California Republicans Try to Undo Campus Free Speech Restrictions

Free Speech ProtestCalifornia’s increased crackdown on free speech on several of its college campuses has pushed several Republicans, and even some Democrats, to push back.

Bill Nielsen, a 72-year-old Republican cattle farmer, and Nicolas Tomas, a 26-year-old vegan Democrat, have joined forces. According to the Los Angeles Times, Nielsen has proposed a bill that would “reaffirm that outdoor spaces on campus are public forums. Institutions would only be able to impose reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech, such as barring demonstrations with bullhorns in front of the library during finals week.” The Times adds, “School policies would also need to allow for spontaneous assembly and distribution of literature, so students can react to breaking news events.”

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), is called the Campus Free Speech Act. It would prevent schools from disinviting speakers because thy are “controversial” and would reportedly establish disciplinary action for anyone who infringes on the free speech right of others.

“You’re not allowed to just disinvite people because they’re controversial,” Melendez told the Times. “You can’t have mob rule.”

Earlier this month, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed the eight page Campus Free Speech Protection Act into law, making the “Volunteer State” on the first to pass legislation designed to stem the assault on free speech at its public universities.

Breitbart News previously reported:

The law mandates that public colleges and universities in Tennessee adopt free speech policies consistent with the University of Chicago’s 2015 Stone Report. Chaired by Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone, the report’s findings were adopted last year to great fanfare. Despite his emphasis on campus free speech, Professor Stone is hardly a right-wing ideologue. He clerked with archliberal Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, chaired the Board of the American Constitution Society, a leading lefty-leaning lawyers’ association, and served on the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Meanwhile, the University of California has reportedly estimated that enforcing Nielsen’s measure could add millions of dollars of costs for administrative, security and legal fees to the system.

However, Joe Cohn, the legislative director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told the Times that argument was bogus. “The idea that the bill will add costs to the state is silly on its face,” Cohn reportedly said. They already have this same liability and same legal obligation, regardless or not if the bill passes.”

Adelle Nazarian is a politics and national security reporter for Breitbart News. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/california

Compelled Speech is Not Free

At first glance, Senate Bill 226 may seem harmless. It is portrayed simply as an effort to provide voters with the comfort of additional “transparency” in the election process.

But we must look closer. The simple transparency that SB266 claims to provide will actually undermine our fundamental first amendment rights to political speech, and that’s why I opposed this bill on the Senate floor.

Our founders very wisely understood that self-government relies on an informed populace. As citizens, we rely on the free exchange of ideas so that we may sift through the information that comes our way and decide for ourselves which facts and opinions will inform our voting decisions. It is the responsibility of government to assure this free flow of information is not disrupted.

However, if the information we receive during that election is actually controlled or compelled by government, can we really call it a free exchange of ideas?

The answer is obvious, and it is exactly why government bureaucrats have no business micromanaging what information we are allowed to see, what information we must see, nor how information is presented to us.

Yet that’s exactly what SB226 will do. It compels those who produce political mailers to include specific information demanded by the government, and mandates precisely how that information will be presented.

SB226 requires that when “slate mailers” are sent by organizations representing the view point of public safety officials, the number of members the organization represents must be stated on the piece. SB226 also compels slate mailers to follow arbitrary mandates as to what font size, type face, formatting, and contrasting colors must be used.

Electoral-CollegeWhile the bill may not seem like a burden on free speech on its face, SB226’s mandates mean there is less room for the organization to share their message with voters. Thus, its impact in the free exchange of ideas could be limited when compared to others who are not subject to the same restrictions.

If the government can mandate the inclusion of specific information when it comes to one issue, such as public safety, what’s to stop it deciding it must craft similar restraints for other topics, such as climate change, or education? If government can restrict the messages on one medium, in this case slate mailers, we can reasonably anticipate the restrictions will eventually spread to other mediums, such as newspaper ads, or blogs, or social media posts.

Allowing government to decide for us what we can be exposed to, and in what manner, is a very dangerous threat to our First Amendment rights. It is similar to campus officials at public universities deciding which speakers and messages students are allowed to hear, and which messages they must be “protected” from.  It is the business of government to assure that all messages can be heard, not to decide for itself which messages are safe for us to hear, or what information must accompany the message.

Compelled speech is not free speech. True freedom, including freedom of expression, can be a messy business. But freedom sure beats the alternative. SB226 is the alternative.

Sen. Joel Anderson represents the 38th District in the California State Senate. 

Gun rights group sues over California lawmakers’ addresses

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A California gun rights group filed a federal lawsuit in Sacramento on Friday after the Legislature’s lawyer blocked a blog post that listed the addresses of lawmakers who recently supported gun control legislation.

Shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of gun control measures July 1, a conservative blog posted what the author said were the home addresses of 40 legislators. The author pledged to keep the names up until lawmakers vote to repeal the laws or die.

The Office of Legislative Counsel demanded that WordPress, which hosted the blog, take down the post. The demand was based on a state law that forbids someone from posting the home address of an elected official with the intention or threat of causing great bodily harm, or if elected officials or their representatives demand that they not be published.

It was subsequently removed from the site and the author was barred from “publishing any similar content,” according to the the Firearms Policy Coalition. …

Click here to read the full article

Conservative Free Speech Survives Attack by AG Harris

Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes, flickr

Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes, flickr

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, in an attempt to burnish her credentials as the liberal successor to Senator Barbara Boxer, has continued the Left’s long tradition of harassment of private citizens when their political views are not aligned with the progressive agenda. Since 2013, Ms. Harris has demanded that national nonprofits turn over their IRS Form 990 Schedule B lists, which gives the names and addresses of donors who contribute $5,000 or more per year. This assault on free speech and democracy was thwarted last Thursday, when a federal judge issued a permanent injunction against Ms. Harris’ order that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a well-known nonprofit dedicated to free market principles, turn over its list of major donors or stop soliciting contributions in California.

Under current law, nonprofits like the AFP Foundation, are required to file the Form 990 Schedule B identifying major donors with the IRS. The IRS, in turn, is supposed to keep that form confidential. Anyone familiar with the machinations of President Obama’s politicized IRS and the actions of Lois Lerner are well aware of how seriously the IRS considers the confidentiality of private citizens. These nonprofits are also required to register with the state of California, but never before have they been required to submit the IRS forms in California. The AFP Foundation, along with numerous other nonprofit groups, challenged Ms. Harris’ demands in court, and won a significant victory for the First Amendment principles of free speech and free association.

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel L. Real, in his 12-page ruling, stated that “setting aside the Attorney General failure to establish a substantial relationship between her demand for AFP’s Schedule B and a compelling government interest, AFP would independently prevail… because it has proven that disclosing its Schedule B to the Attorney General would create a burden on its First Amendment rights.” In other words, notwithstanding Ms. Harris’ inability to adequately explain why the government needs these records, the resultant chilling effect on free speech that the records demand would ensure, were enough to convince the judge that a permanent injunction against the Attorney General’s order was necessary to protect AFP’s First Amendment rights.

Ms. Harris’ office maintained that the information was required for compliance with California tax law. However, California law already provides the power to obtain donor information via subpoena – in the event that the nonprofit is being investigated for wrongdoing. Nowhere in Ms. Harris’ demands for this donor information was there an indication that any wrongdoing occurred; rather Ms. Harris was advancing the Democrats’ tactic of publicly outing political opponents so that they can be subject to intimidation and retaliation by government officials and the liberal media, to the point where renouncing their views or shrinking away from the public debate are the only available options.

Not so long ago, dissent was considered “the highest form of patriotism.” Now, Democrats are no longer satisfied with personal attacks in the vein of comparing climate change skeptics to Holocaust deniers, or forcing the resignation of business executives for holding unfashionable social views (regardless of their adoption of corporate policies that run counter to those personal views). The latest strategy is to criminalize dissent – witness the actions of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, joined by other Democratic attorneys general, who is attempting to coerce certain energy firms to submit to the current climate change consensus through the threat of investigations and possible fraud and racketeering charges. In another time (and under Republican administrations), the use of prosecutorial powers as a political cudgel would send liberals into convulsions of rage, intoning about dark, Nixonian tactics or vague insinuations of the impending theocracy.

Now, while these maneuvers by Democratic attorneys general will likely not end in prosecution for those energy firms, they do fall in line with what Ms. Harris is attempting here in California, specifically an attempt to suppress and silence their political opponents. That is why the decision last week in federal court was so important to not only AFP, but to the preservation of a free and robust political debate in California and across America. Private citizens should be emboldened to participate in public policy debates, and if their preferred method of civic engagement is a financial donation to an organization with the time and resources to advance certain policies, then those citizens should be able to exercise that right without fear of retribution from government officials.

Kamala Harris will no doubt continue to attempt to curtail the First Amendment should she succeed Barbara Boxer in the Senate – that is where Harry Reid spends his time trying to police political speech, when he is not busy getting into, and losing, fights with exercise equipment. But last Thursday’s decision should serve as a reminder to Ms. Harris that politicians should strive to protect the First Amendment rights of the citizens that they serve, not attempt to intimidate them into silence. Hopefully, AFP and other civic-minded organizations will use this resounding victory to continue to remind her and others of that fact.

Alexander Tomescu is an associate attorney at Wewer & Lacy, LLP, focusing in the practice of election and campaign law.

Kamala Harris’ Attack on Freedom of Opinion Stymied

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris urges funds for tracking prescription drugsAt Overlawyered, I’ve repeatedly covered California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s audacious demand for the donor lists of nonprofits that carry on activities in California, a step likely to lead to both private and public retaliation against individuals and groups revealed to have donated to unpopular or controversial causes. So this is good news: a federal district judge in California has ruled that her crusade violates the Constitutional rights of one such group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

As the WSJ notes in an editorial, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real “declared her disclosure requirement an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights,” finding that there was scant evidence the disclosures were necessary to prevent charitable fraud, and that, contrary to assurances, her office had “systematically failed to maintain the confidentiality” of nonprofits’ donor lists, some 1,400 of which Harris’s office had in fact published online. As for retaliation against donors, “although the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from [the civil rights] era,” he wrote, “this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”

An ally of the plaintiff’s bar and unions as well as a candidate for U.S. Senate, Harris recently surfaced as a key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal investigatory powers to probe so-called climate denial at non-profit research and advocacy groups as well as at energy companies like ExxonMobil. That makes at least two episodes in which Harris personally has signaled interest in novel, aggressive steps to pry open the internal workings of private advocacy organizations that take positions opposed to hers.

It’s hard not to see an ongoing pattern here. Aside from the climate subpoenas, which are widely predicted to expand beyond the Competitive Enterprise Institute to other advocacy groups, powerful politicians have been demanding that the Securities and Exchange Commission use its regulatory powers to turn up pressure against advocacy by shareholder-held businesses, and in particular to investigate what they say on issues of regulation and policy – invariably, when they take the opposite side from the politicians’ own views. Earlier this month I covered such a ploy by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and New York City official Letitia James recently tried something similar with Sturm Ruger, demanding that the SEC punish the gunmaker for not being more cooperative with the demands of various gun control advocates.

The pattern here is that the formidable power of law enforcement and regulatory discretion is being openly enlisted to identify, flush out, and punish what remains of dissenting opinion in the business community itself as well as among uncooperative nonprofits. Recall that in 2010 Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius vowed “zero tolerance” for health insurers spreading supposed “misinformation” about ObamaCare, in particular by blaming its provisions for rate increases, no small threat from an official wielding immense regulatory discretion over those insurers.

The WSJ’s Kim Strassel had a great column the other day asking why so few business leaders are willing to speak out against coercive and destructive economic measures. Given the amount of effort that goes into identifying and retaliating against dissenting pro-capitalism opinion these days, should we really be surprised?

This piece was originally published by the Cato Institute