Contributions

The Fifth Amendment: No Safe Harbor for First Amendment Retaliation

by Han­nah Beat­tie1

The First Amend­ment for­bids the gov­ern­ment from using its oth­er­wise law­ful pow­er to retal­i­ate against an indi­vid­ual for engag­ing in pro­tect­ed speech.2 This prin­ci­ple has been upheld even when such gov­ern­ment action would oth­er­wise be law­ful or afford­ed def­er­ence,3 and when the result­ing injury is minis­cule.4 How­ev­er, the Supreme Court has held that when the gov­ern­ment acts in com­pli­ance with the Fourth Amend­ment, through an arrest or pros­e­cu­tion with proof of prob­a­ble cause, it is in a safe har­bor free from First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims.5 This jurispru­dence presents the ques­tion of whether sim­i­lar safe har­bors may be carved out in the con­text of oth­er con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments. For exam­ple, it is unde­cid­ed whether a con­dem­na­tion action, if in com­pli­ance with the Fifth Amend­ment, can be chal­lenged as retaliatory.

This Con­tri­bu­tion will argue that the Fourth Amend­ment safe har­bor should not extend to the Fifth Amend­ment con­text. Accord­ing­ly, an indi­vid­ual should be able to raise a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense to a con­dem­na­tion action, even if that action oth­er­wise com­plies with the Fifth Amendment.

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The First Amend­ment pro­hibits the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from “abridg­ing the free­dom of speech” of the Peo­ple.6 The Supreme Court has con­sis­tent­ly defend­ed this free­dom by lay­ing down the “clear­ly estab­lished” rule that “the First Amend­ment bars retal­i­a­tion for pro­tect­ed speech.”7 How­ev­er, the Court has carved out an excep­tion to this rule by pro­hibit­ing First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims if the gov­ern­ment action in ques­tion oth­er­wise com­plies with the Fourth Amendment.

In Nieves v. Bartlett8 and Hart­man v. Moore,9 the Supreme Court held that gen­er­al com­pli­ance with the Fourth Amend­ment, through proof of prob­a­ble cause, shields gov­ern­ment actors from sec­tion 1983 claims for retal­ia­to­ry arrests and pros­e­cu­tions. The Court dis­tin­guished Nieves from its deci­sion in Loz­man v. City of Riv­iera Beach, which held that Fourth Amend­ment com­pli­ance could not shield a munic­i­pal­i­ty from a First Amend­ment retal­ia­to­ry arrest claim, on the grounds that Loz­man involved the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of an alleged offi­cial munic­i­pal pol­i­cy of retal­i­a­tion.10 Nieves also carved out an excep­tion to this safe har­bor rule by clar­i­fy­ing that com­pli­ance with the Fourth Amend­ment does not bar a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claim in “cir­cum­stances where offi­cers have prob­a­ble cause to make arrests, but typ­i­cal­ly exer­cise their dis­cre­tion not to do so.”11

 Nieves and Hart­man argue that numer­ous coun­ter­vail­ing pol­i­cy con­cerns impli­cat­ed in the con­text of retal­ia­to­ry arrests and pros­e­cu­tions jus­ti­fy bar­ring First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims and allow­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of an arrest or pros­e­cu­tion to be estab­lished by Fourth Amend­ment com­pli­ance alone. First, the Court in Nieves12 and Hart­man13 rea­soned that com­pli­ance with the Fourth Amend­ment, through proof of prob­a­ble cause, makes retal­ia­to­ry ani­mus on the part of the gov­ern­ment actor less like­ly. Sec­ond, as the Court in Nieves explained, speech is often a legit­i­mate con­sid­er­a­tion in deter­min­ing whether there is prob­a­ble cause for an arrest, which mud­dles the inquiry into whether there was legit­i­mate con­sid­er­a­tion of speech or ille­git­i­mate First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion against speech.14 In a sim­i­lar vein, the Court in Loz­man declined to bar a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claim because city offi­cials could not have con­sid­ered Lozman’s ear­li­er pro­tect­ed speech in decid­ing to have him arrest­ed.15 Third, the Nieves Court expressed con­cerns that rec­og­niz­ing First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims in the Fourth Amend­ment con­text would lead to a flood of friv­o­lous lit­i­ga­tion that would inhib­it the abil­i­ty of offi­cers and pros­e­cu­tors to enforce laws.16 Final­ly, Hart­man rea­soned that retal­ia­to­ry pros­e­cu­tion claims often involve a com­plex causal chain that requires imput­ing the ani­mus of one actor to the pros­e­cu­tor who ulti­mate­ly took the adverse action.17 As such, dis­en­tan­gling cau­sa­tion to estab­lish retal­i­a­tion would be too difficult.

The Supreme Court has nev­er exam­ined whether com­pli­ance with the Fifth Amend­ment shields a fed­er­al con­dem­na­tion action from a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense. The Fifth Amend­ment man­dates that tak­ings sat­is­fy the require­ments of just com­pen­sa­tion, pub­lic use, and due process.18 The Court has empha­sized that defens­es to con­dem­na­tion actions should be lim­it­ed to sit­u­a­tions where there is no show­ing of pub­lic use.19 This lim­i­ta­tion is pred­i­cat­ed on the desire to pre­vent the judi­cia­ry from sub­sti­tut­ing its judg­ment on valid pub­lic use for that of the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed leg­is­la­ture.20

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Com­pli­ance with the Fifth Amend­ment should not bar a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense to a con­dem­na­tion action because the rea­son­ing behind the Fourth Amend­ment safe har­bor does not extend to the Fifth Amend­ment con­text. Fur­ther­more, the ratio­nale used by the Court to lim­it defens­es to con­dem­na­tion actions, which is to ensure that the judi­cia­ry does not sub­sti­tute its judg­ment for that of the leg­is­la­ture, does not apply when an indi­vid­ual is claim­ing First Amend­ment retaliation.

First, com­pli­ance with the Fifth Amend­ment does not make retal­ia­to­ry ani­mus less like­ly. In the con­text of the Fourth Amend­ment, proof of prob­a­ble cause requires an objec­tive ex ante analy­sis, which makes retal­ia­to­ry ani­mus less like­ly and jus­ti­fies bar­ring First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims.21 Con­verse­ly, in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text, ani­mus is more like­ly because the required show­ing of pub­lic use is an easy, post hoc jus­ti­fi­ca­tion that can be for­mu­lat­ed in just about every case.22 In fact, sit­u­a­tions in which “pub­lic use” has been used to dis­guise reg­u­la­to­ry ani­mus have already arisen in local gov­ern­ment con­dem­na­tions.23

Sec­ond, because an individual’s speech is not a legit­i­mate con­sid­er­a­tion in the deci­sion to con­demn her prop­er­ty, it is less like­ly that the inquiry between legit­i­mate and ille­git­i­mate con­sid­er­a­tion of speech will become mud­dled in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text. Although a gov­ern­ment actor may, and often­times should, con­sid­er an individual’s speech in deter­min­ing whether there is prob­a­ble cause for an arrest or pros­e­cu­tion, it is unlike­ly that a gov­ern­ment actor could legit­i­mate­ly con­sid­er an individual’s speech in deter­min­ing whether to con­demn her land for pub­lic use. The case of con­dem­na­tion is far more anal­o­gous to the facts in Loz­man where it was “dif­fi­cult to see why a city offi­cial could have legit­i­mate­ly con­sid­ered that Loz­man had, months ear­li­er, crit­i­cized city offi­cials” in decid­ing to have him arrest­ed.24 Absent the con­cern that gov­ern­ment actors might be legit­i­mate­ly con­sid­er­ing an individual’s speech, the Court in Loz­man declined to bar a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claim, and should do so in the case of a con­dem­na­tion action as well.

Third, rec­og­niz­ing First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text would nei­ther lead to a flood of lit­i­ga­tion, nor inhib­it the government’s abil­i­ty to enforce laws. Unlike arrest and pros­e­cu­tions, con­dem­na­tion is a rare occur­rence, a fact that mit­i­gates con­cerns about an influx of claims. Addi­tion­al­ly, there is lit­tle risk that First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims will frus­trate gov­ern­ment pur­pos­es because any con­dem­na­tion inten­tion­al­ly entails an intri­cate, inquiry-inten­sive process.25 This stands in con­trast to Nieves, where the Court not­ed that arrests involve split-sec­ond deci­sions and expressed con­cern that the threat of retal­ia­to­ry claims could damp­en police ardor and reduce com­mu­ni­ca­tion between offi­cers.26 In con­trast, this con­cern was not present in Loz­man, since the city gov­ern­ment, not the offi­cer, was sub­ject to the retal­i­a­tion claim. Accord­ing­ly, the Court con­clud­ed that no safe har­bor against the retal­i­a­tion claim was nec­es­sary.27 As opposed to hav­ing a chill­ing effect, rec­og­niz­ing First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text would encour­age gov­ern­ment offi­cials to be more explic­it about the rea­sons why they are con­sid­er­ing emi­nent domain. If the gov­ern­ment clear­ly doc­u­ments why a par­cel of land is being con­demned and pro­vides a valid pub­lic use, this doc­u­men­ta­tion would serve as a deter­rent to imper­mis­si­ble tak­ings and could be used as a defense lat­er on.

Fourth, assert­ing a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense against a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­dem­na­tion would not nec­es­sar­i­ly impli­cate the ani­mus of an actor not ulti­mate­ly respon­si­ble for the con­dem­na­tion, there­by avoid­ing the com­plex causal inquiry con­tem­plat­ed in Hart­man. As the Court in Hart­man explained, because pros­e­cu­tors have immu­ni­ty, the defen­dant in a Fourth Amend­ment retal­ia­to­ry pros­e­cu­tion case will always be a non-pros­e­cu­tor. Accord­ing­ly, a retal­ia­to­ry pros­e­cu­tion claim requires a show­ing that the ani­mus of the non-pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al actor caused the ulti­mate adverse action of the pros­e­cu­tor.28 In con­trast, an indi­vid­ual assert­ing a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense against a con­dem­na­tion action would be required to demon­strate ani­mus on the part of the actors who made the con­dem­na­tion decision—for exam­ple, the con­dem­na­tion committee—creating a far sim­pler causal inquiry than in retal­ia­to­ry pros­e­cu­tion con­text. As in Loz­man, the indi­vid­ual would need to prove the exis­tence and enforce­ment of an offi­cial pol­i­cy of retal­i­a­tion, a par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­bling and potent form of retal­i­a­tion for which there is “com­pelling need for ade­quate avenues of redress.”29 In fact, in a fed­er­al con­dem­na­tion action, there may be no recourse for an indi­vid­ual out­side of a full retal­i­a­tion defense because the harm is the chill­ing of the speech itself, and because oth­er claims for dam­ages may be fore­closed.30

Addi­tion­al­ly, allow­ing the Fifth Amend­ment to thwart scruti­ny of oth­er con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­vi­sions would lead to gross­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al results. For exam­ple, the gov­ern­ment could tar­get an individual’s land based on race, alien­age, or nat­ur­al ori­gin;31 or the gov­ern­ment could use its pow­er of emi­nent domain to become the only law­ful sup­pli­er of newsprint.32 If the gov­ern­ment need only com­ply with the Fifth Amendment’s bare require­ments, these actions would be per­mit­ted. Rec­og­niz­ing that these are imper­mis­si­ble results, low­er courts have found a basis for per­mit­ting First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claims for local or state gov­ern­ments’ use of emi­nent domain under state con­sti­tu­tions.33 Retal­ia­to­ry con­dem­na­tion under the First Amend­ment, in effect­ing sim­i­lar­ly imper­mis­si­ble results, should be treat­ed no differently.

Final­ly, retal­i­a­tion claims should act as a defense to con­dem­na­tions in order to ensure recourse for First Amend­ment vio­la­tions with­out judi­cial inquiry into leg­isla­tive pol­i­cy. Although the Court has lim­it­ed defens­es to con­dem­na­tion to sit­u­a­tions where the gov­ern­ment has depart­ed “from the statu­to­ry lim­its,” the rea­son­ing behind this lim­i­ta­tion does not apply when a con­sti­tu­tion­al right is at stake.34 First, cas­es in which the Court has lim­it­ed defens­es to con­dem­na­tion have not been premised on con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tions.35 A con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tion is far more insid­i­ous than a statu­to­ry vio­la­tion and should receive more com­pre­hen­sive scruti­ny. Fur­ther­more, the rea­son why courts have con­strained defens­es to con­dem­na­tion is to ensure that the judi­cia­ry does not sub­vert the judg­ments of demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed leg­is­la­tures as to the “neces­si­ty, expe­di­en­cy, pol­i­cy and pro­pri­ety in a con­dem­na­tion action.”36 How­ev­er, the analy­sis of a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claim does not require courts to probe these issues, nor does it frus­trate the government’s abil­i­ty to make poli­cies that rep­re­sent the will of the peo­ple. A First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense to con­dem­na­tion instead asks for vin­di­ca­tion of a right to pro­tect­ed speech, which is essen­tial to an individual’s abil­i­ty to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­c­ra­t­ic process. While it is log­i­cal to defer to the leg­is­la­ture for the prop­er “ends” of con­dem­na­tion, the ques­tion of prop­er “means” is a sep­a­rate, nar­row­ly focused, and judi­cial­ly man­age­able inquiry. The analy­sis of a First Amend­ment defense falls into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry.37

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The par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances of Nieves and Hart­man may have jus­ti­fied carv­ing out a Fourth Amend­ment safe har­bor in which gov­ern­ment actors would be free from claims of retal­ia­to­ry arrests and pros­e­cu­tions. These par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances, how­ev­er, are not present in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text of claims of retal­ia­to­ry con­dem­na­tion. The nature of con­dem­na­tion, from the easy, post hoc jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of pub­lic use to the rare, delib­er­ate nature of a con­dem­na­tion action, demon­strates that mere com­pli­ance with the Fifth Amend­ment is insuf­fi­cient to shield the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment from First Amend­ment scruti­ny. More­over, giv­en the chill­ing nature of retal­i­a­tion, the lack of recourse in the Fifth Amend­ment con­text, and the inap­plic­a­ble pri­or jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for judi­cial def­er­ence to con­dem­na­tion, a suc­cess­ful First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion claim should act as a full defense to con­dem­na­tion. As low­er courts have rec­og­nized, hold­ing oth­er­wise would lead to the imper­mis­si­ble result that the gov­ern­ment could specif­i­cal­ly tar­get prop­er­ty for con­dem­na­tion based on race, reli­gion, or speech.

1. Han­nah Beat­tie is a J.D. Can­di­date (2021) at New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law. This piece is a com­men­tary on the 2020 Prob­lem at the Evans Con­sti­tu­tion­al Law Moot Court Com­pe­ti­tion held in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin. The issue in this prob­lem dealt with whether an indi­vid­ual could assert a First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion defense against a con­dem­na­tion action by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that oth­er­wise com­plied with the Fifth Amend­ment. The views expressed in this arti­cle do not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the author on this point of law. Rather, this arti­cle is a dis­til­la­tion of one side of the argu­ment assigned to the author at the Evans Con­sti­tu­tion­al Law Moot Court Competition.

2. E.g., Craw­ford-El v. Brit­ton, 523 U.S. 574, 592 (1998).

3. See, e.g., Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 283–84 (1977) (estab­lish­ing that at-will employ­ee nonethe­less had con­sti­tu­tion­al right to not be dis­charged in retal­i­a­tion for speech).

4. See, e.g., Rutan v. Repub­li­can Par­ty of Ill., 497 U.S. 62, 75 n.8 (1990) (not­ing First Amend­ment retal­i­a­tion could be as triv­ial as fail­ing to hold a birth­day par­ty for a pub­lic employee).

5. Nieves v. Bartlett, 139 S. Ct. 1715, 1726 (2019); Hart­man v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 266–67 (2006).

6. U.S. Con­st. amend. I.

7. Craw­ford-El v. Brit­ton, 523 U.S. 574, 592 (1998).

8. 139 S. Ct. 1715, 1726 (2019).

9. 547 U.S. 250, 266–67 (2006).

10. 138 S. Ct. 1945, 1954 (2018).

11. 139 S. Ct. at 1727.

12. Id. at 1724.

13. 547 U.S. at 261.

14. 139 S. Ct. at 1724.

15. 138 S. Ct. at 1954.

16. 139 S. Ct. at 1724–25.

17. 547 U.S. at 259.

18. U.S. Con­st. amend. V.

19. See, e.g., Berman v. Park­er, 348 U.S. 26, 33 (1954) (hold­ing that the judi­cial inquiry should end once pub­lic use for a con­dem­na­tion action has been established).

20. Id.

21. 139 S. Ct. at 1723.

22. See Lucas v. S.C. Coastal Coun­cil, 505 U.S. 1003, 1025 n.12 (1992) (dis­cussing how jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for tak­ings can be for­mu­lat­ed in prac­ti­cal­ly every case and how pub­lic-use require­ment can only be failed by a “stu­pid staff”).

23. See Sable v. Myers, 563 F.3d 1120, 1122 (10th Cir. 2009) (dis­cussing a city council’s con­dem­na­tion of pri­vate prop­er­ty dur­ing which a coun­cil mem­ber asked an attor­ney if he could con­demn the prop­er­ty with “just” a show­ing of pub­lic use, before con­clud­ing, “It’s good to be King.”).

24. 138 S. Ct. at 1954.

25. See Berman v. Park­er, 348 U.S. 26, 33 (1954) (dis­cussing wide vari­ety of phys­i­cal, aes­thet­ic, and mon­e­tary val­ues that emi­nent domain requires gov­ern­ment to take into consideration).

26. 139 S. Ct. at 1724–25.

27. 138 S. Ct. at 1954.

28. Hart­man v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 262 (2006).

29. 138 S. Ct. at 1954.

30. See Wilkie v. Rob­bins, 551 U.S. 537, 556–57 (declin­ing to extend Bivens claim for dam­ages to Fifth Amend­ment context).

31. See Tex. Bor­der Coal. v. Napoli­tano, 614 F. Supp. 2d 54, 65 (D.D.C. 2009) (not­ing that a claim that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment con­demned bor­der lands based on race, alien­age, or nat­ur­al ori­gin, even if for the valid pub­lic use of bor­der pro­tec­tion, would require scruti­ny beyond ratio­nal basis).

32. See Time Warn­er Ent­m’t Co., L.P. v. F.C.C., 105 F.3d 723, 728 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (Williams, J., dis­sent­ing from denial of rehear­ing in banc) (find­ing that it would impli­cate “rather seri­ous First Amend­ment prob­lems if the gov­ern­ment used its pow­er of emi­nent domain to become the only law­ful sup­pli­er of newsprint . . . .”).

33. See, e.g., Rolf v. City of San Anto­nio, 77 F.3d 823 (5th Cir. 1996) (hold­ing that the dis­trict court erred in dis­miss­ing landown­ers § 1983 action alleg­ing city offi­cials con­demned their land in retal­i­a­tion for exer­cis­ing their First Amend­ment rights); Har­ri­son v. Spring­dale Water & Sew­er Com­m’n, 780 F.2d 1422 (8th Cir. 1986) (hold­ing that landown­ers suf­fi­cient­ly stat­ed a § 1983 cause of action against city offi­cials for con­demn­ing their land in retal­i­a­tion for exer­cis­ing their First Amend­ment rights).

34. Catlin v. Unit­ed States, 324 U.S. 229, 240–41 (1945).

35. See Shoe­mak­er v. Unit­ed States, 147 U.S. 282 (1993) (declin­ing to find a vio­la­tion of the Mary­land act of ces­sion was a defense to fed­er­al con­dem­na­tion); Berman v. Park­er, 348 U.S. 26, 35 (1954) (declin­ing to extend a con­dem­na­tion defense because an individual’s prop­er­ty itself was not blight­ed, though this was the pur­port­ed pub­lic use).

36. Unit­ed States v. 1.04 Acres, 538 F. Supp. 2d 995, 999 (S.D. Tex. 2008).

37. See Thomas W. Mer­rill, The Eco­nom­ics of Pub­lic Use, 72 Cor­nell L. Rev. 61, 67 (1986).