The recent controversy about New York City’s mayor threatening to drop contracts with Donald Trump’s businesses is a reminder to general counsel about the extent of protection given by the First Amendment.
In a recent statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested municipal contracts with Trump could be dropped after the Republican presidential candidate made controversial comments regarding illegal immigrants from Mexico.
“What the mayor is threatening raises serious First Amendment issues,” Joel Gora, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, told InsideCounsel. “There’s absolutely no question about that.”
Critics argue that terminating contracts or other kinds of government obligations because a political official does not like the views of a person or company cannot be done because of the protections from the First Amendment.
In fact, Gora called it the “height of censorship."
The Supreme Court in 1996 ruled in the Umbehr case, “The First Amendment protects independent contractors from the termination or prevention of automatic renewal of at-will government contracts in retaliation for their exercise of the freedom of speech.”
“You can’t refuse to renew a contact if you don’t like views,” Gora explained.
Meanwhile, de Blasio’s office provided InsideCounsel a statement saying: “We are reviewing Trump contracts with the City. Donald Trump’s remarks were disgusting and offensive, and this hateful language has no place in our city. Trump’s comments do not represent the values of inclusion and openness that define us as New Yorkers. Our Mexican brothers and sisters make up an essential part of this city’s vibrant and diverse community, and we will continue to celebrate and support New Yorkers of every background.”
Among the contracts that are likely to be reviewed by the city is the one regarding a golf course in the Bronx, known as “Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point.”
Meanwhile, Gora says the statement by de Blasio recalls the attempt in Chicago to keep Chick-fil-A from opening there, because of the owner’s comments supporting traditional marriage. A similar effort to prevent the restaurant from opening was seen in Boston by the then-mayor Thomas Menino.
“This is a very similar thing,” Gora said about de Blasio’s response to Trump.
“I hope wiser legal counsel to the mayor will prevail,” Gora adds.
Among those private companies which have ended or minimized relationships with Trump following his comments are: Macy’s, Univision, Televisa, Farouk Systems, NBCUniversal, Serta, NASCAR, ESPN, and PGA, news reports said. Trump may sue or take other legal action against some of these companies, according to reports.