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Hip-Hop Summit Action Network v. New York Temporary State Commission on Lobbying (Challenging state’s lobbying regulations)

This case involves the question of whether New York State’s lobbying regulations can, consistent with the First Amendment, extend to public advocacy and can constitutionally require those who engage in public advocacy to disclose their contributors and fiscal arrangements. On June 4, 2003, the Coalition for Fairness held a rally in front of City Hall to express opposition to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Among the sponsors of the rally were Russell Simmons, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, the Hip-Hop Research and Education Fund and Dr. Benjamin Chavis. The New York State Lobbying Commission initiated an investigation into the June 4 rally upon the claim that speakers at the rally urged legislative reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and further urged the public to contact their legislators and to ask them to support law reform. The Commission contended that such activity is lobbying and, therefore, subject to the registration and disclosure laws imposed upon those engaged in lobbying activities. Simmons and others contended that such activities are entitled to plenary protection under the First Amendment and cannot be the subject of investigation, registration and disclosure obligations. They filed suit to enjoin the investigation.

In an amicus brief filed with the District Court, the NYCLU argued that under Rumley v. United States, 345 U.S. 41 (1953), and United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 312 (1954), the First Amendment permits the government to regulate “lobbying” only insofar as such activity involves “direct communication” with public officials. The NYCLU further asserted that a public demonstration cannot be regarded as “direct communication” and therefore cannot be treated as lobbying. The NYCLU brief asserted further that more generic First Amendment doctrine that has developed subsequent to the Rumley and Harriss cases makes it clear that the regulatory efforts by the State Commission, at issue here, can be sustained only if “narrowly tailored” to the pursuit of “compelling interests” and that no such showing can be made in this case with respect to the June 4 rally. Finally, the NYCLU amicus brief argued that the New York statute upon which the Commission rests its authority, in this case, violates First Amendment vagueness principles.

In November 2003, District Judge Loretta Preska held that the principles of federalism set out in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), mandated abstention from deciding the constitutional questions presented in the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. Instead, Judge Preska stated that the plaintiffs could proceed under New York Civil Practice Law and Rules Article 78 to claim that the Commission had exceeded their power by conducting an investigation that impermissibly “chills” the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 03 Civ. 5553) (LAP) (amicus) 

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