Free Speech Under Attack In Pennsylvania: New Law Bans Actions By Criminals That Might Upset Their Victims
from the blatantly-unconstitutional dept
Not surprisingly, there was a fair bit of controversy over the decision to have him give the commencement speech. Philadelphia police and the widow of the murdered police officer were especially angry about it. This was not the first time Abu-Jamal has addressed graduation ceremonies. In those cases, some students exercised their own free speech rights by protesting -- walking out or turning their backs to the stage. However, for whatever reason, this latest event has resulted not in the exercising of free speech, but in a bunch of cowards in the Pennsylvania legislature to pass a ridiculous law that attacks free speech, amending the existing Crimes Victim Act, with a section for "revictimization relief" which says that if any "conduct" somehow "causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish," the victims of the original crime can seek an injunction against that conduct "or other appropriate relief."
As Paul Levy highlights, the legislators must know that a similar bill was ruled unconstitutional for violating the First Amendment, but they seek to get out of it by saying this bill targets "conduct" rather than "speech." Good luck with that. Either way, it doesn't make the bill any less problematic. Under a pretty basic reading of the text, merely appealing your conviction would make you guilty of violating this act:
But even assuming that judges addressing the constitutionality of the statute are fooled by this figleaf, you have to wonder at the exceptional breadth of the statute. If a criminal defendant files an appeal from his conviction, would that cause the victim mental anguish? What if the defendant merely pleads not guilty and forces the holding of a public trial in which the victim has to testify about the facts of the crime? Can appealing, or pleading not guilty, be enjoined?Levy further notes that while the bill's original sponsor withdrew from the bill, the bill itself still passed (by a pretty wide margin: 37 - 11 in the state senate and unanimously in the state house). And Pennsylvania's governor Tom Corbett is going to sign the bill despite its massive constitutional problems.
This is a total embarrassment for Pennsylvania legislators. No matter what one thinks of Abu-Jamal or the idea of having him give a commencement speech, passing a kneejerk legislation like this, designed to do nothing more than prohibit protected speech, is not just unconstitutional, but unconscionable.