Articles Posted in Communications Law

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The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act) regulates pro-life centers that offer pregnancy-related services. Licensed clinics must notify women that California provides free or low-cost services, including abortions, and give them a phone number. The stated purpose is to ensure that state residents know their rights and what services are available. Unlicensed clinics must notify women that California has not licensed the clinics to provide medical services. Its stated purpose is to ensure that pregnant women know when they are receiving care from licensed professionals. In a case under the First Amendment, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the licensed notice requirement likely violates the First Amendment. Content-based laws “are presumptively unconstitutional" and may be justified only if narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests. The notice is a content-based regulation, requiring a particular message. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals. The notice is not limited to “purely factual and uncontroversial information about" services. Nor is it a regulation of professional conduct that incidentally burdens speech; it applies to all interactions between a covered facility and its clients, regardless of whether a medical procedure is ever sought. Other facilities, including general clinics providing the same services, are not subject to the requirement. If states could choose the protection that speech receives simply by requiring a license, they would have a powerful tool to impose “invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects.” Assuming that California’s interest in providing low-income women with information about state-sponsored service is substantial, the licensed notice is not sufficiently drawn to promote it but is “wildly underinclusive,” applying only to clinics that have a “primary purpose” of “providing family planning or pregnancy-related services” while excluding other types clinics that also serve low-income women and could educate them about the state’s services. California could also inform the women about services “without burdening a speaker with unwanted speech,” most obviously through a public-information campaign. The unlicensed notice also unduly burdens protected speech. A disclosure requirement cannot be “unjustified or unduly burdensome,” must remedy a harm that is “potentially real not purely hypothetical,” and can extend “no broader than reasonably necessary.” California has not demonstrated any justification that is more than “purely hypothetical.” View "National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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When a phone connects to a cell site, it generates time-stamped cell-site location information (CSLI) that is stored by wireless carriers for business purposes. The FBI identified the cell phone numbers of robbery suspects. Prosecutors obtained court orders to get the suspects’ CSLI under the Stored Communications Act, which requires “reasonable grounds” for believing that the records were “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation,” 18 U.S.C. 2703(d), rather than a showing of probable cause. With CSLI for Carpenter’s phone, the government cataloged Carpenter’s movements over 127 days, showing that Carpenter’s phone was near four robbery locations at the time those robberies occurred. After denial of his motion to suppress, Carpenter was convicted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the acquisition of Carpenter’s cell-site records was a Fourth Amendment search. The Fourth Amendment protects expectations of privacy “that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable” so that official intrusion generally qualifies as a search and requires a warrant supported by probable cause. Historical cell-site records give the government near-perfect surveillance, allow it to travel back in time to retrace a person’s whereabouts. Rejecting an argument that the third-party doctrine governed these “business records,” the Court noted the “world of difference between the limited types of personal information” addressed in precedent and the “exhaustive chronicle of location information casually collected by wireless carriers.” CSLI is not truly “shared” because cell phones are an indispensable, pervasive part of daily life and they log CSLI without any affirmative act by the user. The Court noted that its decision is narrow and does not address conventional surveillance tools, such as security cameras, other business records that might reveal location information, or collection techniques involving foreign affairs or national security. View "Carpenter v. United States" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law prohibits wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia” inside a polling place on Election Day, Minn. Stat. 211B.11(1), including clothing and accessories with political insignia. Election judges are authorized to decide whether a particular item is banned. Days before the 2010 election, plaintiffs challenged the ban. In response, the state distributed guidance with specific examples of prohibited apparel: items displaying the name of a political party or the name of a candidate, items supporting or opposing a ballot question, “[i]ssue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting,” and “[m]aterial promoting a group with recognizable political views.” Cilek allegedly was turned away from the polls for wearing a “Please I.D. Me” button, a “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt, and a Tea Party Patriots logo. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit’s rejection of the constitutional challenges. Minnesota’s political apparel ban violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Because the ban applies only in a “nonpublic forum,” its content-based restrictions would be constitutional if “reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view,” The statute makes no distinction based on the speaker’s political persuasion and serves a permissible objective: to set aside polling places as “an island of calm.” The state may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect the distinction between voting and campaigning. However, the “unmoored use of the term “political” in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations" render the law unconstitutional for lack of narrow tailoring to serve that objective. Its indeterminate prohibitions present “[t]he opportunity for abuse, especially where [it] has received a virtually open-ended interpretation.” An election judge’s own politics may shape his views on what is “political.” View "Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky" on Justia Law

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In 2013, federal agents obtained an 18 U.S.C. 2703 warrant requiring Microsoft to disclose all e-mails and other information associated with a customer's account that was believed to be involved in illegal drug trafficking. Microsoft determined that the account’s e-mail contents were all stored in Microsoft’s Dublin, Ireland datacenter and moved, unsuccessfully, to quash the warrant with respect to that information. The court held Microsoft in civil contempt. The Second Circuit reversed, holding that requiring Microsoft to disclose the electronic communications in question would be an unauthorized extraterritorial application of section 2703. In March 2018, Congress enacted and the President signed the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act (CLOUD Act), Pub. L. 115–141, amending the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701, to add: “A [service provider] shall comply with the obligations of this chapter to preserve, backup, or disclose the contents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information pertaining to a customer or subscriber within such provider’s possession, custody, or control, regardless of whether such communication, record, or other information is located within or outside of the United States.” The Supreme Court vacated, finding the case moot. No live dispute remains between the parties over the issue with respect to which certiorari was granted; a new warrant replaced the original warrant. View "United States v. Microsoft Corp." on Justia Law

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The rock group “The Slants,” chose that name to dilute the term’s denigrating force as a derogatory term for Asians. The Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) denied an application for registration of the name under 15 U.S.C. 1052(a), which prohibits the registration of trademarks that may “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” any “persons, living or dead.” The Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Circuit in finding the clause unconstitutional. The Court first rejected an argument that the clause applies only to natural or juristic persons. The Court then held that the clause is subject to the Free Speech Clause, which does not regulate government speech. Trademarks are private, not government speech. "If trademarks become government speech when they are registered, the Federal Government is babbling prodigiously and incoherently.” The disparagement clause denies registration to any mark that is offensive to a substantial percentage of the members of any group. That is viewpoint discrimination. The “public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.” The disparagement clause cannot withstand even “relaxed” review. It does not serve a “substantial interest,” nor is it “narrowly drawn.” View "Matal v. Tam" on Justia Law

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North Carolina law made it a felony for a registered sex offender “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits minor children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.” N.C. Gen. Stat. 14–202.5(a), (e). The state has prosecuted over 1,000 people under that law. Petitioner was indicted after posting a statement on his personal Facebook profile about a positive traffic court experience. State courts upheld the law. The Supreme Court reversed. The statute impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment. Today, one of the most important places to exchange views is cyberspace, particularly social media. Even if the statute is content-neutral and subject to intermediate scrutiny, the provision is not “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” While social media will be exploited by criminals and sexual abuse of a child is a most serious crime, the assertion of a valid governmental interest “cannot, in every context, be insulated from all constitutional protections.” The statute “enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens…. With one broad stroke, North Carolina bars access to what for many are the principal sources for knowing current events, checking ads for employment, speaking and listening in the modern public square, and otherwise exploring the vast realms of human thought and knowledge.” The state did not establish that this sweeping law is necessary to keep convicted sex offenders away from vulnerable victims. View "Packingham v. North Carolina" on Justia Law

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Businesses challenged New York General Business Law section 518, which provides that “[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means,” as violating the First Amendment by regulating how they communicate their prices, and as unconstitutionally vague. The Second Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of the businesses, reasoning that in the context of singlesticker pricing—where merchants post one price and would like to charge more to customers who pay by credit card—the law required that the sticker price be the same as the price charged to credit card users. In that context, the law regulated a relationship between two prices: conduct, not speech. The Supreme Court vacated, limiting its review to single-sticker pricing. Section 518 regulates speech. It is not a typical price regulation, which simply regulates the amount a store can collect. The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they may collect from a cash or credit card payer, but regulates how sellers may communicate their prices. Section 518 is not vague as applied to the businesses; it bans the single-sticker pricing they wish to employ, and “a plaintiff whose speech is clearly proscribed cannot raise a successful vagueness claim.” View "Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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The Navy contracted with Campbell to develop a recruiting campaign that included text messages to young adults who had “opted in” to receipt of solicitations on topics that included Navy service. Campbell’s subcontractor generated a list of cellular phone numbers for consenting 18- to 24-year-olds and transmitted the Navy’s message to more than 100,000 recipients, including Gomez, age 40, who claims that he did not "opt in" and was not in the targeted age group. Gomez filed a class action under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), which prohibits “using any automatic dialing system” to send text messages to cellular telephones, absent prior express consent, and seeking treble statutory damages for a willful violation. Before the deadline for a motion for class certification, Campbell proposed to settle Gomez’s individual claim and filed an FRCP 68 offer of judgment, which Gomez did not accept. The district court granted Campbell summary judgment, finding that Campbell acquired the Navy’s sovereign immunity from suit. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that Gomez’s case remained live but that Campbell was not entitled to derivative sovereign immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed. An unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a case. Campbell’s settlement bid and offer of judgment, once rejected, had no continuing efficacy; the parties remained adverse. A federal contractor may be shielded from liability unless it exceeded its authority or authority was not validly conferred; the Navy authorized Campbell to send text messages only to individuals who had “opted in.” View "Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez" on Justia Law

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Gilbert, Arizona prohibits the display of outdoor signs without a permit, but exempts 23 categories. “Ideological Signs,” “communicating a message or ideas” that do not fit in any other category, may be up to 20 square feet and have no placement or time restrictions. “Political Signs,” may be up to 32 square feet and may only be displayed during an election season. “Temporary Directional Signs,” directing the public to a church or other “qualifying event,” are limited to six square feet and may be displayed no more than 12 hours before and one hour after the “qualifying event.” The Church held services at various temporary locations. It posted signs early each Saturday bearing its name and the time and location of the next service and did not remove the signs until midday Sunday. It was cited for exceeding the time limits and for failing to include an event date. The Ninth Circuit upheld the sign categories as content neutral , surviving intermediate scrutiny. The Supreme Court reversed. The code is content-based on its face. It defines categories of temporary, political, and ideological signs on the basis of their messages and subjects each category to different restrictions. A law that is content-based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of benign motive, content-neutral justification, or lack of “animus toward the ideas contained.” While the law does not single out any viewpoint, the First Amendment’s hostility to content-based regulation extends to prohibition of public discussion of an entire topic. The code singles out specific subject matter, even if it does not target viewpoints within that subject matter. The restrictions do not survive strict scrutiny; the town has not demonstrated that differentiation between temporary directional signs and other signs furthers a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to that end. View "Reed v. Town of Gilbert" on Justia Law

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Texas automobile owners can choose between general-issue and specialty license plates. People can propose a specialty plate design, with a slogan, a graphic, or both. If the Department of Motor Vehicles Board approves the design, the state makes it available. The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) claimed that rejection of SCV’s proposal for a specialty plate design featuring a Confederate flag violated the Free Speech Clause. The Fifth Circuit held that Texas’s specialty license plate designs were private speech and that the Board engaged in constitutionally forbidden viewpoint discrimination. The Supreme Court reversed. Texas’s specialty license plate designs constitute government speech. When government speaks, it is not barred from determining the content of what it says; it is generally entitled to promote a program, espouse a policy, or take a position. States have long used license plates to convey government speech, e.g., slogans urging action and touting local industries and license plate designs are often closely identified in the public mind with the state. Plates serve the governmental purposes of vehicle registration and identification and are, essentially, government IDs. Texas maintains direct control over the messages conveyed on its specialty plates. Forum analysis, which applies to government restrictions on purely private speech occurring on government property, is not appropriate when the state is speaking on its own behalf. That private parties take part in the design and pay for specialty plates does not transform the government’s role into that of a mere forum provider. The Court acknowledged that the First Amendment stringently limits state authority to compel a private party to express a view with which the private party disagrees. Just as Texas cannot require SCV to convey the state’s ideological message, SCV cannot dictate design. View "Walker v. Tex. Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc." on Justia Law