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High court turns deaf ear to several First Amendment appeals

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court turned away several First Amendment-related cases today, appeals by:

  • A media company claiming it had a right to distribute real-time golf scores.
  • Telemarketing groups challenging the federal do-not-call registry.
  • A Catholic organization challenging a California law that forces it to pay for workers' contraceptive health insurance benefits.
  • The Montana Right to Life Association, which claimed state campaign-contribution limits violated free-speech rights.
  • Alabama's former chief justice and Ten Commandments proponent Roy Moore who was seeking to get his job back.

Morris Communications Co. v. PGA Tour
The high court turned away an appeal by Morris Communications Co., which claims it has a right to publish and sell real-time golf scores from PGA tournaments that its reporters cover.

Without comment, the Court let stand a lower ruling allowing the American professional golf tour to restrict media outlets from posting or selling the real-time scores to Web site publishers — unless media outlets purchase a licensing agreement from the PGA first.

The case involves Morris Communications, which began distributing scores its reporters obtained from the tournament's media center. The PGA then imposed new restrictions in 1999 that barred media outlets from publishing the scores immediately; otherwise, their reporters wouldn't be granted access to tournaments.

Morris filed suit, arguing that the restrictions gave the PGA an unfair business advantage as the exclusive publisher and seller of real-time golf scores.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the PGA in dismissing Morris' antitrust claims. It ruled in March that the PGA's real-time scoring system required a significant devotion of money, staffing and technology that justified the organization's insistence on selling or licensing the information to others.

Several media groups, including the Associated Press Sports Editors, the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argued in support of Morris' appeal. They said the PGA should not be given ownership rights to news information at public events.

American Teleservices Association v. FTC
The Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge today to the federal do-not-call registry, ending telemarketers' bid to invoke free-speech arguments to get the popular ban on unwanted phone solicitations thrown out.

The Court, without comment, let stand a 10th Circuit decision that upheld the registry of more than 57 million phone numbers as a reasonable government attempt to safeguard personal privacy and reduce telemarketing abuse.

Under the 2003 federal law, businesses face fines of up to $11,000 if they call people who sign up for the registry — unless they have recently done business with them. Charities, pollsters and callers on behalf of politicians, however, are exempt.

Telemarketing groups had filed the appeal, arguing in filings that the registry violated First Amendment rights because it singled businesses out while exempting other groups. They also said 2 million of their 6.5 million workers would lose their jobs within two years if the do-not-call rules stand.

A federal judge in Denver agreed with the telemarketers, but the 10th Circuit upheld the registry in February 2004 after concluding there was no evidence suggesting that charitable or political callers were as intrusive to consumers' privacy.

Catholic Charities of Sacramento v. California
The Supreme Court today refused to disturb a ruling that forces some California religious organizations to pay for workers' contraceptive health-insurance benefits.

Justices turned down an appeal from a Roman Catholic organization that wanted the Court to weigh in on states' requiring employers that offer prescription benefits to employees also to cover birth-control pills.

The Court's announcement, on the first day of its nine-month term, keeps the justices out of a divisive church-state dispute; some 20 of the 50 states require employers that have prescription drug-benefit plans also to cover birth-control pills.

Justices had been asked to review California's law, which exempts churches but not church-backed institutions such as hospitals and charity organizations.

Catholic Charities had challenged the law, on grounds that it could not be required to pay for something it viewed as sinful. The state Supreme Court ruled against the group last spring.

"If the state of California can coerce Catholic agencies to pay for contraceptives, it can force them to pay for abortions," attorney Kevin Baine told justices in an appeal for Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities contended that the case turned on the group's constitutional right to exercise its religious beliefs without government interference.

Timothy Muscat, California's deputy attorney general, said that Catholic Charities could get around the requirement by not offering insurance to employees.

The law was passed in 1999 to stop discrimination against women who had to pay more for drugs than did men.

Catholic Charities does not qualify for an exemption because it offers such secular services as counseling, low-income housing and immigration services to the public without directly preaching about Catholic values. Also, the group employs people of many religious affiliations.

Montana Right to Life Association v. Eddleman
The Court declined today to hear a challenge to Montana campaign-contribution limits by critics who contended the strict rules infringed on free-speech rights.

The Court, without comment, let stand a 9th Circuit decision that the caps on contributions by individuals and political action committees were justified to prevent even the appearance of corruption in the state political process.

The Montana Right to Life Association had filed the appeal, saying the contribution limits prevented candidates from waging effective campaigns. The limits restricted the First Amendment rights of those wanting to donate money, it said.

The 9th Circuit disagreed, basing its 2003 decision on two U.S. Supreme Court rulings — Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (2000) — that said campaign-contribution limits are permissible if they satisfy an important enough state interest and are narrowly written to do that.

The Montana case involved two laws. One enacted in 1983 limits the total money a legislative candidate can receive from political action committees. The second, approved in 1994, limits contributions from individual donors and political action committees to candidates for the Legislature, governor and other statewide offices. Donations to gubernatorial candidates, for example, are limited to $400, while other statewide candidates can receive $200.

The lawsuit says the limits are among the lowest in the country.

Montana provided enough evidence to support its claim that it was seeking to combat corruption and that candidates weren't unduly harmed since it is relatively inexpensive to mount a political campaign there, the 9th Circuit said.

Moore v. Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama
The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal today from ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his job after defying a federal order to dismantle a Ten Commandments monument.

Moore has become a high-profile crusader for Ten Commandment monuments as a result of the dispute over his own 2 ½-ton granite display in the state courthouse.

A federal judge ruled that Moore violated the Constitution's ban on government promotion of religion when he placed the monument in the rotunda of the judicial building in the middle of the night in 2001.

The display was moved last year over Moore's objections, and a state court removed him from office.

Moore's lawyers had called on the Supreme Court to "remedy this travesty of justice" and give him his job back. The high court declined, without comment.

The Alabama Court of the Judiciary found that Moore violated canons of judicial ethics when he refused the federal court's order to move the monument. Moore could try to win back a seat on the court in 2006 elections.


Federal appeals panel upholds Montana's campaign-donor limits

9th Circuit rejects claims that restrictions violate free-speech rights of those who want to contribute more to candidates. 09.25.02

Catholic group must provide birth control
While 'religious employers' such as churches are exempt from requirement in California, state high court finds Catholic Charities is no different from other businesses. 03.02.04

Telemarketers split over whether to keep fighting do-not-call list
Direct Marketing Association decides not to appeal 10th Circuit ruling, but American Teleservices Association plans to ask for high court review. 03.04.04

Alabama high court denies Moore's reinstatement bid
Stand-in justices affirm ethics panel's finding that former chief justice had no cause to disobey federal court order to remove Ten Commandments monument. 05.03.04

High court asked to break up PGA's 'monopoly' on facts
Morris Communications is appealing ruling by 11th Circuit that upheld tour's policy barring news media from releasing real-time golf scores. 08.31.04

Justices won't consider lifting county's gun-show ban
Trade shows' attorney had argued that California county ordinance violated Second Amendment, gun enthusiasts' right of association. 10.05.04

Supreme Court won't weigh media access to combat troops
Justices also sidestep dispute over whether ISPs can be forced to identify file-swappers and refuse to block retaliation suit against Milwaukee's former police chief. 10.12.04

4th Circuit upholds limits on charity telemarketing
Divided panel rules restrictions that apply to professional fundraisers hired by charities don't violate groups' free speech. 08.29.05

Company sues league for playing hardball over stats
Fantasy sports league players have stake in whether game statistics are public domain or intellectual property of Major League Baseball. 01.15.06

Strike 1: Major League Baseball can't control player names, stats
Federal judge finds fantasy leagues may use information because it isn't the intellectual property of Major League Baseball. 08.09.06

High court won't review N.Y. law mandating birth-control coverage
Catholic Charities, other groups had argued law infringes on their First Amendment rights because it forces them to violate religious teachings that regard contraception as sinful. 10.01.07

Proliferation of free newspapers inspires Md. 'do-not-deliver' bill
Publishers say proposed registry for people who don't want to receive papers isn't needed; meanwhile, legal expert says he isn't sure measure would survive First Amendment analysis. 01.28.08

Congress votes to make 'Do Not Call Registry' permanent
Lawmakers send President Bush two measures to continue popular program shielding consumers from unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. 02.07.08

'04 docket includes free-speech cases
By Tony Mauro Cattle ranchers, Oklahoma libertarians, ex-Johnnie Cochran client to get day in Court. 09.29.04

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