In a previous post on Bollea v. Gawker, I predicted that the Florida appellate court would likely invalidate Hulk Hogan’s stunning $140 million judgment against Gawker Media. After much reflection, I believe that the Florida appellate court should overturn this judgment.
There are many reasons why Hogan deserves to be compensated after Gawker released, without Hogan’s consent, excerpts of a tape depicting Hogan engaging in sexual activity. There are just as many reasons why Gawker, who did not illegally obtain the sex tape, deserves to publish the tape without repercussions. Ultimately, a six-member jury should not decide where to set this balance between privacy interests and free speech rights. America’s commitment to free speech exceptionalism means appellate courts must prioritize free speech above privacy rights in this case. The Florida court of appeals (and ultimately the Supreme Court) should hold that when a celebrity has inserted his private life into the public discourse, excerpted video evidence of that private life, submitted along with commentary, is newsworthy as a matter of First Amendment law.
Continue reading “American Free Speech Exceptionalism: Why Hulk Hogan’s Verdict Against Gawker Should Be Reversed on Appeal (Second in a series on Bollea v. Gawker)” →
The Emory pro-Trump chalking incident is a symbolic flashpoint for who is permitted a voice at our nation’s universities. At this moment in history, universities must ensure that all students feel safe and included while allowing for cultural and political pluralism. To do this, universities should not cede entirely to students the line between speech and intimidation.
Continue reading “The Emory Chalking Incident, and When Speech Becomes Intimidation” →
The Hulk Hogan trial against Gawker is a First Amendment analyst’s dream. The lawsuit, based on Gawker’s publishing a video tape that includes nine seconds of Hulk Hogan engaging in sexual activity, presents the complex legal tension between privacy interests and free speech rights. How society responds to the $140 million verdict a Florida jury awarded Hogan will both reflect and reinforce our views of what is untouchable, even by the media. I plan to write several posts about this case. This first post will discuss why Hulk Hogan’s verdict will likely be overturned on appeal. The next post will explore whether the decision should be overturned on appeal, from both legal and policy perspectives. Later posts will update readers on new developments and further implications of the case.
Hulk Hogan’s verdict will likely be overturned by the Florida District Court of Appeal, Second Circuit. That court, in earlier overturning the trial judge’s grant of a preliminary injunction to stop the publication of the video before trial, already indicated its sympathies to the First Amendment defense. The appellate court held that (1) Hogan is a public figure, as a wrestler and reality television star; (2) Hogan has already discussed his family and sex life in the media; (3) sexually explicit content does not nullify speech’s newsworthiness, (4) the posted video and commentary are linked to a matter of public concern; and, importantly, (5) Gawker carefully published only a small excerpt of the sex tape, not the entire thing. Although a ruling on a preliminary injunction does not bind the Florida court of appeals now that it can view all of the evidence, the appellate court seems poised to disregard the trial court’s First Amendment decisions, all issued without full written orders.
Continue reading “The Florida Court of Appeals Will Likely Overturn Hogan’s $140 Million Judgment Against Gawker on First Amendment Grounds (First in a series on Bollea v. Gawker)” →
Justice Scalia’s death has brought out what I believe to be the worst (although some strategists might consider the best) in our politicians. Even before the Justice’s funeral, some Republicans clamored to insist that President Obama cannot select Justice Scalia’s replacement. Not to be outdone, Democratic leaders such as Senator Elizabeth Warren scolded Republicans and argued that nominations by the President should not be blocked. This week, Merrick Garland, a centrist, highly qualified, 63-year old D.C. Circuit judge has been nominated. President Obama’s nomination appears to be either a concession to Republicans, an attempt to embarrass Republicans who stall hearings on Garland’s confirmation, or a smart offer to Republicans of an alternative to Hillary Clinton nominating a Justice who is much more ideologically (and judicially) liberal than Judge Garland.
Even for those inclined to view our politicians generously, unclean hands abound. The Republicans’ argument that “the people should decide” the next SCOTUS Justice is disingenuous. The Democrats, for their part, could make promises that allow these situations to be less political in the future. While the desire to avoid a Supreme Court Justice who undermines one’s constitutional (and political) ideals is understandable, and perhaps insurmountable, this current political battle is myopic.
Continue reading “Democrats and Republicans Are To Blame for the Ugliness Surrounding the Nomination of a Qualified SCOTUS Justice (Updated: Dems are beginning to do the right thing; Republicans stalling a vote until November is wrong)” →
Apple and the federal government continue to battle over whether the FBI can force Apple to unlock the iPhones of suspected criminals and terrorists. These battles are occurring in the media, in the courts, and even before Congress. Ultimately, the right resolution to these battles may be for Congress to give courts the power to allow unlocking, but only in very specific cases, and only if Congress is certain that all of our phone data won’t be at real risk. I am not yet sure how to assess Apple CEO Tim Cook’s concern that the FBI’s requests to access individual phones will compromise all of our cell phones. Until Congress has a better handle on that technological issue, it should resist taking any action. This is a tough issue, and all decisionmakers should proceed with caution.
Continue reading “Quick Update in Apple v. FBI and Tentative Thoughts on What Congress Could Do” →
Until now, I have avoided writing about the Harvard Law School/Milbank Tweed free speech incident because the events occurred at the institution where I happily teach. More significantly, I avoided writing about Milbank’s decision to stop funding student organizations at HLS because the conflict between Israel and Palestine is so politically fraught that most people (potentially myself included) lose the ability to be objective/nonpartisan about the free speech issues involved. However, dialog on these issues is so critically important that I have decided, in the name of free speech values, to express my thoughts. My current views are that (1) Harvard Law School was absolutely correct to refuse to allow Milbank Tweed to selectively sponsor particular student organizations; (2) Milbank Tweed is well within its rights to use its money to sponsor only speech it favors, although its actions set a poor example for academic freedom values; and (3) The Palestinian Exception to Free Speech is overstated in ways that may sometimes undermine free speech values.
Continue reading “Milbank Tweed, Harvard Law School, and “The Palestinian Exception to Free Speech” Puzzle” →
Justice Scalia’s death has prompted even more discussion than usual about which Justice writes the best Supreme Court opinions. Justice Scalia was considered by many to be the best writer on the Court, praised for his use of apt and colorful metaphors to illuminate complex legal concepts. Students are often instructed to write like Chief Justice Roberts, who uses elegant, varied sentences and evocative factual descriptions to ground his legal positions. But Slate recently advanced a convincing argument that Justice Kagan is Justice Scalia’s intellectual heir in both creating legal prose and interpreting legal texts.
I hope Justice Kagan, like Justice Scalia, continues to interpret statutes in a way that honors both the internal logic of the text and the commonsense logic of how people communicate. I also hope she continues, like Justice Scalia, to draft opinions that incisively distill out the essence of complex points without oversimplying them. However, I hope Justice Kagan avoids what I would call Justice Scalia’s “audience problem.” Writing to make a splash and influence law students, Justice Scalia’s legal opinions often resulted in a deceptive accessibility that muddled his arguments and caused many to question his motives.
Continue reading “Supreme Court Opinions and The “Audience Problem”” →