“Not long after learning about the parody Twitter account @Peoriamayor, the city’s real mayor, Jim Ardis, told police he wanted to find out who was publishing sometimes vulgar messages there, according to a search warrant filed Thursday. … Two judges signed off on warrants to get information from Twitter and Comcast. Another judge approved a Tuesday afternoon raid.” [Peoria Journal-Star via Scott Shackford/Reason; Justin Glawe, Vice]
P.S. Related from Starkville, Mississippi last year.
It’s being led by our perennial-favorite state-AG mentionee (D-Miss.)
Meanwhile: Houston judge reported to have issued what law professor Josh Blackman calls “blatantly unconstitutional” gag order requiring Google not only to remove all records of certain allegations against an individual, but also to refrain from discussing the gag order itself [Houston Chronicle]
“United Nations agencies are not constrained by the First Amendment,” which means the impending change is not happy news for the cause of free speech, notes Patrick at Popehat. More: The Economist.
The bill originated in a desire to control men’s accosting of women on the street, but according to Eugene Volokh it sweeps much more broadly than that: it exposes speakers to imprisonment even for written communication, not necessarily individually targeted, that is “evidently intended to express contempt for a person because of his gender, or that regards them as inferior, or reduces them to their sexual dimension, and which has the effect of violating someone’s dignity.” [Rik Torfs and Jogchum Vrielink via Volokh] Torfs and Vrielink point out a perhaps unexpected corollary, which could also restrict speech:
A logical side effect of making sexism illegal is that the simple act of accusing someone of being sexist, may amount to criminal defamation. Under Belgian law, as in many other legal systems, it is an offense to accuse someone of having committed crimes that they were not actually convicted for. Law is often a double-edged sword.
Eighteen-year-old guys have been known to say stupid things online, especially when engaged in displays of flaming and one-upmanship. Criminal-sentence kind of stupid? “I guess what you post on Facebook matters,” says Justin Carter of San Antonio, jailed after an all-caps flourish about how he was ready to “shoot up a kindergarten.” [Dallas Observer]
P.S. A related Missouri story from last year.
Once again, a law professor has stepped up to inform us that we need to join much of Europe in attaching legal penalties to hurtful speech. This time one patient refutation comes from Michael Moynihan [Daily Beast] The idea is about as fresh and new as sleeve garters, notes Jonathan Rauch [Volokh/WaPo] Further rebuttal from Ken at Popehat and Scott Greenfield.
If a thin-skinned academic sues a magazine for criticizing him too harshly, and you find yourself hoping the magazine will get sued into bankruptcy because you disagree with its views, you might not want to claim for yourself the honorable word liberal [Damon Linker/The Week, Stephen Carter/Bloomberg, Eugene Volokh on role of libel insurance, earlier here, here, etc.]
In McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court will reconsider its 2000 decision in Hill v. Colorado, which upheld a law prohibiting (among other things) leafleting and some other forms of peaceful protest within 100 feet of an abortion facility. (Massachusetts in 2007 passed a similar law which is now under challenge.) Noted civil libertarian Floyd Abrams, writing in the WSJ, sees the case as a straightforward one of supporting free speech for a position with which he happens to disagree. But the ACLU, Abrams notes, has changed its position between the earlier case and this one, and in a speech-unfriendly direction:
In a friend-of-the-court brief in Hill, the ACLU argued that because the Colorado statute “burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to accomplish the state’s goal,” the statute was facially unconstitutional. When the 2007 statute was proposed in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts ACLU opposed it, stating that “[i]f the message is unwelcome, as it often will be outside abortion clinics, the constitutionally appropriate response in a public forum is for the listener to walk away.”
But now that McCullen has reached the Supreme Court, both ACLU groups have switched sides. Their position, their brief states, has “evolved over time” and the Massachusetts law is, after all, constitutional on its face. Of course, the First Amendment has not changed in the 14 years between the filing of the ACLU briefs in Hill and McCullen; the ACLU has.
The old ACLU got it right.
P.S. More from Jonathan Adler. And the Cato Institute filed this amicus brief in the case of McCullen v. Coakley.
Banker: “It should be illegal to start bank runs by spreading mistaken alarms about deposit soundness.”
Ag guy: “It should be illegal to falsely impugn the safety of America’s food supply.”
Hollywood celeb: “It should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV.“
Authorities in Rugeley, Staffordshire, England, detained sandwich shop owner Neil Phillips for eight hours, searched his computer, fingerprinted him and swabbed him for DNA after a local elected official complained that Phillips had engaged in online jokes and comments on Facebook, including jokes about Nelson Mandela. [Birmingham Mail, The Star] Afterward, Phillips complained that the constabulary had “over-reacted massively”: “There was no hatred. What happened to freedom of speech?” Charles Cooke explains at NRO:
Well, the Public Order Act of 1986 happened to freedom of speech – in particular, Section 5, which makes it a crime in England for anyone ”with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress” to
(a) [use] threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) [display] any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.
In other words, Section 5 allows anybody to have anybody else investigated for speaking. And they have. The arrests have run the gamut: from Muslims criticizing atheists to atheists criticizing Muslims….
Is it still legal for Britons to laugh at this Mark Steyn column?
In cease-and-desist letters, the NSA and DHS have moved to squash satirical use of their insignia in connection with t-shirts and mugs saying things like “The NSA: The Only Part of Government That Actually Listens” [Paul Alan Levy]
I was a guest this morning on John Gambling’s popular NYC morning show to discuss Free Speech Week, which Tim Lynch is covering all this week at the Cato blog (more). Items tagged “free speech” at Overlawyered are here. More: And now the podcast is up (6:18).
Unthinkable here, one presumes. But the United Kingdom has no First Amendment, and a noisy lobby has been demanding press regulation to curb the periodic misconduct of the tabloids, made worse by what is perceived as the irresponsible and, well, unreliable (cf.: Rupert Murdoch) political stands and cultural practices of those papers. [Daily Telegraph and editorial ("unacceptable"), Andrew Gilligan ("Hacked Off is a campaign not just to tame the press, but to claim the country for the authoritarian Left.") and followup]
More: “NO” [The Spectator]
“… is to allow citizens to monitor government, not to allow government to monitor citizens.” — Center for Competitive Politics on Sen. Dick Durbin’s demand that private donors provide information about their involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization for state legislators, and with the issue of “stand your ground” self-defense law.