Daily Media Links 11/17

November 17, 2021   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Florida Today: Brevard County School Board reelects Belford as chair, implements new speaking policies

By Bailey Gallion

The conservative parents’ group Moms for Liberty filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit on Nov. 5, claiming the [Brevard County] School Board has silenced board critics with its policy forbidding speech that is “abusive,” “obscene” or “personally directed.” …

A tense public comment period followed the vote, during which [School Board chair Misty] Belford sought to enforce the board’s new policy that shortens the time members of the public address the board if depending on how many people sign up to speak and for speakers who are not discussing items on the agenda.

Under the new policy, people who are not addressing agenda items speak for one minute instead of three, and their comments are moved to the end of the meeting with the cameras switched off.

The policy drew criticism from people who believe the new restrictions silence parents, worsen tensions between the board and the public, and don’t allow enough time for speakers to express their thoughts.

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Supreme Court Should Grant Cert, Reaffirm Press Rights for All in Green v. Pierce County

By Nathan Maxwell

Should the government control which reporters are allowed to gather and publish news? Of course not – but the state of Washington does. State law provides that only corporate media outlets may access certain public records. In late October, the Institute for Free Speech petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case revolving around this issue, Brian Green v. Pierce County, and reject the state’s selective adherence to the First Amendment.

In December 2017, investigative journalist Brian Green requested public records relating to a police interaction he’d experienced three years prior. The Public Disclosure Unit of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office produced some material but declined to provide the requested photographs or birth dates of relevant personnel. County officials justified denying the records to Green, a citizen journalist unaffiliated with a corporate media outlet, under a state law that restricts access to that information unless one qualifies as “news media.” Green explained that he was working on a local news story for his YouTube channel “Libertys Champion.” The Sheriff’s Office still refused to fulfill his request, and Green sued the county.

Pierce County argued that only corporate media entities are “news media” under the law. A trial court ruled that the statute covers Green and his YouTube channel, but the Washington Supreme Court disagreed and reversed, holding that only organized corporate entities qualified. This reading of the law rendered it unconstitutional – the First Amendment forbids the state from favoring corporate press over citizen journalists. But employing perfectly circular reasoning, the state’s high court found that First Amendment rights were not at stake because, under the law, Green didn’t count as “news media.”

Supreme Court

Daily Beast: How Russian Hackers Helped Expose the Right-Wing Dark Money Corrupting Our Courts

By Sheldon Whitehouse

A piece of news that came out on the same day that the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case—at the center of what the NRA has bluntly termed the Republican justices’ “project” to overturn gun safety— revealed how deep the rot goes.

The news came from Russian hackers on the dark web. According to reporting by The Trace, the hackers unearthed a document suggesting that the NRA paid a lawyer more than $500,000 to advocate on its behalf through “the Independence Institute.” This included filing pro-gun rights “friend of the court,” or amicus, briefs in Supreme Court cases—including the one heard earlier this month—brought by the NRA’s New York affiliate. None of these payments were disclosed to the court or the public. In essence, the NRA cloned itself to amplify its voice before the court.

The justices say their rules guard against this kind of mischief, but this incident is far from isolated. As House Courts Subcommittee Chairman Hank Johnson and I have pointed out repeatedly, and as I recently detailed for the Yale Law Journal, the court’s rules only require the most immediate expenses involved in producing an amicus brief to be disclosed—little more than the cost of printing the brief for submission. A dark-money group or big industry front, such as the NRA, can hide behind a cloak of anonymity and multiply its voice to the court many times over.

DOJ

Wall Street Journal: FBI Tracks Threats Against Teachers, School-Board Members

By Sadie Gurman and Aruna Viswanatha

The heads of the FBI’s criminal and counterterrorism divisions instructed agents in an Oct. 20 memo to flag all assessments and investigations into potentially criminal threats, harassment and intimidation of educators with a “threat tag,” which the officials said would allow them to evaluate the scope of the problem…

An FBI agent provided a copy of the internal email to several Republican lawmakers, citing concerns that it could open the door for the bureau to collect information on parents voicing their opposition to local school policies during meetings.

“The FBI has never been in the business of investigating parents who speak out or policing speech at school board meetings, and we are not going to start now,” the FBI said Tuesday in a statement. “We are fully committed to preserving and protecting First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech.”

The States

Georgia Recorder: Lawmaker to revive protester bill critics say could infringe on 1st Amendment rights

By Ross Williams

A bill aimed at curtailing violent protesters is poised for a return engagement at the Gold Dome early next year when lawmakers convene for their 2022 legislative session.

In a committee hearing Tuesday, Democrats and civil rights groups said the measure could chill free speech.

The bill’s author, Republican Sen. Randy Robertson of Cataula, said the measure will protect the right to peaceably protest and punish only those who break the law by engaging in violence, destroying property or blocking roads…

Under the proposed law, protesters who break the law would face increased penalties. Participating in a protest with seven or more people and committing violence against a person or property or blocking a highway during a protest could both land Georgians with a felony charge and a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000 or up to five years imprisonment. Defiling a publicly owned monument, cemetery or structure comes with even steeper punishments – a fine of up to $15,000 or up to 15 years behind bars.

It would also require cities and counties to establish a process for granting permits for all protests on public property, regardless of size, and governments that fail to provide “reasonable law enforcement protections” for protests that become violent could be made to pay damages for injuries or property damage.

Tiffany Donnelly

https://www.ifs.org/author/tdonnelly/

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