Free Speech

FIRST! Assistant United States Attorney.

First amongst weird creation myths is that of the Mbombo god, who is said to have vomited up pretty much all of our world. Similarly, the story of how this website has been… thrown up is worthy of retelling. At its essence, it goes like this: A boy blogs about very sober legal issues in an incredibly earnest way and then the governor of New Jersey tells him to start Above the Law, The End. I may have missed some crucial details and got others flat-out wrong, but I think the kernel of truth is still in there somewhere.

At any rate, that boy was working for the United States Attorney’s office in Newark at the time. Doing anything on the internet, even if it was super-serious and incredibly sincere, could be considered controversial because of the position. The lawyers tasked with working in such a high-profile prosecutorial role must be seen as impartial, lest the cases they take on get tainted by their online presence.

Which is what makes it all the more surprising that history is repeating itself down in New Orleans, where two assistant United States attorneys have become embroiled in scandal after being caught commenting on not just the law in general (like our own dear leader), but the specific cases that came through their office.

It’s almost as if the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s office is trying to outdo David Lat in some way. Which, I mean, trick please…

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Left to right: Alex Kozinski and Diarmuid O’Scannlain.

This week is an exciting one for conservative and libertarian legal nerds: the National Lawyers Convention of the Federalist Society starts tomorrow. I’ll be attending and covering the proceedings; if you see me, please say hello. (If you haven’t registered for the conference in advance, you can still register at the door.)

As always, the conference will overflow with legal luminaries. This year, two of the Ninth Circuit’s most notable names — Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, and Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain (for whom I clerked) — will be making presentations. Chief Judge Kozinski will debate Professor Hadley Arkes about natural law and constitutional law, while Judge O’Scannlain will moderate a panel about religious liberty.

To whet your appetite, let’s read more about both of these judges and some recent First Amendment fun at the Ninth Circuit….

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Say goodbye to your security deposit…

* If Twitter reset your password yesterday, don’t worry. Looks like someone at the company just had an itchy trigger-slash-reply-all finger. [Consumerist]

* A disbarred Dallas attorney ended up in jail for allegedly trashing his office and drawing penises all over the walls when he got evicted last month. Apparently he’s also been watching too much Workaholics recently. [Dallas News]

* The Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of registered sex offenders, hoping to block a new California law that allegedly curtails their internet rights. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. [Wired / Threat Level]

* Social networks: the newest part of George Zimmerman’s defense team? [New York Times]

* A useful new tool to help law firms in recruiting and placing laterals. [Attorney Search Group]

* Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last year, was sentenced to life in prison without parole today. Here’s what Rep. Giffords and her husband had to say to him. [Althouse]

* Shashank Tripathi appears to be behind the fake tweets about the flooding of the New York Stock Exchange. Is that protected speech or (wait for it) DID HE JUST SAY “FIRE” IN A CROWDED THEATER??????? [Gigaom]

* But to be clear, Romney is free to lie as much as he wants. Political speech, even misleading speech, is clearly protected. [ABA Journal]

* Court is back in session. Kinda. [National Law Journal]

* Will Election Day get washed away? [CNN]

* Just to be clear, because I know “low information” voters are easily confused, “Government” are the people going around trying to help you out in the storm. “PRIVATE BUSINESS,” in this case insurance companies, are the ones looking to screw you over and profit from the disaster. [New York Times]

* If you want to help the victims of Sandy (instead of just staring at pictures of their suffering like I do), you can. [Red Cross; NY Cares; Humane Society]

* Only now, at the end, do you understand the true power of Disney. Skadden helps Disney buy Star Wars. Now Lucas’s failure is complete. [Am Law Daily]

Last month, we discussed an interesting case that was pending before the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The question presented: whether an adult entertainment club is entitled to a sales tax exemption for admission and lap dance fees under the theory that these dances qualify as “dramatic or musical arts performances.”

Flying with the speed of boobie tassels attached to a stripper gyrating furiously around a pole, the court handed down its ruling just a few short weeks after oral argument. Here’s what the court held….

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Twitter for us is like a parliament, but not the kind of parliament that exists in this region. It’s a true parliament, where people from all political sides meet and speak freely.

– Faisal Abdullah, a Saudi Arabian lawyer, explaining to the New York Times how Twitter has created a revolution of sorts in his country.

We’ve mentioned the proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule before, which are currently under consideration by the FTC. The changes to COPPA, as it’s known for short, would require sites that collect personal information from children to secure written parental consent first. On first glance, it seems like a slam dunk: why wouldn’t we want to protect children’s privacy, and maybe put a dent in the absurd amount of tracking that constantly happens whenever anyone goes online?

Oh right, I forgot one little detail: free speech!

Facebook is protesting parts of the rule, because the company says it would restrict the free speech of pre-teens who want to “like” articles online. Because heaven forbid children who technically aren’t even supposed to use Facebook have to voice approval in a manner that doesn’t involve clicking a little blue thumbs-up button….

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I had packed up my things and was about to turn off the light. That’s when the phone rang here at the Circumcision Law Desk. The shrill tone of the ring sounded more urgent than usual. I put down my box of Pulitzers and picked up the receiver.

“Hell-” “You’ve gotta write quick, Mister! Gawker ran a story on circumcision and it’s crazy!” I replied that I was too old for this game. Tracking down every circumcision tip had left me a hollow shell of a man. But the kid was insistent. “What about the babies???” Now you listen here, you sniveling punk, I said. I was never in it for the babies. Heck, I never could figure out just what I thought about circumcision. Mutilation, health, hygiene, aesthetics. The whole racket made my head spin. And that’s when the young punk said something that set me on my present course.

“There might be a lawsuit. Some Jews are crazy-mad about a new regulation passed by the City of New York and they’re threatening all kinds of holy hell over it. It’s not that New York is outlawing circumcision. It’s not about that. It’s that… well, it’s that some of these Jewish folks do something.” Out with it! “I can’t… I don’t wanna say… It’s that these Jewish fellas, some of them… Well…”

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There are some great perks to working for Google, a company pushing the boundaries of technology. But there’s also a downside to being at the bleeding edge of innovation: some countries might try to hold you back… with handcuffs. This week, police in Sao Paolo detained Brazilian Google chief Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, releasing him only after he promised to appear in court over YouTube videos that violate Brazilian election laws. A judge ordered that the videos in question, which say nasty things about a mayoral candidate, be taken down; Google ignored the order, likely hoping to export American free speech values abroad. Coelho is now in the Brazilian doghouse for the crime of “disobedience.”

The ploy worked. Google caved shortly after Coelho was released.

Google likes to argue that it’s not responsible for the content that its users post, but that argument doesn’t always fly abroad. This is not the first time a Google exec has wound up in trouble over a YouTube posting disliked by local authorities. Three execs became convicts in Italy thanks to a 2006 incident.

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Scalia v. Posner meets Mean Girls

* Someone was finally able to liken the Scalia v. Posner debate to a suitable situation: bitchy mean girls fighting each other in a middle school cafeteria. Seriously, only the inclusion of “like” throughout the entirety of the dialogue could’ve made it better. [lawprofblawg]

* Who pays your law professors’ salary? The obvious answer is law students, since professorial wallets are padded by tuition dollars. But what happens when IBR comes into play and loan debts are forgiven? Then the answer shifts to the taxpayers. [PrawfsBlawg]

* When Derek Boogaard of the New York Rangers died, everyone was expecting that a lawsuit would be filed, but no one really thought that it would be one based on contract law. [New York Law and Legal Analysis Blog]

* What kind of case “really turn[s] on” everyone’s favorite First Amendment lawyer? Free speech cases that are riddled with challenges, of course, and questions about what does and doesn’t constitute porn. [Vegas Inc]

* You must be wondering where Above the Law fell on this ranking of the 15 Most Influential Law Blogs. We won’t give it away, but let’s just say that we now share something in common with Cooley. [Business Insider]

* “[S]ome dude with the munchies is getting a little legal education.” That’s what we thought when one of our top searches last week was “pictures of tacos” — and not even “duck tacos,” but regular ones. [Search Party]

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