Civics: Federal Speech Repression

James Bovard:

Federal repression got a seal of approval from an organization long renowned for its uncompromising defense of free speech. Scott Michelman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. office, told the Post:

It’s no question that closing off public spaces, even for a limited time, affects people’s ability to exercise their free-speech rights, but at the same time, the government is permitted to carry out temporary targeted closures of common areas when they have a good reason and aren’t trying to favor one viewpoint over another. If they close the Mall for the inauguration based on a threat, the First Amendment doesn’t prohibit that. If they close the Mall for all of 2021 because there was a threat in January, that is very likely to be overly restrictive.

Very likely? At least the ACLU didn’t endorse shutting down the Mall for the entirety of Biden’s presidency. But neither the federal government nor the District of Columbia government provided clear evidence of an imminent threat that would justify shutting down the Mall and effectively banning protest throughout the vast “Green Zone” that the feds had declared for the Biden inauguration. 

The ACLU sounded happy to see protests suppressed so long as pro-Trump activists were kept off of the streets and the Mall. Michelman explained: “It can be just as chilling for many would-be demonstrators to know that they’re going to be met with violent counterprotesters as it would be if they were to be met with state violence. Nobody wins when insurrectionists storm the Capitol and wanton violence plays out on the streets of the nation’s capital. That’s not free speech, and that’s not conducive to anyone’s free speech.”