Sarcasm and Public Employment Don’t Mix, Part Deux

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Labor & Employment Law, Seventh Circuit2 Comments on Sarcasm and Public Employment Don’t Mix, Part Deux

GavelBack in my previous blogging life, I wrote about a case by the 11th Circuit, Mitchell v. Hillsborough County, No. 05-12207 (11th Cir., Oct. 31, 2006), which involved a county employee who made satirical remarks about one of the country commissioners, and got fired for it.  In “Swift Would Be Ashamed” from 2006, I wrote about the facts of that case:

Plaintiff Gary Mitchell had a job filming the meetings of his local Board of Commissioners and he also volunteered at the local public access television station. Due to a brouhaha over indecent programming, the Board of Commissioners had proposed to cut public access funding. Commissioner Rhonda Storms was leading the morality crusade, so Mitchell decided to have some fun at her expense. During the open comment period of a supervisors’ meeting, Mitchell took to the podium wearing a beret with a thunderbolt on top and announced that he was a member of a fictitious political support group called the Thunderheads. He then gave a speech praising Storms and concluded with a question: given her preoccupation with women’s body parts, did she prefer the nickname “Vagi” or “Gina”?

I perhaps can understand the efficiency argument in this case (though it is certainly not a slam dunk), but I don’t agree at all that this is not speech on a matter of public concern.  As Robert [Loblaw] points out, that would be like saying Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal was really about cannibalism.

The 11th Circuit found that Mitchell’s speech was not a matter of public concern, and even if it was, the efficiency concerns of the employer in ensuring co-worker harmony outweighed any First Amendment rights Mitchell would have had.

Well, the humor of the federal courts has not improved in three years.  Not even in my hometown.  Continue reading “Sarcasm and Public Employment Don’t Mix, Part Deux”

“Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really get right to the point.”

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on “Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really get right to the point.”

Nazis Highway

So said Woody Allen (as Isaac Davis in Manhattan) in response to the suggestion that a Nazi march was “devastated” by a mocking piece in the New York Times.

In Sunday’s  Times, there was an article about a group calling themselves “The Nationalist Socialist Movement – Springfield Unit.”  It has been allowed to participate in Missouri’s adopt-a highway program. Under the program, a group agrees to pick up trash along a stretch of roadside and, in return, a sign is erected at the onset of the “adopted” segment, acknowledging their participation. The Nazis apparently pick up litter in full regalia. 

What to do? Allen’s character suggested picking up bricks and baseball bats and going to “really explain things to them.” Let’s take that off the table.

There is no question that the Nazis have a right to participate. The Supreme Court has held that groups may not be excluded from such programs on the basis of their political beliefs. That case (also arising from Missouri) involved adoption of a highway by the Klu Klux Klan. State officials responded by renaming the road after Rosa Parks.

Legislators have proposed calling the highway on which the Nazis collect trash, the Abraham Joshua Heschel Memorial Highway after the prominent rabbi and philosopher.Although Heschel’s daughter is not happy with the proposal (and her wishes are entitled to great consideration), I sort of like it. Absent the preferred option, i.e., that such people not exist, there is something about having Nazis pick up the garbage on what is, symbolically, a Jew’s road. “Excuse me, there, Horst, but I think you missed that Toblerone wrapper. Be a good little Aryan and pick that up for me.”

I appreciate that people will look at the propriety of such a response in different ways. One argument would be, I suppose, that to do anything more draws attention to the Nazis. But fanatics have a way of drawing attention to themselves. I prefer to see honoring Heschel in the face of these jamokes as the wages of hatred. The Nazis are marginalized and Heschel, who barely escaped the charnel house, is honored.

But this is the faculty blog so let’s explore a legal point.

Continue reading ““Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really get right to the point.””

Empathy and Catholic Legal Theory

Posted on Categories Constitutional Interpretation, First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Religion & Law, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on Empathy and Catholic Legal Theory

Over at Mirror of Justice, Rob Vischer of St. Thomas wonders about the role of empathy in Catholic legal theory. After referring to Orin Kerr’s summation of different responses to legal ambiguity, Rob asks:

Wasn’t Brown v. Board of Education driven by empathy, not just the weighing of legal merits?  How about Meyer and Pierce?  Is the recognition that “the child is not the mere creature of the state” as a rationale for a judicial decision driven solely by legal merit, or something else?  And what about abortion?  There are lots of Supreme Court decisions that reflect weak constitutional interpretation, but calls for the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade are not just about remedying bad interpretation, are they?  Aren’t we also asking judges to empathize with the unborn in recognizing the need to overturn Roe?

Putting aside Roe (which I think is all about weak constitutional interpretation), Rob’s point goes to the idea that I was trying to explore yesterday about cabined empathy. It can be, to borrow Ed Fallone’s phrase again, useful in reasoning from undisputed (or at least a judge’s accepted) first principles. It isn’t that empathy creates an obligation of equal protection, but it does help us see the flaw in Justice Henry Billings Brown’s (who remembers that name?) assertion in Plessy that the badge of inferiority arising from Jim Crow exists “solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”  Continue reading “Empathy and Catholic Legal Theory”

A Broader Question From a Questionable Case

Posted on Categories First Amendment2 Comments on A Broader Question From a Questionable Case

I am not sure just what it is with the Thomas More Law Center, but since Ed Thompson left, they’ve done some strange things. First was a silly law suit challenging the TARP act because some of the recipients had shariah-compliant lending programs. Now, it has filed suit complaining that the Department of Homeland Security report on the “dangers” presumably presented by some ill-defined assembly of right-wing groups violates their First and Fifth Amendment rights.

To be sure, the report is an embarrassing piece of work, essentially saying that there are right-wing groups who feel very strongly about a number of issues and, even thought there is no evidence that any of them are planning any violent or unlawful activity, . . . you know, they could because there has been domestic terror associated with the right wing in the past. What is particularly disturbing about the report is the broad brush with which it treats “right-wing” groups. It takes little or no care to distinguish groups that are seen to be, in the report’s words “anti-government” or opposed to “abortion” or “immigration” from those unnamed and, apparently, so far nonviolent groups that might suddenly become terrorists. There is little guidance for law enforcement agencies receiving the report. It conveys little information other than the supposed need to monitor “right-wing” political groups. It certainly could move some official somewhere to questionable conduct, as it apparently already has. Continue reading “A Broader Question From a Questionable Case”

Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Western District of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Court System2 Comments on Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*

Much of the attention following yesterday’s decision in Siefert v. Alexander focuses upon the invalidation of prohibitions against judges or judicial candidates belonging to political parties and endorsing partisan candidates for office. That part of Judge Crabb’s decision seems to me, given the balance between regulatory interests and the protection of speech struck by the United States Supreme Court in Republican Party v. White, to be clearly correct.

And not, in my view, very momentous. Many judges have prejudicial partisan affiliations and, in highly salient elections, it is not hard for the public to discern whether a  candidate is a Republican or Democrat.  In fact, one could argue that allowing candidates to claim partisan affiliation is a relatively efficient way to provide pertinent information to voters in campaigns where discussion of the issues is difficult and often cramped by legal and customary restrictions.  It’s not that we expect judges to rule in whatever way their party wants (although, as Judge Crabb points out, the prior partisan affiliation of federal judges is strongly correlated with voting patterns), but that partisan affiliation may tell us something (admittedly broad and general) about a candidate’s judicial philosophy.

More significant, it seems to me, is that part of the decision striking down the Code of Judicial Conduct’s prohibition against the personal solicitation of funds by judges and judicial candidates. Continue reading “Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*”

My Favorite Opinions, by a Former Justice

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Religion & Law, Wisconsin Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on My Favorite Opinions, by a Former Justice

Having served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I am often asked about which case was my favorite. It is always difficult to answer that question, because I liked many cases for a variety of different reasons. So I thought I would share my experience with three of them. I really enjoyed working on cases that took me into not only interesting research but other cultures. State v. Davids involved a Native American charged with the offense of fishing without a license. The real issue before the court was whether the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation, as its boundaries were defined by the Treaty of 1856, was diminished by federal legislation in 1871 and terminated by federal legislation in 1906, thereby placing the area encompassing Upper Gresham Pond under state jurisdiction and requiring all who fished there to have a valid state fishing license, including Bert Davids, an enrolled member of the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe. That case had me dusting off old treaties and historical writings (actually my law clerk, Kathleen Rinehart, did the dusting off of the books) to better understand the various different types of agreements between the federal government and particular tribes. It became a rewarding history lesson in Indian treaties and the reasons for those agreements. I could not write the opinion without better understanding what was happening in tribal politics at the time. It became a lovely and interesting history lesson in and of itself. The conclusion of the case was that Mr. Davids indeed needed a fishing license for Upper Gresham Pond.

I also liked State v. Miller, Continue reading “My Favorite Opinions, by a Former Justice”

Religion in Public Places

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Religion & LawLeave a comment» on Religion in Public Places

An unsettled question in the law of limited purpose public forums is whether forums that are made available for broad purposes can exclude religious worship. In a trio of cases culminating in Good News Club v. Milford Central School, the Supreme Court has made clear that religious uses that are within a forum’s purpose cannot be excluded because they are religious. Thus, the Milford school, having decided to make its facilities broadly available for after hours community use, could not exclude the Good News Club, an evangelical Christian group who wished to conduct bible study and related activities for children.

Some have read Good News Club (incorrectly in my view) to recognize a distinction between worship and other forms of religious uses. In this paper (forthcoming in the Mississippi Law Journal), I draw on the theology of Christian worship (which I think broadly applies to many other religious traditions) to argue that worship, while sometimes seen as noncommunicative and deliberative, is, in fact, both and ought not to be excluded from broadly defined forums.

Here’s a related question. Continue reading “Religion in Public Places”

Is It Right to Teach About What Is Wrong?

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Milwaukee, Religion & Law3 Comments on Is It Right to Teach About What Is Wrong?

Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines (left) has written a nice piece on values education in the Journal-Sentinel. I know that President Hines and I disagree on many things, but he is someone whose leadership I greatly respect.

In response to the Hines piece, Patrick McIlheran points out an obvious problem. Under current law, it is unclear that schools could effectively incorporate religious perspectives on morality into values education. (There is some room for schools to teach “about” religion, but, in the type of normative education that President Hines is calling for, that distinction — and the lack of clarity about just where it ought to be drawn — would probably preclude any deep inclusion of religious perspectives.)

Marquette alum Tom Foley (the blogger known as “Illusory Tenant”) can’t wait to dismiss Patrick as a “tin pot philosopher,” but he is wrong to do so for at least two reasons. Continue reading “Is It Right to Teach About What Is Wrong?”

We Know Where You Live

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Human Rights, Political Processes & RhetoricLeave a comment» on We Know Where You Live

Opponents of Proposition 8 have put up a map purporting to show where donors to the “Yes on 8” campaign live. You can get the name, occupation, and amounts of donation for each mapped donor. While you can’t get the exact address, it would be quite easy to use the map to find the homes of donors.

The information used to create the map is all publicly available, but it does make it more accessible and convenient to use. But for what end? Continue reading “We Know Where You Live”

Another SCR Bites the Dust?

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Western District of Wisconsin8 Comments on Another SCR Bites the Dust?

In Duwe v. Alexander, prominent First Amendment attorney James Bopp won a federal district court decision (PDF) striking down SCR 60.06(3)(b), part of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Ethics. Bopp convinced Judge Shabaz that the Code’s section prohibiting judges from making “pledges, promises, or commitments” interfered with their free speech rights under Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002).

Bopp is currently pursuing another free speech claim in Siefert v. Alexander, again in the Western District federal court (PDF). Here, Bopp represents a Milwaukee County judge who is challenging three sections of the Code that prohibit judges from belonging to or participating in political parties.

He is also counsel to Justice Michael Gableman in the disciplinary proceedings regarding Gableman’s campaign TV ad. In the reply to the Judicial Commission’s charges (PDF), he affirmatively asserts that SCR 60.06(3)(2), the “misrepresentations” clause, is an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.

In other words, Bopp’s litigation in Wisconsin has successfully taken down one judicial ethics code section, and four more are under challenge.

But Bopp is litigating outside Wisconsin as well, and a recent decision Bopp won in a federal court in Kansas may result in new litigation in Wisconsin. Yesterday, Bopp issued a release hailing Judge Julie A. Robinson’s decision in Yost v. Stout, which struck down the Kansas Judicial Code’s ban on the direct solicitation of campaign donations by judicial candidates. Wisconsin SCR 60.06(4) says that “A judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect shall not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.” Under the federal district court’s decision in Kansas, it seems clear that 60.06(4) is unconstitutional. Will a Wisconsin judge or candidate soon challenge it as such?

A Tale of Two Blawgs

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Legal Scholarship, Political Processes & RhetoricLeave a comment» on A Tale of Two Blawgs

It may be a new story that is already old, but here’s my own example of the role blogs can play in legal scholarship. A post on my personal blog is turning into a paper. But before I can complete the paper (I was well into another project), a case comment in the Harvard Law Review has responded to my idea.

I am working on a paper discussing the potential implications of the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Davis v. FEC, striking down the “Millionaire’s Amendment” to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (more commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act).  This provision increased the campaign contribution limits for candidates facing an opponent who has self-funded in excess of a trigger amount. So, if a wealthy self-financing candidate (like our own Sen. Herb Kohl or Rep. Steve Kagen) spends a sufficient amount of his or her own funds, the amount that individuals and party committees are allowed to contribute to his or her opponent increases. The Court, in a 5-4 decison, found that this provision is an unconstitutional burden on the self-financing candidate’s free speech rights.

The essential point of the paper, made on the very day that the decision came down on my personal blog (note to the Dean: see your summer research dollars at work), is that, when considered with the Court’s decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC during the previous term, Davis may well render public financing schemes unworkable. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Blawgs”

SCOWIS to Consider Scope of Ministerial Exception

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Religion & Law, Wisconsin Law & Legal System2 Comments on SCOWIS to Consider Scope of Ministerial Exception

Earlier this fall, the Wisconsin Supreme Court granted a petition for review in Coulee Catholic Schools v. Labor and Industry Review Commission. The decision below is here

The case involves the scope of the ministerial exception to age discrimination claims under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. The complainant, Wendy Ostlund, was a teacher in a Catholic grade school who had been laid off. While certain of her duties were explicitly religious, e.g., she taught religion, led the students in prayer, prepared them for liturgies, and sometimes incorporated religious themes into secular subjects, most of her day was not spend in expressly religious activities.

The Court of Appeals held that the application of the exception turned on whether Ms. Ostlund’s primary duties were minsterial, i.e., did they consist of “teaching, spreading the faith, church governance, supervision of a religious order, or supervision or participation in religious ritual and worship . . . .” The exception applies only when a position is “quintessentially religious,” because it is such a position that presents the prospect of making an “inroad on religious liberty” that is “too substantial to be permissible.”

Continue reading “SCOWIS to Consider Scope of Ministerial Exception”