July 20, 2011

Wow: Ninth Circus Says Call for Obama's Assassination is Free Speech

I consider myself a free speech advocate as much as the next guy, but I never felt comfortable with calls for assassination being considered protected speech, and trust me, I've seen a lot of it... just on signs at lefty protests during the Bush years.

The ultra-liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees:

A divided panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that conviction Tuesday, saying Bagdasarian's comments were "particularly repugnant" because they endorsed violence but that a reasonable person wouldn't have taken them as a genuine threat.

The observation that Obama "will have a 50 cal in the head soon" and a call to "shoot the [racist slur]" weren't violations of the law under which Bagdasarian was convicted because the statute doesn't criminalize "predictions or exhortations to others to injure or kill the president," said the majority opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

"When our law punishes words, we must examine the surrounding circumstances to discern the significance of those words' utterance, but must not distort or embellish their plain meaning so that the law may reach them," said the 2-1 ruling in which Chief Judge Alex Kozinski joined but Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw dissented.

The court seems to be saying that the message Walter Bagdasarian communicated wasn't a legitimate threat, and there was therefore not a crime, since a reasonable person should not have inferred that he had the means, motive and opportunity to carry out the threat or equip others to do so.

Am I reading that right?

I guess we can expect to see "Assassinate X with a Y" tee shirts popping up on web sites now.


Posted by Confederate Yankee at July 20, 2011 08:40 AM

Bear in mind, however, that the 9th Circuit is the most-reversed Circuit Court in the US.

Posted by: Robert at July 20, 2011 09:35 AM

I call upon all those who wish to assassinate a President, past, present, or future, to come by my house first.

Show me the gun you plan on using, and I'll show you my gun. Well, at least the flaming death end of my gun.

I hate assassin mongers, no matter who they target.

Posted by: Sean D Sorrentino at July 20, 2011 11:02 AM

In the jurisdiction I live one of the primary elements necessary to prove a charge of "uttering threats" is that the person whom the threat was directed at has to actually believe that the person making the threat has the intent and wherewithal to carry it out.

This avoids prosecutions for off-the-cuff, heat-of-the-moment (or drunkenly stupid) utterances, but does give teeth to the law where appropriate.

Despite his acquittal, Dopey will likely be a little more careful about BWI - blogging while intoxicated.

Posted by: Marty at July 20, 2011 01:45 PM

"I guess we can expect to see "Assassinate X with a Y" tee shirts popping up on web sites now."

Expect to? I started seeing it years ago. How many signs, t-shirts, bumper stickers, TV ads, website photoshops, etc. did we see with rifle crosshairs superimposed over President Bush's face? Oh, and remember "We'll Support Our Troops When They Shoot Their Officers"?

Posted by: wolfwalker at July 20, 2011 07:13 PM

That's right wolfwalker; it was fine to make jokes, write plays, and rant about killing Chimpy Bush & Darth Cheney. For 'liberals' civil discourse is a one way street.

Posted by: Parker at July 20, 2011 07:59 PM