First Amendment

In Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans the Supreme Court held 5-4 that Texas may deny a proposed specialty license plate design featuring the Confederate flag because specialty license plate designs are government speech. Walker is of particular significance to state and local government because the Court did not narrow the 2009 landmark government speech case Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum.   

The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) proposed a specialty license plate which featured a faint Confederate flag in the background and the organization’s logo, a square Confederate flag. After receiving public comment on the proposed plate the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board unanimously voted against issuing it noting that many members of the general public found the design offensive. SCV sued Texas claiming that specialty plates are private speech and that the Board engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by refusing to approve its design.

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert the Supreme Court held unanimously that Gilbert’s Sign Code, which treats various categories of signs differently based on the information they convey, violates the First Amendment. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case arguing that Reed’s argument, if adopted by the Court, will render sign codes unconstitutional nationwide.

Gilbert’s Sign Code treats temporary directional signs less favorably (in terms of size, location, duration, etc.) than political signs and ideological signs.

Content-based laws are only constitutional if they pass strict scrutiny—that is, if they are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.

In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar the Supreme Court held 5-4 that a Florida statute prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions does not violate the First Amendment. Thirty of the 39 states that elect (rather than appoint) trial or appellate judges prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. 

Supreme Court Justices aren’t usually in the advice-giving business.  But the Chief Justice made an exception in a recent case involving regulating speech outside abortion clinics.  Interestingly, his advice is aimed directly at state legislatures.  And it is simple.  Buffer zone:  no.  State statutes criminalizing injury, intimidation, interference, harassment, and obstruction at clinics: yes.

The Supreme Court held unanimously that the First Amendment protects a public employee who provides truthful sworn testimony, compelled by a subpoena, outside the course of his or her ordinary responsibilities

But what about the much more likely scenario:  An employee provides truthful sworn testimony, compelled by a subpoena, which is part of an employee’s ordinary responsibilities?  The Court explicitly says it doesn’t say.

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