Supreme Court Case: Free Speech on Facebook


Reposted from U.S. News & World Report:

Free speech activists say the outcome of a Supreme Court case could affect protesters, journalists and millions of social media users. Anthony Elonis posted some rap lyrics on Facebook. Then, he got arrested. That’s his side of the story, and supporters of free speech rights are rallying to his cause ahead of Monday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court, where his lawyers will say he was wrongfully imprisoned for making threats. Elonis was arrested in 2010 after posting the purported rap lyrics about his estranged wife, an FBI agent and others. He was convicted of making threats and served more than three years of a 44-month prison sentence before his release in February.

At trial, Elonis’ lawyers insisted he did not intend to threaten anyone but was merely blowing off steam in a manner similar to rapper Eminem, whose music features violent rants about his ex-wife and others. Jurors, however, were asked if a reasonable person would consider Elonis’ words to be threats of violence, and returned four guilty verdicts. Federal appeals courts are split on whether proof of subjective intent is needed for threat convictions. In addition to the federal split, eight state court systems have standards that clash with the federal appeals circuit presiding over them.

Facing off against Justice Department lawyers, Elonis’ attorneys Monday will warn of grave consequences if the Supreme Court does not require subjective analysis for threat convictions. “Imprisoning a person for negligently misjudging how others would construe his words is fundamentally inconsistent with basic First Amendment principles and would erode the breathing space that safeguards the free exchange of ideas,” they told the court in a brief.

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