Health care reform rhetoric, vandalism and violence: what are the legal options?

Here is a disturbing CNN report on threats of violence and acts of vandalism triggered by heated rhetoric of the health care reform debate. I have to say that I’m especially troubled by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and his smug admission that this is all melodrama.

Thanks, sir. Glad that putting your opponents in harm’s way is “just” a little game.

I’ve seen questions floating through blogs and social media about why these people can’t be stopped from abusive rhetoric.  Short answer is that the First Amendment generally prevents a court from telling someone that they can’t speak.

So the demigods, sideshow freaks, and rodeo clowns are free to continue heating things up with half baked allegations and over-heated rhetoric. But when violence results in injury, lines have been crossed. Only then will we be able to hold people accountable in court. Only then will an irresponsible speaker face a reckoning.

Not pretty, I know–especially when you see and hear the kind of stuff that we’ve faced over the last few days. But it’s a line that we have to honor.

A similar thing happened here in Oregon many years ago. When the White Aryan Resistance leader, Tom Metzger, incited a trio of skinheads to violence, he faced a wrongful death claim brought by the Seraw family, who lost their son in a senseless hate-filled attack.

If any wingnut is crazy enough to start firing shots or throwing bombs, there will be a reckoning. And it will be epic.The threats of violence aren’t going to shout the rest of us down. We’re going to have health care reform. Now maybe it’s time to act like grown ups and get on with the business of living in a democracy.

Oh Yes he did: President Obama calls out Supreme Court

Much is being written about President Obama’s first State of the Union address. I didn’t hear the whole thing, but thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, video clips are up. One has already caught my eye.

First some background. Here is an overview of the Court’s stunningly activist decision in Citizens United, which struck down key components of campaign finance reform. As a result of the decision, corporations may directly give to campaigns from their treasuries because corporations have expansive First Amendment rights. It’s a bizarre ruling that attributes to fictional entities rights that were never intended.  The holding of Citizens United appears to give all corporations these overbroad First Amendment rights, even those controlled by foreign interests that might be hostile to our national interests.

So in the State of the Union, President Obama questioned the Court’s Citizens United ruling. Here is what he said:

“With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

This video clip gives a much better feel than the text.  The video cuts to the Court members sitting somberly as members of Congress give a standing ovation. Better, it shows Justice Alito shaking his head and quietly mouthing what looks like, “It’s not true.” To Justice Alito’s credit, he’s no Joe Wilson, as he didn’t shout or interrupt.

So what are we to make of this? Keep in mind that Obama was a law professor before he entered politics. He showed as much with his reference to separation of powers that acknowledges the fundamental constitutional roles of the three branches.  Take note, as well, that the State of the Union is a power and prerogative of the President. U.S. Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 3.

While I’m no pundit or close watcher of presidential pageantry, it seemed remarkable to me that he was using the State of the Union to call out the Court.  The words may look light and bland, but insitutionally, this is closer to the old Saturday Night Live Point-Counterpoint routine with Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin:

Nice to see that the President calling the Court out on this. It’s a dreadful decision by an activist majority hell bent on allowing corporations to run amok.

David Sugerman