ASNE goes two-for-two in Supreme Court cases

Corporations do not have "personal property" rights, and even hateful rhetoric is protected by the First Amendment, the court ruled in two cases in which ASNE participated as amicus. FCC v. AT&T will prevent corporations from blocking the release of information by government agencies under the Freedom of Information Act in certain cases, while Snyder v. Phelps will ensure that political speech is given the highest level of protection.

ASNE was on the winning side in two cases this week in which the organization participated as amicus. One was a relatively mundane case on an issue relating to the Freedom of Information Act, FCC v. AT&T, while the other was a high-profile case testing the very limits of the First Amendment, Snyder v. Phelps.

You can click either of the links above to find earlier releases by ASNE and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, respectively, which contain background on each case. You can also learn more by reading my more sardonic recap of the oral argument in each case: FCC v. AT&T; Snyder v. Phelps.

The court ruled 8-0 in FCC v. AT&T that corporations do not have "personal privacy" rights under FOIA exemption 7(c), preventing corporations from blocking the release of information by government agencies. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the Court, focusing on the plain language of the word personal. He noted that common understanding of the word precludes any application to corporations. Roberts also observed that there is nothing in the plain language of FOIA or any earlier government interpretations of FOIA exemption 7(c) that indicate that Congress or the executive branch intended for the exemption to apply to corporations.

The margin of victory in Snyder v. Phelps was almost as lopsided, with the court ruling 8-1 that the Westboro Baptist Church's inflammatory protests of military funerals are protected by the First Amendment. Chief Justice Roberts also wrote this decision, in which he agreed with ASNE's position that speech about matters of public concern must be given the highest constitutional protection. The Chief Justice also took a very broad view of what constitutes an issue of public concern, essentially siding with the speaker's clear intent to convey a political message, regardless of how cogently or tastefully it may be delivered. He said the court must look beyond the actors in this case and directly to the larger legal issues involved, especially the need to protect speech on publicly debated issues regardless of the parties involved or the messages conveyed.

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