Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Jim Maddox Is On My List

Atlanta City Councilman Jim Maddox has proposed a new city ordinance to allow organizers of any event to corral those with opposing views in "Free Speech Zones".

Why do well intentioned people not understand the First Amendment? What in their little do-gooder brains prevents them from comprehending two simple things?

1, Speech, like water or air, finds a way to be free. No doubt, there are already activists out there looking this thing over for loopholes and ways to dance a thousand angels on a pinhead.

2. The Supreme Court has pretty steadfastly supported the concept that speech is only restricted when there is "imminent danger". Not imagined danger.

Mr. Maddox, I don't believe your are one fo the usual nuts who argue free speech should be limited. But I do believe you are a fine example of the road to hell.


Sara said...

This raises an interesting question. On the one hand, as stated in the document he's right that reasonable content-neutral restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech are generally permissible. So I think most restrictions of the location of free speech to so-called "Free Speech Zones" would probably be upheld provided the zone isn't set up in such a way that it prevents the speakers from delivering their message to their intended recipients.

But the justification Maddox gives right there in the ordinance for these particular zones is that they want to avoid a counter-protest from impeding the free speech rights of the original protest/speaker. By definition, if you are concerned with preventing speech that is counter to the speech of those who organize the original event, your restriction is on some level concerned with the content of the speech you are seeking to restrict. You're deciding who can and cannot engage in speech at an event based on whether they agree or counter the original message. That's not content-neutral.

Once a restriction is not content-neutral, there is heightened constitutional scrutiny that requires the restriction be "narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest." I don't think this ordinance is sufficiently narrowly tailored as written, nor is the state interest in preventing dilution or contradiction of the speech of the original group (or preventing clashes that might lead to violence) sufficiently compelling.

In most other instances when free speech zones have been used, the justifications are much stronger--protecting the security of the President in the case of Secret Service Free Speech Zones, or protecting convention goers in the case of the DNC, or preventing disruption of the operation of college and university campuses. In most of those cases, legal challenges are ongoing and some have even been successful. In contrast, the justification for this new law far weaker.

I think if they'd merely written the ordinance to allow the creation of free speech zones at any public event on public property, and left out the counter protest part, they might be able to do this in a constitutional manner. But as written I think they have a problem.

The definition of engaging in free speech is also really badly written and impermissibly vague. It includes "preaching" which is not defined, and "conducting a monologue," which is also not defined. And it provides that the "Outdoor Event Host" gets to decide who is and is not allowed to engage in speech at the event and who has to do so in the Free Speech Zone. That basically allows the host to decide based on the content of the message being delivered if it will be acceptable at the event, which again is not content-neutral.

I think there is probably a way to write this ordinance constitutionally, but this isn't it.

And of course I wonder how much of this was motivated by that snivelling whiner Mary Grabar's complaints about the Inman Park parade.

Sara said...

Wow, sorry that was so long. I got fired up.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I don't think that's a bad idea, and not a road to hell at all. I'll leave the constitutional-worthiness of it to the experts, but from reading the ordinanace, it appears that the intent is in the right place.

I know from personal experience that similar "protest zones" worked quite well at the '96 DNC.

Open+Transparent said...

Jimbo's under investigation for having a city work crew pave his driveway.

Grayson: Atlanta, GA said...

They're likely gearing up and running scared of this:

griftdrift said...

Chicago corrals protestors so its easier to wade in with the billy clubs.

Grayson: Atlanta, GA said...

Yeah, I imagine it will be a real fuck fest once APD gets all revved-up to bash some hippies and rappers and... bloggers now too?! Once they escape from their designated corrals.

Anonymous said...

Please. Billy clubs are so 1960s. It's all about pepper spray, tasers and plastic handcuffs now.

Seriously, though, a lot of protest groups were pleased with the results because since everything was consolidated, they got to get their message out to a larger audience.

Anonymous said...

That's one way to look at it. After all, the hippies, rappers and bloggers will be entitled to set up zones at their own gatherings. So they'll be the ones that get to banish the ROTC recruiters, competing rappers and mainstream media types that come to disrupt them.

Anonymous said...

The entire United States is a free speech zone.

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