Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Ousted USDA employee: I’ll sue blogger

Friday, July 30th, 2010

SAN DIEGO — Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said yesterday that she would sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that she contends made her appear racist.

Sherrod was forced to resign last week as director of rural development in Georgia after Andrew Breitbart posted the edited video online. In the full video, Sherrod, who is black, spoke to a local NAACP group about racial reconciliation and overcoming her initial reluctance to help a white farmer.

Speaking yesterday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Sherrod said she would definitely sue over the video that took her remarks out of context. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since offered Sherrod a new job in the department. She says she has not decided whether to accept.

Sherrod said she had not received an apology from Breitbart and no longer wanted one. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said.

Breitbart did not respond to a call or e-mails seeking comment in time for this story. He has said he posted the portion of the speech where she expresses reservations about helping the white farmer to prove that racism exists in the NAACP, ...

Breaking Down the 2009 DMCA Rulemaking, Part 1: Victory for Vidders

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Now that the dust has settled on the long-awaited announcement of new DMCA circumvention exemptions, it’s time for an explanation of what these exemptions will (and will not) do for consumers and creators. We’ll start with a tremendously important exemption that we fear was somewhat overlooked in the excitement about jailbreaking and unlocking: breaking DVD encryption in order to take short clips for purposes of criticism and commentary for noncommercial use, educational use and documentary films.

This exemption represents many months of hard work by an array of public interest groups. EFF led the charge on behalf of vidders (with invaluable support from the Organization for Transformative Works, among others). The documentary films issue was pushed by the International Documentary Association, Kartemquin Films (a Chicago-based nonprofit) and the USC Gould School of Law Intellectual Property & Technology Law Clinic. The educational uses were championed by a group of educators from American University, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and the University of Maryland, working with the Library Copyright Alliance.

In public comments and at numerous hearings, these groups called on the Librarian of Congress to bring copyright in line with its true purpose – promoting creativity and education – by ...

FIRE’s Adam Kissel on The Gallo Radio Show Friday Morning

Thursday, July 29th, 2010
Tomorrow morning, Adam will appear on The Gallo Radio Show to discuss FIRE's victory this week at Hinds Community College. Adam will be on at 6:30 AM Central Standard Time, and those listeners outside of SuperTalk Mississippi's broadcast range can stream the show live over the web.

GOP Blocks 20 Judicial Nominees, Rebuffs Goodwin Liu Again

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Nine Democratic senators went to the Senate floor today to call for up-or-down votes on the confirmation of 20 federal judicial nominees, many of whom have been waiting months to be confirmed and several of whom passed out of the Judiciary Committee with little or no opposition from members of either party. The Senators who spoke on the floor today included Mark Udall (CO), Michael Bennet (CO), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Herb Kohl (WI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Jack Reed (RI), Ben Cardin (MD), Tom Carper (DE), and Ted Kaufman (DE).

The explanation from Senator Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of the architects of the obstruction? "Things do not always go as smoothly as you would like."

Among the nominees Democratic senators sought votes on were several whose nomination sagas we've been following. There were Albert Diaz and James Wynn of North Carolina who would be be, respectively, the first Latino and fourth African American appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (and who garnered one no vote between the two of them in committee). There was John McConnell of Rhode Island, who has come under attack from the powerful lobbyists at the Chamber of Commerce because of his record of defending ...

Mississippi College Reverses Punishment of Student for Swearing Outside of Class

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Isaac Rosenbloom is again able to pursue advanced training as a paramedic at Hinds Community College (HCC) now that the school has reversed its punishment against him for swearing a single time outside of class. Rosenbloom, who supports his wife and two young children as an emergency medical technician, was barred from one of his classes and denied financial aid after a professor initiated a verbal confrontation with him over his language.

Read more.

Guess Who’s Against the DISCLOSE Act?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Citizens United empowered corporate and special interest lobbyists to spend unlimited amounts influencing elections. Not surprisingly, lobbyists hired by powerful interests are now the most vocal opponents of campaign finance reform. Roll Call reports that these lobbyists outdid themselves fighting the DISCLOSE Act:

Lobbying records make it difficult to determine exactly how much corporate interests and watchdog groups have spent trying the influence the bill since it was introduced this spring.

Still, the public disclosures clearly show that since April 1, more than 100 lobbying firms, corporations, unions, watchdog groups and trade associations have registered to influence facets of the DISCLOSE Act, which would bulk up disclosure requirements for companies, trade associations and unions that run televised political ads with unregulated money.

Double Standard as Loyola University Chicago Unequally Restricts ‘Potentially Political Speakers’

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

FoxNews.com quotes me in an article today about the double standard at Loyola University Chicago (LUC), a private religious university that has denied political strategist Karl Rove a chance to speak on campus prior to the November 2010 elections.

The FoxNews.com article emphasizes the double standard involved: according to LUC spokesman Steve Christensen, LUC has banned Rove until November because "the IRS has become increasingly more scrutinizing over not-for-profit universities and their tax-exempt status as it relates to political or potentially political speakers invited to come on campus." Yet LUC and its Division of Public Affairs (and others on campus) are co-sponsoring a major visit from Eboo Patel on August 27, 2010, whom LUC describes as "founder and executive director of Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core and a member of President Obama's advisory council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." Patel is expected to "headline the First-Year Student Convocation, where he and President [Michael J.] Garanzini will induct first-year students into their graduating class, officially kicking off the students' academic careers at Loyola."

If there is any question whether Patel is a "potentially political speaker," take a look at this article of his on Inside Higher Ed...

DOJ Pushing to Expand Warrantless Access to Internet Records

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

This morning's Washington Post reveals that the Department Of Justice has been pressuring Congress to expand its power to obtain records of Americans' private Internet activity through the use of National Security Letters (NSLs).

NSLs, you may remember, are one of the most powerful and frightening tools of government surveillance to be expanded by the Patriot Act. These letters allow the FBI to secretly demand data from phone companies and internet service providers about the private communications of ordinary citizens. The letters include a gag order, which forbids recipients from ever revealing the letters' existence to their coworkers, their friends, or even to their family members, much less the public.

The gag order and the lack of oversight make this power ripe for abuse. Indeed, the FBI's systemic abuse of this power was confirmed both by a Department Of Justice investigation and in documents obtained by EFF through Freedom of Information Act litigation. Yet, in the years since that abuse became publicly known, there has been no reform of the law governing NSLs.

Now, the DOJ is asking Congress to pass vague and broad new language meant to expand the kinds of data that can be acquired through NSLs. ...

‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ on FIRE’s Victory at HCC

Thursday, July 29th, 2010
The Chronicle of Higher Education writes today about FIRE's successful free speech battle at Hinds Community College (HCC) in Mississippi, where Isaac Rosenbloom has finally had his record cleared after being found guilty of "flagrant disrespect" after uttering a single profane remark outside of class time.

The Chronicle's Don Troop sums up the case:

Mr. Rosenbloom and a few other students had remained after a speech class one day to discuss their grades with the instructor, Barbara Pyle. ... Mr. Rosenbloom testified in a recorded disciplinary hearing that he turned to a classmate and said, "This grade is going to [expletive] up my entire GPA." He said the instructor had told him his language was unacceptable and ordered him to detention.

[...]

Hinds found Mr. Rosenbloom guilty of "flagrant disrespect" and issued 12 demerits against him. The college also blocked him from finishing the course and placed a record of the incident in his student file, an action that FIRE says caused Mr. Rosenbloom to lose his student aid.

Fortunately, HCC eventually removed the finding and demerits from Rosenbloom's record and restored Rosenbloom's financial aid, allowing him to continue with his advanced training to be a paramedic—but only after ...

House Committee to Examine Public Access to Federally-Funded Research

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Tomorrow afternoon, legislators from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will be holding a hearing on the topic of "Public Access to Federally-Funded Research." The hearing will be a perfect opportunity for key representatives to look into supporting public access policies — various requirements that scientific research funded by the federal government be made available on the Internet to the tax-paying public. EFF wrote about the benefits of public access policies earlier this year when the Office of Science and Technology Policy asked for input.

Tomorrow, members of the committee will no doubt hear about the excellent Federal Research Public Access Act, (FRPAA) a bill that would require a great deal of research funded by government agencies to be made publicly available through a digital database no later than six months after publication. The law is modeled after the National Institute of Health's Public Access policy, which on its own has granted millions of people access to critical, up-to-date medical research since it was implemented in 2008.

Public access policies essentially "close the loop" on tail end of the cycle of research funded by the government. Now, the public pays for scientific research through taxes, but in ...

FBI chief: Surveillance rules not based on race, faith

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress yesterday that the bureau's domestic-surveillance guidelines were being used properly and that agents were not employing them to target people for investigation on the basis of race.

The FBI director's defense of the guidelines at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing followed criticism by civil liberties groups that the guidelines unfairly target innocent Muslims. The guidelines "do not target based on race," Mueller said.

Mueller's response came during questioning by committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about an Associated Press story indicating widespread cheating on an FBI test designed to ensure that agents understand the guidelines.

Mueller said agents were required to take 16 hours of training on the rules and that despite any cheating on the test he was confident that "our work force absolutely understands what can be investigated, how it must be investigated."

Mueller told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that the fact that a particular religious group is involved "is not enough" to justify surveillance. "There has to be something more," Mueller said.

The FBI director misspoke on one point, telling Durbin that the guidelines require a suspicion of wrongdoing before any surveillance can begin. After the hearing, the FBI said, ...

Judge tosses lawsuit by student who wouldn’t counsel gays

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

DETROIT — A conservative legal group says it will appeal a federal judge's decision to throw out a lawsuit brought by an Eastern Michigan University student who was kicked out of a master's degree program because of her religious views against homosexuality.

Julea Ward of Detroit was removed from Eastern Michigan's counseling program because she refused to counsel gay clients as part of her course work, saying her Christian beliefs hold homosexuality to be morally wrong. She asked that another counselor be assigned her prospective client.

After the university decided that Ward's refusal violated university policy and a professional counseling organization code, it removed her from the counseling program. Ward sued the Ypsilanti school last year, alleging a violation of her constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh ruled in favor of the university and granted it summary judgment on July 26.

"Plaintiff was not required to change her views or religious beliefs; she was required to set them aside in the counselor-client relationship - a neutral, generally applicable expectation of all counselors-to-be under the ACA (American Counseling Association) standard," the Detroit Free Press quoted Steeh as writing in his 48-page opinion.

Alliance Defense Fund attorney David French said the ...

Leaked Afghan war docs could spur crackdown on info access

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Call it the big information chill, looming across the military and intelligence communities. After the massive Afghan war data spill by Wikileaks, some veteran intelligence officers and experts are calling for a tightening of access to information and more monitoring in the spy community’s lower levels.

They’re blaming post-9/11 changes that promoted information-sharing as the culprit that made it too easy to lose control of the nation’s secrets.

“Frankly, we all knew this was going to happen,” former CIA Director Michael Hayden said. In a post-Wikileaks world, he said, many people he’s spoken to feel burned by the disclosures and want to return to guarding their data.

The intelligence failures that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were blamed on government agencies hoarding information instead of sharing it, missing crucial clues that could have headed off al-Qaida’s strikes. Those changes, which reduced this kind of information “stovepiping,” have produced the opposite problem — amassing so much data that officials complain it’s hard to make sense of it or, as the Wikileaks incident shows, keep it secret.

Intelligence officials and outside experts suggested that agency chiefs may push to limit access to electronic “portals” that have provided growing ...

Texas cities can’t challenge state’s open-meetings law

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

PECOS, Texas — Four Texas cities cannot join more than a dozen elected officials in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Texas Open Meetings Act, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Junell said the cities of Alpine, Pflugerville, Rockport and Wichita Falls cannot sue Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the state over the act because the issue involved revolves around individual rights.

The open-meetings law bars a quorum of elected members of a government body from deliberating in secret. Violators can face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The cities and elected officials argued in a lawsuit filed last year that the act violates the First Amendment’s free-speech protections by barring elected officials from speaking in public or private about public issues. The plaintiffs argued that some communication by a quorum of elected officials, including that done by e-mail or on social-media websites, should be allowed outside of a publicly posted meeting.

The state had argued cities are created by the state and therefore cannot sue their creator for constitutional violations.

Junell concluded that while the state’s argument was overly broad, the open-meetings law is about individual rights.

Rod Ponton, a lawyer ...

The Consequences of Citizens United

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case in January, we’ve been warning that the decision would empower corporations to funnel unlimited donations through shadow advocacy groups to directly influence elections.

And guess what? It’s begun.

Just as we (and President Obama) predicted, corporations are already forming and funding political action groups with innocuous sounding names to anonymously support candidates they like and attack candidates they don’t.

For example, the coal industry already has a plan to create a shadow organization to directly advocate against “anti-coal” candidates, obscuring the sources of the organization’s money as they go:

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.

"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be ...

Uyghur Webmasters Sentenced

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
Three webmasters from northwestern China are jailed for “endangering state security.”

In Perfect 10 v. Google, Round 3 Goes to Google: No Sloppy DMCA Notices

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Copyright owners, take note: If you're going to use the streamlined Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA") process to require a service provider to remove allegedly infringing content, you'd better make sure you actually comply with the DMCA notice requirements. Otherwise a court may find, as occurred this week in Perfect 10 v. Google, that your "notice" didn't actually put anyone on "notice."

A quick recap: In 2004, porn company and frequent litigator Perfect 10 sued Google for direct and secondary copyright infringement. Perfect 10 claimed that Google violated its copyrights by linking to websites that hosted infringing material, caching websites that hosted infringing photos of nude models, and hosting infringing images uploaded by Blogger users. In 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a preliminary injunction in favor of Perfect 10 on its direct infringement claims, and sent the case back to the district court for a determination of some of the secondary infringement claims. Google moved for summary judgment, asserting that it was protected from secondary liability by the DMCA safe harbors.

This week, Judge Howard Matz of the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles mostly agreed with Google, whittling Perfect 10's remaining case down to a ...

Why the Claremont University Consortium Should Revise Its Policy on ‘Bias Related Incidents’

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
Last week, I wrote about an exchange between FIRE and Washington State University (WSU) that led WSU to promise to make changes to its "Bias Hotline" policy that would bring the policy into compliance with the First Amendment. I wrote that a revision along such lines would be a great benefit to students on WSU's campus, and that more universities should do the same in light of the abuses of bias incident policies that we see each year. (Indeed, in our 2009 Spotlight report (PDF) on speech codes, we highlighted these policies and their proclivity for being used to restrict constitutionally protected expression.)

In my discussion of WSU's Bias Hotline policy, I highlighted some of the abuses FIRE has seen of such policies, all at the Claremont University Consortium (CUC). Suffice it to say that you could draw all of the examples needed to illustrate the problems with bias incident policies solely from the cases we have witnessed at the CUC's five undergraduate campuses—Pomona College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont McKenna College, and Pitzer College.

Recently, Robert A. Walton, Chief Executive Officer of the CUC, wrote us earlier this month in response to ...

IFRT Monthly Video Series

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

The Intellectual Freedom Round Table (IFRT) has begun a monthly video series to promote intellectual freedom among ALA members.  IFRT chair, Loida Garcia-Febo, the creator of the series, has the following to share:

My vision for this video series is to put Intellectual Freedom and Human Rights on the agenda of library workers. As chair of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table, I would like every ALA member to know more about the work we engage in and the reasons for it. I find that videos are a powerful tool to accomplish this task.

The IFRT community is composed of terrific colleagues and I want to share that with our membership. Our first video features Barbara Jones, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, who will share news about issues dealt with by her office. Other videos feature Kent Oliver, president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, Dr. Carrie Gardner, Martin Garnar, Douglas Archer, and Carolyn Caywood. International colleagues working in the area of human rights also are scheduled to participate during the next few months.

We hope you enjoy these videos.  If you have any topics you would like to see featured in upcoming videos, please contact Loida ...

Victory for Free Speech on Campus: Mississippi College Reverses Punishment of Student for Swearing Outside of Class

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010
Four months after he was threatened with "detention" and then forced to endure a disciplinary process that put his and his family's livelihoods at risk, Isaac Rosenbloom is again able to pursue advanced training as a paramedic at Mississippi's Hinds Community College (HCC). HCC has finally reversed his punishment for swearing a single time outside of class. Rosenbloom, who supports his wife and two young children as an emergency medical technician, was barred from one of his classes and denied financial aid before FIRE was able to get his case resolved.

Rosenbloom's ordeal began on March 29, 2010, when professor Barbara Pyle and a few students stayed after class to discuss the students' grades. At one point, in the doorway of the room, Rosenbloom said to a fellow student that his grade was "going to f--- up my entire GPA."

According to Rosenbloom's account in a recording of his April 6 hearing, Pyle began to yell and told him that his language was unacceptable and that she was giving him "detention." Rosenbloom replied, accurately, that detention was not a punishment at HCC. Pyle then told him that she was sending him to the dean. She submitted a disciplinary complaint against ...

NJ Library Removes LGBT Book, Calling It “Child Pornography”

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

The public library system for Burlington County, New Jersey, has ordered that all copies of Amy Sonnie’s Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, which the library director labeled as “child pornography,” be removed from library shelves.

Library director Gail Sweet ordered the book’s removal without having followed a formal book challenge process. Instead, she acted on an informal complaint from a member of the local chapter of Fox News commentator Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project.  obtained by American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey show that the complaint was made by Project member Beverly Marinelli, who is also credited with persuading Rancocas Valley Regional High School to ban the same book in May.

Read more.

Congress votes to protect U.S. authors from foreign libel judgments

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Congress yesterday passed a bill that would protect American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign libel judgments that undermine the U.S. guarantee of free speech.

The House approved the legislation by voice vote and sent it to President Barack Obama.

Under the bill, H.R. 2765, U.S. federal courts would be prevented from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Defendants in foreign cases could obtain a U.S. court order declaring that a foreign judgment would not be enforceable under American law.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., says foreign defamation laws lack the free-speech protections of the U.S. Constitution.

Tenn. governor candidate questions whether Islam is a ‘cult’

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey is being criticized by a national Muslim advocacy group for questioning whether Islam is more of a cult than a a religion.

At an event in Chattanooga earlier this month, Ramsey said: "You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it?" CNN reported that Ramsey also said that although he supported religious freedom, such freedom may not include allowing "sharia (Islamic) law into the state of Tennessee ... into the United States."

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Ramsey's comments were a sign of "a disturbing trend in our nation in which it is suggested that American Muslims should have fewer or more restricted constitutional rights than citizens of other faiths."

Hooper urged Ramsey to meet with members of the Muslim community in Tennessee, "who can offer him balanced and accurate information about Islam."

Ramsey issued a statement in response saying he was concerned that "far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion."

"It's time for American Muslims ...

Neb. town settles lawsuit brought by Westboro churchwoman

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

LINCOLN, Neb. — An Omaha suburb has paid a member of a Kansas church that protests at soldiers' funerals $17,000. In exchange, Shirley Phelps-Roper has dropped her lawsuit against Bellevue.

The settlement with Westboro Baptist Church, which claims that U.S. troop deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality, was signed last week. Phelps-Roper’s lawsuit had sought to declare unconstitutional and bar enforcement of the city of Bellevue's practice of issuing permits to hold protests within city limits.

The church says the settlement demonstrates that responding to public anger by taking action against the church costs taxpayers.

City attorney Michael Polk didn't respond to a message seeking comment for this article.

Phelps-Roper was arrested during a 2007 protest in Bellevue after she and her son allegedly desecrated the U.S. flag.

The settlement was signed the same day that a federal judge, with agreement from Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, permanently stopped the state’s flag-desecration law from being enforced. The judge and other state officials agreed that the law was unconstitutional.

5th Circuit strikes down part of university’s free-speech policy

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court said universities cannot require a security fee for speaking on campus without any guidelines for what security is needed.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that Southeastern Louisiana University's free-speech policy is unconstitutionally vague on that point.

Jeremy Sonnier challenged the policy after trying to evangelize individual students on Nov. 19, 2007. He was told to leave because he hadn't applied for a permit seven days earlier.

The 5th Circuit noted that Sonnier challenged five provisions of the speech policy: “(1) the seven-day notice requirement; (2) the two-hour, once-per week limitation; (3) the collection of personal information; (4) the security fee requirement; and (5) the limitation of speech to three specific locations.”

Yesterday’s majority ruling in Sonnier v. Crane rejected Sonnier’s challenges against the other provisions of the free-speech policy.

5th Circuit Judge James L. Dennis agreed with his colleagues on the three-judge panel that the security-fee provision should be struck down. Dennis went further, however, arguing that at least as applied to Sonnier, the other provisions were also unconstitutional.

Sonnier’s case will now return to the federal trial court.

First Amendment Center Online staff contributed to this report.

Senate GOP Blocks Election Transparency, Baucus Responds with Constitutional Amendment

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Republicans succeeded today in blocking Senate consideration of the DISCLOSE Act, a modest first attempt to start reigning in the money-in-politics free-for-all the Supreme Court set loose in January’s Citizens United decision.

The successful filibuster of DISCLOSE is frustrating, but it makes one thing very clear: the only way for voters to fully take back our democracy is to pass a Constitutional Amendment undoing the damage of Citizens United.

After the Senate’s vote on DISCLOSE, Sen. Max Baucus introduced a resolution calling for just such an amendment:

Baucus said:

The impact of Citizens United goes well beyond merely changing campaign finance law. This decision will impact the ability of Congress, as well as State and local legislatures, to pass laws designed to protect its constituents—individual Americans—when such legislation comes under fierce objection by large corporations. Corporations are now free to spend millions targeting individual lawmakers. Lawmakers’ ability to pass laws such as consumer safety or investor protection now faces even greater challenges when such laws merely threaten the corporate bottom line.

Congress and the American people must respond swiftly and firmly. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United has severely altered Congress’s ability to limit corporate spending in our ...

LIGATT Security Tries to Silence its Online Critics With an Unsubstantiated Lawsuit

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

LIGATT Security, a controversial Georgia-based computer security firm, is embroiled in an ongoing flame war with its online detractors, who question the firm's legitimacy and stock prospects. Earlier this month, LIGATT upped the ante by filing suit in a Georgia court, threatening about 25 anonymous commenters on Yahoo! Message Boards and demanding a $5 million judgment and a court order prohibiting criticism. LIGATT CEO warned that he hoped the lawsuit would "set a trend" for other OTC companies facing online critics.

We hope not. EFF is frequently called upon to help protect the rights of anonymous speakers in similar suits, and the world does not need more facially deficient lawsuits targeting online critics. As we explain below, this complaint is a prime example of a case that should be dismissed. And, if LIGATT attempts to use this complaint to subpoena Yahoo! for the identities of its critics, the subpoenas might not only fail, but LIGATT may be forced to pay its critics' attorneys' fees.

It is not surprising that LIGATT has attracted controversy and commentary. The publicly traded company is headed by Gregory Evans, a self-described "media personality" who calls himself the "World's #1 Hacker." Evans' books include "Memoirs ...

The Supreme Court’s Conservative Ideology

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Some conservatives are still trying to argue that the Supreme Court is in danger of being overrun by “liberal activists.” But an article in Sunday’s New York Times, entitled “Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative In Decades,” presented data from political scientists that pretty conclusively showed a conservative, not a liberal, ideology entrenched in the highest court.

One piece of data really stood out to me:

Four of the six most conservative justices of the 44 who have sat on the court since 1937 are serving now: Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia and, most conservative of all, Clarence Thomas. (The other two were Chief Justices Burger and Rehnquist.) Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the swing justice on the current court, is in the top 10.

That’s right: the current “swing” justice is considered one of the ten most conservative judges of the past 70 years. Centrist justices are in some ways even more important than the Court’s ideologues or even chief justices. As the Times article notes, the court’s most extreme shift to the right occurred when Justice O’Connor was replaced with the much more conservative Justice Alito:

By the end of her almost quarter-century on ...

Obama Increasing Pressure On GOP to Confirm Judges

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

President Obama says he’s increasing the pressure on Republican Senators to stop stalling judicial nominees. After meeting with congressional leaders today, he told reporters:

Finally, during our meeting today, I urged Senator McConnell and others in the Senate to work with us to fill the vacancies that continue to plague our judiciary. Right now, we’ve got nominees who’ve been waiting up to eight months to be confirmed as judges. Most of these folks were voted out of committee unanimously, or nearly unanimously, by both Democrats and Republicans. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they were qualified to serve. Nevertheless, some in the minority have used parliamentary procedures time and again to deny them a vote in the full Senate.

If we want our judicial system to work -- if we want to deliver justice in our courts -- then we need judges on our benches. And I hope that in the coming months, we’ll be able to work together to ensure a timelier process in the Senate.

Since Obama took office, he has met with astounding Republican obstruction of his judicial nominees…which, if it continues, could have serious consequences on justice throughout the country.
 

CFN Conference Attendee’s ‘Thoughts from a Terrific FIRE Conference’

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Last week, I posted a detailed summary of what students experienced at the Third Annual CFN Summer Conference. In a similar vein, American University student and CFN member Irena Schneider has recently posted to Students for Liberty's blog a summary of her thoughts: "Why Care About Free Speech?—Thoughts from a Terrific FIRE Conference."

Irena writes:

As I reflect, I think that we can never impress upon ourselves enough the deep-seated importance of free speech in the life of the academy and ultimately, of society itself. Abuses of students' rights to freely express themselves are not mere nuisances in the speech codes found in our universities. They are, in the deepest sense, an insult to human intelligence and advancement. The purpose of a university is to provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas. Some ideas can be dangerous, but nothing is more dangerous than their inhibition. 

Irena discusses administrators' efforts to use campus speech codes to protect students from unkind words and to engage in thought reform for people holding viewpoints they find disagreeable. Labeling these efforts a "travesty and an insult to what makes us productive students and human beings," she instead asks for a free marketplace ...

Los Angeles College District Taken to Task for Misconstruing ‘Martinez’

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Last week, I blogged about the threat of universities opportunistically mischaracterizing the Supreme Court's recent decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez to justify their unconstitutional speech codes. Before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the speech code case of Lopez v. Candaele, the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) has already done just that by filing a supplemental letter contending that Martinez requires courts to "defer to decisions of educational administrators, even in the free speech context and even in higher education."

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which represents the plaintiff in Lopez, submitted its response to LACCD's letter last Thursday, and their response raises many of the same arguments as does my post against the application of Martinez in the speech code context.

First, ADF's response directly quotes Martinez to incisively counter LACCD's claim that Martinez requires courts to give university decisions more deference, even when university policy may intrude upon First Amendment rights:

Contrary to the College's position, Martinez does not suggest deference to colleges when reviewing policies that restrict speech. "[A] public educational institution exceeds constitutional bounds ... when it restricts speech ... simply because it finds the views expressed by a group to ...

N.C. judge: Highway Patrol can withhold flirty text messages

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Agency argued that public-records laws don't require it to turn over messages received on state-issued BlackBerry that involve personal discussions.

Publishers sue Va. prisons over legal guide ban

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Civil rights groups say officials are violating their First Amendment, due-process rights by keeping Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook out of inmates' hands.

Pennsylvanians who file ethics complaints can't be muzzled

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
'A blanket prohibition on disclosure of a filed complaint stifles political speech near the core of the First Amendment,' says 3rd Circuit.

Groups seek to capitalize on Citizens United

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Two organizations — one Republican-leaning, the other pro-Democratic — get go-ahead from FEC to collect big contributions for ads targeting candidates.

Reporter covering Blagojevich trial arrested

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Wall Street Journal spokeswoman says Douglas Belkin was wrongfully arrested, charged with petty offenses for routine newsgathering.

AP: Agency required political advisers to vet FOIA requests

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Review finds that Homeland Security subjected hundreds of requests to highly unusual scrutiny, probing for info about requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive.

House seeks to revive law to stop 'crush videos'

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
New legislation in response to Stevens ruling is said to be more narrowly crafted to meet constitutional standards.

Wis. candidate can't use 'bitch' slogan on ballot

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Ieshuh Griffin, who is running to represent downtown Milwaukee in the state Assembly, says she'll sue state elections board in federal court.

Jury sides with Mont. sheriff's officers in retaliation case

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
Three men awarded $945,000 after jurors find commanders discriminated against them and then violated their free-speech rights when they complained.

Wikileaks: More U.S. documents coming on Afghan war

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
White House national security adviser Gen. Jim Jones says leaked documents 'put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk.'

Press advocates pan FTC's suggestions to aid journalism

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
By Matthew Beddingfield Many journalists, advocates say government has crossed a line with proposals for 'reinventing journalism.'

N.H. governor vetoes exemption to Right-to-Know Law

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010
John Lynch says bill could have diluted public's access to meetings, government records.

U.S. braces for blowback over leaked Afghan war documents

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials, past and present, are raising concerns that the Wikileaks.org revelations could endanger U.S. counterterror networks in the Afghan region and damage information-sharing with U.S. allies.

People in Afghanistan or Pakistan who have worked with American intelligence agents or the military against the Taliban or al-Qaida may be at risk following the disclosure of thousands of once-secret U.S. military documents, former and current officials said.

Meanwhile, U.S. allies are asking whether they can trust America to keep secrets. And the Obama administration is scrambling to repair any political damage to the war effort back home.

The material could reinforce the view put forth by the war’s opponents in Congress that one of the nation’s longest conflicts is hopelessly stalemated. Congress has so far backed the war, and an early test of that continued support will come today when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., holds a hearing on the Afghan war.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said today that the military doesn’t know who was behind the leaks, although it has launched “a very robust investigation.”

Morrell complained that too much was being made of the documents, of which even the most ...

Va. privacy advocate can publish SSNs of private, public citizens

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia privacy advocate can post public records containing Social Security numbers of private citizens as well as government officials on her website, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with B.J. Ostergren's claim that a 2008 state law prohibiting anyone from making Social Security numbers available to the public violated her First Amendment rights.

Ostergren posts the records on her website, TheVirginiaWatchdog.com, to publicize her message that governments are mishandling Social Security numbers and to prod them to correct the problem. Many of the documents are Virginia land records that court clerks have made available on government websites without redacting Social Security numbers.

The General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting Ostergren's practice, saying the state's interest in preventing identity theft trumps her First Amendment rights. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit disagreed.

"The unredacted SSNs on Virginia land records that Ostergren has posted online are integral to her message," Judge Allyson Duncan wrote in the unanimous opinion, Ostergren v. Cuccenelli. "Indeed, they are her message. Displaying them proves Virginia's failure to safeguard private information and powerfully demonstrates why Virginia citizens should be concerned."

The court also agreed that the ...

Senate Republicans block campaign-finance bill

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans have blocked legislation imposing restrictions on political activity by some special-interest groups.

The vote was 57-41, three short of the 60 the bill needed to advance.

Democratic supporters backed by the White House said the legislation was needed to force shadowy interest groups that run millions of dollars worth of campaign attack ads to disclose their donors.

Republicans countered that the bill violated the First Amendment right of free speech, saying it would have treated some groups differently than others.

The disclosure requirement for ads would have applied to many organizations, but not the National Rifle Association or AARP.

Another test vote on the bill is possible, but it was not immediately known when. A similar bill has passed the House.

Blagojevich juror names to stay secret until verdict

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

CHICAGO — The federal judge in former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial has denied a news-media request for immediate access to the names of jurors.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel ruled yesterday that he would release the names only after a verdict is reached.

He says releasing the names could expose jurors to unwanted calls, e-mails and messages from Blagojevich detractors and supporters.

Attorneys for news organizations have argued that the First Amendment presumes juror names are public and there is no justification for withholding them.

Zagel previously refused to release the names, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him to hear the issue again.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges that include scheming to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

‘In God We Trust’ challenge rejected

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

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The motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency does not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Carlos Kidd, a self-avowed atheist from Woodville, Texas, had sued President Barack Obama and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, contending that the phrase on U.S. money violated church-state separation principles. In his lawsuit, he asked that the court order the federal government to “destroy or recycle all circulating currency, and replace it with new currency without religious inscription.”

In October 2009, Paul L. Friedman, U.S. district judge for the District of Columbia, dismissed Kidd’s lawsuit for failing to state a claim. “Courts have consistently held that the phrase ‘In God we trust’ does not violate the Establishment Clause,” he wrote.

Kidd appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On July 21, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed the lower court in Kidd v. Obama in a per curiam (“for the court”) opinion.

The panel cited Justice Stephen Breyer’s concurring opinion in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s concurring opinion in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (2003), in which both justices specifically said ...

Udall and Bennett Push for Vote on Judge

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Another set of senators have come forward to try to break the GOP’s logjam on judicial nominees.

Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennett sent a letter Friday to the leaders of the Senate and the Senate Judiciary Committee to request a Senate vote on Colorado district court nominee William Joseph Martinez. Martinez was nominated to the seat in February and approved by the Judiciary Committee in April.

The GOP has refused to vote on Martinez’s nomination, along with the 20 other pending judicial nominations.

"We can all agree that the Senate must act quickly on this and other pending judicial nominations in order to avoid further strain on our federal court system," the senators wrote. "The federal court system is already burdened by an overwhelming caseload, and the existence of these vacancies only adds to a mounting backlog."

I wrote last week about the profound consequences of GOP obstruction of run-of-the-mill judicial appointees: When the GOP stalls the nomination of one well-qualified nominee with bipartisan support, it’s an annoying political game. When that political game is multiplied by the dozens, it becomes a concerted attempt to keep the judiciary in the hands of the Right Wing.

The more senators ...

President Urges Senators to Pass DISCLOSE Act

Monday, July 26th, 2010

President Obama this afternoon urged the Senate to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which it begins debate on today. The president said the transparency bill was a necessary response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC:

Because of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year in the Citizens United case, big corporations –- even foreign-controlled ones –- are now allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections. They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads –- and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who’s actually paying for the ads. Instead, a group can hide behind a name like “Citizens for a Better Future,” even if a more accurate name would be “Companies for Weaker Oversight.” These shadow groups are already forming and building war chests of tens of millions of dollars to influence the fall elections.

He also had harsh words for the Senate Republican leadership, who have been working against the passage of DISCLOSE:

At a time of such challenge for America, we can't afford these political games. Millions of Americans are struggling to get by, and their voices shouldn’t be drowned out by millions of dollars in secret special ...