Tag Archives: first amendment

Pro-pot activists to give away joints on Inauguration Day

Pro-pot activists are planning to give away 4,200 free joints during the inauguration, which is legal in the District of Columbia.

They’ve also pledged to light up during President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural address, which is not legal.

But Washington’s mayor says police won’t be looking to arrest people for smoking marijuana in public on Inauguration Day.

Speaking at a news conference, Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser said police and city leaders want to see people peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. Bowser says arrests for smoking pot “wouldn’t be our first priority.”

Possession of up to 2 ounces of pot for recreational use has been legal in the District since 2015. Growing pot at home and giving it away are also legal.

Buying, selling and smoking pot in public are illegal.


Judge weighing Utah law banning undercover farm filming

A federal judge is considering whether a Utah ban on hidden cameras at slaughterhouses that was passed amid a wave of similar measures around the country violates the right to freedom of speech.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby said he’s spent hours considering the issues raised by the case, including the balance between private property rights and the First Amendment.

Animal activists argue the law is an unconstitutional attempt to keep them from exposing inhumane or unsafe practices at factory farms. The state of Utah contends the First Amendment doesn’t allow people to enter private property under false pretenses and record however they want.

“I don’t think there’s a constitutional right to spy,” said Kyle Kaiser with the Utah Attorney General’s Office. The law makes farm facilities safer by barring unskilled undercover operatives, he said.

Shelby questioned both sides closely. He asked whether there’s any evidence of activities asking activists seriously disturbing safety at farm facilities, and Kaiser conceded there was none.

On the other side, the judge asked activists whether business competitors, for example, should be able to plant recording devices to steal trade secrets. Lawyer Matthew Liebman with the Animal Legal Defense Fund said corporate espionage wouldn’t pass legal muster and property owners do have the right to remove someone caught with a camera. But it’s different when the state gets involved, he said.

“What we’re trying to protect against is a government motive to silence speech,” Liebman said. The Utah law was part of national push to stop embarrassing videos from animal-rights groups, not agricultural safety, he said.

The hearing came after a judge in Idaho found a similar law violates the First Amendment _ a win for activists that they’re aiming to repeat in eight states with similar rules.

Idaho is appealing that ruling.

At least five people have been charged under the Utah law since it was passed in 2012, though those cases have since been dropped.

Four were animal activists from California who were cited outside a large Iron County hog farm in 2015. The charges were later dropped because the farm didn’t want to pursue them.

A woman who once faced a misdemeanor count after being accused of filming a front-end loader dumping a sick cow outside a slaughterhouse in 2013 is a plaintiff in the case challenging the law, along with Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Media groups have also joined the lawsuit, saying the law violates the First Amendment.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and other groups have lined up to support the state.

Cleveland sued over protest rules for Republican convention

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio has sued Cleveland on behalf of a homeless organization and two groups planning marches during next month’s Republican National Convention, alleging the city’s rules for protests violate free speech rights.

For example, the lawsuit says an event zone of 3.3-square miles is “absurd” and other city rules place a burden on anyone who lives and works in downtown Cleveland.

Some questions and answers about the lawsuit and its claims:


Q: Who are the plaintiffs?

A: The plaintiffs include an affiliation of groups lending truth to the adage that politics makes strange bedfellows. They include Citizens For Trump, which plans to celebrate the candidacy of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump; Organize! Ohio, which plans to protest economic and social inequality in the U.S.; and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group.


Q: What are their biggest complaints?

A: Citizens For Trump and Organize! Ohio submitted applications weeks ago seeking permits to hold their events and marches July 18, the first day of the four-day convention at Quicken Loans Arena. Representatives were told no permits would be approved until the U.S. Secret Service finalized its security plan two days before the start of the convention. When the city issued its permit regulations last month, the groups said the rules were too restrictive and would impede them from delivering their messages.


Q: What kind of restrictions did the city impose?

A: The regulations designate a 1.5-mile route for marches that crosses a long bridge spanning the Cuyahoga River and ends near a freeway exit a long distance from the arena. The city also restricted when marches could be held and required them to be completed within 50 minutes.


Q: Why is the homeless group suing the city?

A: The lawsuit claims most of Cleveland’s downtown homeless live in shelters and encampments within the event zone but not close to Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland’s regulations include a long list of items that people are not allowed to have within the zone, including rope, string, tape, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and coolers.


Q: What else is prohibited by Cleveland?

A: The list includes drones, gas masks, lasers, sledgehammers, containers of bodily fluids, bottles, cans, thermoses, ladders, grappling hooks, canned goods and tennis balls. Squirt guns and pellet guns are prohibited, but not actual firearms. Ohio is an open carry gun state, so protesters licensed to carry firearms are allowed to be in the event zone with a holstered gun.


Q: Why tennis balls?

A: Police are worried that protesters might try to spook horses by throwing tennis balls at them. The lawsuit points out there are tennis courts at Cleveland State University, which is in the event zone.


Q: What happens next?

A: The lawsuit will likely be fast-tracked in federal court given the short time frame before the start of the convention. The ACLU asked the judge to force the city to amend its regulations and issue the two groups permits to hold their previously planned events.


Q: What was Cleveland’s response?

A: The city declined to comment.


Scalia’s death increases odds for John Doe appeal

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia increases the chances the decision in John Doe 2 may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin high court’s decision halted the investigation into allegations that Scott Walker illegally coordinated with outside groups during the recall elections of 2011 and 2012. The court held that the First Amendment forbids the state from banning coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups, even though the U.S. Supreme Court never has reach any such ruling.

There are legal limits on donations to candidates, but contributions to groups that indirectly support specific candidates without naming them can raise unlimited sums of money from anonymous donors. That means in Wisconsin candidates have limitless dollars at their personal disposal — dollars that cannot be traced.

Campaign limits to candidates are intended to rein in the corrupting effect of money in politics. Allowing coordination between outside groups, more commonly known as “dark money” groups, and candidates defeats the purpose of limits on campaigns.

If the district attorneys fighting back against this John Doe decision were concerned that appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court might backfire, because a majority might uphold the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, they can put that fear to rest.

Scalia represented a problem for the district attorneys and for the liberal justices on the Court. The court now has a 4–4 split between conservative and liberal justices. The four liberal justices have consistently voted in favor of campaign finance regulations and they now essentially hold veto power.

In his concurring opinion in the Citizens United case of 2010, Scalia made a First Amendment argument that echoes that of the John Doe opponents. He wrote: “The individual person’s right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons. …The Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals.”

But Scalia’s argument here is only about corporations and associations having free speech rights. It’s not about candidates being allowed to coordinate with issue advocacy groups.

Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, which Scalia signed on to, made this distinction: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

It is precisely that definition the Wisconsin Supreme Court erased in its John Doe decision.

Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Warrant is warranted for cell data

Earlier in January, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wisconsin, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, filed a friend of the court brief with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago arguing that the Fourth Amendment requires law enforcement officials to get a warrant before they may obtain information about the location of a suspect’s cellphone from the suspect’s cellphone company.

Cellphone tracking reveals private and increasingly precise information about our locations and movements. Whenever your phone is turned on — even if you enable its location privacy settings — your cellular provider can determine with remarkable accuracy the location of your cellphone.

For many of us who carry our phones throughout the day, that also means that our cellphones can reveal where we are virtually all the time.

And if the government knows where you are, they often know who you are. Your location can reveal what types of political and religious activities you attend, which doctors you visit, who you spend time with, whether you go to bars or Alcoholics Anonymous, and much more.

And what your cellphone company can learn, police can find out too.

In a brief filed in United States v. Patrick, a case arising in Milwaukee, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that any time police seek to use cellphone location data, they should first obtain a warrant from a judge based on probable cause to believe the target is involved in a crime. 

The requirement that police obtain a warrant ensures that judges can prevent the police from undertaking unjustified fishing expeditions that can reveal intimate details about a person’s activities, associations and beliefs.

The brief also explains that it appears that Milwaukee Police used a cell site simulator, also known as a Stingray, to track a defendant’s phone, but has concealed it from the defense and the courts throughout the case.

A previously unpublicized list of 579 investigations in which the MPD used Stingrays appears to include this case. That list was released to a privacy activist in response to a public records request last fall.

Stingrays mimic cellphone tower antennas and force nearby phones to broadcast their unique serial numbers and other information.

The technology raises particularly troublesome concerns under the Fourth Amendment because it not only allows precise tracking of a suspect’s cellphone, but also collects information from bystanders’ phones, blocks those phones from making calls and identifies and locates phones even inside homes and other private spaces.

A probable cause warrant based issued by a fully informed judge should be required before police can use a Stingray.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, private organization whose 7,000 members support its efforts to defend the civil rights and liberties of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit the group’s Facebook page or follow the group on Twitter at @ACLUofWisconsin and @ACLUMadison.

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Idaho appeals ruling against state’s ‘ag-gag’ law

The state of Idaho is appealing a federal court’s decision to overturn the state’s “ag-gag” law.

The law makes it a crime to videotape agriculture operations. Idaho lawmakers passed the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of weak, dying cows being beaten and stomped on at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt their business.

The vicious brutality caught on video sparked a consumer backlash, as did the images of sickly, terrified cows covered with ulcers and feces being prodded with electrical rods into slaughter tunnels.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, shot in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy.

Similar conditions have been documented in other states, including Wisconsin. Republican “pro-business” legislators in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states have either passed or tried to pass legislation similar to Utah’s in order to protect companies from public exposure of the squalid, brutal conditions under which animals are kept in factory farms/

A federal court invalidated Utah’s law in August, holding that it violates the First Amendment.

The state appealed that ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The picture shown here is known as a “death pile.” After being crammed into spaces so small they can’t move and loaded with steroids, hormones and anibiotics to make them grow, factory farm animals end up in piles like this before their parts are butchered and sold in shiny cellophane-wrapped packages on supermarket shelves. Their short lives are lived amid conditions of unimaginable brutality and squalor.

ACLU again challenging Madison’s anti-panhandling ordinance

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin on Aug. 11 notified Madison officials that a recent appeals court case makes clear that the city’s anti-panhandling ordinance is unconstitutional.

Three years ago, Madison banned people from even peacefully soliciting donations in most of downtown.

“Back in 2012, we wrote to the city of Madison and told them that the ordinance appeared to be unconstitutional,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “And last week’s case from the federal court of appeals in Chicago — invalidating an almost identical law from Springfield, Illinois — shows we were right.”

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that by prohibiting people from asking for donations, the Springfield ordinance unconstitutionally discriminated based on the content of a speaker’s words, in violation of the First Amendment.

“Not only must Madison repeal its anti-panhandling ordinance, but it also needs to stop trying to criminalize homelessness,” Rotker said in a news release. “Instead, the city should move forward with positive steps to resolve the problem, such as establishing a day shelter and vigorously pursuing the Zero:2016 plan to end veterans homelessness this year and chronic homelessness by the end of 2016.”

Law banning secret filming of animal abuse ruled unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled that Idaho’s law banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities is unconstitutional, giving animal rights activists across the country hope that the decision will pave the way to overturn similar laws — known as “ag gag” laws — in other states.

U.S. Judge Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill found that the law violates the First Amendment.

“Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistleblower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored,” Winmill wrote in his 29-page ruling. “Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistleblowers from recording an agricultural facility’s operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.”

A coalition of animal activists, civil rights groups and media organizations sued the state more than a year ago, opposing the ag gag’ law. The coalition said the law curtailed freedom of speech and made gathering proof of animal abuse a crime with a harsher punishment than the penalty for animal cruelty.

According to the law, people caught surreptitiously filming agricultural operations face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. By comparison, a first animal cruelty offense in Idaho is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A second offense within 10 years of the first conviction carries a penalty of up to nine months in jail and a fine up to $7,000.

The ruling is the first in the country to deem an anti-dairy spying law unconstitutional, said Mathew Liebman of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, one of the lead attorneys on the Idaho case.

The only other similar lawsuit is in Utah, but more are likely to come after Monday’s decision, he said. Currently, eight other states have passed some sort of law against such surreptitious filming, even though many more have been introduced in state legislatures.

Wisconsin Republicans have said they plan to introduce an ag gag law here, but have yet to do so. The proposal has met with heavy backlash from the public.

“This decision vindicates the public’s rights to know how animals are treated before they become meat,” Liebman said.

Idaho lawmakers approved the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of cows being abused at a southern Idaho dairy filmed in 2012 unfairly hurt their business.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, which showed workers at Bettencourt Dairy beating, stomping and otherwise abusing cows in 2012.

“Idaho’s lawmakers should be ashamed of wasting precious time and valuable resources enacting unconstitutional laws that threaten animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment,” Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy For Animals, the animal rights group that released the 2012 footage, said in a statement.

Many lawmakers argued the law was needed to protect private property owners’ rights. However, Winmill countered that there are already state and federal laws on the books that protect private property against theft, fraud and trespass.

State Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, who first introduced the legislation, argued back in 2014 that “This is the way you combat your enemies.” During a legislative hearing, he compared undercover investigators to terrorists and called them “marauding” invaders who use ruthless tactics to submit their foes into submission.

Patrick told The Associated Press on Monday that he was disappointed in the ruling and was still considering options on how to best move forward.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office declined comment. Spokesman Todd Dvorak said the office was reviewing the ruling.

Judge dismisses suit over Oklahoma Ten Commandments monument

A federal judge earlier this week dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma Capitol.

The lawsuit filed by a New Jersey-based nonprofit group, American Atheists Inc., and two of its members in January 2014 alleged the monument violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government sanctioning of a specific religion, as well as other constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron ruled that the group lacked legal standing to file the lawsuit.

An attorney for the group, Eric O. Husby of Tampa, Florida, said he disagrees with the ruling but that no decision has been made to appeal.

Cauthron’s decision was hailed by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose office defended the monument.

“The historical relevance of the Ten Commandments and the role it played in the founding of our nation cannot be disputed,” Pruitt said in a statement.

It’s the second time that Pruitt’s office has successfully defended the monument against constitutional challenges. In September, Oklahoma County District Judge Thomas Prince ruled that the monument does not violate the state constitution and can remain. The ruling has been appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The original 6-foot-tall granite monument was erected in 2012 after a bill authorizing it was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. That monument was destroyed in October when a car drove across the Capitol lawn and crashed into it. A replica was installed in January.

Since the monument’s placement on the Capitol grounds, other groups have asked to erect their own monuments, including a satanic group, a Hindu leader in Nevada, an animal rights group and the satirical Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Kochs refuse Democrats’ request for funding info on climate change research

The industrial conglomerate run by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch is refusing to provide Democratic lawmakers with information on whether it has paid for climate change research.

Last month, three Democratic senators sent 100 letters to an assortment of fossil-fuel companies and organizations seeking information on whether they have backed research into global warming and other environmental topics.

Koch Industries Inc., which includes refining, chemical and pipeline companies, was among the recipients.

But in a March 5 letter obtained by The Associated Press, Mark V. Holden, Koch’s senior vice president and general counsel, wrote that such information treads on First Amendment rights.

“To the extent that your letter touches on matters that implicate the First Amendment, I am sure you recognize Koch’s right to participate in the debate of important public policy issues and its right of free association,” Holden writes.

The brothers have donated heavily to conservative causes and candidates while criticizing the Obama administration’s efforts to combat global warming.

In January, the political machine backed by the brothers told allies that spending across its conservative network would approach $1 billion ahead of 2016’s elections.

That sum from Freedom Partners would dwarf expected spending from official GOP committees and many of the hopefuls expected to seek the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said in a statement emailed on March 10 to the AP that “companies that are supporting legitimate, scientific inquiry should have no concerns about responding.”

The investigation by Markey and Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island was triggered by documents obtained and released by Greenpeace that revealed Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, received $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade without disclosing any conflict of interest in his scientific papers. Soon attributes global warming to variations in the sun’s energy rather than burning of fossil fuels, which the majority of scientists say is the cause.

In a statement issued by the Heartland Institute, Soon said he would be happy to comply with any disclosures at scientific journals and called the effort a shameless attempt to silence his scientific research.