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When Flaming Is a Crime

Freedom of speech is not unlimited. Threats directed to a a specific target can be a criminal offense.  See Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003). CJLF brief here.

Some people just love to "flame" others on the Internet.  See this recent discussion of blog comments at SL&P.  A blogger named Hal Turner was very unhappy with a Seventh Circuit decision on the Second Amendment, even though the judges believed with substantial justification that they were duly following a Supreme Court precedent that only the high court itself could overrule. Of course, people do have the right to criticize court decisions until the cows come home. But Turner went further, reports Tom Hays for AP.

Authorities say he then went too far by writing: "Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty."

[Circuit Judge William] Bauer testified that one of his clerks alerted him to the posting. He recalled being concerned over some of the supportive comments from readers.

"A great number of people thought it was a great idea," he said. "I didn't."
The case was moved to Brooklyn. There have already been two hung juries.


Not taking a position one way or the other, but how does one distinguish between a musing that some criminal ought to be executed and someone musing that a judge should be shot for violating the Constitution? Senator Coburn, I believe, posited that abortion doctors ought to be executed. Should he be prosecuted?


While I thought Senator Coburn's comments were wrong, I think there was a difference between Turner's comments and Coburn's. The first big difference was that Coburn was talking in generalities while Turner specifically identified the judges he disagreed with and then published their addresses. I think Turner's further actions took it one step further. Whether that one step is enough, I'm honestly not sure. The other big difference (if I remember Coburn's comments correctly) was that he said the law should be changed so that abortion is a homicide punishable by the death penalty. In short, he was advocating a change in the law.

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