The Straight Dope: Supreme Court’s Hearing on Ranting in the Digital Age

supreme court pizza

There was a barnburner in the Supreme Court yesterday with Elonis v. United States  



On Monday the Supreme Court heard arguments for the Elonis v. United States case in which a Pennsylvania man was convicted for posting violent threats on Facebook in the form of rap lyrics. Elonis v. United States had everything you could ever ask in a Supreme Court hearing! Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg proving that her wallet is the one that says “Bad Mother Fucker” on it. A case that asks the age old question, “does the First Amendment protect you from being a complete ass?” And for the pièce de résistance, Chief Justice John Roberts inquiring about the rap game.


I’ll let that one sink in.


We at The Post Turtle usually don’t do rundowns on Supreme Court hearings – we’re more in the verdicts game – but in this instance, we’ll make an exception.  



No Heart Ginsburg

ginsburg back

I’d like to think there is an Employee of the Month plaque in the Supreme Court chambers somewhere. If so then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg should win it until perpetuity. On Monday, three days after her open heart surgery, she sat down to hear two cases brought to the Supreme Court. My apologies, I should have said that with the proper emphasis.




That is Charles Bronson in ‘Death Wish’ levels of badassery right there! And it isn’t like she was just a figure head up there. She made easily the most salient point in the Elonis v. United States hearing (more on that in a bit). So when someone asks you what the story on No Heart Ginsburg is, now you know.



Somebody Else’s Mind

inside the mind

When I was in high school there was this amazing computer programmer that I knew. For the sake of anonymity let’s call him Jack. To call Jack a virtuoso in programming was an understatement, in our introductory to computer science class he was head-over-shoulders ahead of everyone else. For his final project in that class, he decided to make a Doom-style game from scratch.


When he presented the project to the class, he briefly mentioned that the first level had a similar layout to the first floor of the high school, because he knew that floor plan very well. While no one thought anything by it, somehow this got back to a concerned parent and they called the school to complain. Soon Jack was in hot water over this game because one of his levels had a similar floor plan of the high school’s first floor. Still only two years removed from the Columbine tragedy, parents and administrators had become vigilant of anything even vaguely resembling a school shooting situation. Jack just happened to get caught in the crossfire. Because Jack didn’t fit the profile of a school shooter (a straight A student, cross-country athlete, and delivered meals to senior citizens on the weekends), he only ended up getting suspended from school for two days, but it was just a slap on the wrist considering expulsion was on the table.


The point is this, yesterday Justice Ginsberg had asked during testimony, “how does one prove what’s in somebody else’s mind?” It’s a smart question and a hard one to answer. As some of you may know, the First Amendment does not protect you from making “true threats” at an individual. So how do you know if the threat is legitimate or not? Furthermore when does a statement crossover into the territory of free speech?


Supreme Court justices have to – or at least I hope they do – think about the long term consequences of their judgments. In this case the justices were concerned that a narrow definition of the word “threat” would impend on language that would protect it under free speech. In other words, they want to keep Jake out of the courts. Which is a good thing.



“Then He Played His Own Shit and It Went Somethin’ Like This”

Thug Life 

As I was looking through yesterday’s Supreme Court notes on Elonis v. United States, I stumbled onto something absolutely magical. Here are actual quotes from Chief Justice John Roberts.


“Da-da make a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake”


“How do you start out if you want to be a rap artist?”

  • Chief Justice Roberts inquiring about the rap game


Chief Justice Roberts then went on to defend the constitutionality of rappers and their rap lyrics saying that the First Amendment entitled them to express themselves freely!


Chief Justice Roberts didn’t choose the thug life people. The thug life chose Chief Justice Roberts!



The Lowest Common Denominator

American Flag Burning Free Speech

There’s a dirty little secret that many people don’t know. In most free speech cases brought to the Supreme Court, it’s usually about acts or people who you wouldn’t support. Take 2003’s Virginia v. Black, a case consisting of the Klu Klux Klan’s right to burn crosses in the public square. Or in 1989’s Texas v. Johnson, in which the Court decided that desecrating the American flag falls under the First Amendment. These aren’t the only cases either, in ten minutes looking through a list of First Amendment Supreme Court cases finds that more often than not, defending the First Amendment can mean defending some heinous acts in the name of free speech.


Even in Elonis v. United States, some of the imagery that he’s describing include shooting up a kindergarten classroom, cutting his ex-wife into little pieces as her blood soaks through a mattress, and slitting the throat of a female FBI agent…


But as the Supreme Court has stated time and time again, it’s these cases that tell us where the First Amendment stands in American society. Which makes them, in many ways, the most important of cases.



(Photo Credits: Original Supreme Court Drawings from SCOTUS Blog, Google Images)


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