First Amendment


State Court Docket Watch News Clips: 9/22/2015

The Georgia Supreme Court Delivers a Victory for School Choice

John J. Park, Jr. June 27, 2017

On Monday, June 26, while the legal world was watching for decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and for a possible retirement announcement, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously affirmed the rejection of a challenge to Georgia’s Opportunity Scholarship program.[1] That program allows businesses and individuals who contribute to not-for-profit school scholarship organizations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for married taxpayers, and the amount contributed or 75% of a corporation’s income tax liability, whichever is less. The organizations then distribute the donated funds to schools, some of which are religious, to pay tuition on behalf of eligible students. The program is very popular as its $56 million annual cap is quickly subscribed.

The program is also popular with the parents and children who are the beneficiaries of the scholarships and the related educational opportunity. Four parents, represented by the Institute of Justice with assistance from Strickland, Brockington Lewis LLP as local counsel, intervened to help the State defend the program. [Read More]


Supreme Court columns

SCOTUS Declares That the PTO Is Not A Safe Space

John Shu June 26, 2017

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court released its opinion, Matal v. Tam, previously known as Lee v. Tam, regarding viewpoint discrimination and the First Amendment. The name changed when Michelle Kwok Lee,[1] the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (“PTO”) director at the time of the original lawsuit and appeals, resigned and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross appointed Joseph Matal as interim PTO director on June 7, 2017.

The heart of the case was whether the PTO could deny registration to those trademarks which it deems “may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute” (emphasis added) under § 2 of the Lanham Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a).[2], [3]  The trademark in question was the name of a dance-rock band, “The Slants,” of which Mr. Simon Tam and his fellow band members, all Asian-Americans, belonged. In other words, did the Lanham Act authorize the PTO to make an offense-free “safe space” out of trademark applications? [Read More]


2017 Symposium

Student Symposium Livestream: Universities and the First Amendment

Timothy Courtney March 03, 2017

Universities have long been thought of, and cherished, as places for the free exchange of ideas. This idea has, however, come under pressure. Student groups have now routinely exercised pressure to keep people who they disagree with off campus. And safe spaces and trigger warnings—which limit speech that some have deemed offensive—have become regular features at universities across the nation. 

Many see the climate of shouting-down or protesting the expression of others' viewpoints as the symbolic beginning of an era limiting the freedom of speech on college campuses. While surveys seem to show a majority of students disagree with universities curtailing speech, even when it is offensive, vocal minorities with opposing views have been the ones capturing news headlines and the attention of the public at large.

With the accessibility to speech provided by the internet and viral sharing of information, expression and speech spread with more ease than ever, but this same technology creates opportunities for back-lash on social media and gives a larger stage to those who would threaten the free market of ideas at our nation's universities.

The First Amendment protects principles which have always required vigilance to maintain, and today's world makes no exception. This panel will explore how these developments have affected intellectual discourse on campus and if they are conducive to a meaningful learning experience at our universities.


- Prof. Robert Post, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, Yale Law School

- Prof. Phillip Hamburger, Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

- Prof. Suzanne Goldberg, Executive Vice President for University Life, Columbia University; Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

- Prof. Michael McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor of Law; Director, Constitutional Law Center; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

- Moderator: Hon. Thomas Hardiman, U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit



Past panels:

Religious Liberty after the USCCR Report

Debate: ABA Model Rule 8.4

Campaign Finance and Free Speech

Privacy and Freedom of the Press


gavel and courtroom

Should Bar Disciplinary Committees Conduct Political Fact-Checking?

Maya Noronha March 02, 2017

On February 20, fifteen law professors submitted a complaint to the D.C. bar seeking discipline of Kellyanne Conway for public comments she made in television interviews during her first month as Counselor to the President. These professors based their challenge on specific statements Conway made about observers of the presidential inauguration, a supposed Bowling Green massacre, the Iraqi refugee program, and Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. [Read More]


First Amendment monument

[VIDEO] Lee v. Tam: "Disparaging Trademarks and the First Amendment

Timothy Courtney January 18, 2017

Can the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) deny a trademark to a group with an offensive name - or does the First Amendment invalidate the provision of trademark law under which the denial was made? Attorney and legal commentator John Shu explains the dispute between the PTO and an Asian-American rock band seeking to trademark the name “The Slants” in the case Lee v. Tam. The Supreme Court will hear oral argument today.