by
The rock group “The Slants,” chose that name to dilute the term’s denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asians. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied an application for registration of the name under 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), which prohibits the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit in finding the clause unconstitutional. The Court first rejected an argument that the clause applies only to natural or juristic persons. The Court then held that the clause is subject to the Free Speech Clause, which does not regulate government speech. Trademarks are private, not government speech. "If trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.” The disparagement clause denies registration to any mark that is offensive to a substantial percentage of the members of any group. That is viewpoint discrimination. The “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.” The disparagement clause cannot withstand even “relaxed” review. It does not serve a “substantial interest,” nor is it “narrowly drawn.” View "Matal v. Tam" on Justia Law

by
North Carolina law made it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” N.C. Gen. Stat. 14–202.5(a), (e). The state has prosecuted over 1,000 people under that law. Petitioner was indicted after posting a statement on his personal Facebook profile about a positive traffic court experience. State courts upheld the law. The Supreme Court reversed. The statute impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment. Today, one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace, particularly social media. Even if the statute is content-neutral and subject to intermediate scrutiny, the provision is not “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” While social media will be exploited by criminals and sexual abuse of a child is a most serious crime, the assertion of a valid governmental interest “cannot, in every context, be insulated from all constitutional protections.” The statute “enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens…. With one broad stroke, North Carolina bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.” The state did not establish that this sweeping law is necessary to keep convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims. View "Packingham v. North Carolina" on Justia Law

by
Maine Revenue Services (MRS) assessed MCI Communications Services, Inc. (MCI) $184,873.69 for two types of surcharges - property tax recovery charges (PTRCs) and carrier cost recovery charges (CCRCs) - that MCI imposed upon its Maine customers. The Maine Board of Tax Appeals vacated the imposition of the tax based on its determination that the PTRCs and CCRCs were excluded or exempt from taxation because they were part of the sale of interstate or international telecommunications services. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the PTRCs and CCRCs collected by MCI before July 18, 2008 were excluded from taxation and that those charges collected from MCI from July 18, 2008 forward were exempt from taxation. View "State Tax Assessor v. MCI Communications Services, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The City of Chicago, charged defendants, members of the “Occupy Chicago” movement, with violating the Chicago Park District Code, which closes all Chicago public parks between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. and prohibits people from being inside any park during these hours. The circuit court of Cook County dismissed the charges, finding the ordinance unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the defendants. The appellate court reversed, holding that the ordinance did not violate the defendants’ First Amendment right to assembly. On remand for review under the state constitution, the appellate court again reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, first holding that the Illinois Constitution of 1970 is to be interpreted and applied in lockstep with the federal precedents interpreting and applying the assembly clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In arguing that the state constitution provided greater protection, the defendants forfeited any claim that the appellate court failed to properly conduct intermediate review under the applicable First Amendment jurisprudence. View "People v. Alexander" on Justia Law

by
A provision in the Multichannel Video Programming and Communications Services Tax (the Telecom Tax) prohibiting “every political subdivision of the state” from collecting franchise fees or taxes on franchises subject to the Telecom Tax is unconstitutionally void as applied to protesting cities. Four Kentucky cities and the Kentucky League of Cities, Inc. (collectively, Cities) filed a petition for declaratory relief alleging that the Telecom Tax’s Prohibition Provision violated their right to grant franchises and to collect franchise fees as provided in sections 163 and 164 of the Kentucky Constitution. The circuit court dismissed the petition. The court of appeals vacated the judgment of the circuit court and remanded, concluding that the Telecom Tax’s Prohibition Provision violated sections 163 and 164. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Telecom Tax’s Prohibition Provision was unconstitutionally void as applied to the Cities. View "Kentucky CATV Ass’n v. City of Florence" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners challenged the Commission's order that set permanent rate caps and ancillary fee caps for interstate inmate calling services (ICS) calls. After the presidential inauguration in January 2017, counsel for the FCC advised the court that, due to a change in the composition of the Commission, "a majority of the current Commission does not believe that the agency has the authority to cap intrastate rates" under section 276 of the Communications Act of 1934. Consequently, the DC Circuit granted in part and denied in part the petitions for review, remanding for further proceedings. The court also dismissed two claims as moot. The court held that the order's proposed caps on intrastate rates exceed the FCC's statutory authority under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Act; the use of industry-averaged cost data as proposed in the Order was arbitrary and capricious because it lacked justification in the record and was not supported by reasoned decisionmaking; the order's imposition of video visitation reporting requirements was beyond the statutory authority of the Commission; and the order's proposed wholesale exclusion of site commission payments from the FCC's cost calculus was devoid of reasoned decisionmaking and thus arbitrary and capricious. View "Global Tel*Link v. FCC" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff segTEL, Inc. was a telecommunications company that owned and/or operated a fiber optic cable network throughout New Hampshire, including within the City of Nashua. It did not own any poles or conduits within the City, and did not have its own license from the City authorizing its occupation of the City’s rights of way. Instead, pursuant to pole attachment agreements with the utility providers, the plaintiff remitted a fee to the utility providers in exchange for the right to place its fiber optic cables on their poles and conduits. These pole attachment agreements did not require the plaintiff to pay property taxes assessed by the City. Having become aware of plaintiff’s use of the utility providers’ poles and conduits, the City in 2014 assessed plaintiff property taxes of $1,507.94 for its use of the City’s rights of way. Plaintiff applied for an abatement, which the City denied. Thereafter, plaintiff brought this action in superior court, seeking: (1) a declaratory judgment that the City was not entitled to impose the tax; and (2) to strike the City’s 2014 tax assessment. The trial court granted summary judgment to plaintiff, ruling that “[b]ecause [the plaintiff] has not entered into an agreement in which it consented to be taxed,” the City could not lawfully tax the plaintiff for its use and occupation of the City’s rights of way. The City appealed, and finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Segtel, Inc. v. City of Nashua" on Justia Law

by
Higher Society, a nonprofit advocating for the legalization of marijuana, wants to hold a rally on the steps of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse in Lafayette, Indiana. In 1999, in response to controversy over a nativity scene on the courthouse grounds, the County Board of Commissioners declared the grounds a “closed forum,” so that: Only displays and events sponsored and prepared by a department or office of county government will be allowed in the windows … or on the grounds. The county has previously sponsored art fairs, a rally for the League of Women Voters, an event for the Fraternal Order of Police, and events related to child abuse awareness, “gun sense,” Planned Parenthood, Syrian refugees, and prevention of bullying, but declined to sponsor Higher Society. The organization obtained a preliminary injunction in the district court. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The policy restricts private speech and is not viewpoint-neutral, so it likely violates the First Amendment. View "Higher Society of Indiana v. Tippecanoe County" on Justia Law

by
At issue was whether an order form faxed to a doctor by a company that supplies a medical product purchased by that doctor's patient constitutes an "unsolicited advertisement" within the meaning of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(a)(5). The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, agreeing with the district court that faxes were not "unsolicited advertisements." The court held that the faxes in this case did not promote the sale of Arriva products and thus they were not unsolicited advertisements. In this case, each fax related to a specific order already placed by a patient of the clinic and requested only that the doctor of the patient fill out an order form to facilitate a purchase made by the patient. View "The Florence Endocrine Clinic v. Arriva Medical" on Justia Law

by
The Montana Public Service Commission, which requires that certain regulated telecommunications companies publicly disclose the salary information of their executive or managerial employees earning more than $100,000 per year, denied the motions for protective orders filed by Southern Montana Telephone Company and Lincoln Telephone Company to keep the salary information confidential. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission’s “rubric,” by which the Commission judged companies’ motions for protective orders of employee compensation information, constituted a de facto rule within the meaning of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act (MAPA) and that the Commission was obligated to comply with MAPA’s rulemaking procedures before implementing the rubric. View "Southern Montana Lincoln Telephone Co. v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law