff sergeant told 200 men in their barracks they could either attend ...

7th Circuit upholds Ind. judicial-speech rules

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana anti-abortion group has lost its latest attempt to block state ethics rules that prohibit judges from speaking out on issues that might come up in court.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Aug. 20 ruled against Indiana Right to Life in its lawsuit against Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and the state Commission on Judicial Qualifications.

At issue is a 2008 Right to Life survey that asked judicial candidates for their opinions on abortion law. The group, a judge and a candidate all argued in the lawsuit that the ethics rule violated freedom of speech.

The commission never has prosecuted any judge who answered the survey.

Attorney James Bopp said the group would ask the entire court to rehear the case.

Miss. campus-speech policies questioned

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

JACKSON, Miss. — Students at Mississippi universities may have to watch what they say more than those in other states because of policies that free-speech advocates say are oppressive.

At Ole Miss, people could theoretically get into trouble for sending an e-mail about how much they "hate" rival Mississippi State.

Jackson State students could be punished for unsolicited flirting.

Speaking freely outside so-called "free-speech zones" on most of the campuses could land students in trouble, even though some federal courts have deemed punishment for such speech unconstitutional.

Adam Kissel, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says the nonprofit group hears from hundreds of college students across the country each year who believe their rights have been violated. Many of the complaints involve students who have been prevented from expressing their views on controversial issues such as abortion, gay marriage or affirmative action.

"Students want to be able to advocate their position on the issues," Kissel said. "Unfortunately, the administrators sometimes use their power to shut down one side of the case."

In Mississippi, FIRE recently took up the case of a Hinds Community College student who was punished for saying the f-word as he was walking out of ...

ACLU claims Ill. eavesdropping law violates free speech

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

CHICAGO — Last fall, the Perteet brothers and their roommate decided to take a break from studying and headed to a McDonald's in DeKalb on a late-night food run.

Their trip was interrupted when a police officer pulled them to the side after they got their food. Fanon Perteet, feeling uneasy, got his phone video camera ready so he could record the exchange, which stemmed from the officer suspecting the roommate of driving drunk.

Little did Fanon know, audio recording in public areas without consent is a felony under the Illinois Eavesdropping Act. He was arrested and his brother, Adrian, was too moments later for taping Fanon's arrest.

The siblings are among several people charged with violating the state's eavesdropping law who are mentioned in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed last week. The ACLU is suing the state for charging citizens with breaking the eavesdropping law.

The organization says recordings such as the ones made by the Fanon brothers are a way for individuals and groups to share information about the police with the public — a First Amendment right. The lawsuit names Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who enforces the law, as the ...

Pa. high court OKs unsealing files in investigation of state senator

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

PITTSBURGH — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court says an Allegheny County judge should unseal documents in the grand jury probe of Republican state Sen. Jane Orie and her sister, Janine.

The high court said in its ruling Aug. 18 that Judge John Zottola should conduct whatever proceedings were necessary to determine which documents should be unsealed. The Ories are awaiting trial on charges they used the senator’s paid legislative staff to do campaign work for the senator and a third sister, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Melvin did not participate in the high court’s ruling.

Zottola refused to let a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter see some documents in March, citing a Supreme Court order. The newspaper and WPXI-TV appealed, and the high court found Zottola erred by sealing all documents pursuant to that order.

Zottola was vacationing late last week and it was unclear when he’d address the ruling.

Mich. House takes aim at SLAPP suits

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan House has approved a bill supporters say protects people from retaliatory lawsuits for certain free-speech activities, including what they post on social-networking sites.

The bill passed 68-34 yesterday in the Democratic-run House and advances to the Republican-led Senate.

Supporters say it would bar businesses from suing to harass or intimidate people who criticize them. The bill includes protections for postings on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Courts would dismiss the suits if the comments were covered by free-speech or petition rights.

The legislation prohibiting strategic lawsuits against public participation or "SLAPP" lawsuits is H.B. 5036.

Some lawmakers who oppose the bill say it could have unintended consequences. Similar laws in other states have been criticized for blocking access to the courts.

Rights in the News: Third Circuit Ruling Yet Another Victory for Student Free Speech

Friday, August 20th, 2010

For the second time in the past two years, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has decisively ruled in favor of free speech and against the purveyors of speech codes in our nation's universities. In a ruling that deepens and expands the Third Circuit's prior ruling in DeJohn v. Temple University, 537 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2008) in several important respects (as Erica noted in depth earlier), the court invalidated key portions of the University of the Virgin Islands' speech codes--a major victory for free speech rights. Read more about this ruling--also briefly discussed at The Volokh Conspiracy, as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed--here in the coming days as the higher education and legal communities ponder this latest strike against speech codes.

In the continuing debate over the less-welcome ruling in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Heartland Institute has made a welcome contribution, informed largely by a podcast interview with FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. You can read it here.

Finally, as we blogged earlier, The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi) has tackled Isaac Rosenbloom's case at Hinds Community College in Mississippi yet again, in ...

Blasphemy! Video from ALA Annual Conference

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Our final video entry this week is the provocative Annual Conference program co-sponsored by the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Association of American Publishers, “Blasphemy!  When Religious Values Clash with Intellectual Freedom Values.” We were honored to host Paul Sturges and Irshad Manji as our distinguished speakers and hope you will enjoy their lively presentations (with apologies for a variety of technological issues, eventually resolved through some audience participation!). The video is now available online here.

The program took place on June 28 and addresses difficult questions of how we should balance intellectual freedom principles with cultural and religious differences. For more information on the panel, visit our previous blog post here.

Third Circuit’s Ruling in ‘McCauley’ Spells out Differences Between Collegiate, Grade School Student Speech Rights

Friday, August 20th, 2010

On Wednesday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling reaffirming that greater speech protections apply at public universities than at high schools and elementary schools. The appellate court's decision in McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands, which struck down the university's speech codes, further strengthened the First Amendment protections for university students previously articulated in the Third Circuit's decision in DeJohn v. Temple University, 537 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2008).

As we argued in the amicus brief that we submitted in McCauley, courts have too often used the speech standards applicable to the high school and elementary school contexts in the university setting. Applying high school speech cases to universities erodes the great speech protections that university students should enjoy and perverts the role of the university, which was designed to serve as a cauldron for debate and discourse. As our amicus brief contended, "[r]endering the free speech rights of adult students at a public college equivalent to those of schoolchildren provides university administrators legal justification to restrict speech at public institutions far beyond the bounds of the First Amendment, to the detriment of both college students and American society."

Two important Third ...

We’re on the Air in Iowa

Friday, August 20th, 2010

One of the more baffling lines Republican lines of attack against Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan during her Senate confirmation hearings was the accusations of guilt-by-association with civil rights hero Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Many of Marshall’s critics tried to backtrack after realizing that criticizing the man who led the effort to desegregate American schools, and eventually became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, wasn’t exactly wise. But we don’t think they should be allowed to bury their attacks.

This week, People For went on the air in Iowa with a radio ad about Sen. Charles Grassley’s participation in the GOP’s anti-Marshall crusade. You can listen to it here.

And for more on why Grassley’s attacks on Marshall were so off-base, read People For board member Julian Bond’s op-ed in the Des Moines Register: “GOP attacks on Marshall echo anti-civil rights message of 1960s.”

‘Chronicle’ Highlights Study of Administrative Bloat at Nation’s Universities

Friday, August 20th, 2010

This week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a study released by the nonprofit Goldwater Institute regarding the continued rise in the number of administrators at our nation's colleges and universities. The Chronicle highlights perhaps the most jarring finding from the study: between 1993 and 2007, the number of administrators for every 100 college students increased by 39 percent, while the number of professors and researchers for every 100 students rose by a comparatively small 18 percent during the same period.

This is a rather dismaying statistic, and it is just the latest manifestation of a trend that FIRE has been decrying for some time now. Universities across the country have in recent decades employed a vast bureaucracy of administrators to patrol their campuses, and they continue to do so today in alarming proportions. The result is that university administrations over-regulate students' lives, often to absurd levels. It's no secret that these administrators need to justify their often-inflated salaries somehowand, all too typically, at the expense of the individual rights and liberties of students. Rather than make better use of their budgets to enhance students' educational experiences, offer more and better courses, and otherwise ...

Calif. appeals court overturns judge’s photo ban

Friday, August 20th, 2010

LOS ANGELES — The California Court of Appeal has overturned a judge’s order barring the Los Angeles Times from publishing photos of a murder defendant, ruling her action was an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.

Superior Court Judge Hilleri Merritt vacated her order after the appeals court ruled yesterday, which allows the paper to publish pictures of Alberd Tersargyan, who is accused of murdering a Hollywood family.

Merritt initially allowed photographer Al Seib to take photos, then barred the paper from running them because she thought they might interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court, however, ruled that Merritt had failed to prove that Tersargyan’s rights were jeopardized.

“Although the original order may have been issued to preserve the integrity of eyewitness identification, the record does not demonstrate it is substantially probable that either the integrity of the identifications or the defendant’s due process rights are at risk absent the prior restraint,” the appeals panel said in its unanimous opinion.

The panel added that “given the fact that the media has previously published photographs of the defendant in connection with the charges in this case, it is not probable that ...

Giuliani supports moving mosque farther from WTC site

Friday, August 20th, 2010

NEW YORK — Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani yesterday joined a growing number of politicians supporting a move of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero to state-owned land farther from the Sept. 11 attack site.

Giuliani, who led New Yorkers through Sept. 11 and its aftermath and whose opinion on the mosque could carry considerable clout, made his comments as the imam leading plans for the community center toured the Middle East promoting religious tolerance.

"If you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project," Giuliani said on NBC's "Today" show, referring to the center's leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. "If you are a warrior, you do."

Developers want to build the $100 million community center, including a mosque, at a building two blocks north of where Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001. Muslims have been holding prayer services at the building since last year.

Support is growing for a possible land swap to provide an alternate site for what's called the Park51 project, Gov. David Paterson said.

"One of the problems the cultural center is going to have is just a constant point of antagonism, which I don't think is ...

N.M. court: Complaints against police must be released

Friday, August 20th, 2010

SANTA FE, N.M. — Citizen complaints brought against police are subject to public disclosure, according to a state Court of Appeals ruling that reinforces a New Mexico sunshine law granting access to government records.

The court ruled this week against the state Department of Public Safety, which refused to release complaints against one of its law enforcement officers on grounds that they were confidential personnel records.

In a unanimous ruling, the court disagreed and said the complaints were not covered by exceptions in the Inspection of Public Record Act that provide for the confidentiality of "matters of opinion in personnel files" and "letters of reference concerning employment."

At issue was a public-records request filed by a former captain with the state Motor Transportation Police Division, Charles Cox, who was fired in 2005 for making a racist comment about a black patrolman and for discrimination against a female employee.

In 2006, Cox requested complaints that citizens had brought against the patrolman. Cox sued the department for withholding the records and he contended his firing was retaliation for exercising his right to free speech. A federal court ruled against Cox's free-speech lawsuit but sent the public-records dispute to state court.

The appeals ...

How to Protect Your Privacy on Facebook Places

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Yesterday, Facebook introduced Places, a new location feature that competes with popular services like Foursquare, Google Latitude, Loopt, and Gowalla. Places allows Facebook users to 'check in' to real world locations and to tag their friends as present (similar to how Facebook allows tagging in photos). Everyone who is checked in to the location can see who else is listed as "Here Now" for a few hours after they check in. Once you are checked in to a location, Places also creates a story in your friends' News Feeds and places a notice in the location's page's Recent Activity section. The product will roll out over the next few days.

Like all location products, the new application publishes potentially sensitive information, since a stream of information on location can provide a detailed picture of your life. Some locations might appear cool at one moment, and yet become something you'd rather forget the next. Your Facebook friends may include prolific bloggers, business competitors, and former lovers. For business and personal reasons, you might need to keep your location private from them. And, as pleaserobme.com effectively illustrated, revealing your location can also reveal sensitive information about where you are not.

To its ...

Greg Interviewed about the Dangerous Likelihood of Colleges Misinterpreting ‘CLS v. Martinez’

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

This June, in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the University of California Hastings College of the Law's "all comers" policy in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. According to this ruling, a college can require all student groups to accept all prospective members and allow them to become voting members and leaders, even if they are fully antagonistic toward the group's mission.

Unfortunately, the negative effects of the Martinez decision will likely be felt not just at Hastings, but at universities across the nation, as the Heartland Institute's Ben Boychuk reports in School Reform News. Boychuk interviewed FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, who said that even though the language of Martinez clearly states that universities are not mandated to adopt "all comers" policies, many will incorrectly claim that the decision requires them to do so.

You can listen to the interview in this recent podcast. Greg warns:

[S]ince I'm used to seeing a fair amount of misrepresentation at universities, they're going to interpret the Supreme Court as essentially requiring them to have "all-comers" policies.  Which [the decision] absolutely does not say and did not do.

One school's lawyers even have gone so far ...

Activist Detained in Beijing

Thursday, August 19th, 2010
Blogger joins others held by police for publicizing a politically sensitive case.

A World Without Progressive Judges

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Conservatives who whine about liberal “judicial activism” are often dissing the very judges and decisions that make most of us proud to be Americans. See, for example, Republican Senators’ criticisms of civil rights hero Thurgood Marshall during the Kagan hearings.

Cartoonist Mark Fiore’s new video reveals some of the great decisions that conservatives seem happy to pit themselves against. It makes you wonder: what would our country be like today if not for the great progressive legal decisions of history?

 

Columnist and Former Center Trustee James J. Kilpatrick dies at age 89

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

The Thomas Jefferson Center mourns the loss of James J. “Jack” Kilpatrick who passed away this past Sunday at age 89. While there are many accounts of Kilpatrick’s life and career, the Thomas Jefferson Center would like to pay tribute to his service as a member of its Board of Trustees from its founding in 1990 until 2004. During his tenure as a Trustee, Kilpatrick was especially active in seeking out worthy Muzzle nominees and serving as a fierce editor of the Center’s legal briefs. A highlight of the many contributions Kilpatrick made to the Center was his participation in “A Conversation on Thomas Jefferson and Freedom of the Press,” a lively and insightful discussion held at Monticello in 1995 with columnist Ed Yoder and moderated by Center director Robert M. O’Neil.  While many may have disagreed with his political views, Kilpatrick never waivered in defending their right to express their disagreement. As the following quote amply attests, Kilpatrick was an unfailing supporter of both the Center and the concepts it champions.

 

The Idea of individual liberty lies at the very heart of the American dream.  In a very real sense, it is our national religion, and like other religions ...

FIRE’s CLE Course Now Approved for Attorneys in Pennsylvania

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

FIRE's first-ever Continued Legal Education (CLE) course, set to take place September 14, 2010, in New York City, has now been accredited by Pennsylvania's Continuing Legal Education Board. Specifically, our program has been approved by the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board for 1.5 hours of substantive law, practice and procedure CLE credit. This means that the CLE course is now available for CLE credit to attorneys in Pennsylvania, in addition to attorneys in New York. We are very pleased by this development and the opportunity to offer our course to more attorneys interested in learning about FIRE's issues.

Our CLE course, entitled "Free Speech 101: Protecting Free Expression and the First Amendment at our Nation's Colleges and Universities," will provide an in-depth examination of the state of the law on freedom of speech on today's college campuses. Interested attorneys may register for the course online via this link, or by simply clicking the button below:

Register for  Free Speech 101: Protecting Free Expression and the  First Amendment at our Nation's Colleges and Universities   in New York, NY  on Eventbrite

Our course is appropriate for both newly admitted and experienced attorneys. Registration costs $40, and financial aid is available. (See our course information page for more details.) Members of FIRE's Legal Network may attend free of charge and should register by ...

Banned Books Week 2010: Second Life Machinima Contest

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Calling all filmmakers! As part of our celebration of Banned Books Week (BBW) in Second Life this year, we’re inviting everyone to take part in our Banned Books Week Machinima Contest. Machinima is filmmaking within a real-time, 3-D virtual environment like Second Life.

Your inspiration for your machinima entry should be “Think For Yourself and Let Others Do the Same,” the theme for this year’s BBW campaign. Submissions will be accepted between August 22 and September 25, 2010. Participants can enter as many videos as they’d like. The grand prize winner will receive 10,000 Lindens; a BBW 2010 T-shirt; and their video featured on the OIF Blog and in AL Direct. For more information about the contest, including rules and specifications, please click here. For further questions regarding the contest, please contact Tina Coleman (AKA, Kay Tairov in Second Life) via e-mail at ccoleman@ala.org.

If you are not a filmmaker, but would like to participate in the fun, the machinima will be screened on ALA Island in Second Life on Friday, October 1. Those present will have the chance to vote for their favorite machinima. The audience vote will be factored into the judges’ final decision.

We look forward to seeing your ...

Professor Held for ‘Subversion’

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Vietnamese authorities arrest an academic with alleged ties to a U.S.-based opposition group.

Douthat’s Two Americas

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Writing on the controversy over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero, conservative columnist Ross Douthat asserted that nativism and xenophobia have played a positive role in American history.

Douthat argued that there are “two Americas,” one principled and pluralistic, the other reactionary and culturally rigid. The second, in his opinion, has been just as responsible for our current cultural diversity as the first:

…Both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

…So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

That ...

Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a ...

Victory for Free Speech: Third Circuit Strikes Down University of Virgin Islands’ Speech Codes

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an opinion today in McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands striking down unconstitutional speech policies maintained by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) on First Amendment grounds. As our press release details, the appellate court's decision is a momentous victory for freedom of speech on campus.

The Third Circuitwhose jurisdiction includes the Virgin Islands as well as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delawarefound the university's regulations prohibiting "offensive" or "unauthorized" signs and conduct causing "emotional distress" unconstitutional. The Third Circuit also upheld the federal district court's invalidation of a policy that forbade causing "mental harm" or "demean[ing]" or "disgrac[ing]" any person. In December 2009, FIRE filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Third Circuit to reach this result.

The case got its start in May 2009 when former UVI student Stephen McCauley filed suit against UVI in the U.S. District Court of the United States Virgin Islands, alleging that UVI's application of its "Hazing-Harassment" policy against him violated his First Amendment rights. The policy prohibits "any act which causes ... mental harm or which ... frightens, demeans, degrades or disgraces any person." McCauley also alleged ...

What Citizens United has to do with Rod Blagojevich

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Last night, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on just one of 24 counts of political corruption. On the rest of the counts, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.

Scott Turow, the bestselling novelist who started his career as a US Attorney prosecuting political corruption cases in Chicago, writes in the New York Times that whatever the fuzziness of fact in the Blagojevich case, what is even fuzzier is the way our legal system deals with political corruption. The influence of big money is everywhere in our political process—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door for less showy, but equally problematic, versions of the corruption that Blagojevich is accused of.

Indeed, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court decided that such organizations could spend as much as they wished at any time, assuming there was no direct coordination with the candidate. In doing so, the court overturned its own precedents and refused to distinguish the free speech rights of corporations and unions in any way from those of actual people.

The problem with this logic is that corporations have a legal duty not to spend money unless it is likely to ...

Robert Corn-Revere Named CBLDF Legal Counsel

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is pleased to announce the engagement of Robert Corn-Revere as the organization’s new legal counsel. Bob will lead the CBLDF’s legal program, serving as the first responder to First Amendment emergencies that come to the organization’s attention, as well as providing guidance and assistance to the comics community on legal issues that impact their First Amendment rights. He succeeds legendary First Amendment advocate Burton Joseph, who passed away earlier this year.

Corn-Revere is one of the country’s most prominent First Amendment experts, with extensive publications and litigation experience. He is a partner in the firm Davis Wright Tremaine for whom he specializes in First Amendment law and communications, media and information technology law. His litigation highlights include serving as co-counsel for respondent in U.S. v. Stevens, in which the Supreme Court invalidated a federal law prohibiting depictions of “animal cruelty” as a violation of the First Amendment; and as lead counsel in United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., where the Court struck down Section 505 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He currently is serving as counsel for CBS in litigation against the FCC in cases challenging fines arising from the ...

Burning Man at Annual Conference

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

OIF is delighted to share the following video from the Intellectual Freedom Round Table’s (IFRT) Annual Conference program, “Burning Man, Libraries, and the 21st Century: The Intersection of the Individual and Society.” It features Larry Harvey, the Executive Director of the Burning Man Project, and Lauren Christos, Chair of IFRT. The video is available online here.

Their lively conversation challenges and expands the boundaries of currently held intellectual freedom beliefs through the social experiment of Burning Man. We hope you enjoy the program!

At Michigan State, Student E-mail in Same Class as Phishers and Scammers

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

A brief article in Michigan State University's (MSU's) student paper The State News carries some interesting tidbits about MSU's technology services department, namely its proficiency in keeping "spam" e-mail messages out of MSU's computer network. The State News writes:

Each day, MSU's Academic Technology Services, or ATS, mail system blocks about 400,000 junk mail - or spam - messages from reaching users' mailboxes, ATS Communications Manager Katherine Ball said in an e-mail.

And with each passing day, the system processes about 1 million messages that have been sent or received, a majority of which are spam messages.

I imagine that many of those 400,000 spam messages are phishing schemes such as this one, which landed in one of my colleagues' inboxes last night:

FROM: DIPLOMATIC AGENT

I am a Diplomat named Mr. Dom May, mandated to deliver your inheritance to you in your country of residence.
The funds total US$7.5 Million and you were made the beneficiary of these funds  by a benefactor whose details will be revealed to you after handing  over the funds to you in accordance with the Agreement I signed with the benefactor when he enlisted my assistance in delivering the funds to you.
I am ...

Third Circuit Strikes Down University of Virgin Islands’ Speech Codes

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an opinion today in McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands striking down unconstitutional speech policies maintained by the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) on First Amendment grounds. The Third Circuitwhose jurisdiction includes the Virgin Islands as well as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delawarefound the university’s regulations prohibiting "offensive" or "unauthorized" signs and conduct causing "emotional distress" unconstitutional. The Third Circuit also upheld the federal district court’s invalidation of a policy that forbade causing "mental harm" or demeaning or disgracing any person.