US Freedom of Expression and Media Law Roundup 15 July 2010

16 07 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved a Bill intended to stop federal courts from recognising or enforcing foreign judgments in defamation cases it assesses as being inconsistent with the First Amendment.  The “SPEECH” Act – Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act – now has to be approved by the full Senate, before moving on to the House of Representatives.  There is a report of this decision of the Committee in the Guardian and on the First Amendment Center website.   The bill appears to be largely symbolic in its effect as the Federal Courts already refuse to enforce such awards as a matter of public policy.

In Fox Television, Inc. v. FCC, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit court has struck down a Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) policy that prohibited the broadcasting of profanity, ruling that the ban is unconstitutional. It meant that broadcasters could be fined if indecent words went on air.  But the court said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy had a “chilling effect” on broadcasters. It was wrong to ban all “patently offensive” references to sex, sexual organs and excretion without a clear definition of what is considered offensive.  There is a post about this case on the Volokh Conspiracy blog and one on the Village Voice blog.

In the case of Arce v Wackenhut (No. 3D08-3029) the Florida Third District Court of Appeal dismissed the defamation claims of a man who failed to get a job with the FBI based on information his former employer providing during the agency’s background check.  The plaintiff had been employed by the defendant as investigator for 5 months.  Some time later he got a conditional job offer as an investigative specialist with the FBI. However, after the FBI conducted a background check, it rescinded its job offer.  The Court held  that the transcript of an interview between an FBI employee and Yanir Hill, Wackenhut’s human resources manager, was inadmissible hearsay:

“Absent a witness, Arce’s case is lost. As an agent of the sovereign, the FBI has every right to behave in such a way as to deliver this result. However, it strikes us that this action is uncharacteristic of the ‘Government of the People, by the People, and for the People,’ famously envisioned by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address over 140 years ago”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case of Weise v. Casper.  The plaintiffs are Leslie Weise and Alex Young, who were ejected from a public event in Denver at which then-President Bush was speaking, after White House event staff spotted a “No More Blood for Oil” bumper sticker on their car.  A claim was brought on the basis that this was a violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. The case was dismissed by the district court and that decision was upheld by an appeals court. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will take the case, and decide once and for all that political speech is protected by the First Amendment.   The case is discussed on the ACLU blog.

In the case of Salzano v. North Jersey Media Group, Inc. the Supreme Court of New Jersey has overturned an intermediate appellate decision that had refused to apply the “fair report” privilege to accounts of initial pleadings filed in civil lawsuits.  The case is discussed on the News Room Law blog.

The Unruly of Law blog reports on the case of John Stagliano, the defendant in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia first adult porn obscenity trial for more than two decades.  Stagliano was indicted in federal court in April 2008, on seven counts of distributing obscene, sexually graphic videos.  Judge Leon has refused to dismiss the indictment, finding that the federal obscenity laws were not unconstitutionally vague as applied to Internet speech.  The Blog of Legal Times draws attention to the fact that judge required everyone under 18 to leave the courtroom and conducted the jury selection behind closed doors.


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