Today, we look to some of the First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court this term.
· McCutcheon v. FEC: Mentioned earlier this week, the McCutcheon case is a challenge of the federal aggregate contributions limit imposed on individuals by federal campaign finance law. Mr. McCutcheon argues that he should be allowed to donate to as many candidates as he likes, so long as he abides by the individual contribution limits for each of them. He contends that the cap on his total contributions to all candidates cannot pass strict scrutiny because there is no anti‐corruption interest at stake. Cato filed an amicus brief in support of McCutcheon. The case was argued October 8.
· McCullen v. Coakley: In this case out of the First Circuit, the petitioner is challenging a Massachusetts law that creates a 35‐foot zone around abortion facilities within which only patrons or workers may remain—others must move along. The defenders of the law claim that the legislation is a valid time, place, or manner restriction, but the challengers say that the law constitutes a content‐based prohibition of anti‐abortion speech that does not pass strict scrutiny. Cato filed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. The date for oral argument has not been set.
· Harris v. Quinn: Pamela Harris and petitioners are challenging Illinois’s move to force personal in‐home assistants to unionize and pay dues to a labor union, the SEIU. Despite the fact that the disabled person is the employer—with full control over hiring, firing, and supervision of the assistant—Illinois claims that because the personal assistants are regulated and receive money from Medicaid, they are public employees that can be compelled to unionize and pay dues to subsidize SEIU’s lobbying efforts. Petitioners challenge this as a violation of their First Amendment rights of association and free speech. Cato filed an amicus brief in support of the challenge. The date for oral argument has not been set.
· United States v. Apel: John Dennis Apel was arrested for trespassing after entering a designated protest zone in front of Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. He had been previously banned from the base due to past protests (one of which included defacing a sign at the base with his own blood); however, the Ninth Circuit vacated his conviction because the arrest occurred on a portion of the installation that was subject to a public roadway easement. The Court will decide whether to reinstate the conviction. Oral argument is scheduled for December 4.
· Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper: This case involves the application of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act’s defamation protections for airlines. Designed to promote airlines’ disclosure of potential threats, the law establishes a protective standard for defamation suits against airlines similar to the heightened standard for defamation suits against the media (requiring falsity or a reckless disregard for truth). In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a judgment against Air Wisconsin when the statements at issue were at least partially true. The Court is asked for an application of the heightened standard in a case where such allegedly defamatory statements are true or partially true. Oral argument is scheduled for December 9.
For more information on Free Speech Week and to learn how you can help celebrate free speech, check out www.FreeSpeechWeek.org.