LA Times agrees with FPC: “In this case, the gun activists are right.”
“This case” is our recently-filed First Amendment case, Publius vs. Boyer-Vine.
If the First Amendment only protected pleasant and conventional speech, then there would be no need for it in the first place.
After all, no one would be upset by that kind of speech. The First Amendment’s value is in protecting unpopular speech – speech that may upset the status quo or make people feel uncomfortable.
It also protects speech that can be viewed by many that is controversial, including posting the home addresses and telephone numbers of (what one might view as tyrannical) legislators.
Many thought it was wrong for Publius to post that information. The LA Times even called it creepy and reprehensible.
But when push comes to shove, even the incredibly anti-gun LA Times agreed that it was totally Constitutional and published an editorial to that effect today:
Many gun advocates are opposed to the firearm restrictions passed by California lawmakers this summer, which include a ban on some semiautomatic rifles and a requirement that ammunition buyers undergo background checks.
They have vociferously criticized legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown for what they see as an assault on their 2nd Amendment rights and have launched efforts to repeal the laws. Whether or not you agree with them about the issue, that’s certainly a responsible way to engage in the Democratic process.
The irresponsible way was illustrated recently by an anonymous blogger, the Real Write Winger, who compiled the home addresses and phone numbers of 40 state legislators who voted for the gun control laws and posted them on the Web. Publishing the home addresses was creepy in itself, and the accompanying text was equally so. Calling the legislators “tyrants” and “legisexuals” (whatever that means) who had “exercised violence against us,” the post warned that if the legislation wasn’t repealed, the only way off the list was “upon the tyrant’s death.”
The California Office of Legislative Counsel concluded that the blogger had violated the state law regarding online threats to elected officials and demanded that the blog host take down the post. WordPress complied, and the post is gone. At least for now. Last week, gun activists sued Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine saying the law violated the free speech rights of the blogger, referred to in court filings as “Doe Publius.”
In this case, the gun activists are right. The state law that the legislative counsel relied upon says that no one may post the home addresses or phone numbers of elected or appointed officials if their intent is to cause “imminent great bodily harm” — or even if officials only feel their safety is threatened. But while the language of the blogpost is faintly menacing — not to mention juvenile and reprehensible — it never actually calls for action. Furthermore, most of the names and addresses posted by the blogger were already publicly available.
The blogger even addresses the notion that someone might see this as a threat: “Compiled below is [sic] the names, home addresses, and home phone numbers of all the legislators who decided to make you a criminal if you don’t abide by their dictates. ‘Isn’t that dangerous, what if something bad happens to them by making that information public?’ First, all this information was already public; it’s just now in one convenient location.”
The post treads near the line, to be sure, but does not advocate that something bad should be done to legislators. The Supreme Court has said that the legal test for criminally prosecuting someone for incitement is that the advocacy must be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and also “likely to incite or produce such action.”
Read more here.
They literally just won our case for us in the court of public opinion.
But now we have to win it in the only courtroom that matters.
Ensure that we beat the State of California in this lawsuit. Make sure our case is fully funded: