Michael Volkov, CEO and owner, Volkov Law Group LLC*
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of six guest commentary posts that will address the six distinct topic areas covered in Washington Legal Foundation’s recently released Timeline: Federal Erosion of Business Civil Liberties. To read the other posts in this series, click here.
Over the last thirty years, the U. S. Department of Justice has dramatically expanded criminal prosecutions of corporations and individuals, relying on a steady litany of so-called criminal-prosecution policies. Underlying each of these policies are two significant purposes: (1) to replace prior civil and regulatory enforcement with “new” criminal prosecution tools and (2) to provide criminal prosecutors with ever-increasing leverage over companies and individuals to extract criminal fines and pleas. Continue reading
Berkeley once marched for free speech
No one seriously disputes that the government is entitled to adopt broadly applicable laws that require a product seller to disclose truthful information about its product so that consumers can know what they are buying. But governments with increasing frequency have been requiring sellers to convey information that cannot plausibly be deemed the sort of truthful, noncontroversial information that consumers expect to see on product labeling.
Unfortunately, recent decisions suggest that at least some courts are unwilling to protect the First Amendment right of product sellers not to be forced to communicate controversial government messages that they do not wish to convey. Such rulings undermine constitutional protections against compelled government speech that the Supreme Court has consistently recognized for the past 75 years. Continue reading
By Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Arielle Roth, The Hudson Institute*
In a victory for pseudo-science and a loss for the First Amendment, federal judge Edward Chen recently upheld a regulation by the City of Berkeley compelling retailers to warn customers about the supposed risks of wireless radiation. CTIA-The Wireless Ass’n v. The City of Berkeley.
The ordinance requires that cell phone retailers inform customers of the following:
To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines.
The statement misleadingly suggests that the federal government has singled out cell phones for safety concerns. This is not the case. The FCC’s guidelines on RF exposure (including these in 2013 and these in 2003) apply to a wide range of devices, not just cell phones. Nor has it been shown that in the absence of FCC regulations, cell phones would be unsafe. The FCC, which takes safety very seriously, has never concluded anything of the sort. Continue reading
In past posts, we’ve characterized California as the “too much information” state. Under the everything-gives-you-cancer Proposition 65 law, even parking lots and coffee houses must post warning signs. San Francisco tried, and failed, to impose health warning signs at cellphone dealers. Undaunted, Berkeley passed its own cellphone warning ordinance this year, which faces a First Amendment challenge. And in the compelled speech spirit of those laws, Oakland has adopted an ordinance requiring builders to devote a certain square footage of new buildings to “public” art.
So it’s not surprising that San Francisco recently became the first city in America to require warnings on billboards and other media that promote “sweetened” beverages. Not content to simply compel speech, the Board of Supervisors also passed a sweeping ban on beverage advertising in certain city locales. The ordinances are so blatantly disrespectful of advertisers’ and consumers’ First Amendment rights, it’s not a question of whether a court will strike them down, but on which grounds it will do so. Continue reading
Washington Legal Foundation Chief Counsel for Legal Studies Glenn Lammi published a guest commentary on May 4 on the blog of the San Francisco law firm Hinman & Carmichael, Booze Rules. The post, Appellate Court Ruling Strikes Blow Against State’s Arbitrary Beer Label Ban, discusses the implications of a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruling, Flying Dog Brewing v. Michigan Liquor Control Commission. The court allowed a lawsuit against the Control Commission’s members individually to go forward. Flying Dog is alleging that the commissioners violated its First Amendment rights by arbitrarily rejecting approval to the label of one of the brewery’s products.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a 400-page “discussion draft” of its proposed “21st Century Cures Act” late last month. The bill includes a broad range of reforms governing the regulation of drugs and medical devices, most of which have been warmly received by broad segments of those industries. The bill is particularly welcome to supporters of commercial speech rights; it includes several provisions designed to ensure that government regulators do not prevent manufacturers from speaking truthfully about their medical products.
One particular area of concern has been Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions on manufacturer use of social media. Subtitle I of Title I of the bill would overturn those restrictions. One characteristic of social media is that it places a premium on brevity. For example, Twitter limits messages to 140 characters or less. In a Draft Guidance issued on June 18, 2014, FDA concluded that drug/device manufacturers should rarely, if ever, attempt to use social media platforms with character space limitations because those limitations deprives manufacturers of sufficient space to include all the risk and benefit information that the agency asserts is a necessary part of any such communications. It is not sufficient, FDA concluded, for a Twitter message to include the name of the drug and its intended uses, and then provide a hyperlink where detailed risk and benefit information is available. But as Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) pointed out in comments urging withdrawal of the Draft Guidance, a de facto prohibition on use of social media platforms raises serious First Amendment concerns. The First Amendment does not allow the government to prohibit an entire method of communication simply because other methods of communications are available to the speaker, at least not where the government’s goals can be achieved through more narrowly tailored means. Continue reading
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last Friday largely upheld the Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) ruling that POM Wonderful, Inc. violated the Federal Trade Commission Act by making unwarranted disease-prevention claims for its pomegranate juice products. But the ruling is far from the sweeping endorsement of FTC advertising-control measures that the Commission might have been hoping for. In particular, the ruling provides little, if any, support for the FTC’s recent assertions that food and dietary supplement manufacturers are largely barred from including health-related claims on product labels unless their claims are supported by randomized and controlled human clinical trials (“RCTs”). To the contrary, the appeals court made clear medical studies that do not meet RCT standards may nonetheless have considerable value, and that the FTC’s regulation of advertising is subject to strict First Amendment limitations. The decision suggests that courts may be very reluctant to uphold the FTC’s application of RCT standards to claims that a product promotes general health and nutrition, as distinct from claims that a product is effective in preventing or curing specific diseases.
POM’s ads were an easy target for the FTC. The ads touted POM’s products as effective in preventing a variety of diseases/conditions, including cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction (“ED”). Yet they failed to mention numerous shortcomings in the medical studies on which the disease-prevention claims were based—including that the studies’ findings were directly contradicted by other, larger clinical studies. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit held that it would have concluded that the ads were deceptive even had it chosen to apply a de novo standard of review to the FTC’s findings. (Because the case was on appeal from an FTC administrative proceeding, the D.C. Circuit reviewed those findings under a far more deferential “substantial evidence” standard.) Continue reading