Daily Media Links 11/15

November 15, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog: From barbecue restaurants to highway beautification, justices mull implications of sign-ordinance case

By Amy Howe

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wednesday in a challenge to a Texas city’s ordinance that treats signs differently depending on whether they have a connection to the site where they are located. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the ordinance violates the First Amendment, but during over 90 minutes of oral argument in City of Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, the Supreme Court was closely divided on this question. Although some justices appeared to agree with the 5th Circuit, other justices were clearly concerned that upholding the 5th Circuit’s decision could have repercussions far beyond the ordinance that they were considering…

Justice Neil Gorsuch asked Benjamin Snyder, an assistant to the U.S. solicitor general who argued on behalf of the United States in support of the city, about the likelihood that the city’s ordinance favored popular viewpoints over unpopular ones. For example, Gorsuch said, if there are 1,000 Christian churches and 12 mosques in a city, and off-premises signs are prohibited, the ordinance will wind up favoring the churches.

Snyder countered that the question before the court was whether the ordinance regulates speech based on its content, rather than how the ordinance works in practice, and that the ordinance “doesn’t have any inherent content of its own.” But Gorsuch was unmoved, and he pressed Snyder about whether Austin could have adopted other measures – such as regulating the size or brightness of signs – to address the safety and aesthetic concerns underlying the ordinance. When Snyder responded that such measures are “not nearly as effective,” Gorsuch scoffed. “That can’t be the test — how effective a law is at suppressing speech,” he said. “The First Amendment is always pretty inefficient, we’d agree, wouldn’t we?”

The Courts

Ballot Access News: Wyoming Files Brief in Tenth Circuit in Defense of 300-Foot “No Politics” Zone at Polling Places

By Richard Winger

On November 10, Wyoming filed this brief in Frank v Lee, 21-8059. This is the lawsuit that bars First Amendment activity, including petitioning, within 300 feet of a polling place. The U.S. District Court had invalidated it. Generally courts allow such zones if they are at 100 feet, but don’t allow anything bigger.


Politico: FBI raid on Project Veritas founder’s home sparks questions about press freedom

By Josh Gerstein

The Biden administration’s effort to establish itself as a committed champion of press freedom is facing new doubts because of the Justice Department’s aggressive legal tactics against a conservative provocateur known for his hidden-camera video stings.

A predawn FBI raid last weekend against Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and similar raids on some of his associates are prompting alarm from some First Amendment advocates, who contend that prosecutors appear to have run roughshod over Justice Department media policies and a federal law protecting journalists.

Adding to the drama surrounding the brewing court showdown: It stems from a politically sensitive investigation into the alleged theft of the diary of President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley…

“This is just beyond belief,” said University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley, a former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I’m not a big fan of Project Veritas, but this is just over the top. I hope they get a serious reprimand from the court because I think this is just wrong.”

National Review: The FBI and the New York Times Collude against Project Veritas

By Andrew C. McCarthy

Want to understand how outrageous Friday’s New York Times coverage of the FBI’s seizure of Project Veritas’s proprietary documents is? Just imagine what the Times would be saying if what is happening to PV were happening to . . . well . . . the Times itself.

What if federal prosecutors had had the temerity to seek, and managed to obtain, court-authorized search warrants against Times reporters, on the allegation that the paper was in possession of evidence of a crime — perhaps even that some of its reporters were somehow complicit in the crime? The screams of bloody murder from West 40th Street would be audible across America…

Moreover, as no one knows better than the Times, there are special considerations when the government targets the press in a search or other information demand. A free-press right is guaranteed in the First Amendment. Amazingly under the circumstances, the Times’ default position — at least when rights of the Times and the rest of the media-Democrat complex are at stake — is that our constitutional system is threatened if the government demands or seizes information from reporters.

Online Speech Platforms

New York Times: Political Campaigns Can Still Target You on Facebook

By Nick Corasaniti

[On Tuesday, Meta, the social media company formerly known as Facebook, announced plans] to eliminate advertisers’ ability to target people with promotions based on their interactions with content related to race and ethnicity or political affiliation, as well as thousands of other topics.

But those changes would do nothing to stop a campaign from targeting the same audiences …with Facebook ads, just in different ways: Location targeting is still permitted, down to the ZIP code. Campaigns could also use a feature known as “look-alike audiences,” along with a host of remaining options…

“There’s just so many different ways that you can reach different groups of people not using these targeting methods, even going to geolocation and textual data,” Tim Cameron, a Republican digital consultant, said. “Now, where you can’t use detailed targeting to reach L.G.B.T.Q. culture, you can certainly set up ads around Pride Week and around certain locations that are a part of that culture. So, it’s just kind of like a closed road that at the end of the day, people are going to find a way to get around it to get to their destination.”…

In a statement on Wednesday calling on Meta to reverse its changes, the four campaign arms of the Democratic Party…argued that the new limitations did not address the larger crisis plaguing the platform: disinformation.­

“Meta has once again shirked its responsibility to protect voters on its platforms by implementing backwards political ad policies that will limit our ability to communicate with voters about the democratic process, and that once again do nothing to address the platform’s most serious issue — an algorithm that incentivizes misinformation and hate,” the statement said.

The States

The Center Square: New legislation would prohibit out-of-state money in judicial campaigns

By Andrew Hensel

A new measure would prohibit candidates in judicial elections from accepting out-of-state donations and anonymous donations during campaigns for judicial positions.

Senate Bill 536 has passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. If signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, it would prohibit any candidate for a Supreme Court, Appellate Court, or Circuit Court position from accepting any campaign donations from out-of-state donors or accepting any untraceable campaign funds.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, who is the only House sponsor of the legislation, said that this change is something all Illinoisans can support.

“I think trying to avoid dark money from elections is something I think we can all get behind,” Stuart said. “So the change would stop out of state and untraceable money from finding its way into our judicial races.”

Republican state Rep. Ryan Spain, has spoken out against this bill. He called the measure unconstitutional.

“The ability to make political donations is an example of free speech,” Spain said. “I have concerns that this provision in this legislation is not constitutional.”

Tiffany Donnelly


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