Is censorship of politicians a form of freedom of expression or a threat to it?
Justice Davis acknowledged that the council had also imposed more concrete penalties than a reprimand, such as rendering Mr. Wilson ineligible for reimbursement for college-related travel. These additional penalties, the judge wrote, did not violate his First Amendment rights.
Lawyers for Mr Wilson have told judges the power of censorship must have limits. Elected bodies can censor their members for what they say during the legislative process, they wrote, and for conduct that is not protected by the First Amendment. But outside the official realm, they wrote, the First Amendment prohibits “official punishment by a government body of a speaker for simply expressing disagreement with a political majority.”
These may seem like fine distinctions. Mr. Wilson’s brief in the case, Houston Community College System v. Wilson, n ° 20-804, gave examples to illustrate how they would work outside the legislative process.
“Censorship would be permitted for illegal marijuana use, for example, but not for statements supporting legalizing marijuana use,” the brief said. “Likewise, censorship would be allowed for slander, but not for statements that only criticize.”
Full Fifth circuit deadlocked on the advisability of hearing the case again, by 8 votes to 8. Disagree with the decision to refuse a new examination, Judge Edith H. Jones said the panel’s First Amendment analysis was backward. Board censorship was itself a discourse worthy of protection, she wrote, especially in polarized times.
“In view of the growing discord in society and government bodies, the attempts of each side in these disputes to get a head start on the other, and the immediate availability of mass communication weapons with which each side may tar the other, the panel’s decision is a harbinger of future trials, ”Judge Jones wrote. “He arms every gadfly in a legislative body. “
“Internal political struggles like this,” she wrote, “should not be worthy of a false veneer of constitutional protection and have no place in federal courts.”