Friday, November 17, 2017

Disaggregating Free Speech on Campus

by Michael Dorf

On Monday Nov 20, UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky will be giving two talks at Cornell on the topic "Free Speech on Campus," which happens to be the title of his new book with Howard Gillman. I'll introduce Dean Chemerinsky at the law school event and, following his talk, moderate a discussion. I expect to have something to say by way of post-mortem on Tuesday. In this essay, I want to make a preliminary observation about Dean Chemerinsky's topic and then offer some illustrations.

My basic claim is that some free speech issues might be resolved differently in a college or university (what I'll call "campus") setting from how they might be resolved in general (what I'll call non-campus settings), but that the difference the campus setting makes depends on the question. In some contexts, the fact that speech claims are made on campus should make them stronger relative to competing claims; in other contexts, the fact that speech claims are made on campus should make them relatively weaker; and in still other contexts, the campus setting should make no difference.

That might not seem like much of an insight, but I think it is nonetheless worth highlighting, because there is a tendency in public debate about campus speech for conservatives to accuse liberal academics of hypocrisy--of wanting to deny conservatives freedom of speech (by campus speech codes, say) in the one setting where it should be sacrosanct (via academic freedom). There may indeed be hypocrisy afoot (by liberals, conservatives, and/or others), but the fact that some speech claims are weaker in virtue of occurring in the campus context is not necessarily evidence for that fact. The difference that the campus context makes is multivalent.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What Would a Frustrated Republican Say On the Way Out?

by Neil H. Buchanan

A surprisingly large number of Republicans have announced their departures from Congress this year.  Including those who are retiring, resigning, and running for other offices, there are currently 25 members of the House who are either already gone or will not be back in January 2019.  Most are not well known.  More prominently, Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are also quitting in disgust.

This is more than a bit unusual, because it is usually the minority party that suffers big losses of experienced people.  Why stick around, especially in the majority-is-everything House, when you are in the minority and when there are no White House perks or photo ops to make your job exciting?

But Republicans are leaving in droves.  I will leave it to others to ponder what this means about the majority party's leadership and Donald Trump.  My question today focuses on what the Republican leavers will say and do as they walk out the door.  Will they unload a political version of "take this job and shove it," revealing their true thoughts about the policies that they were expected to support?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Free Speech and Equal Protection Exclusionary Rule

by Michael Dorf

My latest Verdict column asks whether the Justice Department is violating the First Amendment by conditioning its approval of AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner on divestiture of either DirecTV or Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN. I conclude that there is probably enough prima facie evidence that the decision is in retaliation for CNN's "fake" (i.e., appropriately negative) coverage of Trump to justify discovery regarding subjective motivation should the issue end up in court.

En route to that conclusion, I compare and contrast the legal approach that prevails in free speech and equal protection pretext cases, on one hand, with the legal approach that prevails in Fourth Amendment pretext cases. Here I want to explore a point that seems to be insufficiently appreciated: the existence and strength of what I'll call the "Free Speech and Equal Protection exclusionary rule."

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What If We Were Only Trying to Improve the Tax Code?

by Neil H. Buchanan

Imagine a world, not at all like our own, in which the Republican majorities in Congress had decided to update the tax code in a way that truly deserved to be called "reform."

Rather than proceeding from the firm commitment that they must cut taxes on large corporations and the superrich (especially the "lazy rich"), Republicans instead could have approached the tax code realistically and productively, noting that it must necessarily be complicated -- because life is complicated, and people want the tax code to take into account life's realities -- but doing everything that they can to repeal or change tax provisions that simply do not make sense.

Again, that is most definitely not what Republicans are actually doing.  They have proposed a melange of unrelated changes to the tax code that will hit various groups of taxpayers, but this is only happening because Republicans imposed restrictions on themselves that required them to offset some of the huge revenue losses that their dearly desired regressive tax cuts will create.

Even so, there is an interesting -- if entirely coincidental -- possible overlap between what Republicans have proposed and what responsible legislators might have proposed.  It is thus useful to think about a few Republican proposals from the standpoint of whether they are defensible ideas on their own merits, ignoring the undeniable fact that these changes are up for debate only because Republicans are hellbent on delivering huge windfalls to their mega-patrons.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Should Media Companies Remove Old Content Featuring or Made by Sex Offenders and Other Wrongdoers?

by Michael Dorf

In light of the revelations and accusations that Kevin Spacey sexually harassed and/or assaulted various men and boys over the years, Netflix has suspended production of the upcoming season of House of Cards, in which Spacey has hitherto starred. Reportedly, the show's writers are attempting to write Spacey's character, Francis Underwood, out of the show. In the meantime, Netflix subscribers can still watch the existing five seasons.

That is more than can be said for fans of comedian Louis CK, who admitted late last week that he had pressured women to view him naked. Women have alleged that CK masturbated in front of them; CK's apology admits that he "showed them" his penis but does not specifically mention masturbating. In any event, the incompleteness of CK's apology does not seem to be at issue, because HBO acted before CK published it. Within a day of the initial revelations, HBO canceled upcoming projects with CK and also pulled CK's existing shows from its streaming services. Although I have not seen a similar announcement from the FX Network, which produced CK's popular series Louie, FX seems to have followed suit. On Sunday night, my search for "Louie" on the FX website produced no results.

What should one make of the decision of Netflix to leave older Spacey content accessible versus the decision of HBO and, apparently, FX, to remove older CK content? Obviously, this is not a constitutional question, as the respective networks are private actors to which the First Amendment does not apply. It might be a contractual question, depending on the terms of the networks' contracts with Spacey, CK, and the very large number of other people and firms involved in the various shows. Many contracts have catch-all "morals clauses," but they vary. For example, until recently, Bill O'Reilly's contract with FoxNews forbade the latter from firing him over sexual harassment allegations unless they were proven in court. Networks confronting alleged and/or admitted sexual misconduct by actors, directors, producers, and others responsible for the content they provide will have to untangle their various contractual obligations.

In the end, each network will make a business decision based on its assessment of the costs (boycotts, etc) and benefits (loyal fans, new viewers attracted by the controversy) of each case. Those are difficult to tally up in the abstract. Accordingly, network executives at Netflix, HBO, Amazon, and the many other companies that now deliver content to a world of media-hungry viewers might want to consider a normative question: What is the right course of action?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Scalia Speaks Well: But Not About Originalism

By Eric Segall

Justice Antonin Scalia lived a large life. There is no denying his remarkable ability to give speeches that dazzled those in attendance. His son Christopher Scalia and Ed Whelan have collected and published many of these speeches in their new book "Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well-Lived." These talks, given around the world, provide the reader a wonderful account of Scalia the person, the philosopher, and the judge. On just about every topic, small and large, with one major exception, Scalia entertains, informs and energizes. My perspective is the same as other reviewers on this point so I will not elaborate further on the positive aspects of most of these fine speeches.

If the reader is looking for a strong justification for originalism in these speeches, however, she will be disappointed. The speeches on that topic, sadly, are cliche ridden, assume facts not in evidence, and most importantly, do not address the major issue many legal scholars had with Scalia's strong originalist stance--that he did not adopt that stance himself. Scalia's hypocrisy on the subject, the disconnect between what he practiced as a judge and what he preached off the Court and in dissent, is as large as the life the man lived.

I understand that this collection of speeches was not intended to present a full throttle defense of Scalia's views on either constitutional interpretation or originalism. Nevertheless, the editors did a wonderful job selecting those speeches that comprehensively, or at least accurately, cover Scalia's views on the topic. Moreover, although the speeches on such diverse topics as "Being Different" and 'The Arts" are wonderful, Scalia after all will be remembered most for his dogmatic views on judging and proper constitutional analysis. This post, therefore, focuses on how the collected speeches handle those topics.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Stupid Tax Tricks

by Neil H. Buchanan

As I write this column, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are doing their part to make sure that the debate about taxes becomes even more absurd and incomprehensible.  Not that that's a bad thing.  This whole process is a sham, and we would be much better off if they did nothing at all.

And it might well come to that.  I continue to believe, however, that Republicans will flail about for several months but then cobble together something at the last possible moment before some self-imposed deadline.  Whatever they ultimately pass, they will call it "reform" and Donald Trump will call it "tremendous.

Whatever emerges in the end will almost certainly be nearly unrecognizable compared to where they started.  In the meantime, I find it unfortunately necessary to pay attention to the process, because Republicans will stagger along and make some ad hoc and often accidental decisions that will somehow become accepted wisdom.  Path dependence matters.

To be honest, however, for people who follow politics or tax policy (or both), all of this is as close to mental masturbation as it could ever be without misusing the word "literally."  Hence the following disclaimer: This column will probably end up being as relevant to future tax analysis as the House Republicans' failed March 2017 health care bill is to doctors and hospitals today.  You have been warned.