We engage in legal advocacy in the courts and before government agencies to advance a new jurisprudence on money in politics, and to confront the misuse of the U.S. Constitution to claim corporate exemptions from our laws, and to challenge corruption at the highest levels of our government and lead bold campaigns for accountability under the law.
Free Speech For People and an all-star team of legal scholars are representing a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress and 2016 congressional candidates in a lawsuit challenging an earlier lower court decision that created super PACs. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C., and now on its way to the court of appeals, seeks the reversal of the 2010 federal appeals court ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which created super PACs. We are honored to represent Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA-33), as well as the late Representative Walter Jones (R-NC-3), along with three 2016 congressional candidates from both major parties. Read more.
Small Donor Public Financing, Political Equality, and Democratic Self-Government: Elster v. City of Seattle
Demos and Free Speech For People are representing a coalition of local and national organizations that helped pass Seattle’s “democracy voucher” program, a nationally-recognized public campaign financing system enacted by voter initiative in 2015 and first used in the city’s 2017 election. Our joint amicus brief helps defend the city against a constitutional challenge in Washington state court by property owners. As our brief argues, the democracy voucher program serves important First Amendment interests in strengthening local democracy in Seattle by combating corruption, increasing political access and participation for low-income people and people of color, and enabling candidates to fund their campaigns without relying on out-of-town donors. Read more.
Free Speech For People is part of a coalition of organizations asking the courts to reject the presidential pardon of former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio as unconstitutional and invalid on the ground that it violates the constitutional guarantee of due process of law. Meanwhile, Arpaio is seeking to have his conviction vacated entirely. The Department of Justice has refused to defend the government against Arpaio’s appeal, so at our request, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has appointed a special prosecutor to represent the interests of the United States. Read more.
Defending campaign finance laws
On October 5, 2016, Free Speech For People filed a “friend of the court” brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that Montana’s campaign contribution limits should be upheld to protect the constitutional promise of political equality for all. Joining Free Speech For People in the filing of this brief are: the Honorable James C. Nelson, a retired Justice of the Montana Supreme Court and a member of Free Speech For People’s Board of Directors; the Indian Law Resource Center; the American Independent Business Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council.
In Lair v. Motl, plaintiffs allege that Montana’s campaign contribution limits are unconstitutionally low and violate the First Amendment. The case, which was filed in September 2011, is now back before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, following a federal district court ruling striking down the state’s longstanding limits.
We previously submitted an amicus brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in this case on June 19, 2015. Plaintiffs (represented by James Bopp, an architect of the Citizens United ruling) allege that these longstanding limits are unconstitutionally low and violate the First Amendment. We argue that these limits are necessary to protect the constitutional promise of political equality for all, regardless of access to wealth. In our June 2015 brief, we were joined on this brief by former Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson (a member of our Legal Advisory Committee), the American Independent Business Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council. On May 26, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling sending the case back to the federal trial court for another review.
Free Speech For People, along with MOVI, California Clean Money Campaign, CalPIRG, Common Cause California and Courage Campaign, has filed an amicus brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of California Proposition 49, also known as the Overturn Citizens United Act.
Our brief focuses on a provision in the California Constitution providing that the people have a right to “instruct their representatives.” The history of this provision, and of the contemporaneous practice of the California Legislature, demonstrates that it was intended to allow questions like Proposition 49. This is important not only in California, but also in other states that have similar constitutional provisions. As the people express their will through the ballot, the growing support for a constitutional amendment will become impossible to ignore. [Download PDF]
On December 19, 2014, Free Speech For People and retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson (a member of Free Speech For People’s Board of Directors) filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar in defense of a Florida campaign finance rule for judicial elections. In May 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in defense of the Florida State bar, upholding state laws that prohibit elected judges from personally soliciting donations to support their campaigns. The Court rejected in a 5-4 decision, a free speech claim brought forward from a Florida judge, recognizing the importance of maintaining the dignity appropriate to judicial office.
Our brief argued that the US legal system depends on public respect for judges and courts, and that therefore the states have a compelling interest in protecting the dignity of the judiciary. This ruling further helps support the public’s confidence in the judiciary. [Download PDF]
On August 29, 2014, we filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in support of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s anti-“pay-to-play” rule for investment advisers, which prevents investment advisers from receiving management fees from public funds when they have given political contributions to the elected officials who influence the choice of investment advisers for those funds. Our brief argues that the rules protects the First Amendment rights of public employees by preventing investment advisers from using a portion of their pension money to pay for political spending. In March 2015, Free Speech For People submitted a brief in support of the Securities Exchange Committee in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. [Download PDF]
On November 14, 2014, we filed an amicus brief before the federal district court in Vermont in defense of Vermont’s recently-passed law requiring the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering. Major agribusinesses and industrial food manufacturers and processors, represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers, have challenged the law under the First Amendment, claiming that it forces them to “speak” against their will. Our brief sets forth fundamental First Amendment principles, and argues that food labeling requirements do not merit the full protection of the First Amendment. The First Amendment was designed to protect democratic participation in self-government and promote individual autonomy of expression, not to exempt commercial vendors from labeling requirements. In fact, Vermont’s law promotes First Amendment values by giving Vermonters accurate and useful information that enables them to exercise their autonomy by making informed purchasing decisions. [Download PDF]
We joined Global Witness Limited in an important brief pushing back against a First Amendment claim by the National Association of Manufacturers and other corporate interests. The companies challenge a federal law requiring publicly-traded corporations to disclose whether their products use “conflict minerals” from the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. This would help investors and customers understand which companies trade in conflict minerals that may benefit armed warlords. But the companies claim that this disclosure forces them to “speak” against their will. Our joint brief argues that these factual disclosures do not violate the First Amendment. [Download PDF]
Pushing back against corporate abuse of the Equal Protection Clause
International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle (May 2015) — Free Speech For People, Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society, and Demos filed a brief on May 22, 2015, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in defense of Seattle’s living wage law. In International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle, franchised businesses allege that Seattle’s living wage law violates their alleged constitutional rights. Our amicus brief , which cites historical legislative history, indicates that Seattle’s living wage law (which has enormous positive impact on racial minorities) fulfills, rather than violates, the Fourteenth Amendment. [Download the PDF]
Free Speech For People, Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society and Western Center on Law and Poverty, filed an amicus brief in support of the City of Los Angeles and its new hotel worker “living wage” ordinance against an Equal Protection Clause challenge from the American Hotel & Lodging Association. The suit also contends that the City’s ordinance violates state and federal equal protection clauses by unfairly targeting a single industry.
Our brief argues that the “Citywide Hotel Worker Minimum Wage Ordinance” (Los Angeles City Ordinance No. 183241), which was passed in October 2014, fulfills rather than violates the purpose of the Equal Protection Clause. Citing historical materials from the legislative history of the Fourteenth Amendment, indicating that “fair, living wages” were a central concern of the Reconstruction Congress, we explain how LA’s hotel living wage ordinance will lift thousands of poor workers, mostly people of color, out of poverty, without drawing any distinction or creating any division based on race. [Download PDF]
Free Speech For People, Courage Campaign, Equal Justice Society, and Demos filed an amicus brief on May 22, 2015 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in defense of Seattle’s living wage law. In International Franchise Association v. City of Seattle, franchised businesses allege that Seattle’s living wage law violates their alleged constitutional rights. Our amicus brief, which cites historical legislative history, indicates that Seattle’s living wage law (which has enormous positive impact on racial minorities) fulfills, rather than violates, the Fourteenth Amendment.
An amicus brief before the federal district court in Washington was filed by Free Speech For People in October 2014. Our brief argued in defense of Seattle’s recently-passed minimum wage ordinance, which, in stages, raises the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. Our brief challenged the corporate claims that the Seattle ordinance violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, and it also challenges the corporate claims of a First Amendment violation. Read more about our filing in the District Court in Washington. [Download PDF]
Free Speech For People has joined the legal team defending the Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative campaign. This ballot initiative, which would amend the city charter of St. Louis (Missouri) to prevent the city from granting tax breaks to fossil fuel and nuclear mining companies, was challenged in court before the ballots were printed. At the preliminary injunction stage, the judge (citing Citizens United) found that the initiative would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as state law. We’ve joined the campaign’s Missouri-based legal team and will be assisting in upcoming proceedings. Read the post-trial brief here. [Download PDF]
Pushing back against corporate claims of Constitutional Rights
The Supreme Court ruled on whether corporations have religious rights under the U.S. Constitution. In Conestoga, a kitchen cabinet manufacturer is claiming that the contraceptive care requirement of the new federal Affordable Care Act violates its First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. In response, we recently filed a powerful amicus brief before the Court in which we challenge the claim that corporations practice religion and have free exercise rights like people under the Constitution. Read our statement on U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Conestoga and Hobby Lobby. [Download the PDF]