Two days ago a man asked me why I was carrying so many papers with me. My response was not as articulate as I would have liked it to have been, so this is what I wish I had said: We are a nation built on words and the ideas which those words express, a nation that considers words the ultimate weapon. Of all the constitutional amendments, the very first one sets out to protect speech above all else. It is no accident that it is the first of all amendments nor that it is immediately followed by the protection of arms and a militia. We must speak first and fight second.
Though already strongly suggested by Cohen v. California and Houston v. Hill, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has now specifically recognized that a Michigan woman who flipped off a cop after receiving a traffic ticket was exercising her protected free speech pursuant to the First and Fourteenth Amendments.Continue Reading
America has (de)evolved to a point where knowledge of the law is no defense while ignorance of the law is no excuse! Vox
Back in the 1970s, Louisiana had a statute making it “unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.” After much procedural harangue that included affirmation by the Louisiana Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court held that such statute “is not susceptible of application to speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15, 18-22 (1971); Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4-5 (1949); Gooding v. Wilson, supra, at 520. Since [the law], as construed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, is susceptible of application to protected speech, the section is constitutionally overbroad and therefore is facially invalid.” Read the full opinion on Google Scholar.
Houston v. Hill is a remarkable U.S. Supreme Court case that tackles abuses of power by police departments. The Supreme Court decided 7-2 that a Houston, Texas ordinance that was routinely used to arrest citizens for merely “arguing, talking, interfering, failing to remain quiet, refusing to remain silent, verbal abuse, cursing, verbally yelling, and talking loudly” toward a police officer.
Not only did the Supreme Court rule this type of conduct to be protected First Amendment speech, but the Supreme Court also expressed that the right to question police conduct is a fundamental distinction between democracy and dictatorship.Continue Reading
During the Vietnam conflict/war, Paul Robert Cohen wore a (leather?) jacket bearing the words “Fuck the Draft” into the Los Angeles Municipal Court building. Upon entering an actual courtroom, however, he removed and folded his jacket over his arm. He again donned the jacket upon leaving the courtroom and a city officer thereupon arrested and charged him with violating California Penal Code § 415 which prohibited “maliciously and willfully disturb[ing] the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person . . . by . . . offensive conduct. . . .” Continue Reading
It occurs to me today that Americans do have a Constitutional right to be “weird” by virtue of the First Amendment’s freedom of expression.Continue Reading