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Week in Review: When is it OK to speak up for free speech?

March 7, 2020

Your free speech rights shouldn’t have to be violated in order for you to defend them.

That’s what Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Matt Miller writes in a new In Defense of Liberty post. This week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in Speech First v. Fenves, a case involving a challenge to a set of speech-chilling rules at the University of Texas at Austin. Campus free speech nonprofit Speech First is “challenging the University’s creation of so-called ‘campus climate response teams,’ the purpose of which is to investigate allegations of ‘incivility,’ ‘harassment,’ and ‘rudeness’ on campus,” Miller says.

At this week’s oral argument, Miller explains, Speech First contended that “one does not need to wait for his or her free speech rights to be violated before they can bring suit under the First Amendment.” At the same time, the University claimed that the harm from a First Amendment violation must be “certainly impending” before a speech policy can be challenged. But, Miller writes, “[i]f the government enacts a policy that opens you up to ideological harassment and intimidation, how much harm must you suffer before you can sue to defend your constitutional rights?”

The Goldwater Institute, joined by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Cato Institute, has filed an amicus brief in support of Speech First. You can read that brief here.

A Tax By Any Other Name

Call it what you want. But Phoenix’s ride-sharing tax is unconstitutional, no matter what you name it.

This past week, the Goldwater Institute filed a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Phoenix’s recently approved tax on ride-share services to and from Sky Harbor Airport. In December, the Phoenix City Council drastically increased the existing tax to be picked up and instituted a new tax to be dropped off at Arizona’s busiest airport by ride-sharing services. They approved the measure even though it directly violates the state Constitution, which prohibits cities from creating or increasing “any sales tax, transaction privilege tax, luxury tax, excise tax, use tax, or any other transaction-based tax, fee, stamp requirement or assessment on the privilege to engage in…any service.”

The Phoenix City Council says this really isn’t a tax after all, but rather a charge imposed for the use of airport property. But as Goldwater Institute Vice President for Litigation Timothy Sandefur writes at In Defense of Liberty, that argument simply doesn’t hold water: “Arizona courts have repeatedly emphasized that they don’t indulge in hypertechnical or semantic arguments in tax law, and especially not when interpreting voter initiatives that are intended to protect people from tax increases….The city’s argument is that this isn’t a transaction-based fee on the service of airport transportation, but instead only a fee for access to the airport by people engaged in the service of transportation is the sort of hair-splitting that courts have repeatedly rejected.”

You can read our full brief here.

Why Military Spouses Are Unemployed—and How to Fix It

Military spouses are stressed out about work, and it’s no wonder why: The unemployment rate for military spouses is about six times greater than that of the civilian workforce.

Now, two new reports show how state laws are keeping military spouses from working in the career of their choice, leading to major financial and emotional stress for them and their families. Goldwater Institute National Investigative Journalist Mark Flatten discusses the reports on In Defense of Liberty. According to an assessment of state occupational licensing laws from the U.S. Department of Defense, “the spouses of active-duty service members experience high rates of unemployment and under-employment, or simply leave the careers they have trained for,” Flatten writes. And in a separate survey of military families released by the nonprofit group Blue Star Families, “military spouses cited their ability to work in jobs that meet their qualifications as their top issue of concern with military life.”

Flatten released a Goldwater investigative report this past December on the employment and licensing challenges that military spouses face, featuring interviews with more than a dozen military spouses—all of whom are frustrated by the confusing rules and unnecessary red tape they’ve had to navigate to continue working in their chosen field upon moving to a new state. You can learn more about what the Goldwater Institute is doing to break down barriers to work for military families here.



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