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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Facebook Goes to the SCOTUS Today

Only one hour of oral argument has been allotted by the Supreme Court this morning in a case testing the limits of free expression on the Internet. A federal law proscribes the transmission of threats across state lines; Anthony Elonis was charged with violating that law when, after his wife filed for divorce on the same day he was fired from his job, he posted a torrent of violent rap "lyrics" on Facebook describing how he would kill her.

Later, when a female FBI agent interviewed him about the posts, he posted similar comments about the agent.  The United States cried "foul" and charged him under the federal law that criminalizes the interstate transmission of, "any threat to kidnap any person, or any threat to injure the person of another."  Elonis was jury convicted and is doing 44-months in federal prison.

Elonis' appellate lawyers' comparisons to Eminem [he used some Slim Shady lyrics] will not doubt get the justices attention.  Comparisons to the famous rapper were made in Elonis' appellate briefs filed with the High Court.

The SCOTUS, in granting certiorari, instructed the parties to address the meaning of the federal statute at issue.  This suggests that it may be able to decide this case without fully addressing the scope of the First Amendment.

On the other hand, Elonis' lawyers are touting this case as the Internet case of the century; the Internet as a megaphone for "Everyman".  Whenever it can, the SCOTUS will attempt to avoid sweeping pronouncements of constitutional law.

The NYT Magazine had this to say about the case in the Sunday paper:
The central question for the Supreme Court will be whose point of view -the speaker's or the listener's- matters.  In essence, the court will have to decide what matters more: one person's freedom to express violent rage, or another person's freedom to live without the burden of fear?
In the recent past, the SCOTUS has held that "true threats" against harming an individual may be proscribed by statute.  In this case, the High Court has to sort through what it means to "communicate" via the Internet; and what constitutes the intent to communicate an illegal threat of harm to another.

There will be plenty of lawyers dancing on the head of that pin this morning in the chamber of the SCOTUS.  For our part, we here at the Law Blogger will watch for and report to you the decision.

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