Free Speech

Supreme Court arguments are off and running, and the Supremes wasted no time in getting to the fun stuff. In this instance, it’s McCutcheon v. FEC, the case billed as Citizens United II: Electric Boogaloo. The conservative wing of the Court is expected to side with McCutcheon in its continuing war to make American elections safe for multi-millionaires.

Anyway, the oral argument was marked by the usual humorous sniping amongst the justices and lots of fun exchanges where counsel and the conservative justices worked overtime to subordinate reality to ideology. Up to and including Justice Scalia arguing that $3.5 million isn’t that much money for one individual to spend on an election.

Here are 3 immediate, largely stream-of-consciousness thoughts based on reading the transcript (available at the end of the post) coming out of this oral argument:

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[T]he statement that “[Thomas M. Cooley Law School] grossly inflates its graduates’ reported mean salaries” may not merely be protected hyperbole, but actually substantially true.

– Judge Robert J. Jonker, in an opinion granting summary judgment to the defendants in Cooley Law’s defamation suit against disbanded firm Kurzon Strauss and Jesse Strauss and David Anziska, the original law school litigation dream team. Jonker goes on to cite MacDonald v. Cooley Law, in which the court declared the average starting salary listed in the school’s 2010 Employment Report to be “objectively untrue.”

(Keep reading if you’d like to see Judge Jonker’s eminently quotable opinion.)

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As an American with First Amendment rights, you’d probably assume that a “Free Speech Zone” would look something like this:

The blue on that map should represent areas where you can exercise your right to free speech. Unfortunately, for many college students, their “Free Speech Zone” shrinks considerably when on campus. One out of every six major colleges have designated “Free Speech Zones” where students are “permitted” to “enjoy” this Constitutional right, and even then there are restrictions. In these colleges, exercising your right to free speech means asking permission at least a couple of days in advance as well as having the administration “approve” your speech.

The latest example of confined and controlled speech comes to us courtesy of Modesto Junior College. As FIRE.org reports, a student found his exercise of free speech shut down on one of the worst days of the year for a college to assert its negative attitude towards the First Amendment.

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Ed. note: Above the Law will be signing off early to begin the ATL/Kaplan Bar Crawl Review. Follow along on social media (Twitter and Facebook) or on the liveblog post after NS, or better yet, come out and join us!

* A Facebook “Like” is protected by the First Amendment. ATL Likes this. [The Atlantic]

* You can’t get a Frappuccino to go with your Kalashnikov any more. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* The stand-up comic judge has been shut down by the New Jersey Supreme Court in a 7-0 decision. Everyone’s a critic. [ABA Journal]

* An interview with Alan Page of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and formerly a Defensive Tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. Page’s hometown has a bust of him on display. Not so impressive until you realize he’s from Canton, Ohio. [Coverage Opinions]

* If you’re looking for some more legal content related to International Talk Like a Pirate Day, check out Buried Treasure: Finders, Keepers, and the Law. [ABA]

* A list of everything you should be doing with your time instead of getting a law degree. [Yahoo!]

* A warm welcome to Chris Geidner as the new legal editor of BuzzFeed. In addition to some great content, like his amazing profile of Edie Windsor (first link), stay tuned for “25 Ways Justice Alito Is Like This Cat.” [New York Observer]

* If you’ve upgraded your iPhone to iOS 7, you’re probably annoyed right now. Here are some tips to help preserve your battery life. We can do nothing about fixing how ungodly ugly it is. [Tuaw]

* Congrats to @FenwickWest on landing the big Twitter IPO! #yaylegalfees [American Lawyer]

* The Deal Professor, Steven Davidoff, surveys the legal landscape around the Twitter filing, focusing on the #JOBSAct. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Jamie McCourt, a former family law attorney, strikes out in trying to set aside her divorce settlement with Frank McCourt, former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. She’s stuck with $131 million and several luxury homes. #richpeopleproblems [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* An inquest reveals that a Hogan Lovells partner who took his own life had warned a colleague that he was going to kill himself the day before his death. [Daily Mail via ABA Journal]

* Good news for the news business: the Senate Judiciary Committee approves a federal media-shield bill. [Washington Wire / Wall Street Journal]

* Nathan Myhrvold, the CEO of a patent holding company, warns that anti-patent-troll sentiment could have unforeseen consequences. [Corporate Counsel]

* Praise in the WSJ for Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare (affiliate link), the new book by Professor Josh Blackman (who recently wrote a guest post for us on Supreme Court beauty contests). [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Congrats to George Mason Law on its two high-profile hires: D.C. Circuit Judge Douglas Ginsburg and Covington antitrust partner Damien Geradin. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* If you’re in New York this weekend, go see Arguendo. Or buy tickets for the 7 p.m. performance on September 22, when I’ll be doing a talkback with artistic director John Collins after the show. Enter the discount code “ABOVE” for $35 tickets (a special rate for ATL readers). [Public Theater]

* How low can the legal market go? Manhattan firm lists full-time associate opening for $10/hr. “NY to 10.” (Screenshot here if the ad is removed). [Craigslist]

* Iowa is giving out gun permits to the blind. Sadly this is not a new phenomenon as David Sedaris explained years ago. [FindLaw]

* Business Insider has fired its CTO because… he’s a jerk. An important lesson in what free speech does and doesn’t mean. [Popehat]

* A UNC professor pulled over for a DWI has sparked a Fourth Amendment battle because she was arrested by a fire truck. [Fox News]

* Banks facing SEC enforcement actions are basically just spinning a roulette wheel and praying it doesn’t land on “Rakoff.” [Ramblings on Appeal]

* On a related note, Senator Elizabeth Warren spoke at the AFL-CIO conference and discussed the corporate capture of the federal courts (at 1:23:45 after the jump)…

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At the end of August, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in Elane Photography v. Willock that a Christian wedding photographer violated the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) when it refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony. (New Mexico does not currently permit same-sex marriage, though all the parties and the court frequently refer to the ceremony as a wedding.) This week, one of the parties in a similar controversy in Oregon, Sweet Cakes Bakery, announced that it would be closing shop, citing its opposition to baking wedding cakes for same-sex couples.

Elane Photography argued that it did not violate the NMHRA but, if it did, this application of the law violated the photography business’s Free Speech and Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment. The court disagreed, writing that “when Elane Photography refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA in the same way as if it had refused to photograph a wedding between people of different races.”

Personally, I’d vote for same-sex marriage if I lived in a state considering such laws. Polygamy too, for that matter. If you are listening for a full-throated defense of traditional, heterosexual marriage to the exclusion of state recognition of any other arrangement, you won’t hear it here. I’m inclined to support religious understandings of traditional marriage, but I’m libertarian enough to let everyone — straight, gay, or otherwise — suffer through the headaches of having the government divide your assets when you get divorced.

Still, using anti-discrimination laws to mandate that all businesses operating as public accommodations provide services to same-sex couples’ weddings sounds like an unnecessary imposition on the sincere religious beliefs of others — and a great way to end up with lousy wedding photos….

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She’s basically Boss Tweed in Tuscaloosa.

Ed. note: Above the Law will not be publishing on Monday, September 2, in observance of the Labor Day holiday.

* Municipal election fraud is being alleged in Tuscaloosa after a sorority bribed people with free drinks to get a University of Alabama Law grad elected (defeating the incumbent, another lawyer — and wife of a UA Law professor). The big question here is how f**king terrible is voter turnout in Tuscaloosa that a sorority can rig an election? [AL.com]

* A banned food truck launched a First Amendment suit after officials banned the truck for using an ethnic slur in the name. I haven’t seen a food truck shut down like that since “Steak Me Home Tonight.” [WSJ Law Blog]

* The NFL looks to London. Tax laws are one of many obstacles. [Grantland]

* From partner to delivery boy. But hey, definitely go to law school kids! [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

* A thorough look at the legality of the pending Syria strike. Obama administration addresses these grave concerns with the phrase, “Talk to the hand.” [Foreign Affairs]

I was on a fast-moving segment on HuffPost Live this afternoon called “Legalese It,” where host Mike Sacks runs through a bunch of overlooked legal items from the past week. Since I was on vacation for half of the week, I learned a lot! For instance, did you know that Michigan had an anti-begging statute on the books from the 1920s that was just struck down so they can put a big “Spare Some Change” sign in Detroit?

Okay, that’s not why it was struck down, but still. Also it seems that North Carolina is trying to restrict voting to five white guys chosen at random by Reince Priebus and Obama is now in favor of legislative prayer, as if nobody told him he can’t run for a third term.

Looks like I missed a lot, but that didn’t stop me from talking about it on the web. Specifically, I got to talk about how Eric Holder and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are now friends when it comes to stopping USAIR and American Airlines from combining to own all the railroads on the Monopoly board…

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[O]n its face, the [bar passage] information is factual and uncontroversial. Prospective students are free to draw their own conclusions about its relevance. That [Southern California Institute of Law] may not like those conclusions is irrelevant.

– Judge James V. Selna (C.D. Cal.), in a tentative order dismissing the Southern California Institute of Law’s (SCIL) free speech suit against state bar officials, with prejudice. SCIL argued that having to share information on its website about its bar exam passage rates would force the school to adopt an “ideological belief that a law school should be judged by the passage rates of its graduates.” In the past five years, SCIL’s graduates have passed the state bar exam just 7 percent of the time.

(Keep reading to see Judge Selna’s full First Amendment smackdown.)

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