AMERICAN TRADITION INSTITUTE – PRESS RELEASE July 26, 2012
The ongoing saga of the American Tradition Institute versus the University of Virginia moved forward this week with filing of the arguments of the parties http://www.atinstitute.org/law-ctr/hosted-foia-documents/ on the central issues of the case. The legal arguments are shaping up to be all about academic freedom and less about whether the University can exempt the Michael Mann emails.
Under its primary argument under the Freedom of Information Act, the only emails the University can withhold are those that were produced or collected in the conduct of or as a result of study or research where such data records or information has not been publicly released, published, copyrighted or patented. A careful examination of the 31 emails placed before the court as “exemplars” of the 12,000 emails show that all but two of them reference research in some manner and of these 25 actually contain data, records or information produced or collected in the conduct of study or research.
Comparing those emails against Mann’s professional papers, ATI found that in every case, the data or information had long been released through publication. Facing this situation, the University has only one refuge – to claim academic freedom. Their argument is quite simple and quite wrong. They argue that release of the emails would chill academic discussions and those discussions are protected speech under the first amendment. They are joined in this argument by Michael Mann and in a separate amicus brief filed by the American Association of University Professors.
Here is the central question the court will face – does the First Amendment right to free speech in a public forum trump the right of citizens to see communications made by a public employee conducting government business. Because all but possibly one ambiguous email was made by a public employee in the conduct of public business, the First Amendment is not applicable. This is old, settled law: See, United States v. National Treasury Employees Union, 513 U.S. 454, 465 (1995) (speech on an issue unrelated to the speaker’s employment duties is protected speech, but where the speech is by an employee in his capacity as an employee on an issue involving their duties, the speech does not meet the Pickering threshold test.); and, Holland v. Rimmer, 25 F.3d 1251, 1254-55 & n.11 (4th Cir. 1994).
Lead Counsel for ATI, David Schnare, explained, “There have been few careful analyses of the Constitutional protections of Academic Freedom. Where the court has looked carefully, the First Amendment has never been found to offer any protection greater than that afforded any citizen.” He continued, “This case will tear down much of the opaque mystic university faculty have raised around their activities. It will give citizens the opportunity to monitor their university employees, something clearly needed in the climate debate.”
The ATI brief raises many more arguments showing why the University has no First Amendment rights under the banner of academic freedom. The Court will hear the parties arguments in a hearing on September 17th.