Daily Media Links 11/4

November 4, 2021   •  By Nathan Maxwell   •  
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In the News

Reason: School Board Sued for Censoring Residents and Erasing Criticism

By Rikki Schlott

After being silenced and censored repeatedly for voicing concerns in school board meetings, local residents have served the Pennsbury School Board in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with a lawsuit for obstructing criticism of policies and stifling First Amendment rights.

Four concerned community members, Douglas Marshall, Simon Campbell, Robert Abrams, and Tim Daly, filed their claim in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on October 1. They are represented by attorneys from the Institute for Free Speech.

The plaintiffs accuse the school board of launching a multifaceted attack on their First Amendment rights at public meetings by shouting them down, implementing speech-restricting policies, and even editing their comments out of YouTube videos of the meetings. “The Pennsbury School District might be expected to teach Orwell’s 1984 as literature or social commentary—not use it as an instruction manual,” they assert in their complaint…

Plaintiff Simon Campbell feels the board’s conduct has had a chilling effect on local speech, telling Reason, “People have felt too intimidated to speak or make a public comment after witnessing how the school district has treated a number of us. It has caused many people to think twice about whether they should speak.” …

“Pennsbury officials are trampling on the First Amendment rights of parents and residents to speak their mind about their schools,” Alan Gura, vice president for litigation at the Institute for Free Speech, said in a press release. “They have cut off parents in the middle of sentences, yelled over critics to prevent them from being heard, edited remarks out of recordings of public meetings, and intimidated speakers by forcing them to publicly announce their home address.”

KARE 11: Yard signs: What we know about their history, and the rules that govern them

By Sharon Yoo

Displaying your political support has been a thing for forever.

According to the Institute for Free Speech, today’s yard signs can be traced back to ancient Romans who promoted their preferred candidates on the walls of their homes.

Apparently, John Quincy Adams is the one to credit for bringing that practice to America with yard signs in the 1820s. 

New from the Institute for Free Speech

Lawsuit: How the Governor Stole Protest Rights

Christmas festivities at the South Dakota Capitol this winter will include two full months of silent nights – and silent days. The state has banned all political demonstrations from the capitol grounds while holiday decorations are up. That means no rallies or protests will be allowed across the entire 200-plus acres of the capitol grounds from November 1 to January 1.

Now, a group of South Dakotans represented by the Institute for Free Speech is challenging the state’s “seasonal prohibition” on demonstrations in federal court. Filed late Wednesday, the lawsuit argues that Governor Kristi Noem and several other state officials are violating the group’s First Amendment right to rally outside the capitol at an upcoming session of the legislature.

“The Noem administration is restricting First Amendment rights and blaming it on Christmas. It doesn’t take two months to decorate, and it doesn’t require banning rallies across the entire capitol grounds,” said Institute for Free Speech Vice President for Litigation Alan Gura…

The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a temporary restraining order allowing them to hold their November 8-9 rally as planned. They are also asking the judge to declare the state’s seasonal prohibition on political gatherings unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Few places are more appropriate for a political demonstration than the grounds of the state capitol, and few times to rally are more urgent than when the legislature is in session…

The case is Blue State Refugees v. Noem. To read the complaint, click here. For updates, visit our case page here.

Supreme Court

SCOTUSblog: Justices seek narrow ruling on authority of public bodies to censure their own members

By Amy Howe

The internecine battle between David Wilson, one of nine trustees on the board of the Houston Community College System, and the rest of the board has all the makings of a long-running Netflix series – Dallas meets Community, perhaps. There are allegations of greed and corruption, culminating in one trustee’s conviction on federal bribery charges. There are private investigators, as well as two separate lawsuits filed by Wilson against the board and his fellow trustees.

But beyond a reference to the board’s “extremely checkered history,” there was little discussion of this drama at Tuesday’s oral argument in Houston Community College System v. Wilson. Instead, the justices focused on an important constitutional question: Did the First Amendment limit the board’s authority to censure Wilson for his constant criticism of what he describes as the board’s “pay to play” culture? After nearly 90 minutes of oral argument on Tuesday morning, a majority of the justices appeared to agree with the community college that it did not.

The Courts

Reason (Volokh Conspiracy): Fourth Circuit Affirms: No Heckler’s Veto; Fear of Violent Reaction to Speakers’ Views Can’t Justify …

By Eugene Volokh

I wrote about the case Oct. 13; Baltimore filed an emergency appeal, and just today the Fourth Circuit affirmed “the district court’s order and opinion,” without any further detailed analysis. Here’s my summary from when the district court decision was handed down:

From the decision by Judge Ellen Hollander (D. Md.) in St. Michael’s Media, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore:

Reuters: Newsmax, One America News sued by voting technology firm Smartmatic

By Jan Wolfe and Helen Coster

Voting technology company Smartmatic on Wednesday sued right-wing U.S. television networks One America News and Newsmax, saying they must be held accountable for spreading conspiracy theories about the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

In separate lawsuits, Smartmatic accused OAN and Newsmax of knowingly spreading false claims that the voting technology company rigged the election against then-President Donald Trump.

Smartmatic says the networks doubled down on the false claims as part of an effort to win over Trump supporters dissatisfied with Fox News Network’s election coverage.

The privately owned company sued San Diego-based OAN in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The case against Newsmax, which is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Florida, was filed in state court in Delaware.


Axios: First look: Senate targets foreign-donor loophole

By Lachlan Markay

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is introducing legislation barring foreign nationals from financing U.S. referendum campaigns, after Axios revealed federal regulators recently okayed the practice…

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation to close the loophole.

Gillibrand’s bill, the Stop Foreign Interference in Ballot Measures Act, would amend the prohibition on foreign national donations to U.S. political campaigns to include state and local ballot initiatives.

The law as currently written has been interpreted to exclude such contests from the definition of “elections.”

As a result, the Federal Election Commission ruled over the summer that bans on foreign national donations to U.S. political campaigns do not apply to ballot committees.

Daily Beast: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bennet’s Next Target: ‘Zombie’ Campaigns

By Roger Sollenberger

Two Democrats Senators, Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), are introducing legislation this Thursday that would outlaw so-called “zombie” campaign accounts for any politician who does not file for the next election six months after they leave office—and would require any former politician who wishes to register as a lobbyist to shut down their campaign account immediately.

The legislation, titled the “Zeroing Out Money for Buying Influence after Elections (ZOMBIE) Act,” is a reboot of a bill that Bennet offered last year. And it would extend the requirements to an official’s leadership PAC, such as the one belonging to former Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who last year was cited for paying personal expenses in an FEC complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington…

The proposed act stipulates that candidates would have six months to file to run in the next election, or else close their accounts. It also would require them to shutter their campaigns before they register as a lobbyist or foreign agent…

One issue the bill does not address with zombie accounts is a bit trickier: Debts. The bill does not touch cases where an old campaign account has no money left and still owes outstanding costs—which could allow the committee to continue raising money while making payments for various associated expenses, such as travel and events. And if a campaign does end with cash on hand, the bill prioritizes debt above all else, with a hard six-month deadline to repay before the account is forced to close, regardless of whether its obligations have been met.

This fact could provide a loophole, or at least an argument, for keeping these vehicles alive.

The States

NBC Philadelphia: Truck Driver Leads NJ Senate President After Spending $153 on Campaign

By Rudy Chinchilla and Brian X. McCrone

New Jersey’s longest-running state senate president seems set to lose his seat to a truck driver who spent only $153 on Dunkin and paper fliers over the course of his campaign.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney trailed Republican challenger Edward Durr, a commercial truck driver, by more than 2,000 votes as of Wednesday afternoon, with more than 99% of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has not yet called a winner.

The potential loss by one of New Jersey’s most powerful politicians would result in upheaval of political power in the state, forcing the Senate to find a new president…

Durr, raised more than $10,000 during their campaign, but they spent only $153: $66.64 at Dunkin to buy food and drinks for staff and $86.67 for paper flyers and business cards…

“Not everybody has to have a lot of money to run. All they have to do is have a heart for the people, and he’s got a heart for the working people,” [his mother,] Gloria Durr said.

Must Read Alaska: Election commission staff sets new campaign contribution limits of $1,500, now that $500 limit thrown out by courts

By Suzanne Downing

The staff of the Alaska Public Offices Commission is set the campaign contribution limit at $1,500 from an individual to a candidate, now that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the previous $500 limit, which was in statute.

The Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court said the $500 limit is unreasonable, and it severely disadvantaged non-incumbents, and also was not elastic to adapt to inflation.

The new limit will be in effect until the commission itself, which is different from the APOC staff, overturns it, which would take four of the five commissioners.

Also another limit was created by staff: The non-political party group-to-candidate; and non-political party group-to-non-political party limit is $3,000 per year.

The ruling removes ambiguity for campaigns that was created by the Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit ruling, which had removed all limitations to state and local candidate. Federal candidates are governed by Federal Election Commission contribution limits.

Nathan Maxwell


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