Expedition upon Expedition: Former President Trump Seeks Supreme Court Intervention to Reverse the Eleventh Circuit’s Intervention in Special Master Proceedings; Department of Justice Seeks to Speed Up Appellate Review

Trump v. United States. No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.); Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (S.D. Fla.). Application to Vacate the Eleventh Circuit’s Stay of an Order Issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Petition to the Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States for the Eleventh Circuit submitted October 4, 2022.


Former President Trump seeks the aid of the United States Supreme Court in vacating an order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit which stayed a lower court’s order.  The lower court’s order precluded the use of documents with classification markings in  a criminal investigation while the documents were under review by a Special Master appointed by the court.  The Eleventh Circuit’s order countermanded that determination which in turn permitted resumption of use of the documents in criminal investigations.

The former president argues that the Eleventh Circuit had no power to rule on the Department of Justice’s request, as the ruling was an interlocutory, or non-final ruling.  Such rulings are not permitted except in limited circumstances.

At the same time, the Department of Justice seeks to press ahead in its request for appellate review of the federal district court’s actions.

 

Application to Vacate Eleventh Circuit Order October 4, 2022

Opposition to Appellant’s Motion to Expedite Appeal October 3, 2022

Motion to Expedite Appeal September 30, 2022

Carry On, Criminal Investigators! Eleventh Circuit Stays District Court Order Prohibiting Use of Classified Documents Seized from Former President’s Residence Pending Special Master Review


Donald J. Trump v. United States of America, No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Order issued  September 22, 2022 (Not For Publication).


In recent weeks, on application by former President Donald J. Trump, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued an order appointing a Special Master to assist in reviewing materials seized during an August search of the former president’s residence at Mar-a-Lago.  Pending completion of the Special Master’s review, the court ordered federal investigative officials to refrain from using any of the seized materials bearing classification markings, but specifically noted that classification review could continue.  The trial court denied the United States’ motion to stay that portion of the order that would preclude use of documents with classified markings in any ongoing criminal investigation and that would require submitting the documents with classification marking for review by the Special Master.  

The United States sought interlocutory review in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Eleventh Circuit reviewed the trial court’s order according to principles governing issuance of injunctions, and found that the trial court, which has broad, yet not unbounded discretionary to such relief, erred in granting relief in the absence of evidence of callous disregard for the former president’s interest and in the presence of potential for serious harm to the government’s and the public’s interest if investigation is foreclosed.  The Eleventh Circuit has stayed the preclusion and turnover portions of the trial court’s order.

Trump v. U.S. No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Order of September 21, 202

“The Very Objects of the Offense”: DOJ Asks Appellate Court to Stay Trial Court Order Enjoining Investigation Using Materials Seized from Former President’s Residence with Classified Markings


Trump v. United States, No. 22-13005-F (11th Cir.); Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (D. Fla.).


The United States seeks immediate appellate intervention in order to stay the order of the U.S. District Court in Florida which appointed a Special Master to review documents and things seized during an August 8, 2022 search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.  The trial court ordered the United States to stop using the documents seized in the government’s ongoing criminal investigation, which includes investigation into whether the former president wrongfully retained national security materials.

The United States submits to the appellate court that the approximately 100 documents bearing ‘Classified’ markings are the very documents the government needs to build its case.   The United States first made this argument to the trial court, which denied relief, but which directed the newly-appointed Special Master to prioritize review of the documents with ‘Classified’ markings.  The court observed that the government had not established any urgency concerning these documents and that the court was not obliged to adopt unquestioningly the position of the United States.

The trial court has outlined a protocol for review of the documents seized which will permit both parties to view the documents, determine which ought to be considered privileged, and submit their recommendations or disagreements to the Special Master.  The Special Master will in turn make recommendations to the trial court, which will, if need be, conduct review de novo.

The former  president as plaintiff is expected to pay for all of the Special Master proceedings, which must be concluded by November 30, 2022.

The newly appointed Special Master, a retired federal judge, has scheduled an initial conference with counsel on September 20th, and has invited submission of agendas not later than September 19th.


Trump v. United States, No. 22-13005-F (11th Cir.) Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 16, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order of Special Master, September 16, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order Appointing Special Master, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order Denying Stay, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Declaration of Special Master, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) United States’ Reply in Support of Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, September 13, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Parties’ Joint Filing Respecting the Court’s Appointment of a Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Donald J. Trump’s Response in Opposition to Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 12, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Plaintiff’s Proposed Order of Appointment of Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) United States’ Proposed Order of Appointment of Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-MAC (D. Fla.) United States’ Motion for a Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-MAC (D. Fla.) Declaration of Asst. Dir. Counterintelligence, FBI, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Notice of Appeal, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order, September 5, 2022

A Labor Day of Law: Federal Court Agrees to Appoint Special Master in Challenge to Search at Mar-a-Lago, Enjoins Investigators from Use of Materials Under Review


Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (MAC).  Order entered September 5, 2022.


Citing the need “to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity,” the federal judge assigned to hear former President Trump’s request for appointment of a Special Master to review materials seized pursuant to an unannounced search of his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago has granted that request.  

Having concluded that the circumstances warrant the exercise of the court’s equitable jurisdiction and supervisory powers, the court examined the equitable considerations supporting or negating the propriety of the appointment of a Special Master.

The court rejected the government’s argument that the former president could not seek relief because in the government’s view the former president does not own the materials seized.  Not only is this not wholly true, the court observed, but property ownership is no precondition to assertion of Fourth Amendment interests.

The idea that the former president cannot challenge the search fails, in the court’s view, because the issue before the court is not standing on the merits of any claim, but standing to seek equitable relief in the form of a special master, which the court has found to be present.  

The argument that there exists concern only for materials subject to the attorney client privilege but not the executive privilege also fails, the court found, as the government’s assertion that the executive privilege is lost the moment a president vacates the office lacks support in the law.  

The court rejected the notion that the work of a government privilege review team obviates the need for a special master.  While adequate in some cases, the court observed, this is not an ordinary case, and to the extent that there have been instances of some materials not being cabined by the government privilege review team, even if inadvertent, highlights the need for independent review. 

The court has elicited suggestions for appointees to act as Special Master to be filed by the parties by September 9, 2022. 

The government has been ordered not to make use of any of the seized materials under review by the Special Master in any criminal investigation at least during the conduct of the Special Master’s review.  The government may continue its classification and national security review.  

2022 09 05 Trump v US 22-81294 Order

Inclined to Appoint Special Master to Review Mar-a-Lago Materials Seized, Federal Judge demands Status of Review and Itemization of Seized Materials by Tuesday, August 30, with Hearing Set for September 1, 2022.

Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC) (S.D. Fla). Preliminary Order on Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief entered August 27, 2022.

In the Matter of the Search of Mar-a-Lago, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC) (S.D. Fla.) Movant’s Supplemental Filing in Support of Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief filed August 26, 2022.

Former President Donald J. Trump has challenged the constitutionality of a search and seizure conducted at his Mar-a-Lago residence on August 8th and has moved the court for the Appointment of a Special Master to manage review of the documents and things seized.  

The federal court in the Southern District of Florida has indicated a “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master, subject to the submission of briefs on August 30 and 31st and a hearing before the court on September 1, 2022 at 1 p.m.

The court has ordered the United States to provide a detailed report of the status of its review of the seized materials as well as a detailed account of what was seized and removed from the Mar-a-Lago residence on August 8.

Supplementing its initial motion to the court, counsel for the former president note that the redacted affidavit supporting issuance of the warrant authorizing the search, released on August 26, provides little insight into any necessity for it, particularly as continuous cooperation had been demonstrated, and particularly as the use of police powers seemed needless where compliance with a civil statute, the Presidential Records Act, was said to be in issue.

Published reports indicate that national security agencies are reviewing materials seized.  Whether review will be said to be complete by the time of this week’s briefing, which could be argued to obviate any need for a special master, remains to be seen.  See Classified Documents Seized from Trump’s Home Undergoing Security-Risk Assessment.  Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2022.  

 

2022 08 27 22-81294 Preliminary Order on Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

2022 08 26 22-81294 Movant’s Supplemental Filing in Support of Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

 


 

Gadflies Allowed:  Maine School Board Cannot Banish Parent Whose Speech Causes Them Discomfort


McBreairty v. School Board of RSU22, et al., No. 1:22-cv-00206-NT (D. Maine).  Order granting temporary restraining order entered July 20, 2022. 


Public Schools, Public Participation.  Public schools in Maine are managed through town participation in Regional School Units, here RSU22.  The public is invited to participate in school decision making through time set aside for public comment at town school board meetings.  That public participation is governed by guidance requiring common etiquette and forbidding speech in excess of three minutes, gossip, complaints about individuals, defamation, and vulgarity.

Violation of these policies may result in removal from the meeting. 

Trouble in RSU22. Beginning in the autumn of 2021, and continuing until early May, 2022, parent and Hamden town resident Shawn McBreairty spoke at meetings about his concern that school library materials included sexual material not appropriate for students.

At times McBreairty was said to exceed three minutes’ speech, on one occasion he made a brash accusation, and he was criticized for playing a recording describing a sexual act that gave rise to his concerns.

In May, 2022, the school board wrote to McBreairty’s counsel, providing notice that McBreairty was suspended from attending further school board meetings for eight months.  Upon arrival at a June, 2022 board meeting, McBreairty was precluded from attending, and was issued a criminal trespass notice forbidding his attendance at RSU22 school functions, whether in person or online.

McBreairty sued the school board in federal court alleging violation of his First Amendment rights and demanding immediate injunctive relief.

Injunctive Relief and the First Amendment.  Courts cannot compel action or restraint from action before trial unless a complainant can demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his case, that irreparable harm would result if injunctive relief were not granted, that the balance of equities favors relief, and that the public interest would be served by relief.  

Irreparable harm is presumed when speech is restricted.  

Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment.  Here, however, the court found that McBreairty’s reference to a sexual act lacked prurience and was not, in the context, without merit.  Thus the speech found objectionable by the school board was nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.

Foraging through Forum Analysis.  The government must establish the constitutionality of any speech restrictions the government imposes.  Review considers the places where speech will occur and the purposes of any gathering.  “Forum analysis,” which proceeds from great liberality in speech to some restrictions upon speech, while superficially appealing, is nonetheless not infrequently something of a bog.

The federal court in Maine has provided a primer describing the degrees and kind of government restrictions that are n .  Traditional public forums, such as parks, streets, or other places historically used for public communications, are free from regulation except where a government can demonstrate that any restriction is neutral and narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. While time, place and manner restraints may be imposed, alternative communication channels must exist.  

Where a government has designated that a space be open to the public, the same rules as for traditional public forums apply. 

Limited public forums are open to certain groups or for certain topics, and speech may be restricted provided no permissible speech is restricted on the basis of viewpoint and that any restriction is reasonable in light of a forum’s purpose.  

Nonpublic government property not traditionally or by designation used for public conversations may be subjected to speech restrictions provided that the goal of any restriction is not the suppression of disfavored speech.  

Looking to Other Court’s Conclusions in the Absence of Controlling Precedent.  Neither the U.S. Supreme Court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has decided what sort of forum a school board meeting is, suggesting that the court might look to the determinations of other courts, most of which have found that school meetings are limited public forums.  

The court rejected McBreairty’s argument that school boards are traditional public forums subject to only the most narrow government restrictions.  School boards meet for particular purposes to discuss particular topics:  as such, school boards may reasonably impose order on those proceedings.    

As a limited public forum, a school board may regulate access in light of the forum’s purposes but the state may not unreasonably exclude speech based on viewpoint.  

Distinguishing between content and viewpoint based restrictions allows a governing body to restrict speech as it relates to the purpose of the forum while forbidding excluding points of view on matters that are otherwise related to a forum’s purpose.  

There May Be Some Discomfort.  The court found McBreairty’s public comments concerned the school.  Even if at times unorthodox or provocative, the court perceived that in the main McBreairty did not violate school board policy, although he did do so by referencing school personnel and exceeding time limits in speaking to the board.  

While the warning letter issued to McBreairty might have carried the potential to chill speech, as McBreairty appeared undeterred as a matter of fact, that issue is not central to the decision. 

Having rejected the idea that McBreairty’s speech was obscene, the court pointed with concern toward what appeared to be an ad hoc and cumulative approach to McBreairty’s appearances before the board.  Any discomfort experienced by the board cannot justify restricting protected speech.

This Long is Too Long.  Even if viewpoint discrimination were not conclusively established, an eight month ban on McBreairty’s presence at school board meetings is unreasonable, the court found.  

Injunctive Relief Awarded.  The court found that there is a likelihood that McBreairty will prevail on his as-applied First Amendment challenge and ordered the school to refrain from enforcing the penalties contained in its letter and in the trespass notice.  While the school board has an interest in the orderliness of its meetings, that does not require months-long forfeiture of First Amendment speech rights.

McBreairty v. School Board of RSU22, No. 22-cv-00206 (D. Maine). Order granting TRO July 20, 2022

Supreme Court Vacates Stay of Injunction Precluding Effectiveness of Texas’ Law Addressing Perceived Social Media Censorship

Net Choice, et al. v. Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, No. 21A720, 596 U.S. ____. Order granting emergency petition entered May 31, 2022.



Texas legislation prohibiting content-based deplatforming or deprioritizing of social media posts remains subject to an injunction precluding its effect pending determination of the merits of challenges of the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court has vacated the Fifth Circuit’s stay of a district court injunction precluding the effect of the law. 

Justice Alito has dissented from the grant of the petition, stressing that the questions presented by the case invite the Court’s review, particularly as those questions do not fit squarely within First Amendment precedent.  Neither public event, publication, public marketplace, or common carrier provisions anticipate the advent of and market power of social media platforms.  

The dissenting justice notes that the state perceives impossible incongruity between the social media platforms’ position that they may enjoy immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 for publication of others’ content while at the same time enjoying First Amendment protection for refusing to publish that content.

Justice Alito observes that the likelihood of success on the merits must be demonstrated as to all aspects of the injunctive relief provided, but this is not the case with respect to the disclosure requirements of the Texas law concerning social media platforms’ publication standards, which are to be reviewed under less stringent standards for constitutional review of commercial speech.

Of importance is that the Texas law applies only prospectively, a circumstance which, in a certain light, renders injunctive relief pending review somewhat superfluous, as no action against any social media company has yet occurred and any action remains open to constitutional challenge if and when it occurs. 

The novelty of the questions presented, while inviting exploration, does not justify federal interference in state sovereignty, which is the result where, as here, the Supreme Court serves as a source of preclearance authority.

Justice Alito’s dissent has been joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.  Justice Kagan would deny the emergency petition, but has neither joined the dissent nor written her own opinion.

Netchoice, LLC v. Paxton, 21A720, 596 U.S. ____ , May 31, 2022

The Eleventh Circuit Opines that Much of Florida’s New Regulation of Social Media May Violate the First Amendment, in Contrast to Recent Orders of the Fifth Circuit to the Contrary Now Awaiting Emergency Review in the Supreme Court


NetChoice, LLC and Computer & Communications Industry Association, d/b/a CCIA v. Attorney General of the State of Florida, et al., No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Order and Opinion issued May 23, 2022, affirming in part and vacating in part an injunction issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.


Several states, including Florida and Texas, have enacted legislation aimed at compelling social media to be open to all, without banning, de-prioritizing, or de-platforming entities or posts because they present disfavored views. Texas’s law applies to the general practices of large social media sites, while Florida has addressed access by political candidates and journalists.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to enjoin the effectiveness of Texas’s statute, NetChoice and CCIA presented an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 13, 2022. Just as briefing closed on the emergency petition, the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion, which has been added to the record of the emergency petition as supplemental authority.

Unlike the Fifth Circuit, holding its legal cards close to the vest, so to speak, and issuing a non-unanimous order without opinion, the Eleventh Circuit has published a 67 page opinion examining whether it is likely that NetChoice and CCIA will succeed in demonstrating that Florida’s law is unconstitutional. Concluding that it is likely that the law will be shown to be unconstitutional, and observing that ongoing infringements of First Amendment rights are presumed to cause irreparable harm, and noting that neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing unconstitutional law, the Eleventh Circuit has upheld most, but not all, of the injunctive relief granted by the Northern District of Florida.

Principles Endure. The Eleventh Circuit opened its opinion by noting that new principles are not necessarily needed when new technologies emerge. The First Amendment continues to prohibit government interference in speech while protecting the speech of private actors.

‘Not Really Private’ Private Entities. Florida asserts that social media platforms are not truly private entities and has enacted legislation prohibiting de-platforming political candidates, de-prioritizing messages about political candidates, or removing content provided by an “journalistic enterprises” because of its content.

The Eleventh Circuit Disagrees. The appellate court has found that social media entities are private actors that enjoy First Amendment protections. Editorial judgement about content are protected. That protection would be unconstitutionally burdened by Florida’s legislation, not only in its editorial and content-based directives but also in its demands for disclosure of a rationale supporting any and all content moderation decisions. These observations support enjoining aspects of the Florida law.

How It Works. The Eleventh Circuit has offered a ‘primer’ about what social media platforms are” collectors of others’ speech, broadly defined to include text, photography, and video “posts” published to others. Platforms may have billions of users or exist as smaller sites for specialized interests. Several social media platforms are household names: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Private Enterprises, Private Choices. No one is obliged to avail themselves of the content social media entities provide. The government cannot restrict citizens’ access to social media platforms but that right of access attaching to citizens does not include a right to compel the platforms to accept or consume any content.

Whose Speech Is It? Much, if not most, speech on social media platforms is not created by the platforms themselves, but some speech belongs to the platforms, as is the case with publishing terms of service or community standards defining what is permitted, or creating addenda or warning, or publish a platform’s own content.

Neither Conduits nor Storage Devices, but Curators. Social media enterprises are best seen as curators and arrangers of content according to users’ wishes, while at the same time removing content that violates the terms of service or community standards.

These activities make the platforms active intermediaries who have created virtual spaces where participants can be both speakers and listeners.

The Eleventh Circuit views content moderation as curation that promotes the creation and development of niches and communities, and promotes values and points of view.

Why Florida Sought Legislative Intervention. Florida’s social media legislation was intended to address perceived silencing of conservative views by technology ‘oligarchs’.

Florida perceives social media platforms to be akin to public utilities which, as common carriers, are to remain accessible to all and to viewpoints.

Sweeping and Problematic. The Eleventh Circuit notes that Florida’s law, while aimed at “big tech oligarchs,” as defined by size and revenue, does sweep in smaller sites, such as Wikipedia and Etsy. An initial specific exclusion of Disney Corporation was repealed.

Three features of the Florida legislation are problematic, in the appellate court’s view: content moderation, disclosure obligations, and user data retention.

Strict in Theory, Fatal in Fact. The Eleventh Circuit perceives that Florida’s legislation regulates speech within the meaning of the First Amendment, and its content moderation provisions are subject to strict scrutiny, making it unlikely the legislation will survive.

Pre-Emption Awaits Another Day. As the court based its analysis on the First Amendment, it is not necessary to consider the issue of federal preemption of the Florida law by 47 U.S.C. Section 230.

Gutting Editorial Discretion. Denying social media platforms the ability to prohibit some posts, as the Florida law does, impairs the very exercise of discretion that the First Amendment prohibits, the Eleventh Circuit observes.

Not an Indiscriminate Host. The notion that by opening a social media space to some — essentially serving as a host to speakers — a social media enterprise must open that speech to all, following historic decisions, failed to persuade the Eleventh Circuit with respect to the Florida legislation.

Social Media’s Own Speech. If the issue of mandating open doors and open access were not enough to impair the social media companies’ editorial discretion, and by extension, their First Amendment rights, the Florida law, in the court’s view, impedes the platforms’ capacity to exercise their own speech rights.

Common Carrier Analogy Fails. Seeking to minimize the impact of First Amendment review, the state has relied heavily on the notion that social media platforms are common carriers indefensible to society, an idea rejected by the Eleventh Circuit notwithstanding that the court was uncertain whether the state asserts that the common carrier status has already been attained or whether the state would legislate that status into existence.

Social media platforms do not behave as common carriers available to all to transmit communications of their own choosing, the Eleventh Circuit observes. Social media platforms may appear to be open to all but in fact users must accept the platforms’ terms and community standards. Moreover, Supreme Court opinions have not considered cable operators to be common carriers, and the Court has declined to place online media on the same footing as broadcast media for supervisory and regulatory purposes.

The Eleventh Circuit sees that online platforms as analogous to cable providers that retain editorial discretion over their offerings.

Finally, Congress has specifically distinguished and exempted internet services form other communications media in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and within the same legislation has protected social media from liability for publication in ways not extended to common carriers that must serve all, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned.

What Part of “Constitutional Guarantees” Did Florida Not Understand? If the social media platforms are not already common carriers, which the appellate court finds they are not, the state possesses no power to legislate the platforms’ First Amendment rights out of existence by nomenclature. Even if the social media platforms’ vast market powers suggest that they ought to be treated as common carriers, this would not carry the day. Legislation cannot create in social media the fundamental characteristics inherent in and required of common carriers to hold themselves out to the entirely of the public, without exception. While some entitles may come to be a means of rendering services of public interest, marketplace success in itself will not compel forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

The exercise of expressive editorial judgment by the social media platforms means that those platforms are not common carriers. Any imposition of limits on their First Amendment rights must survive strict scrutiny, which, with some exceptions, is not the case with Florida’s law.

The Nature of the Violations. Florida’s law would restrict editorial judgment through forbidding de-platforming political candidates, manipulating the presentation of content by or about candidates, and censoring or manipulating journalistic enterprises. Legislatively requiring consistency in decision- making and imposing time limits on restrictions present similar, if less obvious, impositions on social media platforms.

Permitting users to opt out of the platforms’ curation would interfere with the editorial processes and discretion exercise by the platforms to those users.

Compelled disclosures of platform activities inherently burden editorial judgment, but such commercial disclosures are subject to lesser scrutiny.

The Eleventh Circuit finds no First Amendment issues arise with respect to requiring platforms to permit users to access their stored records for at least sixty days after de-platforming.

Gimlet Eye or Casual Glance: Standards of Review. Content based speech regulations must survive strict scrutiny. While the state has admitted that the aim of its legislation is to address perceived mistreatment of conservatives and conservative views, this does not persuade the Eleventh Circuit to adopt the technology associations’ argument that this causes the entirety of the legislation to fail.

The state’s motivation in enacting legislation is not outcome determinative in review of an otherwise facially constitutional law. Moreover, the applicability of the law to some social media platforms and not others, while of concern, is insufficient to condemn the legislation in its entirety.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Reasoning. The appellate panel has concluded that NetChoice and CCIA may succeed on the merits of their content moderation claims. As some provisions refer specifically to content messaging, those trigger strict scrutiny, whereas de-platforming and opt-outs are neutral.

The “consistency” demanded of the social media platforms partakes both of content-based and neutral regulation. Because at their core they involve expressive activity, intermediary scrutiny is triggered, but even at that level, they are not likely to survive.

Disclosure of factual information in commercial settings need not meet even intermediate scrutiny, and may be reviewed on a rational relationship basis, making those regulations likely to survive.

The Eleventh Circuit has concluded that none of the content moderation measures would survive intermediate scrutiny and that the ‘explanatory’ disclosure requirements — why decisions were made — is likely unconstitutional. However,there is no likelihood of success on the merits of the rest of the legislation.

When intermediate scrutiny is applied to the legislation’s content moderation restrictions, the court is asked to consider whether the content moderation restrictions are narrowly drawn, that is, no greater than is essential, to further a substantial government interest unrelated to speech suppression.

The content moderation restrictions do not, in the court’s view, further any substantial government interest, which does not seem to have been seriously argued by the state. (Slip op. at 53.)

While it might be that the state, had they pursued such arguments, would claim an interest in curtailing private censorship, or in fostering use of of the internet, the government has no interest in “leveling the expressive playing field,” nor may it intervene where there is no right to a social media account.

The idea of restricting the speech of some to enlarge the voices of others is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment,” the Eleventh Circuit has concluded. (Slip op. at 59, quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424, U.S. 1, 48-49 (1976)).

The assertion of a state interest in “promoting the widespread dissemination of information from a multiplicity of sources” would fail, as social media platforms do not act as gatekeepers, exercising control over most or all information. (Slip. Op. at 49, quoting Turning Broadcasting System v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 662 (1994).) A wealth of communications resources exist and are available to speakers Even if they are not of the magnitude of the social media platforms, this does not justify inhibiting the speech rights of private social media companies as the Florida law would do.

Moreover, the appellate court thinks it unlikely that the government has an interest in private utilities’ consistent application of rules or in prohibiting users from changing messages within certain time frames, in addressing sequencing of content, or in permitting or precluding participation in these processes.

Even if a substantial government interest were found, there is little likelihood that the preclusive restrictions and mandated activities are “no greater than is essential to the furtherance of interests.” (Slip op. at 61, citing United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968).

Prohibitions on “deplatforming, deprioritizing, or shadow-banning” would make it impossible to address obscenities or terrorist threats, and indeed raises the specter of minors’ access to pornography. (Slip op. at 62). This wide a sweep stands the narrowness constraints applicable to legislation of speech regulations on its head, the court concludes.

Compelled disclosures. Disclosure requirements will survive constitutional scrutiny if as commercial speech they are related to protection of consumers, which is a recognized state interest, and are not unjustified or unduly burdensome, effectively chilling protected speech. (Slip op. at 63, citing Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States, 559 U.S. 229, 250 (2010).

An exception to the likely unconstitutional disclosure requirements is requiring that information be provided to consumers about the terms of access to the platform and that the content moderation policies are not misleading. The court observed that there has not been a sufficient showing that publications of standards or that providing information about rules changes, views, and advertising information would be unduly burdensome.

The court has agreed with NetChoice that requiring detailed justification for and notice of each content moderation is likely unconstitutional even under commercial speech standards. The time constraints, compliance burdens, and prohibitive fines for insufficient “thoroughness” compound those burdens.

And in Conclusion. The remaining factors requiring review to substantiate injunctive relief are easily met, the Eleventh Circuit has determined. Ongoing First Amendment violations are presumptively irreparably harmful, and neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing an unconstitutional statute.

The district court’s order will be upheld in part and vacated in part, and the case remanded.

WHERE MATTERS STAND. JustLawful is not sage enough to know what the Supreme Court will do now that there is an apparent, if only partially articulated, conflict between two federal circuit courts of appeal. Others’ prognostications are welcomed.

In a Nutshell. Here is a link to the Eleventh Circuit’s synopsis of its parsing of the Florida statute.

Summary 11th Cir. Opinion

And in Full:

Here is the entire opinion.

NetChoice v. Florida No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Opinion May 23, 2022

 

Federal Officials Cannot Evade First Amendment Constraints on Speech Suppression Through Intimidation and Collusion with Internet Platforms, or Creation of an Unauthorized Disinformation Governance Board, State Attorney Generals Assert in Suit Against an Array of Federal Officials


Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al.., No. 3:22-cv-01213-TAD-KDM (W.D. La.).  Complaint filed May 5, 2022.

Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al., No. 3 22-cv- 01213 (W.D. La.) Complaint filed May 5, 2022

Missouri and Louisiana Attorney Generals, claiming injury to state constitutional interests and to state citizens’ speech freedoms, have filed a complaint against President Biden and multiple executive officials and federal agency heads, asserting that the Biden administration has colluded with technology platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in order to suppress and censor information unfavorable to federal government aims.  The recent creation of a bureaucratic governing board to manage removal of disfavored speech only advances these unconstitutional practices, the state plaintiffs say.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief declaring the administration’s actions violate the First Amendment as well as injunctive relief forbidding further unconstitutional activity.

The First Amendment serves as the cornerstone of the free exchange of ideas of information, without which competent self governance is impossible, the states say.  The federal government is constrained by the First Amendment from interfering with the guaranteed freedoms embodied in the First Amendment, including speech freedoms.  The government cannot escape its obligation to refrain from inhibiting speech by engaging private entities to censor speech.

Although the First Amendment does not ordinarily reach private actors, acts undertaken at the behest of or in collusion with the government may violate the First Amendment.  This is particularly so, the plaintiffs state, where the federal government has coerced private entities to cooperate with the government by means of threats of antitrust proceedings or revocation of immunities enjoyed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Truncating the flow of information to suit federal officials’ aims impairs states in protecting the interests of state citizens, particularly where state constitutions may secure more expansive speech protections that the United States Constitution, plaintiffs claim.

The Complaint filed on May 5 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana details instances in which, either directly or in collusion with technology platforms, federal officials have acted to suppress speech, serving their own political ends to the injury and detriment of the public, frequently cloaking their actions as attempts to guard against undefined and opaque “disinformation.”

Threats of antitrust actions or threats of loss of immunities have ensured technology companies’ compliance with federal officials’ dictates.   The adoption of facially private governing documents and policies that in fact are employed to serve the government, and which may operate in collusion with the government, cannot be interposed to shield either private or public actors from liability for suppressing and chilling speech.

An atmosphere of intimidation pervades social media sites, plaintiffs observe. Undertaken in fear of or in collusion with federal officials, the private companies’ practices of banning, shadow banning, limiting publication, and outright removal of social media account holders create unconstitutional prior restraints, chilling participation lest a similar fate ensue.

The state plaintiffs’ Complaint provides a chronicle of activity asserted to constitute First Amendment violations. If true, the plaintiffs’ allegations paint a picture of a government intent on serving its ends and not those of the public they were elected or appointed to serve.  Digital media fail to behave as an ‘electronic public square’ where those media represent an unparalleled “concentrated control” of speech.  Complaint, para. 53, citing Knight First Amendment Institute, 141 S. Ct. 1220, 1221 (2021).

Federal officials have conferred with private digital platforms to advise the platforms about content that ought to be flagged for removal, plaintiffs state.

Online platforms accomplish speech monitoring by means such as mechanical algorithms or outright speech suppression by permanent banishment of disfavored speakers, the plaintiffs offer, thereby denying the exiled any ability to communicate publicly.  Such measures not infrequently censor core political speech, to the detriment of political opponents and to the benefit of those directing the private companies’ actions.

Examples of digital platforms’ interference with First Amendment speech guarantees, undertaken to please or to appease federal officials have included suppression of information about location of the President’s son’s laptop, said to contain damaging information, on the eve of the Presidential election.

Plaintiffs aver that open discussion of the origins of the Covid-19 virus was precluded where, by agreement with a social media platform, a federal official who had been engaged in funding gain of function research abroad provided messaging favoring a government narrative which insulated the government and the official from review.

Relevant evidence that would permit public evaluation of the efficacy of face masks and government edicts demanding home confinement was also suppressed, plaintiffs submit.

The promotion of narratives favoring voting by mail, a methodology traditionally dismissed as inviting voter fraud, has also been alleged to involve social media.

Both the Executive and the Legislative branches have threatened technology companies directly and publicly, at times demanding removal of political opponents’ statements.

The recent creation of a board to govern “disinformation” is an Orwellian measure intended to withhold content from the public and to insulate the federal government from criticism, plaintiffs insist.   This has been done notwithstanding that there exists a constitutional guarantee of free speech, such guarantee not to be interfered with by curating and removing from public discourse that which disfavors the government.

Similarly dystopian, plaintiffs observe, is the view that speech is not speech but infrastructure, and thus susceptible of government regulation and oversight.  To this has been added the opinion that the public reacts emotionally and thoughtlessly to speech, and that speech is linked to violence, requiring online policing to protect the public.  One legislator has suggested that the public lacks the capacity to discern fact from fiction, a circumstance not to be addressed by providing more information, but instead, in the view of current federal officials, less information or none at all.

These activities, whether singularly or in combination, violate the First Amendment and severely damage public discourse, the plaintiffs say, causing sufficient danger to open discourse as to merit an injunction against further constitutional violations.

Last Rights:  Supreme Court Concludes Death Row Inmate May Succeed in Asserting Undue Burden of His Religious Exercise Because State Denied Request for Minister’s Presence, Audible Prayer, and Touch During Execution 

Ramirez v. Collier, Executive Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 21-5592, 595 U.S. ____ (March 24, 2022).  Opinion awarding petitioner Ramirez injunctive relief, reversing the decision of the Fifth Circuit affirming denial of a stay of execution, and remanding the case for further proceedings.


In 2004, John Ramirez stabbed Corpus Christi convenience store worker Pablo Castro twenty-nine times, an act that killed Castro and yielded $1.25 for Ramirez and his accomplice.

 

Ramirez fled the United States, but was apprehended near the Mexican border several years later, then was convicted of murder in the course of roberty, a capital offense.

 

Ramirez has assiduously yet unsuccessfully sought relief from his conviction.

 

Ramirez has sought to stay his execution because the State of Texas has denied him the presence of his spiritual advisor during his execution to provide audible prayer and to touch Ramirez during administration of lethal injections.  

 

Texas has promulgated several policies concerning the presence of religious advisors during executions. Although at times Texas has precluded all spiritual advisors from being present in the execution chamber, Texas has revised its protocols to permit the presence of spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.  

 

Ramirez grieved the state’s denial of his request that his spiritual advisor be permitted to pray aloud and to lay hands on Ramirez during Ramirez’s execution.  

 

Ramirez asked the United States Supreme Court to preliminarily enjoin the state from executing him prior to resolution of his claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

RLUIPA provides religious free exercise protections that, because of the act’s procedural structure, may be more adventitious to claimants than First Amendment claims.  RLUIPA requires the state to demonstrate that a substantial burden on the exercise of a sincere religious belief must meet “strict scrutiny” standards even if the law in question is one of general applicability.  

 

The Supreme Court in Ramirez’s case perceives that Ramirez’s request that his pastor be present, pray audibly, and lay hands on him as he is executed reflects a sincerely held religious belief.

 

The Court has concluded that Texas cannot substantiate its revocation of the time honored practice of vocal prayer because, as Texas asserts, there exists a compelling government interest in being able to minotaur sound within the execution chamber, which, the state posits could be hampered by audible prayer.  

 

The Court agreed that the interest exists but the state had not shown that a categorical ban on all audible prayer in the execution chamber is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest. 

 

Similarly, the Court acknowledged that Texas has a compelling interest in avoiding disruption in the execution chamber.  However, the Court found that because there exists in this case no indication that disruption might occur, a hypothesized fear could not meet the state’s burden. 

 

By tailor making the execution to suit the prisoner’s needs and to permit monitoring, to limit touch to areas that would not interfere with the procedure,  and to avoid disruption, the minister could be permitted to address the inmate only, subject to immediate removal upon any failure to comply with the rules.  These measures are less restrictive means through which Texas might advance the state’s interest.

 

Having concluded that Ramirez is likely to succeed on the merits of his case, the Court next concluded that if the Court failed to provide injunctive relief that Ramire would suffer irreparable harm, as he would be barred from exercising his faith in the last moments of his life. 

 

The public interest will not be harmed by granting relief in this case, as Ramirez does not seek an indefinite stay, and there is a strong public interest – as evidenced by the enactment of RLUIPA – in ensuring that prisoners subject to execution are not concomitantly subjected to undue burdens on their religious exercise. 

 

The Court dismissed Texas’s argument that Ramirez’s inequitable conduct should bar injunctive relief.  In the Court’s assessment, Ramirez has diligently asserted and pursued his claim and has not made a late claim on long known facts to manipulate or to cause delay rather than to seek redress. 

 

As RLUIPA claims are case specific, the Court has urged the states to adopt policies to address claims through a reasonable request process as well as to provide procedural training for spiritual advisors. 

 

As Ramirez succeeded in persuading the court that he is worthy of injunctive relief, the decision of the Fifth Circuit has been reversed, and the case has been remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

 

Matters Would Go Better if All Played Their Parts Better.  Justice Sotomayor, having joined in the opinion, has written separately to emphasize that both inmate and prisons administration must comply with not only RLUIPA, but also, with particular emphasis on the prison’s obligations, with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).  All concerned, but especially Institutions administering process and procedures, must ensure that redress is available and accessible and that delay not be permitted to frustrate proceedings unduly.  

 

Accommodate, Don’t Litigate.  Justice Kavanaguh concurred separately, noting the emergence of religious exercise and religious equality claims in death penalty case, and commenting upon the difficulties the Court faces in defining not only conpelling interest but also refining the relative restrictivess of measure os addressing compelling interests.

 

Justice Kavanaugh urged the states to realize that much could be accomplished and a good deal of harm could be avoided if the states were to accommodate inmenat’s requests where it is possible to do so without sacrificing the states’ “compelling interests in safety, security, and solemnity,” as so doing would avoid litigation and aid in bringing closure to victims’ families. 

 

Doubting (Justice) Thomas. Justice Thomas dissented from the Court’s opinion, citing not only the violent nature of Ramirez’s crime, but also his evasion of responsibility, and what Justice Thoams perceived to be a strategic change in position to achieve delay.

 

Justice Thomas noted that Ramirez’s engagement in delay and manipulation has frustrated the state’s and the public’s interests in how justice ought to be served.  Moreover, Ramirez has caused repeated injury to victims, as each time a date of execution has been set, Ramirez has evaded it. 

 

Although Ramirez did not engage in a last minute flurry of filing claims, he did engage in piecemeal and persistent pursuit of claims, changing tactics as needed to seek his goal:  delay. 

 

Neither strategy is more or less inequitable than the other, in Justice Thomas’s view.

 

Justice Thomas found no merit in the view that Ramirez’s advancing a claim relating to a ‘traditional’ religions ritual supports the conclusion that is claim is sincere, particularly as the orthodoxy of a practice has no bearing on First Amendment protection.

 

Justice Thomas found Ramirez’s failure to comply with the Prison Litigation REform Act (PLRA) is fatal to his bid for relief before the Supreme Court.  Ramirez was obliged to, but did not, engage in informal resolution of his audible prayer claim nor did he mention the audible prayer claim in his grievance, precluding the state’s adjudication of his claim.  

 

21-5592 Ramirez v. Collier (03_24_2022)

 

Ramirez v Collier 10 F4th 561Mem 5th Cir 2021