Friends of the First Amendment file friend-of-the-court briefs

November 13, 2016 | By WENCONG FA

Financial regulators targeted Bob Bennie after he made unsavory comments about President Obama. Although Bennie spoke as a tea party activist, the regulators pressured Bennie’s employer to levy financial sanctions on him for sharing his political views. In a Supreme Court petition, PLF explained that the regulators’ actions violates the First Amendment prohibition against government retaliation for speech. This week, several friend-of-the-court briefs reiterated the need for Supreme Court review.

A brief joined by eight states urged the Court to take PLF’s case. The brief explains that “[i]n a free country, citizens may criticize their government without fearing reprisals from those who hold the levers of power.”

Professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar, also filed a brief, which was joined by nine law professors. That brief solicits the Court’s help in correcting “erroneous denials of constitutional rights.”

The Cato Institute asks the Court to consider an even broader question. Under the existing framework, A First Amendment plaintiff must prove that government retaliation would chill a person of reasonable firmness from continuing to speak. Cato asks the Court to abandon this “ordinary firmness” test.

Southeastern Legal Foundation observed that a decision in this case would have widespread consequences. “Occurrences of political targeting by government actors of those who they believe hold the ‘wrong’ views have become all too frequent.” A ruling for Bennie would curtail such targeting by providing its victims with a stronger constitutional claim.

Update: The Center for Competitive Politics also filed an amicus brief. CCP’s brief views the civil society as an “antidote to the majority’s power over thought and speech.” It emphasizes that a “free marketplace of ideas” is essential in ensuring that this antidote is effective.

These briefs underscore the importance of Bennie’s petition. Briefing is set to conclude at the end of the year. PLF hopes for a favorable decision at the beginning of 2017.