First Amendment Case Against CFTC To Go to Trial in March

John Kramer
John Kramer · January 14, 1999

Washington, D.C.-The case against the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) unconstitutional effort to license speech was today ordered to trial by a federal judge who also stated his desire to have Internet access in the courtroom. The lawsuit, which will go to trial on May 3, 1999, was filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice on behalf of a group of nine publishers of and subscribers to commodity reports. It seeks to end government-compelled registration of those who either through traditional publications, software or over the Internet offer non-personal analysis and advice about commodities. The suit was filed in July 1997 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“This case will be one of the first major Internet free speech battle outside the area of pornography,” said Scott Bullock, an attorney for the Institute, which represents the publishers and subscribers. “This case has the potential to set broad precedent for the level of First Amendment protection for financial and other information in cyberspace.”

The CFTC is the federal agency charged with regulating the commodity markets in the United States. Not content to oversee firms managing investor accounts, the CFTC began in 1995 to demand registration of anyone who for compensation publishes information, analysis or advice about commodity trading. Registration is akin to licensing-publishers must be fingerprinted, have a background check conducted on them, pay fees, be subject to on-demand audits and more. Publishing without registration subjects one to fines and imprisonment. The plaintiffs in this case do not invest customer funds nor do they give person-to-person trading advice; they only publish information and advice to their subscribers.

“We look forward to laying out our case for the judge and demonstrating that the CFTC is violating the free speech rights of commodity publishers and their readers,” said Chip Mellor, president of the Institute for Justice.