U.S. District Court Rejects Attempt to Dismiss Free Speech Challenge to the CFTC

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 23, 1998

Washington, D.C.-On April 23, 1998, Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) attempt to dismiss a First Amendment lawsuit brought by commodity newsletter publishers, software developers, Internet providers and their subscribers.

“Today, the free speech rights of publishers took a big step toward vindication,” said Scott Bullock, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs. “We will now proceed vigorously to stop the CFTC from violating the First Amendment.”

The suit was filed in July 1997 to challenge the CFTC’s demand that anyone who publishes non-personal commodity information, analysis or advice be registered with the agency. Registration is akin to licensing. Among other requirements, publishers must be fingerprinted, have a background check conducted on them, pay fees and be subject to on-demand audits. Publishing without registration subjects one to fines and imprisonment.

The CFTC sought to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds, claiming that the plaintiffs did not have standing and that the issue was not “ripe” for adjudication.

“In America, you don’t need permission from the federal government before offering your opinion, whether it is on car stereo buying or commodity trading,” said William H. Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “The judge’s decision today means that the CFTC will have to defend its indefensible policy in federal court,” he added.

The CFTC has two weeks to file an answer, and the case will unfold in the spring and summer.