Arizona Passes Sweeping Law Criminalizing Internet Speech

In one of the most sweeping attacks on free speech in America, the Arizona legislature has passed a draconian bill that would criminalize speech on the Internet (“any electronic or digital device”) that prosecutors consider “obscene, lewd or profane language or . . . suggest[ing] a lewd or lascivious act if done with intent to ‘annoy,’ ‘offend,’ ‘harass’ or ‘terrify.’” The law is largely undefined and is in my view facially unconstitutional. The law would drive a stake in the heart of free speech. Yet, people like Bill Clinton have been calling for such a crackdown on Internet speech for years.


The inclusion of terms like “profane” (defined as including “Abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language” in standard dictionaries) is perfectly bizarre. I cannot imagine that the law was put through any serious legal review. The state will end up paying for litigation of this unconstitutional law. Indeed, I am reluctant to quote from the law on this blog in fear of being prosecuted or being charged with the inclusion of something so obscene and profane.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will now have to decide whether to sign this law.

Former president Bill Clinton proposed a law to create what has been denounced as a type of Ministry of Truth for the Internet where officials would monitor the Internet for rumors or untruths. Clinton heralded such a move as “a legitimate thing to do.” He added “it would be like, I don’t know, National Public Radio or BBC or something like that, except it would have to be really independent and they would not express opinions, and their mandate would be narrowly confined to identifying relevant factual errors . . . And also, they would also have to have citations so that they could be checked in case they made a mistake. Somebody needs to be doing it, and maybe it’s a worthy expenditure of taxpayer money.”

The sponsors of this repellant law are Representatives Ted Vogt, Vic Williams, and Chad Campbell. Vogt (shown here) just graduated from the University of Arizona law school in 2010 and has already applied his hand to denying free speech and limiting tort recovery for accident victims. Quite the start for a legislative legacy.

We have long recognized that free speech comes with bad speech and good speech. Yet we have refused to allow the government to sort out those two categories. As Justice Brennan stated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), we must remain faithful to “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The addition of an intent factor is meaningless under this law when the mere intent to “annoy” or “harass” is enough to satisfy scienter. The law would sweep away protected speech and allow arbitrary enforcement of terms that are not only undefined but undefinable in the context of Internet speech.

The solution for bad speech is more speech not more regulation of speech.

Source: MCNBC

69 thoughts on “Arizona Passes Sweeping Law Criminalizing Internet Speech

  1. I’ll be curious as to how many folks post comments to this article and how many from Arizona will write to/demand Gov Brewer veto this blatant (and unjustified) attack on the First Amendment.

    Begin now…

  2. You have to be kidding me…. I thought April Fools Day was Sunday….. Next, cops will stop you just so they can scan your cellphones for deleted data…. Oh wait, wait…. Don’t tell me…. They do it already….. Those damn liberals in Arizona…..

  3. Arizonians are obviously an extremely sensitive and delicate people easily wounded by words. The demand for smelling salts must be large as swooning is, more than likely, a huge problem in both sexes.

  4. When someone who has just graduated from law school, such as Vogt, almost immediately begins an assault on the most basic principles taught in law school, there is no doubt that such a person is a domestic enemy of the United States and the United States Constitution. Funny how he appears to be one of the troops who “fought for our freedoms” in the photo, while all the while he seeks to destroy them.

  5. Calvin

    As a once proud, now ashamed resident of Arizona, you can count on my letter to Brewer. But, Brewer is not the or a solution—she’s a major part of the problems here in Ala-zona.

  6. Would you have to be in Arizona to break this law? Wouldn’t it be enough that someone in Arizona reads or can read your “criminal” speach on the Internet? I believe that there are some who would make that argument. As a result traveling through Arizona may become problematic for bloggers and other whose speach annoys … Ah, free speach such an “obsolete” concept.

  7. Obviously, Vogt didn’t learn much in law school. He used to be Rumsfeld’s assistant, so he’s learned arrogance from the best.

  8. “facially unconstitutional”

    I have read a lot of cases which indicate that the current Supreme Court conservative majority leans against facial challenges, except in blatant situations.

    The easier to get across “as applied” cases do much better. In some facial challenges the majority has morphed the case into an “as applied” case in order to uphold the decision before remand.

    The Ninth Circuit will be hard on this legislation, should it be signed into law, and is likely to call it facially unconstitutional IMO.

  9. “He used to be Rumsfeld’s assistant, so he’s learned arrogance from the best.” Rich

    …explains a lot.

    Dredd, As you know, there are many who don’t give a damn if something is “constitutional.” An important case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAY9JOkxUvg (local police departments using cell phone tracking without warrants — on RT yesterday)

    http://www.aclu.org/blog/technology-and-liberty/results-our-nationwide-cell-phone-tracking-records-requests

  10. anon nurse 1, April 3, 2012 at 9:33 am

    “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime . . . .” — Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966)
    ===============================================
    Interesting that the prosecutor who convicted Ginzberg in that case was Robert Kennedy.

  11. Vogt does terrible disservice to the uniform, which upon wearing he swore an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution.

  12. Neil Davis – or freedoms are so precious that we don’t dare let people actually use them for fear they might get lost in the process.

  13. This dog will say unequivocably that the Vogt guy in his dumb photo, the Governor and the entire legislature of Arizona, are despicable, lewd, loud, stupid, vapid, ugly, assholes with no place in America. Will someone in Arizona please open this comment and mail it to those assholes and tell them that TalkinDog is ready to stand up for himself, his dogpack, the Constitution and bark down the idiots who border on New Mexico, California and stupidity. There, I said what the rest of the commenters do not have the bark in them to bark.

    Just a dog talkin. (or barkiin into this Dogalogue machine which translates into human and ArizonaTalk)

  14. This legislation from the brain dead state of Arizona is just one more example that the crazies have taken over the Republican Party. From American Taliban policies against women to censoring or criminalizing our freedom to speech.

  15. Oh, lest I forget. If I understand this bill correctly, the State of Arizona can put me in jail for my writings on the Internet, but they can’t stop me from carrying a handgun in public. Disgusting.

  16. I want to know just how this mechanism for censoring the intertoobz is going to work when the cables and satellite signals hit the Arizona state line.

    Are they going to let the notes through from all those distraught Nigerian widows and bankers who all want to send me $23,000,000?

  17. I guess they could outsource the censorship monitoring to China. I understand the Chinese government is quite good at it.

  18. Of course Bill Clinton wants to muffle the internet. It helped unseat him and his wife in 2008. Macaca forever changed politics, but most pols still think it’s the Age of Paper. Sgt. Howdy Doody here has no business dictating what is or is not free speech. This law will be vacated if passed.

  19. From Ted Vogt’s webpage:

    “Prior to entering the Air Force in 2000, Ted spent time in the private sector as an investment banker, advertising executive, and as executive assistant to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.”

    Quite the accolade. Bet he worked for Cheney, too.

  20. Yeah, that’s some resume there, mespo. Money changer, pimp and assistant torturer/war criminal will clearly get you a job anywhere the people responsible for hiring aren’t really paying attention or are easily distracted by shiny objects.

  21. Also from Ted Vogt’s page:

    “While in law school, Ted remained heavily involved in Homeland and National Security matters. During the summer of 2008, Ted worked on Homeland Security issues for the Office of the Vice President. In 2009, Ted clerked for Senator Jon Kyl on the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., as well as for the Criminal Division within the United States Attorney’s Office in Tucson.”

    Bet he worked for Cheney, too. -mespo

    Yep.

  22. Elaine M. 1, April 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Would the bill only criminalize the Internet speech of Arizonians? Arizona doesn’t have jurisdiction over citizens of other states
    =============================

    I don’t think the Arizona legislature knows that. Should we tell them?

  23. Bettykath, they keep information like that in a logic-tight box. Waterproof, fireproof and probably nuke proof.

  24. When the Judiciary doesn’t do their jobs we all suffer with such draconian laws. However, has not that been the protocol for centuries? Has it not almost always been the high court or their judicial subordinates that have issued the final degrees, acquiesced or maintained a position of complicity towards many of the various atrocities inflicted on mankind by government throughout the ages?
    A country founded on individual rights has just placed into law the NDAA and the National Defense Resources Preparedness Presidential Executive Order. Over the last two hundred and twenty-five years the judiciary has slowly acquiesced or rubber stamped almost the entire usurpation of the Bill of Rights. I suggest that you must look very hard to find an inalienable right still not being usurped. Citizens may be acquitted, but government is still using police force to usurp and challenge our rights and it is getting worse as the current economic challenges continue.
    We have been mislead to believe that government will fix the inequities of our world when it is the institution of government and its controlling oligarchy that are the protagonists. Perhaps they give us crumbs along the way to give up hope and the continued false perceptions, but the end results are clear to all but the naïve and ignorant.
    To solve market problems it can only be solutions that come from the same free markets; such as removing the Judiciary from the claws of politics and government controls of the oligarchy. It is essential to remove the collusion and corruption of government from the justice system. Question the foundation of government in this manner. How can any institution that has for its economic foundation, taxation; the use of force and/or extortion, promote or provide an ethical solution to social problems? Instead it has caused constant conflict over the ages, even to the point of promoting warfare against its own citizens. It has become a conflict between those who reap the benefits of taxation against those that produce the profits to afford such taxation and the beneficiaries have the guns and police power.
    I will not provide you the specifics but there is a way in which to create a free market judicial system that allows for greater direct democratic determination to take back the control of the rule of law from the oligarchy. It will not be without imperfections but it cannot be any worse then what we have.

  25. Haha. Like sifting air molecules for a stink, AZ will have lots of fun deciding who and here and what to censor, never mind how.

    This is some idiot’s April Fool’s joke come to slimy life. FY, Arizona liberals.

  26. James inLA Mr. Clintoon was unseatednot by the internet but the law. He cannot serve as pres again. (Although I think there has been some debate about serving a new once he has been out of office for at least a term.
    Mr. Clinton, yes the internet certainly helped in getting the nomination to Mr. Obama.
    I am astounded Mr. Clinton suggested this. If he wants a Ministry of Truth let’s first apply it to presidential primaries and elections.
    If the law passes I guess few Arizonians would be willing to post on the internet and Arizona would have to go back to the pre computer days.

  27. Some comfort in my earlier nota that the bill making women negotiate with their employers (ie payers of health insurance) on acceptance of women’s matters on “his” plan was DEFEATED.

    Has this hairbrained thing got a positive vote in both houses?
    If so , Brewer will sign, or will she go along with having her emails censored.?

  28. OMG does that cover such abbreviations as “lmao” or “omg”? What if someone talks of Jesus in terms that someone doesn’t like? Or Mohammed’s? Sounds profane to me. You don’t even have to get into George Carlin’s routine to flout this law. And who decides?

  29. “Yet, people like Bill Clinton have been calling for such a crackdown on Internet speech for years.”

    ———-

    “Yet”? I’m tired of people lumping Clinton into the progressive camp. This man signed into law more conservative laws than progressive laws when he was president.

    If you define “conservative” to mean a politician who maintains the status quo and tends to favor business-owner interests over worker rights, then the Democratic party has become the de facto conservative party in this country.

  30. […] Jonathan Turley puts it this way: We have long recognized that free speech comes with bad speech and good speech. Yet we have refused to allow the government to sort out those two categories. As Justice Brennan stated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), we must remain faithful to “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” The addition of an intent factor is meaningless under this law when the mere intent to “annoy” or “harass” is enough to satisfy scienter. The law would sweep away protected speech and allow arbitrary enforcement of terms that are not only undefined but undefinable in the context of Internet speech. […]

  31. 1. “Facially unconstitutional” is actually the kindest description of this piece of legislation.

    2. Were I working as legislative counsel for the Arizona House or Senate, I would avoid listing it on my resume.

    3. Although she is certainly obtuse, it will still be surprising should Gov. Brewer sign this nonsense.

  32. “2. Were I working as legislative counsel for the Arizona House or Senate, I would avoid listing it on my resume.”

    lol

    Zing!

  33. Talkin Dog here. Did an experiment over at the grain elevator where they have all the rats and cockroaches. I took two photos off the websites on the internet. One was posted by the Vogt schmuck and the other by Governor Jan Brewer. First I stapled the Vogt photo on the post just as one crawls under the granary platform. In a few minutes some rats came out terrified. Then I put up the ugly Jan Brewer photo. In a few minutes rats and thousands of cockroaches came running out terrified.
    Vogt and Brewer can be prosecuted for posting those photos on the internet because they terroize.
    Dont try this at home if you have kids.

  34. Don’t expect finger-jabbing Brewer to go to bat for anyone else’s free speech, as long as she has her skanky ways and dressing down the president. What a disgraceful turd Arizona has become. Let’s give it back to Mexico.

  35. I am deeply offended by this act of judicial stupidity…

    Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits… before die Germans get here!

  36. If we were at Valley Forge, Herr Vogt and Governor Brewer would be fighting for King George against George Washington. That, is what the Tea Baggers of 2012 are– Nazis and Royalists.

  37. What is the specific bill number? House or senate? I live in AZ. Can’t call my governor’s office to say “Hey, don’t sign that bill, you know, that bill.” He’ll cite some almost 50 year old court case, but NOT THE BILL IN QUESTION? How did he make it through grad school?

  38. I live in Arizona and only heard about this last night on Jimmy Kimmel. I have not seen a single story about this on ABC local news. I may have missed it, I don’t know. I do know that this story has not made it to my Facebook time line where I am subscribed to that local news channels’ news and updates. Our local news is grossly lacking in local politics unless it is a sex scandal or yet another Sheriff Joe story, Jan doing something outlandish or how many illegal aliens have been freed from a slave holders’ (coyotes) drop house just to be placed in the deportation line. Also, the hundreds of pounds of drugs caught up each week, not making it to the north or east are big news.
    I would like to see Freedom of Speech and any other rights I have being taken away as a top story. I doubt this will be signed into law as our Attorney General will surely advise Jan on the constitutionality (or un) of this case and she will listen. Constitutional rights are important to us here, all of them!

  39. Well F- – – Them! Come and get me. Maybe they will send Sheriff Joe after me? This is absurd. All the while I thought Arizona was going to raise us out of several messes, and now this. If I hear the knock, should I yell: “Is that you, Joe?”. I just wonder how they will police this? Let us all send our really raunchy emails and letters to their legislature. Let them arrest us all. You know, when the real collapse occurs, these legislators are going to be hurting. I do have a job for each and every one of them, and it involves a long wooden handle on a hot day.

  40. The lawmakers should realize that if they make and pass laws that simulate a guillotine for the American people, then be forewarned, that they and their families will be standing first in line for the real one.

  41. This just in……The People of the United States as is their sovereign right have just passed a sweeping law criminalizing Arizona politicians and all of their scribbling.
    In other news the people of the United States are considering charges of Treason against members of the Congress and Senate of the United States, although some feel the cost of court time could be reduced by arresting them under the NDAA.
    Stay tuned for further developments as this story unfolds.
    Oh and as far as profanity and fear inducing speech Banker and Politician are the most profane words I can think of.

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