Articles Posted in U.S. Supreme Court

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Businesses challenged New York General Business Law section 518, which provides that “[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means,” as violating the First Amendment by regulating how they communicate their prices, and as unconstitutionally vague. The Second Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of the businesses, reasoning that in the context of singlesticker pricing—where merchants post one price and would like to charge more to customers who pay by credit card—the law required that the sticker price be the same as the price charged to credit card users. In that context, the law regulated a relationship between two prices: conduct, not speech. The Supreme Court vacated, limiting its review to single-sticker pricing. Section 518 regulates speech. It is not a typical price regulation, which simply regulates the amount a store can collect. The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they may collect from a cash or credit card payer, but regulates how sellers may communicate their prices. Section 518 is not vague as applied to the businesses; it bans the single-sticker pricing they wish to employ, and “a plaintiff whose speech is clearly proscribed cannot raise a successful vagueness claim.” View "Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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The Navy contracted with Campbell to develop a recruiting campaign that included text messages to young adults who had “opted in” to receipt of solicitations on topics that included Navy service. Campbell’s subcontractor generated a list of cellular phone numbers for consenting 18- to 24-year-olds and transmitted the Navy’s message to more than 100,000 recipients, including Gomez, age 40, who claims that he did not "opt in" and was not in the targeted age group. Gomez filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits “using any automatic dialing system” to send text messages to cellular telephones, absent prior express consent, and seeking treble statutory damages for a willful violation. Before the deadline for a motion for class certification, Campbell proposed to settle Gomez’s individual claim and filed an FRCP 68 offer of judgment, which Gomez did not accept. The district court granted Campbell summary judgment, finding that Campbell acquired the Navy’s sovereign immunity from suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Gomez’s case remained live but that Campbell was not entitled to derivative sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed. An unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a case. Campbell’s settlement bid and offer of judgment, once rejected, had no continuing efficacy; the parties remained adverse. A federal contractor may be shielded from liability unless it exceeded its authority or authority was not validly conferred; the Navy authorized Campbell to send text messages only to individuals who had “opted in.” View "Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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Massachusetts amended its Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act to make it a crime to knowingly stand on a “public way or sidewalk” within 35 feet of an entrance or driveway to any “reproductive health care facility,” defined as “a place, other than within or upon the grounds of a hospital, where abortions are offered or performed.” Mass. Gen. Laws, 266, 120E½. Exemptions cover “employees or agents of such facility acting within the scope of their employment.” Another provision proscribes knowing obstruction of access to an abortion clinic. Abortion opponents who engage in “sidewalk counseling” sought an injunction, claiming that the amendment displaced them from their previous positions and hampered their counseling efforts; attempts to communicate with patients are also thwarted by clinic escorts, who accompany patients to clinic entrances. The district court denied the challenges. The First Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first noting the involvement of a traditional public forum. The Court employed “time, place, and manner” analysis, stating that the Act is neither content nor viewpoint based and need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Although it establishes buffer zones only at abortion clinics, violations depend not “on what they say,” but on where they say it. The Act is justified without reference to the content of speech; its purposes include protecting public safety, patient access to health care, and unobstructed use of public sidewalks and streets. There was a record of crowding, obstruction, and even violence outside Massachusetts abortion clinics but not at other facilities. The exemption for employees and agents acting within the scope of their employment was not an attempt to favor one viewpoint. Even if some escorts have expressed views on abortion inside the zones, there was no evidence that such speech was authorized by any clinic. The Act, however, burdens substantially more speech than necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests. It deprives objectors of their primary methods of communicating with patients: close, personal conversations and distribution of literature. While the Act allows “protest” outside buffer zones, these objectors are not protestors; they seek to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about alternatives. Another section of the Act already prohibits deliberate obstruction of clinic entrances. Massachusetts could also enact legislation similar to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, 18 U.S.C. 248(a), which imposes sanctions for obstructing, intimidating, or interfering with persons obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Obstruction of driveways can be addressed by traffic ordinances. Crowding was a problem only at the Boston clinic, and only on Saturday mornings; the police are capable of ordering people to temporarily disperse and of singling out lawbreakers. View "McCullen v. Coakley" on Justia Law

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The Copyright Act of 1976 gives a copyright owner the “exclusive righ[t]” to “perform the copyrighted work publicly,” 17 U.S.C. 106(4), including the right to “transmit or otherwise communicate ... the [copyrighted] work ... to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance ... receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times,” section 101. Aereo sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs over the Internet. Aereo’s server tunes an antenna, which is dedicated to the use of one subscriber, to the broadcast carrying the selected show. A transcoder translates the signals received by an antenna into data that can be transmitted over the Internet. A server saves the data in a subscriber-specific folder and streams the show to the subscriber, a few seconds behind the over-the-air broadcast. The owners of program copyrights unsuccessfully sought a preliminary injunction, arguing that Aereo was infringing their right to “perform” their copyrighted works “publicly.” The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that Aereo performs the works within the meaning of section 101 and does not merely supply equipment that allows others to do so. The Court noted that the Act was amended in 1976 to make the law applicable to community antenna television (CATV) providers by clarifying that an entity that acts like a CATV system “performs,” even when it only enhances viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals. Aereo’s activities are similar; it sells a service that allows subscribers to watch television programs, many of which are copyrighted, virtually as they are being broadcast. That Aereo’s system remains inert until a subscriber indicates that she wants to watch a program is not critical. Aereo transmits a performance whenever its subscribers watch a program. The Court stated that when an entity communicates the same contemporaneously perceptible images and sounds to multiple people, it “transmit[s] ... a performance” to them, regardless of the number of discrete communications it makes and whether it makes an individual personal copy for each viewer. Aero subscribers are “the public” under the Act: a large number of people, unrelated and unknown to each other. View "Am. Broad. Cos. v. Aereo, Inc." on Justia Law

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A former congressman filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging that SBA violated an Ohio law that criminalizes some false statements made during a political campaign. SBA had stated that his vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a vote in favor of “taxpayer funded abortion.” After he lost his re-election bid the complaint was dismissed. SBA pursued a separate challenge on First Amendment grounds. COAST also challenged the law, arguing that it had planned to disseminate a similar message but refrained because of the suit against SBA. The district court consolidated the suits and dismissed them as nonjusticiable, concluding that neither suit presented a sufficiently concrete injury to establish standing or ripeness. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent injury under Article III. An “injury in fact” must be “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Challenging a law before enforcement requires alleging “an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute, and there exists a credible threat of prosecution.” The plaintiffs alleged a credible threat of enforcement. Their intended future conduct is arguably proscribed by the statute. The statute sweeps broadly; the Elections Commission already found probable cause to believe that SBA violated the law when it made statements similar to those they plan to make in the future. SBA’s insistence that its previous statements were true did not preclude finding probable cause. The threat of future enforcement is substantial. There is a history of past enforcement; a complaint may be filed by “any person,” not just a prosecutor or agency. Commission proceedings impose a burden on electoral speech. The target of a complaint may be forced to divert significant time and resources in the crucial days before an election. Those proceedings are backed by the additional threat of criminal prosecution. The Court found the “prudential factors” of fitness and hardship “easily satisfied.” View "Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus" on Justia Law

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The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, impose base limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee, and aggregate limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a. In the 2011–2012 election cycle, McCutcheon contributed to 16 federal candidates, complying with all base limits. He alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to additional candidates and political committees and that he wishes to make similar contributions in the future. McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee challenged the aggregate limits under the First Amendment. The district court dismissed. The Supreme Court reversed, with five justices concluding that those limits are invalid. Regardless whether strict scrutiny or the “closely drawn” test applies, the analysis depends on the fit between stated governmental objectives and the means selected to achieve the objectives. The aggregate limits fail even under the “closely drawn” test. Contributing to a candidate is an exercise of the right to participate in the electoral process through political expression and political association. A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is not a “modest restraint.” To require a person to contribute at lower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causes penalizes that individual for “robustly exercis[ing]” his First Amendment rights. The proper focus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a collective conception of the public good. The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The justices noted the line between quid pro quo corruption and general influence and that the Court must “err on the side of protecting political speech.” Given regulations already in effect, fear that an individual might make massive unearmarked contributions to entities likely to support particular candidate is speculative. Experience suggests that most contributions are retained and spent by their recipients; the government provided no reason to believe that candidates or committees would dramatically shift their priorities if aggregate limits were lifted. Multiple alternatives could serve the interest in preventing circumvention without “unnecessary abridgment” of First Amendment rights, such as targeted restrictions on transfers among candidates and committees, tighter earmarking rules, and disclosure. View "McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Vandenberg Air Force Base is a designated a “closed base.” Civilians may not enter without express permission. The Air Force has granted an easement over areas of the Base, so that two public highways traverse the Base. One highway has an adjacent area designated for peaceful protests. The Base commander enacted rules to control the protest area and issued an advisory that anyone who fails to adhere to those policies may be barred from entering the Base. Apel was barred from the Base for trespass and vandalism, but continued to enter the protest area and was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1382, prohibiting reentry of a “military... installation” after having been ordered not to do so “by any officer or person in command.” The district court rejected his defense that the section does not apply to the protest area. The Ninth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A “military ... installation” encompasses the commanding officer’s area of responsibility, including Vandenberg’s highways and protest area. Section1382 does not require exclusive possession and control. Although the highways and protest area are outside fenced areas on the Base, the entire Vandenberg property is under the administration of the Air Force. Although the Base commander has occasionally closed the highways to the public for security purposes or when conducting a military launch, section 1382 does not require base commanders to make continuous, uninterrupted use of a place within their jurisdiction, lest they lose authority to exclude certain individuals. View "United States v. Apel" on Justia Law

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After Air Wisconsin stopped flying aircraft that Hoeper was certified to fly, Hoeper failed three attempts to gain new certification. Air Wisconsin gave him one final chance. He performed poorly during required training and responded angrily, tossing his headset, using profanity, and making accusations against the instructor. Airline officials discussed the outburst, Hoeper’s impending termination; the history of assaults by disgruntled employees; and the chance that Hoeper, a Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO), permitted “to carry a firearm while engaged in providing air transportation,” 49 U.S.C. 44921(f)(1) might be armed. An airline executive notified the TSA that Hoeper “was an FFDO who may be armed,” that the airline was “concerned about his mental stability and the whereabouts of his firearm,” and that an “[u]nstable pilot in [the] FFDO program was terminated today.” The TSA removed Hoeper (returning home from training) from his plane, searched him, and questioned him about the location of his gun. Hoeper sued for defamation. The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), 49 U.S.C. 44941(a), provides airlines and employees immunity for reporting suspicious behavior except where such disclosure is “made with actual knowledge that the disclosure was false, inaccurate, or misleading” or “made with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of that disclosure.” The jury found for Hoeper. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. ATSA immunity, patterned after the Times v. Sullivan “actual malice” standard, may not be denied to materially true statements, even if made recklessly; a falsehood cannot be material absent a substantial likelihood that a reasonable security officer would consider it important in determining a response. Any falsehoods in the statement to the TSA were not material. A reasonable TSA officer, knowing that Hoeper was an FFDO, upset about losing his job, would have wanted to investigate whether he was armed. While Hoeper had not actually been fired at that time, everyone knew that termination was imminent. It would be inconsistent with the ATSA’s text and purpose to expose Air Wisconsin to liability because the manager who placed the call could have chosen a slightly better phrase to articulate the airline’s concern. View "Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper" on Justia Law

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Sprint, a national telecommunications company, declined to pay intercarrier access fees imposed by Windstream, an Iowa telecommunications carrier, for long distance Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls, concluding that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) preempted intrastate regulation of VoIP traffic. Windstream threatened to block Sprint customer calls; Sprint sought an injunction from the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB). Windstream retracted its threat, and Sprint sought to withdraw its complaint. Concerned that the dispute would recur, IUB continued the proceedings, ruling that intrastate fees applied to VoIP calls. Sprint sought a declaration that the TCA preempted the IUB decision. Sprint also sought review in Iowa state court. Invoking Younger v. Harris, the district court abstained from adjudicating Sprint’s complaint in deference to the state-court proceeding. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that Younger abstention was required because the state-court review concerned Iowa’s important interest in regulating and enforcing state utility rates. The Supreme Court reversed. The case does not fall within any of the classes of exceptional cases for which Younger abstention is appropriate to avoid federal intrusion into ongoing state criminal prosecutions; interfering with pending “civil proceedings . . . uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions;” and certain civil enforcement proceedings. IUB’s proceeding was not criminal and did not touch on a state court’s ability to perform its judicial function. Nor is the IUB order an act of civil enforcement of the kind to which Younger has been extended; the proceeding is not “akin to a criminal prosecution,” nor was it initiated by “the State in its sovereign capacity,” to sanction a wrongful act. The court rejected an argument that once Sprint withdrew its complaint the proceedings became, essentially, a civil enforcement action. IUB’s authority was invoked to settle a civil dispute between private parties. View "Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, 22 U.S.C. 7601, authorizes appropriations to fund nongovernmental efforts to combat HIV/AIDS worldwide, with conditions that: no funds “may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution” and no funds may be used by an organization “that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution” (the Policy Requirement). To enforce the Policy Requirement, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development require funding recipients to agree that they oppose prostitution. Funding recipients, wishing to remain neutral on prostitution, sought a declaratory judgment that the Policy Requirement violates their First Amendment rights. The district court issued a preliminary injunction, barring the government from cutting off funding during the litigation. The Second Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. The First Amendment “prohibits the government from telling people what they must say.” The Spending Clause grants Congress broad discretion to fund private programs for the general welfare and to limit the use of funds to ensure they are used in the manner intended. There is a distinction between conditions that define the limits of the spending program and specify the activities Congress wants to subsidize and conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the federal program itself. The Act’s other condition, prohibiting use of funds “to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking,” ensures that federal funds will not be used for prohibited purposes. The Policy Requirement goes further and, by its very nature, affects protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program. The Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that could undermine the federal program and requires them to pledge allegiance to government policy. View "Agency for Int'l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc'y Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law