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The Supreme Court will consider Tuesday whether an anti-abortion group can challenge an Ohio law that could have restricted it from publicly accusing a political candidate of voting for taxpayer-funded abortions in Obamacare.

The justices arent likely to decide whether the law chills free speechalthough Susan B. Anthony List and even the Ohio attorney general say that it does. Theyre instead being asked to decide whether SBA List has standing to challenge the law since the group was never prosecuted under it.

Still, the case has stirred up heated questions about whether the Ohio law and others like it violate First Amendment rights. Its also reignited the issue of whether the Affordable Care Act contains taxpayer funding for abortion.

(PHOTOS: 2014 March for Life)

The controversy first arose in 2010, when Democrat Steve Driehaus was running for reelection to Congress. In an effort to unseat him, SBA List prepared billboard ads saying Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted for taxpayer-funded abortion.

The message was in reference to the ACA, which abortion opponents say lacks adequate safeguards to ensure that insurance companies keep taxpayer dollars separate from other funding used to cover abortions.

Although the billboards didnt go up, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Election Commission, and a three-member panel found probable cause that their planned message could be false. The state statute makes it a crime to knowingly publish false statements about a political candidate.

Driehaus lost his re-election bid, and the complaint was dismissed. But SBA List filed a lawsuit against the commission and the Ohio secretary of state to overturn the law. The group has lost in both federal district court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, with each concluding that it has no standing to sue because the billboards never actually appeared and the group was never prosecuted under the law.

(CARTOONS: Matt Wuerker on Obamacare)

SBA List contends that requiring groups and individuals to defend the truth of a political comment before the state election commission has an unconstitutionally chilling effect on the right to free speech.

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Abortion at heart of Ohio speech case

THE U.S. Supreme Courts decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was only out a few minutes before elected officials and campaign-finance reformers began condemning it as another disastrous step toward an American oligarchy.

But Americans should not be alarmed by the ruling. The decision is consistent with the First Amendment and with Americas long tradition of unrestricted political speech.

The case concerned a federal law that restricted how many candidates or political committees a donor could support with a maximum campaign contribution.

Shaun McCutcheon, the plaintiff in the case, contributed the maximum amount to 16 federal candidates, but the law made it a crime for him to contribute a single cent more to another candidate. He sued, arguing that the law violated his First Amendment right to support the candidates of his choice.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed.

The laws demise will have little practical effect. Donors rarely reached the aggregate limit. According to a statement by the Federal Election Commission, only 646 donors reached the biennial limit of $123,200 in 2012. The additional contributions the decision permits will still be subject to limits on how much money someone can contribute to an individual candidate. Moreover, the laws regulating Washington state elections do not have this kind of aggregate limit.

Opponents of the decision argue that it is still wrong, based mainly on slogans like money isnt speech and an ill-founded concern that treating financial contributions as protected under the First Amendment will allow billionaires to buy democracy or drown out the voices of speakers with less money.

In a narrow sense, these opponents are correct about one thing: Money is not speech. But money enables speech, and that is why the right to make political contributions is protected by the First Amendment.

This is an enormous and heavily populated country. The Puget Sound region alone is home to 3 million people. In order to communicate with voters and for voters to hear from candidates, it takes money.

Try publishing a book, making a video or printing a flyer without spending one penny. It cannot be done. This means that if the government can restrict how much money one can spend in disseminating a political message, it can effectively silence any speech that carries beyond the sound of your voice.

The rest is here:
Guest: Supreme Court McCutcheon ruling protects political speech

In striking down the aggregate limits on contributions to candidates, PACs and political parties challenged in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court delivered a victory not only to political donors seeking to support more challenges to incumbents, but to everyone who is affected by American politics and law. The reason is a key and often forgotten point about the First Amendment: it protects speech, not speakers.

Freedom of speech is often treated as a contemptible burden in American politics; something that must be endured but not respected. When hateful speech is heard, or a wealthy individual spends huge sums of money on speech we disagree with, we commonly ask why they ought to possess a right that we feel does more harm than good. This was the general reaction to the McCutcheon decision: why does anyone need the right to spend more than $123,000 (the limit declared unconstitutional) on political contributions?

This misses the point by focusing solely on the speaker and ignoring the broader social benefits that result from a free and uninhibited exchange of ideas. Speech is constitutionally protected and unlimited because society benefits from the increased knowledge that is generated by it, and because the government cannot be trusted to decide what speech is “good” and what speech is “bad”. Chief Justice Roberts writes in the McCutcheon decision that “The First Amendment does not protect the government, even when the government purports to act through legislation reflecting “collective speech.”"

The wisdom of this principle has been borne out by history, which teaches us that the power to censor is always used against those who criticize the powerful. This was true a century ago when the government prosecuted pacifists in World War I and communist sympathizers in the Red Scare. It is just as true today, when protestors at political conventions are put in caged “free speech zones”, such as at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and when a majority of the nation’s universities maintain unconstitutional speech codes used to punish criticism, such as occurred in 2007 when Valdosta State University had a student “administratively withdrawn” (expelled) for criticizing the construction of a parking garage on campus.

Speech restrictions of all kinds exist to protect those in power from criticism. In the case of contribution limits, incumbents are protected from challengers. Despite its reputation as a tool of the establishment, money spent on political speech actually creates an opportunity to challenge entrenched political interests by increasing voter knowledge. This is especially valuable for outsider candidates running grassroots campaigns without the aid of connections to the ruling class or major media corporations. Pessimism about politics might lead us to think money spent on political advertising is wasted, but research shows that spending in campaigns is correlated with higher voter turnout and higher levels of public knowledge. This should not be surprising; the more advertisements you see about a candidate, the more likely you are to want to figure out what all the commotion is about and discuss the race with your friends.

This is how unlimited political speech comes to benefit everyone affected by American public policy: through producing a more informed, engaged electorate. Yet when cases like McCutcheon are discussed in the public sphere, they are presented as “wins” for large donors and “losses” for the rest of us.

This is nonsensical – speech is not a zero sum game. We all benefit from the exchange of ideas, regardless of their source. That is why cries of “corporations are not people!” are not an adequate response to the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums of money on political speech. The entity speaking does not matter, the speech itself does.

It is an unfortunate indication of our culture’s declining respect for the First Amendment that a ruling which removes an unnecessary restriction on the ability of citizens to participate in the political process is vilified. Perhaps that would begin to change if we recognized that more speech for Citizen A creates ripple effects increasing political participation throughout the system. He often speaks for thousands or millions of others who agree with him, and those who disagree may still be informed or motivated by his message. We must remember that voters are not robots who treat ads as orders, and in this social media age people can nearly instantly respond, rebut, subvert and lampoon the speech with others if the message is false or unpersuasive. And on Election Day, everyone still gets exactly one vote.

The answer to speech is more speech. The First Amendment should mean that the government does not get to say “you’ve said enough.” With McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has brought us one big step closer to living up to that ideal.

Luke Wachob is the McWethy Fellow at the Center for Competitive Politics.

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LUKE WACHOB: A victory for free speech, a win for democracy

Tom Jacksons conservative opinion column is published each Sunday. The Right Stuff blog is updated throughout the week at

Politics, rude, rollicking and messy by nature, is likely to get even more so in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Courts decision this week that eliminates caps on the aggregate amount of money individuals can donate to candidates and political parties. I know, hell, hand basket, etc. Easy there.

The ruling also left in place (over Justice Clarence Thomas energetic dissent) perfectly arbitrary limits on how much candidates for federal office can accept from each donor, $2,600 per race; $5,200 per year. One shackle at a time. Rescuing the First Amendment from imprisonment by a jealous political class egged on by a mass-media monopoly is, like defusing an intricately wired bomb or performing neurosurgery, a delicate task.

Still, the eventual outcome a full unraveling of Washingtons decades-long attack on political speech seems inevitable.

Because one is required to support dissemination of the other, the court long ago equated money with speech. That being the case, it was perfectly logical, as well as philosophically appropriate, for the five justices forming the majority in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission to rule as they did.

Many legal scholars see McCutcheon as a natural extension of the courts 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which scuttled a prohibition against corporations spending money on campaigns after an FEC statute blocked distribution of a documentary about Hillary Clinton. Those who thought Citizens United was properly decided also approve of the McCutcheon verdict, and those who didnt like the first really, really dont like the latter.

The way forward for those horrified by McCutcheon is clear: Draft an amendment to the Constitution. Until thats done and ratified, the glorious, re-emerging original stands with its unequivocal command: Congress shall make no law that compromises the peoples rights to publish, speak, assemble and petition. And within those rights, they should be able to bring whatever qualities, talents, know-how or material well-being they have to the task.

The First Amendment safeguards an individuals right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political association, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. When an individual contributes money to a candidate, he exercises both of those rights. A Wall Street Journal editorial elucidates: Restricting how many candidates an individual can support infringes on those rights. Obviously.

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The Right Stuff: Freeing the First Amendment, one shackle at a time

On its present course, the Supreme Court will ultimately overrule its 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, the landmark case upholding campaign finance reform legislation. It cant come too soon, because Buckley expressly ignored the First Amendments injunction that Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech. Instead of free speech, we now have regulated speech that has ensnarled elections in a web of bizarre and opaque rules. Last week, in McCutcheon et al. v. Federal Election Commission, the court began edging away from Buckley by striking down one of its limits on free speech. The details are less important than the courts direction.

Lets be clear about the stakes.

Free speech is not speech you agree with, uttered by someone you admire. Its speech that you find stupid, selfish, dangerous, uninformed or threatening, spoken and sponsored by someone you despise, fear or ridicule. Free speech is unpopular, contentious and sometimes ugly. It reflects a tolerance for differences. If everyone agreed on all things, we wouldnt need it.

In American democracy, this free speech plays two vital roles. The first is well recognized. It is to shape public opinion and to influence elections that, in turn, determine the social climate and steer government. We cherish the marketplace of ideas because (we assume) it allows us, through give and take, to arrive at better ideas and to grope our way toward consensus on hard issues.

Free speechs second function is less understood. It buttresses the political systems legitimacy. It helps losers, in the struggle for public opinion and electoral success, to accept their fates. It helps keep them loyal to the system, even though it has disappointed them. They will accept the outcomes, because they believe theyve had a fair opportunity to express and advance their views. Theres always the next election. Free speech underpins our larger concept of freedom.

Campaign finance reform degrades these core virtues in a quixotic effort to regulate politics. How did this happen? The answer is history. Watergate involved some especially sordid campaign solicitations by President Nixons henchmen. When exposed, these abuses inspired a backlash. We would purge politics of the evils of money. A reform ideology arose that subordinated the First Amendment to these lofty ambitions.

In this ideology, money is not speech. Speech is speech; contributions can be curbed to improve the political system without offending the First Amendment. Doing so is important because the alternative consigns governments vast powers to the rich. Through disproportionate contributions, these moneyed interests win elections and impose their narrow agenda on the nation. This is the ultimate corruption of politics and government.

All this has had an appealing logic for the high-minded. There is only one problem: Each of these basic beliefs is false.

In politics, money is speech. Political speech is a public phenomenon. It aims to affect how people behave. It requires money to hire campaign staff, build a website, buy political spots and the like. Penniless politicians cant easily communicate. Limiting my ability to contribute to candidates and parties restricts my First Amendment rights.

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Robert J. Samuelson: Restoring free speech

The intersection of the First Amendment and campaign finance can seem like a murky crossroads. Good news: Help is here to understand what the Supreme Court is up to at this critical legal juncture.

On Wednesday, a divided high court struck down overall campaign contribution limits in a case called McCutcheon v. FEC, the most important political money ruling since the justices 2010 decision in Citizens United. A quick tally shows that this is the sixth time the court under Chief Justice John Roberts has poked holes in legislation designed to stem the flow of money into the election system.

What is the conservative Roberts majority up to? How far do they intend to go?

The best, most concise explanation Ive heard came from Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School. The court narrowed the conception of corruption to an infinitesimally small concept. It needs to be like American Hustle or Abscam handing a suitcase full of money to a member of Congress and getting an explicit agreement to do something, Waldman said on PBS NewsHour. Other than that, Chief Justice Roberts said trying to use your money to get influence with members of Congress is the heart of the First Amendment.

There you have it. Roberts and his four ideological compadres see campaign spending and contributions as a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. One may disagree with that concept, but it is now enshrined in the constitutional law of the land.

The only limiting principle Roberts & Co. seem to perceive to the First Amendments reach in this regard is quid pro quo corruption: when money buys a specific favor from a particular politician. Then cash, checks, and wire transfers cease to be simply political expression and morph into briberythe roguish influence peddling at the heart of the highly entertaining American Hustle and the real-life Abscam sting on which the movie was loosely based.

Congrats to Waldman for providing such a vivid aid for comprehending whats going on in Washington. Condolences to him, the Brennan Center, and other liberal fans of campaign finance restrictions for their losing streak at the Supreme Court, one which will likely continue as long as Chief Justice Roberts commands a majority.

The rest is here:
Understanding the Supreme Court's Campaign Finance Ruling

RFE/RL Video Roundup — April 2, 2014
A suicide-bomb attack in Afghanistan, the election campaign begins in Iraq, a bank protest in Russia, and stories from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turk…

By: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Follow this link:
RFE/RL Video Roundup — April 2, 2014 – Video

What kind of bizarro world do we live in where a near majority of Justices of the United States Supreme Court criticizes a First Amendment ruling for being overly concerned with the individuals right to engage in political speech? Where these same jurists instead elevate the publics interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters? Are these four reactionary horsemen who wont countenance anti-war protestors, marches against oppressive laws, and other anti-establishment speech-acts? Or perhaps theyre censorious troglodytes inveighing against flag-burning, nude dancing, and other emotion-riling forms of expression?

It turns out no, that this statist-majoritarian cant is the highest explication of so-called liberal dissent. Weve always been at war with Eurasia (at least until those in charge decree that our eternal enemy is Eastasia), etc.

Rubbish. Just as the government cant limit the number of hours that Oprah broadcasts or issues that The New York Times publishes lest they unduly influence our political system it cant restrict the money that someone wants to spend on campaign donations lest he skew the marketplace of ideas. Heck, Ive been part of enough SCOTUSblog symposia that Im sure glad theres no federal limit on how much analysis someone can provide on a website thats read by all the key opinion-making eyeballs!

Despite the alarming five-to-four split among the Justices, McCutcheon is an easy case if you apply well-settled law (let alone the political-speech-protective first principles upon which this nation was founded): (1) Preventing quid pro quo corruption (or the appearance thereof) is the only valid basis for regulating the finance of political campaigns; (2) restrictions on the total amount an individual may donate to candidates and party committees dont serve that bribery-prevention interest and thus violate the First Amendment; (3) thats it; case closed.

The only surprise here is that the ruling wasnt a unanimous rejection of the governments incredible claim that, somehow, someone who maxes out to nine congressional candidates corrupts the system by giving more than $1,800 to any others. (Or maybe its those nine candidates who are corrupted by the jealous knowledge that theyre no longer unique snowflakes, that their benefactor has Benjamins for literally anyone who agrees with his political positions?I could never fully grasp the logic.)

In any event, Chief Justice Roberts provided the nut of this oh-so-easy-to-crack-case when he called the contribution limits a tax wrote for the majority (which is indeed a majority because Justice Thomas concurred on broader grounds): Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi paradesdespite the profound offense such spectacles causeit surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.

With Justice Thomas, however, I would go beyond that simple point and overrule Buckley v. Valeo altogether because [c]ontributions and expenditures are simply two sides of the same First Amendment coin and the Courts efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere word games rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law (quoting Chief Justice Burgers partial dissent in Buckley). Justice Thomas would abandon Buckleys framework and replace it with a strict scrutiny test for limits on both contributions and expenditures. Quite so.

Buckley transmogrified the speech-restrictive post-Watergate Federal Election Campaign Act into something no Congress wouldve passed, also inventing legal standards such that one type of political speech has greater First Amendment protection than another.

Nearly twenty years later, the Supreme Court in McConnell v. FEC again rewrote a congressional attempt to reform the rules by which people run for office the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also colloquially known as McCain-Feingold shying away from striking down Buckley and producing a convoluted mish-mash. (The Chief Justice delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to miscellaneous BCRA Title III and IV provisions. . . . Justice Breyer delivered the Courts opinion with respect to BCRA Title V504 . . . . Stevens and OConnor, JJ., delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to BCRA Titles I and II, in which Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. . . . [and on and on and on, such that this part of the syllabus explaining who agrees with what jot and tittle is longer than the average Oliver Wendell Holmes opinion].)

Enough! The drip-drip of campaign-finance rulings over the last decade has shown that existing campaign-finance law is as unworkable as it is unconstitutional, serving nobodys interest but the election lawyers who regularly get to bill hours explaining to their clients exactly what type of speech will now get them thrown in jail and how to structure their next political move so as not to provoke Justice Breyer into attaching yet another appendix onto his next dissent.

Read more here:
Symposium: The First Amendments protection of political speech extends to both donations and spending

A dispute over state regulation of political speech serves as the backdrop for an important case about when First Amendment claims are ripe for judicial decision.

The case, Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, involves a constitutional challenge to an Ohio law that makes it a crime during a political campaign to make a false statement about the voting record of a candidate or public official. A second provision makes it illegal to disseminate any false statement about a candidate, either knowing it is false or with reckless disregard for whether it is true, with the goal of electing or defeating the candidate.

The central issue is whether government officials may punish false political statements or whether such falsehoods are entitled to the First Amendments protection for freedom of speech. But before that issue can be reached, there is a threshold problem of when a law like Ohios may be challenged specifically, whether a constitutional challenge must await the outcome of a prosecution for violation of the law or may instead proceed as long as a speaker feels that his free speech rights are chilled by the very existence of the law.

This stage of the dispute is about justiciability: whether the issue is ripe for decision because there is a current, timely genuine controversy with injured parties whose grievances can be remedied in court. The issue of justiciability is an important step in all litigation and should be of interest to students in constitutional law, federal courts, civil procedure, and clinical and trial practice programs.

The dispute arose during the failed 2010 reelection campaign of Representative Steven Driehaus, a Democrat from Ohio. Driehaus complained to the Ohio Elections Commission after a non-profit anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, planned to run billboard advertising in his district saying that his vote for President Obamas health care law, the Affordable Care Act, was a vote for taxpayer-funded abortions. The billboard company refused the ad when a lawyer for Driehaus raised the possibility of legal action. But apparently because the ad was still a possibility, Driehaus went ahead with his complaint to the commission.

Following its established procedures, a panel of the commission issued a finding of probable cause that the proposed ad violated the law and referred the matter to the full commission for a hearing. Rather than await the hearing, however, the Susan B. Anthony List filed suit in federal district court to block both the commission hearing and the enforcement of the law. The district court declined to stay the commission actions, but the parties agreed to put off the hearing until after the election. Driehaus lost his reelection bid, and the commission process ended. But the SBA List amended its federal court complaint to contend that its free speech had been chilled by the commission proceedings.

At roughly the same time, a second non-profit group, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), planned to disseminate much the same message that Driehaus had voted to allow taxpayer-funded abortions and that his complaint to the Ohio Election Commission was designed to obscure his vote. COAST filed suit in federal court, too; although Driehaus did not file a complaint against COAST with the commission, the group alleged that it withheld its messages about Driehaus because of the proceedings against SBA List.

The district court decided the two cases together, dismissing the challenges to the Ohio law on the ground that neither SBA List nor COAST had standing to assert a real injury that was ripe for decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed those dismissals, finding that there were no claims that were ripe for review. As to SBA List, the Sixth Circuit held that there was no commission action pending and no objective fear of future enforcement against the group. Moreover, the appeals court concluded, the group was able to get its message out in numerous ways; only the billboard was scrapped as a result of the controversy. COASTs claims, the appeals court held, were even more speculative because there had never been a commission action or even a threat of one against the group.

The two groups petitioned the Supreme Court, and the Justices are scheduled to hear arguments in their cases on April 22. In their appeal, lawyers for the groups take a somewhat incredulous tone about the Ohio law, exhorting the Court that believe it or not false campaign speech is a criminal offense in Ohio. The groups argue that they face an ongoing, genuine threat to their free speech rights because the existence of the Ohio law raises the specter of a future prosecution if they engage in similar speech. The fact that the threat is real, they contend, is demonstrated at least in part by the Ohio Election Commissions finding of probable cause in SBA Lists case.

The groups maintain that the Sixth Circuits approach to when a First Amendment dispute is ripe for decision would require those wishing to exercise their free speech rights to wait until they have been successfully prosecuted before they could challenge the validity of the state law. This provides far too little protection for free speech, they argue, and ignores the chill on free speech that comes from the mere threat of prosecution created by the law.

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SCOTUS for law students (sponsored by Bloomberg Law): Litigating free speech cases

The organized assault on your free speech rights is under way.

During town meeting, some New Hampshire towns approved articles asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling clarified that spending on political speech is protected by the First Amendment.

These town articles were the work of Washington, D.C.-based activist group Public Citizen. The Democratic leadership in the New Hampshire House, which officially opposes bills based on templates from out-of-state organizations, did not oppose these warrant articles, which were placed on ballots “due to the work of Public Citizen activists and our allies,” according to a statement from Public Citizen organizer Jonah Minkoff-Zern.

In fact, the state Senate is to vote this week on a Public Citizen-promoted bill to create a commission to study amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. It is at least the fifth bill Democrats have introduced to go after Citizens United at the urging of Public Citizen. These are precisely the sort of bills driven by out-of-state interest groups that N.H. Democrats claim to oppose.

The resolutions supposedly promote free speech, but really do the opposite. Prohibiting citizens from speaking in a collective voice through their own organizations does not “take money out of politics.” It channels that money to Washington. Instead of buying ads to persuade the public, people who want to change government will have to either give directly to politicians and political parties or hire lobbyists to speak to those politicians in Washington. Overturning Citizens United would empower politicians and lobbyists, not the people. No wonder those who favor a powerful central government hate Citizens United.

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Campaign against speech Making inroads in NH

RSF began releasing their Press Freedom Index in 2002. RSF’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire says the Index is based on “the level of abuses, the extent of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure.”

RSF sends out a questionnairre to “partner organizations (18 freedom of expression NGOs located in all five continents), to our network of 150 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.” Along with state-sanctioned press suppression, the RSF incorporates general Internet freedoms and pressure from independent (usually militant) groups on journalists into the final score of a country.

The more suppression of the press, the higher the score. RSF’s complete methodology and formula can be read here.

America’s 46 ranked spot is a 13-position drop from 2013. The U.S. dropped four points in the Reporters Without Borders 100-point ranking system over the last year to an all-time low of 22 points. RSF ranked the U.S. lower in 2006, 2007 and their combined 2011/2012 indexes, but there was a major change in the U.S. ranking system in 2013.

From 2003 to 2012, the RSF had separate rankings for press freedom in the domestic U.S. and press freedom for “extraterritorial” regions (Iraq and Afghanistan). They combined these two rankings in 2013 and 2014. From 2011/2012 to 2013, the combined U.S. ranking rose to 32, but its press freedom score dropped four points.

That means while the U.S. ranking improved, press freedom was actually tightened, both in the U.S. and worldwide, where lowering scores paved the way for the U.S. to move up in the rankings.

RSF primarily cites the NSA/Snowden scandal for the drop in the U.S.’s ranking and says “the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public-interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the worlds leading power,” largely contribute to the drop in rank. The UK dropped three ranks itself for it’s pressure on the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda.

The graphs above and below indicate general volatility of the U.S.’s press freedoms. As the War on Terror escalates through 2007, so does the U.S.’s score. A brief rising of freedoms comes with the election of President Barack Obama, who was predicted to curb some of the Bush administration’s hard-line policies, but as the years passed it became clear that the press faced increasing difficulty. The sharp fall from 20 in 2010 to 47 in 2011/12 is a direct result of the arrests of journalists covering the Occupy movements.

Overall, the Press Freedom Index’s annual global indicator measured a 1.8 percent rise in global violations of freedom of information, from 3,395 to 3,456 points. RSF reports that “alarmed by the Arab Spring turmoil, authoritarian regimes in the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia have stepped up media censorship and surveillance to head off any ‘attempt at destabilization.’”

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Dissecting America's Low Press Freedom Ranking And The Situation Abroad

Jan 312014

Just how residents and the public at large use Rye’s beaches and shorelines will be debated at the town’s annual deliberative session.

This is the second straight year that townspeople have considered placing restrictions on surf camps and other commercial beach activities at the deliberative session, which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Rye Junior High School.

Use of the beaches, particularly the shores on either end of Jenness State Beach, has remained a hotly debated issue for more than a year now, and Saturday’s deliberative session allows residents and business owners to share their thoughts.

For anyone who may not be familiar with deliberative sessions, they are held to allow the public to comment and possibly alter warrant articles before they head to Election Day, which is March 11 in Rye, with polls open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The use of the beaches is among a mix of articles awaiting voters, but it certainly has spurred the most discussion ahead of Saturday’s deliberative session.

Two articles, as proposed, are designed to restrict commercial activities at the beach. One would allow only “ocean borne” activities like surfing and kayaking lessons, and would prohibit other popular commercial activities such as Zumba. A class on the sands near Jenness State Beach held by Marianela Ramirez, director of Vive La Dance & Fitness, sparked controversy last summer. Organized surfing lessons have raised concerns as well.

The second article would prohibit all types of commercial activity on town beaches between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and at all times on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Tyler McGill of Summer Sessions Surf Shop said he is rallying supporters within the surfing community to fight the two petition warrant articles, claiming they will infringe on the public’s ability to use the beach.

The issue is focused on whether organized commercial activities enhance the general public’s access to the public property below the median high tide mark, or serve to temporarily privatize public space for the benefit of businesses.

A group called Save Our Shore sent a mailer to all town residents outlining perceived problems at the beach and advocating for measures to restrict the ability of businesses to operate on the beach.

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Beach-use articles up for debate

15 hours ago Jan. 19, 2014 – 8:03 AM PST

When Montana blogger Crystal Cox lost her defamation case in 2011, the decision was greeted by a chorus of cheers from journalists, who were quick to argue that Cox wasnt a journalist in any real sense of the word, and therefore didnt deserve any protection from the First Amendment. An appeals court for the Ninth Circuit has disagreed, however: on Friday, a panel of judges overturned the original decision and said that Cox was in fact entitled to protection.

The implications of this ruling go beyond just a single defamation case. Its another link in a chain of decisions that are gradually helping to extend the principle of free-speech protection beyond professional journalism to anyone who is publishing information with public value and as such, it helps shift the focus away from trying to define who is a journalist and puts it where it should be: on protecting the practice of journalism, broadly defined.

Legislators who have been trying to design a shield law for journalists have been doing their best to specify who should be protected from government interference, but as journalism professor Jay Rosen and others have argued, it is the content itself that requires protecting, not some specific group of professional journalists who are able to fill in the correct checkboxes.

The First Amendment question was crucial to Coxs case because under U.S. law, journalists are held to a higher standard when it comes to defamation, in the sense that an accuser has to show negligence in other words, that the accused deliberately printed something they knew was false and also has to prove damages. The original trial judge decided that Cox wasnt entitled to this higher standard of protection because she didnt meet his test for who qualifies as a professional journalist. As he described it:

The record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.

The appeals court rejected this interpretation, however, and took a considerable amount of space in their decision (PDF link) to point out that the free-speech clause of the constitution is intended to cover *anyone* who happens to be saying something of public concern (as defense attorney Eugene Volokh argued in a paper he wrote about the history of the First Amendment), regardless of whether they fit some arbitrary picture of who should qualify as a professional journalist.

The Ninth Circuit ruling said that while the Supreme Court has never explicitly said whether a higher standard of proof should be available to anyone beyond the professional media, it has repeatedly refused to give greater First Amendment protection to members of the institutional press. As the higher court put it in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission: We have consistently rejected the proposition that the institutional press has any constitutional privilege beyond that of other speakers. The appeals court added:

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable.

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On free speech and blogging: The First Amendment applies to everyone, not just journalists

Jan 132014

Last week’s “polar vortex” had much of the nation shivering, but only five U.S. cities hit temperatures lower than the day Nadezhda Toloknnikova walked out of a Siberian prison.

The 24-year-old woman smiled broadly for reporters and flashed the peace sign, as she came out into the -13 degree weather. She wore a thick down jacket but did not have a hat or scarf.

“How do you like our Siberian weather, here?” she quipped.

It wasn’t just bravado.

The lady is tough. She is a married mother of a young daughter and is one of three members of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot arrested for a concert it did in February 2012. In the concert, performed at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the band blasted the Russian Orthodox Church for supporting the election of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The women later filmed a music video of the experience, “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!”

The three members were arrested and later convicted of hooliganism “motivated by religious hatred.”

On Dec. 23, Toloknnikova was released hours after her band mate, Maria Alekhina, who had been in prison at a different location. The third member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released shortly after conviction on a suspended sentence.

Prison could not shut Toloknnikova up. She continued to criticize Putin and led her fellow female prisoners in a hunger strike. That’s when the government transferred her to a Siberian prison colony.

The punk rockers were far from grateful for the amnesty. They called it a stunt to make Russia look good ahead of the Winter Olympics, which the country will host in February. Putin has let thousands of people out of prison, including political opponent and prominent businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had served 10 years.

Alekhina said: “If I had a chance to turn it down, I would have done it, no doubt about that. This is not an amnesty. This is a hoax and a PR move.”

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Pitts: Understand free speech

Taking liberty? election panel ties up with Google
The Social Network: The Election Commission of India ties up with Google, seeks mobile numbers of voters as a mandatory requirement for registration and, by …


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Taking liberty? election panel ties up with Google – Video

Libertarians Recruiting More Candidates in Pursuit of Election Success

December 12, 2013

Central Texas is home to many Libertarians, as shown by this map of the percentage of votes Libertarians received by county. Map by Roy Varney.

By Roy Varney

For Reporting Texas

The shorthand for the original slogan of the Libertarian Party could easily be confused with an anagram or a new strand of flu. But TANSTAAFL pronounced tanstaffel and standing for There aint no such thing as a free lunch was the 1971 launch of an effort to shake up the countrys traditionally two-party political system.

The first platform promised to challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual.

We kind of half-jokingly said there was something in that platform that could offend anyone, recalls Roger Gary, a party member since 1977.

Gary said hes seen the meaning of Libertarianism in Texas change dramatically during his tenure. He has also see significantgrowth in the partys ability to attract voters.

Libertarianism was once considered a fringe party in Texas, but thanks to improved leadership, prolonged public exposure and indirect benefits from the decline of the state Democratic Party, Texas is now the top producer of Libertarian candidates.

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Libertarians Recruiting More Candidates in Pursuit of Election Success

Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis questions political conventions

Wednesday, October, 16, 2013; 11:08 PM | | |

by Alex Koma, sports editor

Its easy to categorize the two major party candidates in Virginias race for governor.Democrat Terry McAuliffe has a reputation as an experienced businessman, while Republican and state Attorney General Ken Cucinelli is known as an experienced lawyer.

But Libertarian Robert Sarvis is an entirely different story.

The 36-year-old Fairfax County native has worked as a software engineer, teacher, lawyer and mobile app designer all before attempting a run for state senate two years ago.

While its safe to call the other two candidates career politicians, Sarvis has clearly positioned himself as an outsider that can provide an alternative for undecided voters.

Theres a lot of conventional wisdom in politics and some of its probably correct, and some of it is worth questioning, Sarvis said. One of those is the conventional wisdom that you cant speak to voters like theyre intelligent adults. Ive always thought it was strange that no one was really trying to do that and this is an opportunity to see what happens when you do.

When Sarvis first ran for office against Democrat Dick Saslaw in 2011, he ran as a Republican. But his experiences with politics and business quickly pushed him toward libertarianism, and he found that this election was the ideal path to express these views.

When we saw the way that the candidates were shaping up, that it was going to be Cucinelli and McAuliffe, it just became clear that there was nobody who was going to be talking about actual freedom and the rule of law, Sarvis said. It just became really clear that there was value, regardless of the outcome, in having someone who could articulate a lot of these issues that really matter.

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Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis questions political conventions

October 12, 2013 – 14:46 AMT

PanARMENIAN.Net – Restrictions on free expression and assembly and reports of ballot stuffing and vote fraud have undermined the credibility of Azerbaijans presidential elections, Freedom House said, calling on the European Union to prioritize human rights and democracy in Azerbaijan at the Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in November 2013 in Vilnius, and suspend negotiations on visa facilitation for Azerbaijani government officials.

The government crackdowns on independent media, civil society organizations, political activists and supporters of the opposition candidates eliminated any possibility that the election would be free or fair. Opposition candidates were largely denied access to mass media during a campaign that lasted only 21 days, and freedom of assembly was severely hindered in the lead-up to the elections, while the incumbent President, Ilham Aliyev, extensively used state resources, which secured him nearly 85 percent of the votes. Concerns about the level of fraud intensified on the eve of the elections, when information available through a mobile application run by the Central Election Commission leaked the outcome of the next days voting to social networks, in which Aliyev was assured of a landslide victory, Freedom House said.

The government of Azerbaijan has shown blatant disregard for its international obligations in the conduct of this election, commented David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. President Aliyevs victory is badly tainted and lacks legitimacy, raising questions about how, even whether, he should be received at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius at the end of next month.

Given the repressive political climate, the critical flaws in the October 9 balloting were not unexpected, said Katherin Machalek, a Caucasus analyst for Freedom in the World. But unlike in the wake of unfair elections in Russia and Ukraine in recent years, democratic governments have remained fairly quiet about the vote. Azerbaijan appears to enjoy a certain immunity from criticism thanks to its strategic cooperation with the West. Among other roles, it serves as a major energy supplier to Europe and a key transit point for the U.S. militarys operations in Afghanistan.

The regime in Baku has done everything it can to safeguard this immunity, actively cultivating relationships with lawmakers and other officials in influential countries. Its work appeared to pay off this week, as election congratulations rolled in from friendly members of the U.S. Congress, Machalek said.

Azerbaijan is rated Not Free in Freedom of the World 2013, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2013, and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2013.

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Freedom House urges EU to suspend visa facilitation for Azeri officials

After last year’s blockbuster cases involving gay marriage and the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court gathers on Monday to start work on the new term’s cases, which cover campaign finance, abortion, affirmative action, and more. Despite the government shutdown, the court will forge forward on opening oral arguments for these cases.

Case:McCullen v. Coakley

Dates: No date set yet.

Basic Facts: A Massachusetts law creates a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, within which political protests from non-clinic workers are not allowed.

Major issues at stake: The case is a mix of first amendment free speech rights and abortion questions. InHill v. Colorado (2000), the court by a 6-3 vote upheld a similar Colorado law because it was “content neutral,” i.e. it did not explicitly favor pro-choice or pro-life protestors. Now, the challengers argue that allowing clinic workers to speak within this buffer zone, but restricting all others, means that only the clinic’s point of view will be heard, thereby restricting the opponents’ free speech.

Case: McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

Dates: Arguments begin tomorrow, Oct. 8.

Basic Facts: Supported by the Republican National Convention, Shaun McCutcheon is challenging the constitutionality of the aggregate limits on political contributions, which currently makes $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to parties the maximum possible donation in any two-year election cycle.

Major issues at stake: McCutcheon would like the limitations thrown out because he argues the limits violate free speech, as the court has long found political spendingto be equivalent to speech. On the other hand, the intention of donation limits are to democratize political support, so that rich individuals cannot have too much influence on an election. The 1976 case Buckley v. Valeo upheld the constitutionality of those limits, but that precedent will now be put to the test.Slate’s Richard Hasencompares McCutcheon v. FEC to Citizen’s United in its implications for opening political contributions to the wealthy few, andwrites that this one “will be bigor huge.” The Hill’sStephen Spaulding suggestively asks,”Will the Supreme Court make it easier to bribe politicians during the midterm elections?”

Case: Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action

Free Speech, Campaign Donations, and Abortion: The Supreme Court's New Term

The Indian Ocean nation of Maldives, famous for its beaches and marred by political unrest last year, holds democratic presidential elections for the second time in its history tomorrow.

President Mohamed Waheed is seeking a second term in the country of 1,190 islands and 350,000 people. His main challenger is former President Mohamed Nasheed, who left office last year in what he called a coup and faces trial on abuse-of-power charges for ordering the arrest of a judge.

A disputed vote may mar the Maldives transition from autocracy after Nasheed became the nations first democratically elected leader in 2008 following 30 years of rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. A power struggle could encourage hardline Islamist groups in the mostly Muslim nation, which is located near busy shipping lanes.

The Maldives matters because it is strategically located and its a young democracy, one of the few in the Islamic world, said S. Chandrasekharan, director of the South Asia Analysis Group. My fear is that some people will not accept the result and there will political violence.

The Maldives derives almost 30 percent of its gross domestic product from tourism, according to the World Bank, and is renowned for its beaches and scuba diving. The countrys population is scattered across 200 of its islands southwest of India.

The archipelago nations tourism industry suffered in 2010 after a video appeared online of a resort employee mocking two Swiss tourists in the local Dhivehi language as he officiated a ceremony to renew their wedding vows. He called the couple swine and infidels in an incident that later prompted a government apology.

Nasheed, who was jailed under Gayooms regime, left office after he ordered the arrest of the chief judge on accusations of failing to act impartially. Nasheed, who says he quit amid threats of violence by rebellious police and soldiers that amounted to a coup, was arrested and is now free on bail awaiting his trial.

If retakes the presidency, Nasheed will be immune from prosecution while in office, according to Chandrasekharan.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encourages all presidential candidates to respect the election results no matter who wins, and asks that all stakeholders overcome their past differences, his office said this week.

Nasheed vowed today to bring the perpetrators of the coup against him to justice if hes elected, Press Trust of India reported. A commission of inquiry rejected his claim that he was ousted at gunpoint.

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Maldives Prepares for Leadership Vote After President’s Ouster

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