Daily Media Links 6/30

June 30, 2022   •  By Tiffany Donnelly   •  
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In the News

Law360: 3rd Circ. Preview: NJ Election Law Takes Center Stage In July

By P.J. D’Annunzio

The intricacies of New Jersey election law are set to be examined in July by the Third Circuit, which will hear argument on the kinds of slogans candidates can include on ballots and whether banks can contribute to campaigns. In one case, two people seeking office ask the court to consider if the six-word slogan allowed per candidate on the ballot is fair when it prohibits them from referencing people or businesses without their approval. The second case is a challenge brought by the New Jersey Bankers Association questioning whether state law prohibiting banks from making campaign contributions violates the First Amendment, given the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Citizens United.

Ed. note: The Institute for Free Speech represents the candidates, the plaintiffs-appellants, in the first caseMazo et al. v. New Jersey Secretary of State, et al. The Institute also submitted an amicus brief in support of appellant/cross-appellee New Jersey Bankers Association in the second case, New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General of New Jersey.

The Courts

Florida Phoenix: Ban on hand-held signs very likely violates First Amendment, U.S. appeals court rules

By Michael Moline

A Fort Myers Beach street preacher is entitled to an injunction against a town ordinance that prohibits the display of portable signs, a federal appeals court has ruled, citing the First Amendment.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit concluded that, even though the ordinance doesn’t discriminate against any viewpoint, it still forecloses a “venerable form of speech.”

“[P]ortable, handheld signs still are a rich part of the American political tradition and are one of the most common (if not the most common) methods of free expression. The ban on these signs leaves the residents of Fort Myers Beach without an effective alternative channel of communication; it very likely violates the First Amendment,” Judge Stanley Marcus of Florida wrote in an opinion handed down on Tuesday.

Courthouse News: BLM Masks

The Third Circuit agrees with a Pennsylvania court that ruled a port authority may not keep employees from wearing Black Lives Matter masks at work; the policy was unconstitutionally restrictive of the workers’ First Amendment rights.

Read the ruling here.

Techdirt: Clarence Thomas Really Wants To Make It Easier For The Powerful To Sue People For Criticizing Them

By Mike Masnick

[The “actual malice”] standard has been a huge benefit for freedom of speech. Especially in an era when the rich and powerful use abusive SLAPP suits to drag critics into court with no hope of actually winning. Being able to highlight the lack of any evidence for actual malice has been tremendously helpful in getting many cases kicked out of court at the first opportunity.

However, this is exactly why some rich and powerful people are very much against that standard…

Congress can and should codify the actual malice standard in law. Hell, why not go crazy and not just codify the actual malice standard into law, but pair it with a strong, functioning federal anti-SLAPP law that would allow defendants dragged into court as an intimidation and speech suppression tactic to get cases kicked out of court quickly — and force the abusive plaintiffs to pick up the bill?

Free Expression

The Hill: George Washington University rejects calls to remove Clarence Thomas from teaching role

By Olafimihan Oshin

George Washington University (GWU) has rejected its student body’s calls to remove Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from his adjunct professor role in the aftermath of the overturning of Roe v. Wade…

“Because we steadfastly support the robust exchange of ideas and deliberation, and because debate is an essential part of our university’s academic and educational mission to train future leaders who are prepared to address the world’s most urgent problems, the university will neither terminate Justices Thomas’ employment nor cancel his class in response to his legal opinions,” GWU said in its letter to students…

The school’s response comes as GWU students recently created a petition in an effort to remove Thomas from his teaching position with the university, citing his concurring opinions on abortion, LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage.

Online Speech Platforms

Axios: GOP’s Gmail feud escalates

By Lachlan Markay

An escalating dispute between national Republicans and technology giant Google threatens to bring political heat on the company and could spur significant changes in political email practices.

The Republican National Committee fired the latest shot on Wednesday, when chairwoman Ronna McDaniel claimed in a statement to Axios that Google has “systematically attacked” its digital program.

The RNC claims Google’s Gmail, the nation’s top email client, has been suppressing fundraising emails during strategically critical periods this year.

Google told Axios its spam filter is thoroughly apolitical, and that it’s taking steps to ensure political messages aren’t inadvertently flagged.

The RNC shared internal data showing regular and dramatic increases in the number of its fundraising and voter-activation emails being sent to Gmail recipients’ spam folder.

The States

Politico (“New Jersey Playbook”): Legislature taps the brakes on massive campaign finance bill

By Matt Friedman

The “Elections Transparency Act” — a name that does not come close to describing this massive proposal that would dramatically change New Jersey’s campaign finance system — stalled ahead of votes in the full Senate and Assembly after making rapid progress through committees over the last week. It was introduced just two weeks ago.

A coalition of progressive groups began pressuring Speaker Craig Coughlin and Gov. Phil Murphy to oppose the bill on Tuesday, focusing largely on the fact that it would curtail the state’s pay-to-play laws, including the dozens of local ordinances. And Coughlin, I’m told, had some issues with the bill’s quick reporting requirements.

But unlike some pieces of legislation I’ve ranted about before, this one — at least most of it — addresses some real problems. New Jersey’s campaign finance limits for most candidates haven’t been increased in 18 years. This bill would double them and then increase them based on inflation. And after reporting on campaign finance for years, I do think it’s reasonable to surmise that pay-to-play laws haven’t so much cut down public contractor money in politics as driven it to super PACs and (probably) dark money groups. And the bill would seek to force more disclosure by dark money groups.

I think it’s pretty clear that New Jersey’s campaign finance laws are outdated. But this bill was not only large, but confusing. There were parts I had trouble understanding, and a lawyer who’s an expert in campaign finance law couldn’t answer one of my questions about it. A bill of this scope needs more than two weeks of consideration, especially as the Legislature considers more high-profile legislation.

WTTW: How Money is Impacting Illinois’ Primary Election

By Andrea Guthmann

Billionaire Ken Griffin put $50 million of his own money behind Republican candidate for governor Richard Irvin. The Aurora mayor was originally the frontrunner, but in the end, lost to conservative state Sen. Darren Bailey, who received Donald Trump’s endorsement Saturday…

Alisa Kaplan, executive director of Reform for Illinois, a nonpartisan organization working on the role of money in politics, was hesitant to say whether Griffin’s play backfired, “There are so many factors coming into play, it’s hard to say,” says Kaplan. “Could be that people looked at Griffin’s millions and thought they don’t want his handpicked candidate. Or it could be that Irvin was the wrong candidate for the time, and no amount of money can fix that.”

KITV4: Commission Looks to Get Big Money Out of Politics in Hawaii

By Jeremy Lee

What would it take for Hawaii to make the move towards “clean elections”?

“Full public funding for state and county elections similar to what is going on in Maine,” former State Senate majority leader Gary Hooser suggested, as the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission took a look at how other states have implemented reforms.

“Number two: the suggestion would be to reduce the cap on campaign donations,” Hooser added.

Instead of maximum donations in the thousands, just 100 dollar donations, Hooser suggests, citing Montana’s 180 dollar individual donation cap.

21 states already ban contributions from corporations and trade unions, and Hawaii should follow suit, according to advocates. A full ban on financial contributions during the legislative session was also touted at the Wednesday meeting.

The commission will bring its findings on campaign finance reform to the legislature, a priority after a year that saw scandal from indicted lawmakers.

“And finally limit the campaign war-chest. This was done in Alaska and made the test of the Alaska Supreme Court,” Hooser concluded.

Tiffany Donnelly

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