Corporations’ First Amendment rights have been litigated frequently. One area of interest in the Circuit Courts is compelled corporate speech—sometimes controversial disclosures, messages and information mandated by the government. As such obligations expand, businesses have brought First Amendment challenges, forcing courts to evaluate what standard the government must meet before it can require private parties to engage in speech.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently issued two conflicting decisions on compelled corporate speech. In National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC, the D.C. Circuit found the so-called “conflict minerals” disclosure rule violated the First Amendment, while in American Meat Institute v. Dep’t of Agriculture, a panel sustained a country of origin label requirement. The panels took different approaches to the Supreme Court’s seminal compelled disclosure case, Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which recognized a narrow opening for compulsions of purely factual and uncontroversial information to prevent consumer deception in advertising. At stake now is whether Zauderer remains a narrow exception to traditional First Amendment review of compelled speech, or whether the government only has to satisfy rational basis review to promote various interests through informational obligations on the private sector.
Notably, the panel in American Meat Institute itself suggested that the full court hear the case, which is set to be heard en banc by the D.C. Circuit on May 19. The D.C. Circuit will be poised to decide how government speech mandates are to be judged under the First Amendment. Its decision could open the door to more disclosure and informational obligations.
- Megan L. Brown, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP
- Erik S. Jaffe, Sole Practitioner, Erik S. Jaffe, PC