Today a Chicago appellate court made an important ruling, stating that a white supremacist’s harmful comments are not protected under the free speech rights of the First Amendment.
In 2011, neo-Nazi William White was convicted of solicitation after he published to his website information (name, address, phone number, photo) on a juror who helped convict another white supremacist back in 2008. This ruling was overturned later that year when a judge ruled that White’s actions were protected under the First Amendment. The original ruling has now been reinstated.
White also entered the national spotlight in 2008 when he posted death threats to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Sean Sullivan Comments
This is an interesting case as it allows a higher court to continue to refine the constitutional definition of the freedom of speech. As most people know, the First Amendment protects an individual’s right to the freedom of speech. This is an ideal I hold more or less inviolate. The tricky question with free speech is when is free speech not free speech? Answer: when it places someone else in danger.
If Mr. White had simply expressed his opinion for disliking this juror’s vote, that would be protectable as free speech. Here he has clearly crossed the line though. He openly advocated for someone to harm this individual and then assisted them in doing so by posting this person’s personal information online. His speech has now become harmful action. This is a clear distinction that the higher courts have always upheld in cases like this.