Monday, March 23, 2015

A quantum of umbrage: When the boundaries of "decency" are spread this far

Defending speech that celebrates unicorns and kittens is easy. You don't need a First Amendment for that.

Where the rubber meets the road is when you're defending speech that makes you throw up into the back of your mouth a little.

Nothstine's Law: If defending free speech doesn't hurt at least a little, you're probably not doing it right.

Case in point, from Oregon's neighbor to the south:
An attorney from Huntington Beach, McLaughlin in late February spent $200 to propose a ballot measure that authorizes the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method.”

McLaughlin’s “Sodomite Suppression Act” now is testing the limits of free speech and raising the question: Why can’t the state’s initiative process screen out blatantly illegal ideas?

The Legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus wrote a letter to the State Bar, asking for an investigation into McLaughlin’s fitness to practice law. More than 3,800 people signed a petition to State Bar President Craig Holden asking that McLaughlin lose his law license for advocating to “legalize the murder” of gays and lesbians. [. . . ]

“It’s incredibly vile, and it’s offensive and disgusting,” [former California State Bar member David Cameron] Carr said. “That said, we have the First Amendment that protects speech, and the scope is pretty broad.”

I have no idea -- and, frankly, little interest in finding out -- whether McLaughlin is doing this because he's a professional gamer of the system, or a sociopath with a checking account.

There is apparently no ground for an ethics charge against McLaughlin for this. And the possibility that the $200 filing fee for ballot measures, no matter how serious and thoughtful or hateful and stupid, might get bumped to $500 or $1000 as a way of filtering out those proposals that aren't "sincere" doesn't really cut it either (even former California governor Schwarzenneger vetoed the last attempt to raise filing fees), for what appears to be the right reason:

When your First Amendment rights depend on how much money you can pony up to buy into the conversation, you're already screwed. (Hello, Chief Justice John Roberts!)

The problem is that, by opening access to the state initiative process, you also clear the way for professional gamers of the system, something that Oregonians have some familiarity with.

Good luck to California's state Attorney General:
Yet the measure is likely to proceed to the signature-gathering stage. At the moment, its fate rests with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is charged with writing a title and summary for the proposal. Legal experts say she has little choice but to let the process continue and that McLaughlin is unlikely to face professional repercussions.
So the forces of decency -- and at the moment, that is dialed so far open that it includes anyone who doesn't specifically want to kill all the gays in California! -- are probably going to have to spend resources fighting this vile and unlikely
thing once it gets on the California ballot.

No comments: