Below the Fold

Some Critics Still Blocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

Some Critics Still Blocked By @realDonaldTrump; Justice Department Appeals Ruling

President Trump blocked some of his critics on his Twitter handle, @realDonaldTrump, prompting a lawsuit arguing that such action violated their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit raised questions about the use of social media sites by public officials. Clearly, a personal website of a public figure is not subject to First Amendment restrictions, and so the site operator can block users. But a site run by the government, or run by a public official for his public business, would likely be categorized as a limited public forum protected by the First Amendment. Officials would violate the First Amendment if they discriminated against posters because of their viewpoint. But is @realDonaldTrump a personal site or an official government site? That’s a key question. He started the account in 2009, when he was a private citizen, but now uses it to share policy statements and his views on public issues. On May 23, 2018, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Trump may not legally block users on Twitter because doing so violates a right to free speech; @realDonaldTrump unblocked the plaintiffs but not others who are blocked and the Justice Department is appealing the ruling. Meanwhile, other cases are percolating through the courts as well, with one to be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit involving a citizen who was blocked by a public official in Virginia from her Facebook account.

June 5, 2018 Access, Below the Fold, News Gathering
Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling in Masterpiece Cake Case

Supreme Court Hands Down Ruling in Masterpiece Cake Case

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Jack C. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakeland, Colorado, who refused to design and create a wedding cake for a celebration of a same-sex marriage saying that a state commission violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom when it ruled against Phillips. Phillips had claimed that the creation of the cake is artistic expression protected by the First Amendment’s free speech and free exercise of religion clause. The couple and Colorado argued that Phillips’ work on the cake was not expressive conduct according to the law and that the state had a significant interest in preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. “The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the decision. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

States Rush to Pass Anti-Protestor Laws

States Rush to Pass Anti-Protestor Laws

America was born in the protests of 1765 to 1776. Large crowds assembled around liberty trees and liberty poles, hanging British officials in effigy, and thousands of people paraded through the streets of colonial towns voicing loud dissent against British taxes and other measures they considered oppressive. Today’s lawmakers seem much more squeamish about the right to assembly, which is now enshrined in the First Amendment. Reacting to the demonstrations that have taken place throughout the U.S. over the last few years, many states have moved to restrict public demonstrations by a variety of means. Some measures that are enacted into law will surely be tested in court as violations of the First Amendment.

June 1, 2018 Assembly, Below the Fold
Ballard Spahr: First Amendment Bars Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter, Court Rules

Ballard Spahr: First Amendment Bars Trump from Blocking Critics on Twitter, Court Rules

Reprinted with Permission from Ballard Spahr A federal judge has ruled that the First Amendment prohibits President Donald J. Trump from blocking Twitter users because of political disagreements. Last summer, seven individual plaintiffs—Twitter users who had been blocked from the President’s account, @realDonaldTrump, after tweeting criticism about the President or his policies—together with the Knight First Amendment Institute, sued Trump[Read More…]

May 24, 2018 Access, Below the Fold
Ballard Spahr: Cosby Case Highlights Role of Public Access to Court Records

Ballard Spahr: Cosby Case Highlights Role of Public Access to Court Records

Reprinted with Permission from Ballard Spahr The April 2018 criminal trial of iconic entertainer and “America’s Dad” Bill Cosby has ended with a guilty verdict. Rarely has the importance and power of public access to the courts—and the unique role of the media in securing access—been on such full display as during the more than 10 years of civil and[Read More…]

May 3, 2018 Access, Below the Fold
First Amendment Watch Co-Sponsors Talk On “Free Speech on Campus and Academic Freedom in the Trump Era”

First Amendment Watch Co-Sponsors Talk On “Free Speech on Campus and Academic Freedom in the Trump Era”

First Amendment Watch in collaboration with NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New-York Historical Society and the Institute for Constitutional History sponsored a talk for NYC educators by Robert Post, First Amendment scholar and former dean of Yale Law School. The topic, “Free Speech on Campus and Academic Freedom in the Trump Era,” addressed important First Amendment issues facing educators and students. Click through for Facebook Live videos of the event.

Are Media Blackouts the New Norm?

Are Media Blackouts the New Norm?

Gag orders or standard practice of administrations in transition?

Is Wikileaks a News Organization Protected by the First Amendment?

Is Wikileaks a News Organization Protected by the First Amendment?

Wikileaks role in the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections continues to be investigated even as leakers face increasing recriminations under the Trump administration. What is next for Julian Assange and the tempest he unleashed? It depends on whether you think Assange is running a media organization or not. If he is, then the question is whether Wikileaks should be protected by freedom of the press? 

April 20, 2018 Below the Fold, Leaks, Threats
Gene Policinski, Chief Operating Officer, Newseum Institute and First Amendment Center of Newseum Institute

Gene Policinski Commentary: Sinclair, Next Time Just Put Your Name To The Message

The Newseum Institute’s First Amendment expert, Gene Policinski, originally published this commentary on April 5, 2018, on the Newseum blog, and has given First Amendment Watch permission to reprint.   _________________________________________________________________________________ Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional message on the state of today’s news — delivered to its TV audiences nationwide — is as protected by the First Amendment as it was an[Read More…]

April 7, 2018 Below the Fold, Fake News, Threats
Are Student Walkouts Protected By the First Amendment?

Are Student Walkouts Protected By the First Amendment?

After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students around the country quickly began to protest gun violence. One way gaining much attention: student walkouts. School administrators have responded both positively and negatively to these demonstrations. Now various advocacy groups are calling for  a national walkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14 in solidarity with the victims of the Florida tragedy. Are these protests protected by the First Amendment?

March 29, 2018 Assembly, Below the Fold, Speech