First Amendment

The Supreme Court keeps on accepting First Amendment cases—perhaps because among the current Court there is much agreement on the First Amendment, so being down a Justice doesn’t matter. This does not bode well for state and local governments, like North Carolina in this case. For better or worse, this case like Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman, accepted in September, gives the Supreme Court a chance to refine its holding in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona (2015).  

The issue in Packingham v. North Carolina is whether a North Carolina law prohibiting registered sex offenders from accessing commercial social networking websites where the registered sex offender knows minors can create or maintain a profile, violates the First Amendment.

The issue in Lee v. Tam is whether Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which bars the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, violates the First Amendment.

Simon Shiao Tam named his band The Slants to “reclaim” and “take ownership” of Asian stereotypes. The PTO refused to register the band name finding it likely disparaging to persons of Asian descent. Tam sued the PTO arguing that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violates the First Amendment Free Speech Clause.  

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey the Supreme Court held 6-2 that a public employer violates the First Amendment when it acts on a mistaken belief that an employee engaged in First Amendment protected political activity. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief taking the opposite position.  

The Court assumed the following facts in this case:  Police officer Jeffery Heffernan worked in the office of the police chief. The mayor was running for reelection against a friend of Heffernan’s, Lawrence Spagnola. Heffernan was demoted after another member of the police force saw Heffernan picking up a Spagnola yard sign and talking to the Spagnola campaign manager and staff. Heffernan was picking up the sign for his bedridden mother.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could have turned public sector labor law upside down. In an unsurprising move the Supreme Court issued a non-precedential 4-4 opinion affirming the lower court’s decision by an equally divided Court. This opinion continues the status quo. Had Justice Scalia not died in February this case almost certainly would have had a different outcome.  

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court was contemplating overruling 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.

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.

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