Oral Argument in Stolen Valor Act Case

February 22, 2012

The New York Times has the Reuters report on today’s Supreme Court Argument.

From the story:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg questioned whether a law could be adopted covering other false statements, such as denying that the Nazi Holocaust ever occurred. [Solicitor general] Verrilli  [who argued for the government] answered that a law seeking to regulate that would have problems.

Of course, it is illegal in several European countries to deny the historical fact of the Holocaust.  I have always taken for granted that such a law would be unconstitutional here.   Verrilli agrees.  Because we value free speech so highly,  we (unlike the French or Germans, say) let people make all kinds of outrageous false claims about historical events without criminal liability attaching.  We also are much more friendly to defamation defendants than Europeans.  Criminalizing telling as specific category of lie is contrary to America’s tradition of vigorous protection of free speech.   Republican presidential candidates have been telling us that  the Obama administration, which defended this statute, is trying to turn the United States into Europe.  I don’t think that this is what they have in mind, however.


Prof. Jonathan Turley on the Stolen Valor Act

February 18, 2012

An Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post. Like me, he’s against it on First Amendment grounds.

Selected quotes:

If the government can criminalize lies about medals, it can criminalize lies about other subjects.

Once we criminalize lies, someone must determine what is a lie and what is harmless embellishment.

After all, with the power to punish a lie comes the power to define the truth — a risky occupation for any government.

The First Amendment protects free speech, not just truthful speech. It exists to give a certain breathing room to citizens to avoid the chilling effect of the threat of prosecution. Free speech is its own disinfectant. It tends to expose lies and isolate liars. But it means that we often protect speech that has little value in its own right. We are really not protecting the right of Xavier Alvarez to tell lies. We are protecting the right of everyone to speak, even when they may be called liars.

This seems self-evident to me, but obviously not to everyone.  It’s interesting to see the comments on Prof. Turley’s article — supporting the statute is seen as conservative, and its opponents are seen as liberals (and as is usual on the internet, are called names).  Again, I thought that conservatives were supposed to favor reducing the amount of government intrusion in citizen’s lives.  The exception seems to be for criminal sanctions — the most severe form of government intrusion — there they tend to favor more regulation, not less.

Can’t imagine this on any college campus…

April 25, 2008

This would never happen today. I’m wondering: What’s caused our culture to change so much?

Appropos of my last comment . . . UNDERGRADS I NEED YOU

March 23, 2008

So I podcast (for free!) NPR’s “talk of the nation” and listen to it while I balance my checkbook, drive around, etc.  I was listening to last Friday’s episode (3/21/08) in which the second story is about web privacy.  It started with the story about the breach of privacy with the state dept officials who looked at Obama, Clinton, and Mccain’s passport records, but, it went on to talk about web privacy generally. 

Let me tell you some stories:  On this site, I often mention research by other prominent scholars.  When I do, I ALWAYS email them and say, I am talking about your book/article on my blog; please come over and comment and discuss.  I then give them passwords and DETAILED instructions.  They always email me back (after reading the entry), say something REALLY blinking interesting about it (which I wish you could all read), but decline my “kind invitation to blog.” 

Sometimes they say it is because they think they do not have time (of course, none of us has time — this is just a fun way to be in conversation with some of our friends — it is not supposed to be work) or they say they don’t want to be “on the record” about something.  even if it is their own research!!  In some cases their career of research.

Now, I am willing to consider the possibility that my blog just kinda sucks.   But that is not really the thing.  The thing is, they think this will make them less than anonymous.  I kinda think none of us are anonymous.  One of the moments I discovered this was when I was posting (primarily on scatterplot) under some fake names (not fake like I was posting as Hilary Clinton or anything, but cutsie names).  Then, I went to lunch with someone else on scatterplot and said, “can you guess who I am?” (I meant, since you know me, can you guess who I am from what I say?”) and this person said, ‘”oh yes, I can reverse engineer who anyone is.”

Right then I signed up as laurabethnielsen on the assumption (correct I think) that there is no such thing as anonymous anymore.  And not just for Brittney Spears; for all of us. 

Now, I am not going to put my social security number on here.  Or, god forbid my cell number, but I assume many of you could find it with a credit card and 10 minutes of your time. 

On this NPR show, someone suggested that since “kids” post all kids of stuff on Facebook (or insert alternative here), we should have laws against discrimination based on what people put on there.


That’s kooky.  But what do you guys think?  So I assume no privacy.  You will know about me, my kids, my wacky/bawdy sense of humor (the comment in the last thread).  Will that mean I won’t be the President?  Probably (but for other reasons too).  President/Provost/dean of a University?  I hope not because I could be good at that (I think).  But that’s me.  You ask me what you should say to President Clinton, you are gonna get a sex joke.  Sorry (except that i am not really sorry — that’s me!!) 


“Clerical Personnel Are Not Covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act”

February 29, 2008

Those were the words opined today by Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in this ruling concerning exemptions for religious employers.  Posner distinguished the plaintiff’s ecclesiastical administration of a church from the ordinary commercial activities of a religious organization.  Under Posner’s view, employees working in the latter arena are entitled to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) protections whereas the former are not.  I don’t see the rationale for a religious exception here; this is not analogous to a religious employer discriminating against non-believers in hiring/firing.  Shouldn’t clerical personnel be entitled to the same wage benefits as all other commercial employees?

Headscarves & Federalism

February 4, 2008

In 2005, the “REAL ID Act of 2005,” H.R. 1268, P.L. 109-13, was attached as a rider to an emergency defense appropriations bill.  After two years of public comment, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued it’s revised regulations to enforce the REAL ID Act on January 10, 2008.  Several groups commented (pg. 125-6) that the federal REAL ID requirement of an unobscured photograph would burden the free exercise of religion for some groups like Amish Christians and Muslim women.  Not surprisingly, the new DHS regulations did not address this problem, rendering null and void any state ID with an obscured photo for religious purposes.  Read the rest of this entry »

More waffles than a house of pancakes

February 1, 2008

Remember my post about NU’s strange ban on candidate promotion at the Rock, arguably the most popular spot on campus for activism? University counsel has apparently “reinterpreted its policy” (but no, the policy has NOT changed!). Until Feb. 5, we can promote our candidates to our hearts’ content: Read the rest of this entry »