California can’t censor lawmaker’s addresses, judge rules

February 28, 2017

The state of California did not have the right to censor a gun owners’ rights advocate who published the home addresses of state lawmakers who voted for firearms restrictions, a federal judge ruled. [KRON4]

On Monday, Fresno-based U.S. Chief District Judge Lawrence O’Neill issued a preliminary injunction blocking a state law that allows government officials to order their private information be removed from the Internet if they fear for their safety or the safety of their families. The state also prohibits individuals from publishing elected officials’ home addresses if the politicians or their representatives demand the addresses not be published.

O’Neil ruled the state law is too broad and violates the First Amendment.

Last July 1, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of gun control bills into law. Shortly afterwards, a conservative blog published the home addresses and other personal information of 40 legislators. The author of the post pledged to keep the names up until the legislators voted to repeal the laws or until the lawmakers died.

At least six state senators reported receiving threatening phone calls or social media messages that appeared to have been prompted by the blog entry, court documents stated. The California’s Office of Legislative Counsel then demanded that WordPress take down the blog post, citing the state privacy law. WordPress complied, and the author was barred from publishing similar content.

In August, the Firearms Policy Coalition filed a federal lawsuit against California Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine, alleging she violated the First Amendment Rights of the author of the blog post. The organization did not identify the author but said the person is a member of its group.

O’Neill gave the state until March 10 to decide its next step in the case. The Legislative Counsel’s office has yet to decide whether it will appeal O’Neill’s ruling.

Monday’s ruling was the second instance in a span of a week in which federal judges ruled California lawmakers went too far in protecting the private information of public figures. Last week, a San Francisco-based federal judge blocked a California law that allowed actors and entertainment professionals to force the popular website IMDB to remove their ages.

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I FINALLY got through the entire 38-page opinion. (Access it here, docket item # 24:

What a great ruling! Extremely thorough, and every point is backed by numerous authorities (citations).

Man, I learned a lot about the present mind of the courts in how Free Speech is adjudicated. This case REALLY SPEAKS VOLUMES against public restrictions on political speech—such as our present local ‘fad’ of disallowing ‘uncivil’ speech at public meetings.

I wish this opinion (and it’s authorities) were required reading for every Supe and council member… Followed by a must-pass written test!

As an aside: This case is right up the alley of the ACLU. This is “bread and butter” Free Speech territory. Though, I find it (sadly) unlikely the ACLU would entertain litigation related to Second Amendment speech.

As a “Guardian of Liberty” member of the ACLU, and a life-time NRA member, I can relate to this sentiment. Too much of the ACLU is focused on genitalia, unfortunately, and less on 1A / 2A issues, or privacy / over-reach issues. Though there are the prerequisite minimum number, just to keep fools like me giving every month, I’m sure.

I want the ACLU, not the Democrat Party’s personal attorneys. Man, I wish they’d get back to the “A” in their name.

It would appear, then, that this statement from the South SLO Sanitation District’s Agenda, which is similar to that of many local agencies, would have a chilling effect on public comment created by members of local government under color of authority causing members of the public to self-censor, and thus would go against the public’s right to hear all opinions.

“Slanderous, profane or personal remarks against any Board Member, Staff

or member of the audience shall not be permitted.” (see last bullet point on the linked page)

A similar case could be made when the chair of a meeting, under color of local authority interrupts a member of the public during their comment, causing them to self-censor, thus depriving them of their first amendment right to speak and the public of its first amendment right to hear uncensored remarks.

The judge’s opinion is only a preliminary injunction and it does not strike down California’s statute, and it only pertains to the two plaintiffs in this case. I’m still working on getting through all 38 pages–very lengthy for such a ruling. I think this judge understands this issue is likely to go forward and wants to cover all the bases and perhaps impress his peers. It’s a very good opinion.

In this case though the preliminary injunction is a pretty good indicator of how the case is likely to go. This isn’t an injunction preventing the release of information while the court takes the time to hear the case. This is an injunction against the state to permit the release of information. To do that the judge must feel that the FPC is likely to win their petition.

Completely agree; and I hope FPC does win, the same as they invalidated the statute proscribing rebroadcast of State Assembly meeting video recordings. This case has significant implications towards transparency in government. Presently, campaign finance disclosures, that are intended to shed light on who is financing election campaigns, are redacted to hide address and telephone number information. This practice is anti-transparent. This case may unlock campaign finance information so the public can more easily see who is contributing money to influence elections.