Del. Emmett Burns to Baltimore Ravens: silence that troublesome player

by Walter Olson on September 7, 2012

Wow. Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), an opponent of same-sex marriage, fired off a letter to the owner [PDF] of the Baltimore Ravens on legislative stationery demanding that he silence Brendon Ayanbadejo, an outspoken marriage advocate. Pretty much every conservative commentator in America (properly) denounced the Boston mayor and Chicago alderman for menacing Chick-Fil-A. I hope some of them will speak up against this abuse of government office as well. [NBC Sports Pro Football Talk]

More, Eugene Volokh finds it “a pretty inappropriate thing for a legislator, speaking in a way that stresses his role as legislator, to say to a private employer. There is no express threat of retaliation here, but such letters to private businesspeople — who often have to deal with legislature on various regulatory issues — tend to carry something of an implied threat, especially when they stress the author’s legislative position.” Note also that what Burns is “requesting” in his letter is accompanied by a peremptory demand for an “immediate response.” And update: following an outcry in which the public overwhelmingly took the player’s side, Del. Burns has backed down.

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{ 17 comments }

1 Ron Miller 09.07.12 at 11:09 am

Well, I don’t know this is actually the force of government here. I can see where that line could get crossed. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Steve Bisciotti is not going to feel the weight of governmental pressure from Emmett Burns’ letter, assuming he bothers to open the thing.

2 Richard Nieporent 09.07.12 at 11:16 am

Pretty much every conservative commentator in America (properly) denounced the Boston mayor and Chicago alderman for menacing Chick-Fil-A. I hope some of them will speak up against this abuse of government office as well.

Walter, I am surprised that you would, a priori, impugn the motives of conservatives. Why would you assume that they would act hypocritically when it comes to an attack on free speech by an elective representative (not too surprisingly he is a Democrat) because you believe that the issue, gay marriage, is one that they would oppose? I, for one, am a strong supporter of free speech. I oppose any attempt by any government official to use his office to suppress speech that he disagrees with whether or not I agree with the speaker. There are no ands, ifs or buts on my part to this statement.

3 Walter Olson 09.07.12 at 11:25 am

RN> I think you are being both hasty and sensitive to read me as impugning conservative motives. This is a chance for conservatives to show that they were standing on free speech principle in the Chick-Fil-A affair rather than just pursuing Culture War predilections. I have no doubt whatsoever that many conservatives will do exactly that, and that Burns will face a barrage of criticism from right as well as left in coming days.

4 Richard Nieporent 09.07.12 at 12:50 pm

Walter, I am sorry that I misunderstood what you were trying to say. While I might have been “sensitive”, I don’t believe I was being hasty in my comment. Normally when a statement is phrased this way: “I hope some of them will speak up against this abuse of government office as well”, it is not because the person believes that they will denounce the statement, but because they believe that they won’t. If they really expected the former to be the case, they could just wait and praise them when they spoke out against the delegate.

5 Ron Miller 09.07.12 at 1:08 pm

I think it is a good idea to expect hypocrisy when it comes to free speech. Both liberals and conservative love free speech until someone is saying something they don’t want to hear.

I guess I’m not surprised that I disagree with y’all on this. I support people marrying whoever they feel like marrying but I have no objection to what this guy writing this letter for the reasons I set for above. I do, however, take grave exception to his beliefs on grammar and capitalization. Did anyone read that letter?

6 Scott Jacobs 09.07.12 at 4:19 pm

I’m going to say that, while I think Burns is a frelling moron who could benefit from shutting his own nommer, his letter fails to hit the same notes as the mayor’s letter. He suggested no action he would undertake as punishment should his will not be done, threatened no improper use of authority.

I mean, he’s still a massive tool, but that’s not quite the same thing as being a thug…

7 Calvin A 09.07.12 at 10:47 pm

Going to echo Scott. While I think it inappropriate for this fellow to use his official letterhead, the mayors of Chicago and Boston both threatened to interfere with the ability of Chick-Fil-A to do business. Burns, however inappropriate his comments may have been, has not threatened the Ravens or the player with government interference.

8 gitarcarver 09.07.12 at 11:46 pm

Sorry, but I think it is more than inappropriate.

If Burns has an issue with Brendon Ayanbadejo’s opinion, step up and write a letter to Ayanbadejo .

Ayanbadejo is a public figure and is not speaking in any violation of the NFL CBA.

The fact that Burns wants an “immediate response” from the owner of the Ravens while at the same time sending a copy of the letter to the media says to me Burns is using his official office to put the Ravens ownership on some sort of notice of future action or consequences.

For the record, I am one of those conservatives who is against same sex marriage. (The term “marriage” has an historical and cultural meaning. Call it something else.)

I don’t like threats or boorish behavior from anyone. Political leanings don’t matter to me in this case. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk.

9 wfjag 09.08.12 at 6:46 am

I see two big distinctions between this and the Chic-Fil-A dust ups. First, Burns is a nobody with no power . As a single Delegate in the MD legislature, even if he leaves home with his American Express Card, no one will know who he is. Ayanbadejo is the celebrity who can generate the press buzz, and lampoon Burns, while doing so. Ayanbadejo can defend himself. This contrasts with the Chic-Fil-A franchisees, who no one knew (and still are unknown) who were the actual objects of the threats by the Boston Mayor and Chicago alderman. Second, as a single member of a state legislature, Burns has no power to do anything. This contrasts with the power of the Bostpn Mayor and Chicago alderman to block permits, licenses, etc.

These differences show that in the prior situations there was true abuse of power by public officials, whereas here, Burns looks to be a case of an over-sized ego coupled to a small position and smaller intellect. He’s a powerless fool, who is being given stature by receiving serious discussion.

10 Walter Olson 09.08.12 at 7:31 am

I would not so quickly conclude that “as a single member of a state legislature, Burns has no power to do anything.” It’s true that Burns doesn’t appear to have introduced much notable legislation, and also true that M&T Stadium isn’t in his district. On the other hand, he sits on the Economic Matters Committee and its business regulation subcommittee, in which capacity it would not be surprising if he could do things like put holds on emergency bills. As a member of the majority party he also is in a position to have close logrolling dealings with other members. When a demand letter on legislative stationery like this arrives at a regulated business I think the reaction is often something other than, “What a laugh, there’s no way he can lay a glove on us.”

11 Max Kennerly 09.08.12 at 10:31 am
12 wfjag 09.08.12 at 10:58 pm

Still, this is Maryland, a very liberal state, not North Carolina, which just voted in a traditional marriage amendment. When money is needed for electioneering expenses, Burns’ position will “evolve”. And, if it doesn’t, then like former Congressman Davis, formerly of Alabama, someone who is in step with Dem family values will be found to challenge Burns in the primary. Although there are many issues on which even a back bencher in a state legislature holds the stronger hand, here, however, Burns will unite against himself gays, local team football fans, and the national leadership of his own party.

13 Ron Miller 09.10.12 at 9:18 am

Walter, that’s right. But when it comes to govt flexing its muscle, on some level it is a “I know it when I see it” type thing. I don’t think anyone at the Ravens thought, “Gee, how should we respond to this? I’m worried if we don’t bend to this single delegate who can barely write a letter, the Ravens will suffer.” But, yeah, I could alter the facts a little and give you more cause for concern.

Ultimately, tho, individual legislatures have free speech rights too.

14 robert 09.10.12 at 3:50 pm

I am in a same-sex marriage. And I feel that attempts by the Government to shut-up Chick-Fil-A were just as wrong as attempts by the Government to shut up Ayanbadejo.

It’s also worth pointing out that Emmet Burns is a DEMOCRAT! So people shouldn’t blame “conservatives” for this.

15 Jean 09.10.12 at 8:14 pm

Maryland delegate Burns was wrong when he tried to intimidate First Amendment rights, and he is still wrong in trying to quash equal marriage rights for everyone in Maryland. Please protect all families and vote for equal rights for everyone.

16 txpatriot 09.11.12 at 6:40 pm

I’m a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican.

I believe in traditional marriage but I also support the First Amendment and this player’s right to speak his mind. I denounce the Delegate’s letter.

OTOH, I’m a nobody so I guess my opinion doesn’t count.

17 Michael Ejercito 09.11.12 at 10:29 pm

This is a chance for conservatives to show that they were standing on free speech principle in the Chick-Fil-A affair rather than just pursuing Culture War predilections.

One of them took the chance.

That second paragraph is actually rather concerning. The state legislator is 100 percent correct on the same-sex “marriage” issue, but I don’t think it is proper for a state legislator’s to tell a private company to ‘inhibit’ the free expression of its employees or to tell those employees to ‘cease and desist’ from making statements the legislator disagrees with. Just like it was not proper for the mayors of Boston and Chicago to tell Chik-fil-A to stop talking about biblical marriage.

The fact that this legislator is on the right side of the underlying issue, while the mayors of Boston and Chicago were on the wrong side of the issue, is irrelevant. Government officials have no business telling any private individual or business to stop expressing their opinion, regardless of whether that opinion is right or wrong.

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