First Amendment

It was a typical oral argument at the Supreme Court in a “big” case. Protesters outside with opposing messages tried to out yell each other, but everyone inside was listening to Justice Kennedy.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 States have enacted statutes authorizing fair share.

If the Court doesn’t overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) it may instead rule that public employees may be allowed to opt-in rather than required to opt-out of paying “nonchargeable” political union expenditures.

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief argues that a government employer’s perception that an employee has exercised his or her First Amendment rights cannot be the basis for a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit. 

Officer Heffernan was assigned to a detail in the Office of Chief of Police. He was reassigned after he was seen picking up a campaign sign for the current police chief’s opponent.

The First Amendment protects non-policymaking public employees who support a candidate in an election. Officer Heffernan maintains that he was in no way involved with the police chief race. The sign wasn’t for himself; it was for his bedridden mother.

In Shapiro v. McManus the Supreme Court held unanimously that a three-judge court must be convened to decide a constitutional challenge to a redistricting plan even if the judge to which the request was made doesn’t think the challenger will win.  

Stephen Shapiro, dissatisfied with Maryland’s “crazy-quilt gerrymandering,” sued Maryland arguing its congressional redistricting plan violated his First Amendment right of political association. While a plurality of the Supreme Court stated in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) that political gerrymandering cases cannot be brought under the Equal Protection Clause, Justice Kennedy, concurring in the same case, suggested such claims may be possible under the 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.

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