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 »

Winning civil justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Andrew Grossman

The quest for justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner did not end with the decisions of grand juries not to indict the police officers whose actions led to those men’s deaths. Those frustrated by the grand juries’ dispositions can take comfort in knowing that victims of police violence, as well as their families, can get their day in court.

The family of Garner, who died after being placed in an apparent chokehold by a New York police officer, has already announced plans to sue the officer and the city for $75 million. Michael Brown’s family has not yet said whether they intend to bring a lawsuit against former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson or the city, but their lawyer has indicated the possibility is being considered.

These suits may succeed where criminal charges failed. To protect against wrongful conviction, criminal charges must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the highest standard in law. By contrast, civil plaintiffs need convince a jury only that their claims are supported by a “preponderance of the evidence” — a hair more than 50 percent.

Both families could bring claims for wrongful death, arguing that the officers failed to exercise appropriate care in the confrontations that resulted in the deaths of their family members. Such a claim by Garner’s family would be particularly strong, given that the New York Police Department long ago banned chokeholds precisely to prevent choking-related deaths. As for Brown, the circumstances of his death are less clear at this time, but a trial would provide an opportunity for all the facts to come out. If the “hands-up-don’t-shoot” narrative is correct, the Brown family should be able to prevail.

Read more »

Let the President Decide on Jerusalem

Since the 1990s, Congress has maintained that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, presidents have stated that Jerusalem’s status can only be decided as part of a broader peace settlement. On Monday this dispute again reached the Supreme Court, and it offers the justices a unique opportunity to elucidate the proper way to resolve separation-of-power disputes between Congress and the executive.

Zivotofsky v. Kerry involves Menachem Zivotofsky, a 12-year-old Jerusalem-born American citizen. His parents want Israel identified as his birthplace on his passport. Section 214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, permits this choice, but the secretary of state refused to comply, listing Jerusalem alone as his place of birth. The secretary argues that the law violates established U.S. foreign policy and interferes with the president’s exclusive power to recognize foreign states and their territorial extent.

In the first round of this litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia concluded that this contest presented a political question that the courts could not answer. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, explaining that however “political” the circumstances, the question was a straightforward one of constitutional law suitable for judicial resolution.

The D.C. Circuit reheard the case last year and concluded that section 214(d) is unconstitutional because the president has the exclusive authority to determine the territorial boundaries of foreign states, their capitals and their governments—at least for purposes of U.S. diplomatic intercourse.

This authority is based in clear constitutional text that gives the president the power “to receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers.” Although the court found this language ambiguous (relying instead on historical practice and Supreme Court statements that the president alone has the power to recognize a foreign state as sovereign), the framers used this language precisely and to a purpose.

Read more »

The President vs. the Senate

Now the Supreme Court will weigh in on Obama’s power play to stock the National Labor Relations Board.

By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey

Later this month the Supreme Court will hear a case that should resolve how much latitude presidents have to make recess appointments to federal offices that otherwise require Senate confirmation. The boundary of this power has never been decided by the high court. Yet the entire scheme of the U.S. Constitution—which is based on a separation of powers, enforced through checks and balances to safeguard individual liberty—is at stake.

Noel Canning v. NLRB involves several recess appointments President Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 4, 2012. The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., correctly held that these appointments were unconstitutional both because they filled vacancies when the Senate was not in a true “recess” between Congress’s annual sessions, and because the vacancies had not actually opened up during the purported recess.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution states that “The president shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” The federal appellate court’s decision hewed closely to the text and original meaning of this so-called recess appointments clause. Yet the ruling stunned many constitutional lawyers. That’s because the original limitations on the president’s power to make these appointments had long since been effectively discarded.

Read more »

A Facebook Deal That Needs Unfriending

Time to end class-action settlements that only reward lawyers, not plaintiffs.
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey 

The Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear a case that could determine the future of particularly abusive class-action settlements. Not abusive in the usual sense, where a class of injured plaintiffs is awarded an exorbitant amount. Instead, these settlements are abusive in that absolutely nothing goes to the injured plaintiffs. At issue is whether federal courts may approve such agreements rewarding lawyers and defendants, leaving plaintiffs out in the cold.

The case is Marek v. Lane, and it arose out of Facebook’s notorious 2007 “Beacon” program. Beacon gathered and published information about Facebook users’ other Internet activities as an advertising and marketing tool, invading the privacy of millions. It may also have violated a number of state and federal laws, including the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which includes a liquidated-damages provision of $2,500 for each offense. A class-action suit was filed in 2008 on behalf of as many as 3.6 million injured social networkers.

Read more »

David Rivkin on the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act

Congressional law attorney David Rivkin spoke on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America,” about the court’s decision on voting rights. David compared the history of voting rights to the current societal environment. David clarifies the necessity of the previous laws and how they are no longer relevant, as they have succeeded.