First Amendment

Following Thompson v. Hebdon states with low individual-to-candidate or individual-to-group campaign contribution limits may want to review their constitutionality.

In a per curiam (unauthored) opinion the Supreme Court instructed the Ninth Circuit to decide again whether Alaska law, which limits the amount an individual can contribute to a candidate for political office or to an election-oriented group other than a political party...

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue raises an issue the Supreme Court has long wrestled with:  if a state-aid program violates a state constitutional prohibition against mixing church and state because religious institutions may participate, does discontinuing that program violate the federal constitution’s Free Exercise or Equal Protection Clauses.

Montana statutes allow taxpayers to receive tax credits for contribution to Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO) that give students scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools. The Montana Department of Revenue adopted Rule 1 disallowing religious schools to participate in the program because it concluded their participation would violate Montana’s constitution. Parents of students attending religiously-affiliated private schools challenged Rule 1.

The Bladensburg Peace Cross may stay the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in American Legion v. American Humanist Association.  According to Justice Alito, writing for the majority of the Court: “It has become a prominent community landmark, and its removal or radical alteration at this date would be seen by many not as a neutral act but as the manifestation of ‘a hostility toward religion that has no place in our Establishment Clause traditions.’” The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case supporting the local government.

In late 1918, residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, decided to erect a memorial to honor soldiers from the county who died in World War I. The monument, completed in 1925, is a 32-foot tall Latin cross that sits on a large pedestal. Among other things, it contains a plaque listing the names of 49 local men who died in the war. Over the years, memorials honoring the veterans of other conflicts have been added to the surrounding area. In 1961, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission acquired the Cross and the land it is on in order to preserve it and address traffic-safety concerns.

May a private entity running a public access channel ban speakers based on the content of their speech—something a government entity running the same channels could not do? Yes, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 opinion in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck. Why? Because the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private entities in this instance.

The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 authorizes states and local governments to require cable operators to set aside channels on their cable systems for public access. Under New York law the cable operator operates the public access channels unless the local government chooses to do so or designates a private entity to do so.

New York City designated a private nonprofit, Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), to operate the public access channels in Manhattan. MNN suspended two producers from its facilities and services after MNN ran a film they produced about MNN’s alleged neglect of the East Harlem community. The producers claimed MNN violated their First Amendment free speech rights when it “restricted their access to the public access channels because of the content of their film.”

It has been three cases and nearly a decade in the making but the Supreme Court has finally ruled in Nieves v. Bartlett that the existence of probable cause defeats a First Amendment retaliatory arrest case…with one, small caveat. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in favor of the broader ruling in this case.

While police officer Luis Nieves and Russell Bartlett have different versions of what happened at Artic Man, a weeklong winter sports festival in Alaska, even the Ninth Circuit agreed that Sergeant Nieves had probable cause to arrest Bartlett. Sergeant Nieves knew Bartlett had been drinking and talking loudly when he saw Bartlett stand close to another officer and the officer push Bartlett away. But Bartlett claimed Sergeant Nieves really arrested him in violation of his First Amendment free speech rights because he had refused to speak to Sergeant Nieves previously, which Bartlett reminded Sergeant Nieves of when he was being arrested.

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