The Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Night: SCOTUS’s “NIFLA v. Becerra” and the Future of Commercial Speech

supreme court

The U.S. Supreme Court last week issued its long-awaited opinion in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that a California law requiring licensed pro-life counselling clinics to direct their clients to abortion providers  likely violated the clinics’ free speech rights under the First Amendment. Like the famous dog that didn’t bark in the night,[*] however, Justice Thomas’s majority opinion in NIFLA is far more revealing for what it doesn’t say than for what it does say. Continue reading “The Dog That Didn’t Bark in the Night: SCOTUS’s “NIFLA v. Becerra” and the Future of Commercial Speech”

Court Ruling Casts Constitutional Doubt on State and City Salary-Inquiry Bans

FirstAmendmentBy Marc Dib, a 2018 Judge K.K. Legett Fellow at Washington Legal Foundation who will be entering his third year at Texas Tech University School of Law in the fall.

What did you make at your last job? If you have ever had a job interview, then you’ve likely encountered that question. Employers use this common interview question to gauge an applicant’s quality and to determine a fair salary.  A growing number of state and local governments, however, have forbidden employers from asking prospective employees about their past earnings in the name of wage equality.

The basic premise of their argument is that allowing employers to determine job offers based on prior salaries that are historically lower for women and minorities will perpetuate the wage inequity problem. Based on this unsupported assertion, state and local governments have begun passing legislation that bars employer inquiries about past wages. These laws, however, are constitutionally suspect. Continue reading “Court Ruling Casts Constitutional Doubt on State and City Salary-Inquiry Bans”

Hailing the First Amendment: NYC Taxi Authority’s Ad Ban Struck Down as Unconstitutional

NYCTLCTaxicab, livery, black car, and limousine companies in the Big Apple may own the vehicles their employees drive, but they know full well who really controls them: the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Passenger transportation is one of the city’s most heavily regulated businesses, but as a federal district court judge recently reminded TLC, those small business still have constitutional rights. Continue reading “Hailing the First Amendment: NYC Taxi Authority’s Ad Ban Struck Down as Unconstitutional”

Update: Court Imposes Injunction on Proposition 65 Listing of Glyphosate

On November 27, 2017, a WLF Legal Pulse post by WLF Senior Litigation Counsel Cory Andrews discussed a lawsuit filed by makers and users of pesticides that include the chemical glyphosate against the California agency that administers Proposition 65. That law requires warnings on products that contain substances “known to the state of California” to cause cancer. On February 26, Eastern District of California Judge William B. Shubb imposed a preliminary injunction preventing the state from listing glyphosate as a carcinogen under Prop 65. The court held that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the First Amendment arguments in their suit. National Ass’n of Wheat Growers, et al. v. Zeise.

Under Prop 65, a substance must be listed if it is identified as a potential carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an international non-governmental entity. In 2015, IARC made that determination for glyphosate, triggering the automatic Prop 65 listing. IARC’s classification of glyphosate is contrary to the conclusions of many environmental regulators around the world, including the US EPA. Last November, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reinforced those regulators’ conclusions that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a cancer hazard to humans.

To pass muster under the First Amendment, a commercial-speech mandate must require language that is “purely factual and uncontroversial.” The language must thus be factually accurate, and even if literally true, cannot be misleading. Judge Shubb found that the warning required for glyphosate is not factual or uncontroversial because it “conveys the message that glyphosate’s carcinogenicity is an undisputed fact, when almost all other regulators have concluded that there is insufficient evidence that glysophate causes cancer.”

Another California Intrusion on Businesses’ Free Speech Fails in Court

FirstAmendmentFor a state with cities like Berkeley, which birthed the Free Speech Movement 54 years ago, California’s record on respecting the First Amendment is surprisingly spotty. That is especially true for the expressive activities of businesses. The state, as well as its municipalities, often curtail businesses’ speech, or compel them to speak, as a way to demonstrate government is “doing something” to solve complex social or public-health problems.

Occasionally, but not nearly often enough, courts reintroduce California’s censors to the First Amendment, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did last year in striking down San Francisco’s warning-label mandate for “sugary” drinks. On February 20, a Northern District of California judge handed the state its latest speech-regulation defeat, striking down a law designed to limit information that entertainment database company IMDb.com could publish (IMDb.com Inc. v. Becerra). Continue reading “Another California Intrusion on Businesses’ Free Speech Fails in Court”

New Slate of Commissioners Should Elevate FTC’s Consideration of the First Amendment

FTC_Man_Controlling_TradeThe U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow, February 14, 2018, on the nominations of a new Chairman and three new Commissioners to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In recent years, FTC has become the primary national regulator of consumer data privacy and security, a responsibility that accords the Commission a staggering amount of influence over an American economy increasingly fueled by information.

When utilizing that authority over how businesses treat consumer data, the Commission has accorded little or no regard to the First Amendment. Data is speech, a reality that the incoming Chairman and Commissioners must incorporate into consumer-protection enforcement under § 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Continue reading “New Slate of Commissioners Should Elevate FTC’s Consideration of the First Amendment”

Update: Ninth Circuit Issues First Amendment Ruling on Credit-Card Surcharge Law

9thCirA post last month, Second Circuit Improperly Ducks Important First Amendment Issues, criticized the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision to certify a question to New York’s highest court in a challenge to a state law restricting merchants’ ability to inform their customers of credit-card surcharges. WLF Chief Counsel Richard Samp argued that the court possesses all the information it needs to decide Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman. WLF filed an amicus brief in support of the petitioner in that case.

On January 3, the Ninth Circuit decided the same issue the Second Circuit had ducked involving an analogous law. The court found that a California law that prohibited merchants from imposing a surcharge to cover credit-card fees, but allowed them to provide discounts to cash customers, violated the First Amendment rights of five California businesses. Italian Colors Rest. v. Becerra. Continue reading “Update: Ninth Circuit Issues First Amendment Ruling on Credit-Card Surcharge Law”