Judge Quickly (But Temporarily) Blocks New CA Law That Takes Away Anonymous Speech Rights
from the quick-response dept
So, we had just written about the unfortunate (if expected) news that voters in California had overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure which (among other things) would take away anonymous speech rights from anyone on the state’s sex offender list (which could include things like people arrested for urinating in public, or consensual sexual activity between teenagers). That seemed both extreme and unconstitutional. We noted that we expected the law to be challenged, though I had assumed it might wait until the law was used. Instead, the EFF and ACLU immediately teamed up to challenge the law, arguing that it was unconstitutional:
“Requiring people to give up their right to speak freely and anonymously about civic matters is unconstitutional, and restrictions like this damage robust discussion and debate on important and controversial topics,” said EFF Staff Attorney Hanni Fakhoury. “When the government starts gathering online profiles for one class of people, we all need to worry about the precedent it sets.”
And… before I could even finish writing about the challenge, the judge issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the implementation of the law.
In this case, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have raised serious questions about whether the challenged sections of the CASE Act violate their First Amendment right to free speech and other constitutional rights. In addition, the balance of hardships tips sharply in favor of issuing a TRO. Defendant Harris’s counsel represented to the Court that the State would be in no position to enforce the law until March 20, 2013. The harm to Defendants of a TRO therefore appears to be minimal. Plaintiffs, by contrast, would suffer the potential loss of their “ability to speak anonymously on the Internet,” which is protected by the First Amendment… Such “loss of First Amendment freedoms . . . unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.” …. Additionally, the Ninth Circuit has “consistently recognized the ‘significant public interest’ in upholding free speech principles,” …, and that “it is always in the public interest to prevent the violation of a party’s constitutional rights,” ….. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs have satisfied the standard for a TRO.
Of course, now the state will need to waste taxpayer money defending this awful part of the law. It would have been nicer if it had never been on the ballot in the first place.