As one of the biggest economies and most populated states in the country, California can seem like a land of its own. Whether its products “known to cause cancer in the state of California” or battles over sanctuary cities, the Golden State sets its own rules. It’s no surprise the state recently tried to limit IMDb’s right to free speech – but the results of the case are unexpected.
Because California is home to Hollywood, the state often finds itself advocating for the special interests of its most-taxed citizens. The California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, recently joined up with SAG-AFTRA, a union for professional actors, to uphold a state law, AB1687. The law passed in 2016 but has been under an injunction since 2017. If allowed, the law would prevent the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), from publishing the real age of any actor who paid for a subscription to IMDbPro. Becarra and SAG-AFTRA argued that IMDbPro creates a special relationship between actors and IMDb.com, and this relationship limits IMDb’s free speech rights.
The same judge who put the law on hold last year has ruled against Becerra and SAG-AFTRA. Judge Vince Chhabria called AB1687 “clearly unconstitutional” according to the Los Angeles Times. IMDb has argued its right to free speech is violated by the law, and Judge Chhabria seems to agree. The Judge was particularly unmoved by the state’s argument that the law was necessary to protect actresses from age-related discrimination, calling that defense unclear.
SAG-AFTRA is already planning an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The guild issued a statement claiming Judge Chhabria failed to understand the central argument of the case. It’s unclear for Becerra will join in the appeal efforts.
On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down a California law that let actors censor their age on the popular Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website, saying that the law was unconstitutional.
Vince Chhabria, who is a U.S. district court judge, said that Assembly Bill 1687 — which came into effect last year after Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law — directly restricted free speech and hence violated the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In his decision, the judge wrote that the government was trying to restrict free speech, in an attempt to prevent illegal age discrimination. But he said that the problem was more of a gender issue than an age one. He also said that the law was both over-inclusive and under-inclusive. It was over-inclusive in the sense that it protects actors under the age of 40 who have not previously had such protection under the law, without providing sufficient reason as to why they need protection. At the same time, the judge noted that the law was also under-inclusive, in that it does not protect those who do not have a paid IMDb Pro account and those who have not specifically requested that IMDb conceal their ages.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) expressed disappointment at the decision and indicated that they will appeal it to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who is the general counsel for the guild and its chief operating officer, said that the judge did not recognize or understand the impact age and gender discrimination has on actors. He further said that the discrimination was directly tied to IMDb insisting that actors list their ages on the site against their will.
In 2011, an actor sued IMDb, stating that she was not able to get work because the site listed her age. While the suit was ultimately unsuccessful, it led to the passing of last year’s law. In response to the law, IMDb — which is owned by Amazon — sued both the state of California and SAG.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme declined a challenge to a California law that requires a 10-day waiting period before purchasing a firearm. The law is intended to curb impulse purchases of guns by those who might be suicidal or violent, and legal experts see the court’s decision as a setback for gun rights activists, especially in light of the recent shootings in Parkland, Florida.
While the court signalled that it did not want to take an active role in the national debate on guns, the decision not to hear the case was not unanimous. Conservative stalwart Clarence Thomas not only strongly dissented against the court’s decision, he also stated that he believed that his colleagues on the court were being contemptuous of gun rights.
In a separate ruling, which will likely also roil gun activists, the court refused to take up a challenge filed by the National Rifleman’s Association (NRA) against the state of California. The NRA wanted the state to reduce fees on gun purchases that were being used by the state to track illegally owned guns.
In regards to the waiting period law, both individual gun owners and gun rights activists challenged the law, saying that it violated their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Though they did not seek to completely invalidate the law. They just wanted it to exclude those who already passed a background check and already owned guns.
Thomas, in his dissent, said that if a lower court had treated a different constitutionally guaranteed right in a similar manner, the Supreme Court would have surely got involved. He went on to say that the Second Amendment is not well favored by this particular court.
The Supreme Court has not taken up a major gun case in many years. Their last major rulings came in 2008 and 2010, when they unequivocally ruled that the Second Amendment guaranteed individuals the right to bear arms for the purposes of self defense.