DOJ Finally Drops Case Against Protester Who Laughed During Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Hearing

from the laughs;-lasts dept

A small bit of good news from our lol-worthy Justice Department: federal prosecutors have decided they’re no longer interested in jailing someone for laughing at the Attorney General. That isn’t the entirety of the story (or the dropped charges, for that matter), so here’s a little background.

Back in January, Desiree Fairooz attended Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. Statements made by a legislator provoked an unfortunate response from this pink-hatted attendee.

Fairooz, a retired children’s librarian and demonstrator affiliated with the organization Code Pink, let out a laugh during a Senate hearing back in January after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Sessions had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally under the law.” (Sessions had faced strong opposition from civil rights organizations and was rejected as a federal judge in the 1980s over concerns about his past comments on race.)

This very slight blow to Senate hearing decorum could have been ignored. Perhaps Fairooz could have been approached quietly and asked to keep her amusement to herself. Instead, a rookie Capitol police officer decided to arrest Fairooz. This led to a verbal altercation with Fairooz loudly protesting her removal from the hearing.

She was convicted in July by a jury — but supposedly not because she laughed out loud.

Desiree Fairooz, an activist associated with the organization Code Pink, was found guilty on two counts: one for engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct” with the intent to disrupt congressional proceedings and a separate count for parading, demonstrating or picketing.

Several jurors who spoke with HuffPost after the verdict emphasized that they were focused on Fairooz’s actions after a rookie Capitol Police officer approached Fairooz when she laughed at Sen. Richard Shelby’s (R-Ala.) claim…

The jurors made this assertion post-conviction but the government appeared to believe laughter was enough of a crime in and of itself to justify pursuing a conviction. The judge disagreed.

[A] judge tossed out the jury’s conviction in July, finding that prosecutors had improperly argued during the trial that “laughter is enough, standing alone,” to merit a conviction. D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Morin said he found it “disconcerting” that the government had explicitly argued during the trial that laughter in and of itself was enough for a guilty verdict.

But there was still more prosecuting to be done, apparently. Fairooz rejected the government’s offer of a plea deal, which would have required her to plead guilty to laughing at a legislator and/or disrupting the proceedings. So the government decided it would take another swing at securing a conviction. Maybe this was just a ploy to push Fairooz into an unforced error — accepting the previously-rejected plea deal. Whatever the case, the government has now decided it’s through trying to prosecute laughter.

Justice Department prosecutors have dropped their case against a woman who laughed at now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearing. Desiree Fairooz was scheduled to face trial for a second time next week, but a DOJ prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi filing in the case on Monday indicating the department is dismissing the charges.

The DOJ is wise to do this. It has plenty of other ways to waste taxpayer dollars that won’t so closely resemble punishing free speech. (Uh… scratch that last part.) It also would have had an uphill battle arguing its case in front a judge who already determined Fairooz’s laughter couldn’t be used as part of the prosecution’s case. And if the laughter couldn’t be used to justify the officer’s arrest and removal of Fairooz, then it would be extremely difficult to claim the ensuing disruption was itself a criminal act. The hasty decision of a rookie Capitol cop pretty much defeats that line of reasoning by tainting the arrest itself. With nowhere else to go and faced with an arrestee unwilling to cave, the DOJ has decided to exit this debacle as gracefully as possible.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “DOJ Finally Drops Case Against Protester Who Laughed During Jeff Sessions' Confirmation Hearing”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worth noting in re Sessions

will likely — hopefully — face some stiff questioning.

Oh deary me! How shall Jefferson Benedict Arnold Beauregard Sessions survive such an onslaught?

When the Ds retake the majority the retribution for the Rs’ cowardly and venal abrogation of their patriotic duty is going to be brutal, bruuu-tal. May Sessions be the first Attorney General to serve time in prison.

McGyver (profile) says:

If laughter is the best medicine, then someone has to control it and overcharge for it… You can’t just be laughing out loud for free…?
In this case look at the harm it did to poor Jeff Sessions…
He’ll never be the same… I bet he wakes up at night in a cold sweat thinking of that laughter.
What we need is for the Republicans to set up a task force to understand this laugher crisis and how it is unsettling our wise and benevolent leaders…
They should first ask Hollywood or Disney to write the laws on this so we care be sure it’s fair and doesn’t disrupt their profit margins…
Then they should go after all unlicensed comics and and funny people that instigate wonton merriment and destructive humor.
We’ll then need a well funded Bureau of Laughter, Humor and Levity to be immediately set up to control this problem.
Think of the children.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not really funny...

The problem here is that these charges were even able to be brought. This poor woman just had her life terrorized by a thin skinned bureaucrat with a “funny hat dictator” complex.

It’s almost enough for me to reconsider my comment that the democrats deserve the likes of trump and hit dirt bag henchmen in office, but this is what happens when you keep playing the party game.

I swear you repukes and demtards so utterly fucking deserve each other! Sadly the rest of us sane fucks have to deal with you insane fucking fucks cancelling out our votes and calling us the idiots while you install these looney tunes!

Anonymous Coward says:

It has plenty of other ways to waste taxpayer dollars that won’t so closely resemble punishing free speech.

It was a stupid case, but it didn’t waste taxpayer dollars.

Does anyone think that if this case didn’t happen we wouldn’t be paying a judge, a prosecutor or others to investigate this? With no case, those people still get paid. We still have to pay for the courthouse, the electricity, the heating and cooling.

No tax dollars were wasted outside of most of what the government does is a waste, which is why smaller government is the way we should be going.

Richard M (profile) says:

Burying the Lead...

“She was convicted in July by a jury”

While thin skinned politicians and out of control cops are a problem the real problem is that over and over juries in this country are backing up all the stupidity that the Govt and its representatives engage in.

Even in the few instances where cops are brought up on charges the juries let them get away with outright murder.

Until juries stop backing up cops and the Govt when they overstep it is not going to stop.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Burying the Lead...

Part of the problem is that jury selection weeds out the people who might decide a case based on what is right. They SPECIFICALLY ask if you can judge a case based purely on what they say the law says, not what you feel it should be. At least, the last time I was in jury selection, that was one of the criteria they used to weed out those undesirable jurors. We weren’t even allowed a law dictionary – any questions as to the law would be written down and answered by the judge.

Anonymous Coward says:

She was convicted in July by a jury.

Here’s where changed from laughing to disorderly: “Fairooz loudly protesting her removal from the hearing.”

SHE should have gone quietly. Several hundred people were disrupted by this woman, besides gave you barbarians a “cause” for further uncivilized behavior.

AND directly related: Techdirt acts on that very principle, can’t even tolerate a little bit of silent text to be glanced over, but must “hide” dissent! What masnocrits.

ryuugami says:

Re: She was convicted in July by a jury.

Oh look, an idiot. An authoritarian idiot.

The one who caused the disruption was not the woman, but the cop who arrested her for no reason whatsoever. No, a chuckle is not a reason for arrest.

You should move to Saudi Arabia. They have exactly the amount of freedom you like. But hurry! At the pace they’re going, in another decade or so even they will be far too liberal for you.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...