Refreshing: A Court that understands the breadth of the First Amendment

In Serafine v. Branaman, et al. the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a Texas law proscribing one’s ability to claim to be a psychologist fails Constitutional muster in the context of a political campaign. The case is part of a national trend in the wake of the the Alvarez, Stolen Valor Act decision, apply strict scrutiny to speech that is arguably both “political” and “commercial.”

Dr. Serafine, an attorney who completed a four-year post doctoral fellowship at Yale and whose dissertation for her Ph.D. in education was published in a psychology journal, Genetic Psychology Monographs, ran for the Texas state senate in 2010. Previously, Serafine had been a professor in the psychology departments at Yale and Vassar, even though her lack of a doctorate in psychology prohibits her from receiving a license to practice as a psychologist. Nonetheless, Dr. Serafine referred to herself as a “psychologist” in her campaign materials and website, as she was known collegially and in her role as a professor of psychology as a psychologist notwithstanding her lack of the formal credentials.

During her 2010 campaign for the Texas State Senate, the Texas State Board of Examiners sent Serafine a letter informing her that her political materials referring to herself as a psychologist violated state law and ordered her to cease using the title “psychologist” on her campaign website. Ultimately, Dr. Serafine did remove the title “psychologist” from her campaign materials but brought suit against the chairman and executive director of the State Board of Examiners claiming that the Texas Psychologists’ Licensing Act violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Read the Court of Appeals decision here.

Read more from on the case from Eugene Volokh here.

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