Free Speech Confusion Among Vermont Legislators

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Among the bevy of unconstitutional, unnecessary, offensive, Vermonter-hating bills being proposed by disconnected Vermont legislators is S.265, which seeks to imprison Vermonters for up to five years for threatening public officials, and removes an existing criminal protection for people charged by the state. This effort by this small cadre of leftwing extremists reminds me of a quote attributable to Thomas Jefferson about rebellion.

I am using existing free speech laws while I still can. S.265 is unconstitutionally vague, and seeks to intimidate Vermonters and criminalize protected political speech. This insulting bill is motivated to silence angry Vermont parents who criticized derelict, unrepresentative school boards over the ongoing travesty of CRT, masks and vaccines, and trans-pronouns for kindergartners.

Drafters of Vermont bills don’t care about constitutionality despite their oaths, and the current Vermont Attorney General and Office of Legislative Counsel have repeatedly displayed an eager willingness to cooperate in drafting and enacting blatantly unconstitutional, repressive laws. S.265 is yet another assault on protected liberties by thugs determined to subjugate rather than serve Vermonters.

The S.265 draft states:

This bill proposes to expand the scope of the crime of criminal threatening to include threats of violence to third persons. This bill also proposes eliminating a person’s lack of intent, or inability, to carry out the threat as an affirmative defense.

Already the language is dishonest here: this bill seeks to create a special crime, with a greatly enhanced criminal sentence, for threats made under the bizarre new standard of inducing fear that “death or serious bodily injury will occur at a place of public accommodation.” Truth is indeed stranger than fiction — you can’t make up the stuff these people make up! Here’s the chief point for Vermonters: there are already extremely clear federal standards defining the contours of permissible speech, and this statute adds nothing except to encroach on them. It is designed to intimidate parents and citizens in a disgusting attack on longstanding liberties to criticize public officials. The Green Mountain Boys would have tarred and feathered the lot.

Oh, have I now scared the proponents of this bill, who fear accountability for their thuggery? Too bad. The seminal case on free speech and public officials in the nation of America is New York Times Company v. Sullivan. Sullivan concerned a libel case, but clearly established that public officials need to suck it up and take the heat when they try to bully voters.

Said the Court:

The general proposition that freedom of expression upon public questions is secured by the First Amendment has long been settled by our decisions. The constitutional safeguard, we have said, “was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people.” Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, 484. “The maintenance of the opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes may be obtained by lawful means, an opportunity essential to the security of the Republic, is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system.” Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 369.

As a landmark decision that established free speech liberties as a foundation of any truly free society, Sullivan explained why school board and other Vermont officials who continue to suppress and gaslight Vermonters are constitutionally prevented from banning speech critical of their thuggery:

If judges are to be treated as “men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate,” Craig v. Harney, supra, 331 U. S., at 376, surely the same must be true of other government officials, such as elected city commissioners. … Earlier, in a debate in the House of Representatives, [James] Madison had said: “If we advert to the nature of Republican Government, we shall find that the censorial power is in the people over the Government, and not in the Government over the people.”

Which is to say, “Shut up, pathetic legislators and school board members — if you can’t take the heat your controversial ideology causes, get out of the way so citizens can replace you with free speech supporters who can engage in open debate with civility.” All around us Vermonters are being silenced, denied a voice in hearings relating to a constitutional amendment (Proposal 5), rascally hunting restrictions, and many other bills. Do our new rulers think we will stand for this?

Again, the real motivator is resistance in Vermont to toxic, racist, anti-semitic Critical Race Theory, a eugenics-like ideology being forced on Vermont’s schoolchildren while the ideologues who have usurped Vermont government lie and deny that truth.

Sullivan declared that “the Constitution affords the citizen and the press an absolute privilege for criticism of official conduct.” (Concurring opinion). As further emphasized in that concurrence:

We would, I think, more faithfully interpret the First Amendment by holding that at the very least it leaves the people and the press free to criticize officials and discuss public affairs with impunity. This Nation of ours elects many of its important officials; so do the States, the municipalities, the counties, and even many precincts. These officials are responsible to the people for the way they perform their duties. While our Court has held that some kinds of speech and writings, such as “obscenity,” Roth v. United States, 354 U. S. 476, and “fighting words,” Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U. S. 568, are not expression within the protection of the First Amendment, freedom to discuss public affairs and public officials is unquestionably, as the Court today holds, the kind of speech the First Amendment was primarily designed to keep within the area of free discussion. To punish the exercise of this right to discuss public affairs or to penalize it through libel judgments is to abridge or shut off discussion of the very kind most needed. ….I doubt that a country can live in freedom where its people can be made to suffer physically or financially for criticizing their government, its actions, or its officials. “For a representative democracy ceases to exist the moment that the public functionaries are by any means absolved from their responsibility to their constituents; and this happens whenever the constituent can be restrained in any manner from speaking, writing, or publishing his opinions upon any public measure, or upon the conduct of those who may advise or execute it.” An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment.

S.265 is patently unconstitutional. Instead of silencing Vermonters, it should serve as a bullhorn that tyrants have arrived, and that that liberty tree may one day need watering again. Or maybe just some tar and feathering. Oh no, have I exceeded the bounds of this novel speech doctrine? Gee, I do hope so!

Here we see the greatest hypocrisy of all by those signing on for this Benedict Arnold bill: they would incarcerate parents criticizing CRT for five years; but those threatening DCF workers get only two!

The difficult balance in free speech threat cases is proving intent to intimidate (an important element of most crimes), which compels reference to the “reasonable” standard contained in this existing statute. If a subjective standard applied, anytime a Becca Balint or Dick McCormack claimed they were wetting their legislative pants over a mild threat, offenders would be carted off to jail. A “reasonable person” standard requires a court or jury to find that pretty much anybody would agree that certain speech was dangerous.

The Sullivan case told public officials like Balint to stop whining and start acting like grownups. New Yorker Becca Balint lacks any comprehension of basic free speech laws, yet is asking Vermonters to send her to Washington, D.C., to eliminate the U.S. Constitution as well.

Why doesn’t she just appoint herself “Queen Becca of the Green Mountains”? There would at least be a certain integrity in that.