Hillary’s Rationale for Opposing Citizens United Fell Apart in Last Week’s Debate

by DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. & DARIN BARTRAM

February 9, 2016 in the National Review Online

Few politicians have railed more loudly against the Supreme Court’s 2010 key First Amendment decision, Citizens United v. FEC, than the star of the Citizens United–produced political documentary (Hillary: The Movie) that provided the factual basis for the decision. But forget about the kind of independent advocacy at issue in that case or even highly regulated campaign contributions. At last Thursday’s debate against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton grandly asserted that she could not be bought or influenced even by huge amounts of money flowing directly into her own pocket from mega-corporations such as Goldman Sachs. She angrily denied the corrupting influence of money in politics when she is the one cashing the check. Having done that, on what possible basis can Secretary Clinton oppose the kind of independent speech unleashed by Citizens United?

It has become a matter of Democrat orthodoxy that Citizens United has been a disaster, because it enables groups of citizens, including those organized in the corporate form, to freely engage in political speech. To many Democrats, that is tantamount to buying elections and politicians. Secretary Clinton’s opposition to Citizens United is well known and a central plank of her presidential campaign. Just last month, in noting the six-year anniversary of that decision, she accused the Court of having “transformed our politics by allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections.”

While slamming the Supreme Court’s decision, Hillary Clinton has pledged something that most presidential candidates shy away from: a litmus test for future Supreme Court nominees if she is elected, to ensure they would vote to overturn Citizens United. She has also endorsed partially repealing the First Amendment to enable the government to restrict political speech for a variety of purposes, including the alleged need to equalize the ability of diverse voices to participate in democratic governance. Presumably, films like Hillary: The Movie wouldn’t make the cut.

The Supreme Court in Citizens United concluded that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political advocacy by corporations, labor unions, and associations, because such speech expenditures do not pose a threat of quid pro quo corruption or even the credible appearance of corruption. They simply expand the marketplace of ideas. The decision led to the establishment of super PACs, regulated groups that can receive unlimited donations from individuals and corporations to spend on political and policy advocacy. It also permitted well-established national advocacy groups — whether the National Rifle Association or the Sierra Club — to become energetically engaged in political speech and debates. Read more »

Symposium: Correcting the “historical accident” of opt-out requirements

By David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman, 27 August 2015 in SCOTUSblog

Whatever the fate of mandatory “fair share” payments that nonmembers are often required to make to fund public-sector unions’ collective bargaining activities, Friedrichs will likely mark the end of requirements that dissenting workers take action to “opt out” of funding public-sector unions’ political and ideological activities, the subject of the second question that the Court agreed to consider. Although less prominent than the forced-payments issue, ending opt-out requirements would correct a serious anomaly in the Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, one that facilitates tens of millions of dollars annually in union political spending of funds obtained through inertia, trickery, and coercion.

If everyone agrees that forcing public employees to subsidize a labor union’s political or ideological speech impinges their First Amendment rights – and the Court has been unanimous on that point for decades – then what possible justification is there for requiring workers who’ve declined to join the union to go through the arduous process of opting out from making such payments year after year? Put differently, why not allow workers who support a union’s political activities to opt in to funding them, rather than require dissenting workers to play a game of cat and mouse to stop the union from taking their money to fund ideological causes they likely oppose? We’ve never heard a compelling justification for the current “opt out” regime and, like the majority in Knox v. SEIU, suspect that there isn’t one.

Instead, as the Court recounted in Knox, “acceptance of the opt-out approach appears to have come about more as a historical accident than through the careful application of First Amendment principles.” In early cases, workers subject to the Railway Labor Act sought relief from being forced to fund unions’ political activities, and the Court assumed (the statute saying nothing one way or the other) that allowing them to affirmatively object to funding such expenditures would be sufficient to protect their rights. Without any reasoning or analysis, the Court in Abood further assumed that the opt-out approach discussed in those prior statutory cases was sufficient to remedy the First Amendment violation when a public employee is coerced into subsidizing political or ideological speech by the threat of loss of governmental employment. Read more »

A Legal Cure For the FDA’s Free Speech Malady

By DAVID B. RIVKIN JR. And ANDREW GROSSMAN, May 21, 2015

We are free to tell you that a clinical trial shows the drug Vascepa to be an effective treatment for persistently high triglyceride levels. But should the drug’s manufacturer, Amarin, tell you or your doctor the same thing, the company would face criminal prosecution and civil liability. Therein lies a First Amendment anomaly, one that may finally be resolved by a lawsuit that Amarin filed earlier this month against the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has long banned promotion of drugs for uses other than those it has approved. Yet so-called off-label uses are legal and account for about 20% of all prescriptions. Some off-label uses of drugs have even become the standard of care for particular conditions.

But the drug’s manufacturer and its agents—and only them—cannot legally talk about this. Patients can—and do—discuss off-label uses of drugs endlessly in online forums. Doctors certainly exchange information about these uses.

But Amarin can’t say anything about the Vascepa trial. The drug is approved only as a treatment for “very high” triglyceride levels, not those that are merely persistently high. As a result, doctors and their patients are being kept in the dark about a treatment that, for some patients, has fewer side effects than other drugs.

The FDA claims its speech ban is a necessary part of its drug-approval process, which requires manufacturers to demonstrate efficacy for each intended use. The agency aggressively investigates and the government regularly prosecutes pharmaceutical companies and their representatives that promote off-label uses of their drugs. Yet once a drug is approved, doctors can prescribe it for any use—and the FDA recognizes, in its regulatory guidance—that such uses are essential to effectively translate medical research into improved health outcomes.

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Enduring incivility for the sake of free speech

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew M. Grossman — Sunday, April 19, 2015

First Amendment lawyers always get asked the same question: Is he really allowed to say that?

The “he,” inevitably, is some television pundit, newspaper columnist or blogger. And the “that” is a stream of invective. A pointed example is economist Paul Krugman’s characterization of Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget proposal: “The most fraudulent budget in American history. And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that.”

So if he meant “just that,” the question goes, isn’t that libel, and why isn’t Mr. Ryan suing him for damages?

And from time to time, we’ve heard the same question raised about one of our own cases, climate scientist Michael Mann’s lawsuit against detractors who harshly criticized his “hockey stick” research. We represent two of the defendants, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and its adjunct fellow, Rand Simberg. They called Mr. Mann’s work “intellectually bogus” and biased “data manipulation” done “in the service of politicized science.”

So is it libel? Some may respond with a smirk that truth is an absolute defense, but the answer is actually more basic: There’s nothing to be proven true or false.

Libel law is subject to the First Amendment. Its guarantee of freedom of speech wouldn’t be worth much if the government could authorize private citizens to sue one another over their views. At a minimum, a challenged statement must contain (in the Supreme Court’s formulation) a “provably false factual connotation.”

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Judicial candidates face loss of free speech rights

David B. Rivkin Jr., and Andrew M. Grossman, January 18, 2015

For years, those who favor restrictions on campaign spending have insisted that their real interest lies in fighting corruption, not limiting political speech. Well, here’s a free-speech litmus test: Can a state block candidates from asking for campaign contributions that are themselves legal?

That’s the issue the Supreme Court will face Tuesday in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. Like most states, Florida elects or retains judges by popular vote. Many of those states prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. This restriction, supporters say, prevents corruption, bias and the appearance of bias.

It’s hard to see how. Florida’s law allows contributions of up to $1,000 to judicial campaigns, and that limit cannot be significantly lowered (much less banned) without violating the First Amendment. Florida’s law allows judicial candidates to learn who their contributors are and to ask for other kinds of campaign support, including volunteer work and service on their campaign committees.

But a judicial candidate cannot post a request for support on the campaign website, cannot appear before a local civic group to request contributions, and cannot sign a fundraising letter asking for support. In other words, a candidate can accept contributions, just cannot solicit them. But solicitation is just speech.

That last restriction is the one that bit Lanell Williams-Yulee, a public defender and first-time candidate seeking election to a county court. She made the mistake of signing a letter announcing her candidacy and asking friends to contribute whatever they could. For that, she was reprimanded and fined by the Florida Supreme Court. Read more »

Criminalizing Political Speech in Wisconsin

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman

The criminalization of politics is bad enough—just ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry—but a new turn to target citizens as well threatens to permanently warp our political discourse. Like it or not, federal courts will have to intervene to uphold Americans’ First Amendment rights against win-at-any-cost politics.

Wisconsin is ground zero of this phenomenon. A partisan elected district attorney, John Chisholm, reportedly goaded on by his union-steward wife, Colleen, decided to take aim at Republican Gov. Scott Walker after his 2011 “Budget Repair Bill” cut back on public-sector collective bargaining within the state. But Mr. Chisholm didn’t stop there: After an aggressive criminal investigation failed to knock Mr. Walker out of office, the district attorney set his sights on the governor’s philosophical allies, an assortment of conservative citizen groups that supported Walker’s reforms.

The claim was that these groups illegally “coordinated” their speech on the issues with Gov. Walker’s campaign, thereby circumventing campaign-finance regulations. The evidence? Intercepted emails and phone records showing that some of the groups communicated with Gov. Walker’s campaign, mostly on policy issues. That wasn’t enough to bring charges, but it did allow Mr. Chisholm to launch an aggressive criminal investigation targeting Gov. Walker’s supporters, complete with home raids and everything-but-the-kitchen sink subpoenas.

These efforts had the intended effect: Funding for conservative policy advocacy dried up and Gov. Walker’s supporters were forced to redirect their energies from political activism to courtroom litigation.

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