- Ed Whelan, Ethics & Public Policy Center
- Aaron Streett, Baker Botts
On February 27, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Packingham v. North Carolina. Lester Packingham was convicted in 2002 of taking “indecent liberties” with a minor in violation of North Carolina law, and sentenced to prison time followed by supervised release. In 2010, he was arrested after authorities came across a post on his Facebook profile--which he had set up using an alias--in which he thanked God for having a parking ticket dismissed. Packingham was charged with, and convicted of, violating a North Carolina law that restricted the access of convicted sex offenders to “commercial social networking” websites.
Packingham challenged his conviction on First Amendment grounds, arguing that the North Carolina statute unlawfully restricted his freedom of speech and association, but the Supreme Court of North Carolina ultimately rejected his claim. The website access restriction, the Court concluded, was a content-neutral, conduct-based regulation that only incidentally burdened Packingham’s speech, was narrowly tailored to serve a substantial governmental interest, and left open ample alternative channels of communication.
The question before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether, under the Court’s First Amendment precedents, a law that makes it a felony for any person on the state's registry of former sex offenders to “access” a website that enables communication, expression, and the exchange of information among users--if the site is “know[n]” to allow minors to have accounts--is permissible on its face and as applied to Packingham.
To discuss the case, we have Ilya Shapiro, who is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute.
Professor Richard Epstein delivered the keynote address titled "A common lawyer looks at the constitutional protection for freedom of speech" during the 2017 National Student Symposium at Columbia Law School on Saturday, March 4, 2017.
The theme of this talk is what happens if we think about freedom of speech as an ideal, without any of the standard constitutional glosses—strict scrutiny, purposive interpretations—and then how does it play out. It does differ from the current law, quite radically on some key question that lie at the border line between tortious actions and free speech: offensive behavior, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, deceit, coercion and the like. The answers sometimes overlap and sometimes differ, and I hope to explain why the common law approach is superior.
7:00 p.m. -10:00 p.m.
Lerner Hall, Roone Arledge Auditorium
Columbia Law School
New York, New York
Congress' passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 did not end the debate on campaign finance. Instead, it arguably created more legal questions than it did answers.
The Act's passage quickly unleashed subsequent litigation, resulting in a number of Supreme Court decisions directly related to the BCRA and, more broadly, to general laws regulating campaign finance. These recent Supreme Court cases, including the much-discussed Citizens United decision, struck down many campaign regulations on the grounds that they infringe upon individuals' First Amendment rights. Some have charged that decisions like these have increased the influence of a privileged few in our political system. Others have argued that these decisions are not only doctrinally correct, but the prudential fears many have expressed have not been borne out.
Still, Americans remain discontented with the current campaign finance regime. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll in 2015, 46% of respondents agree that the country needs to completely rebuild its campaign finance system, while 39% believed it requires fundamental change. Today, groups and individuals continue to fight limits on political contributions, and restrictions on political speech, while others push for stricter regulations.
This panel will weigh in on whether decisions like Citizens United are correct as a matter of law, and if they are desirable from a policy perspective. The panel will also discuss the jurisprudential foundations of Citizens United—including the landmark case of Buckley v. Valeo—and where future fights over campaign finance regulations are likely to occur.
This panel was presented at the 2017 National Student Symposium on Saturday, March 4, 2017, at Columbia Law School in New York City, New York.
Panel 2: Campaign Finance and Free Speech
9:30 a.m. -11:00 a.m.
Jerome Greene Hall 104
Columbia Law School
New York, New York