One wonders if the Louisiana Supreme Court would be so cavalier with matters of liability if the events of January 6 happened in the Bayou state?
In a bizarre and dangerous ruling that could chill free speech rights, the state’s highest court recently allowed an organizer of a Black Lives Matter rally to be sued for events that took place during that rally, even though he was not involved. More strangely, the court ruled the lawsuit against DeRay McKesson could continue even after the US Supreme Court questioned whether the state has the legal authority to allow the officer to sue a protest organizer.
The original case arose after an unidentified police officer was allegedly injured during a 2016 protest in Baton Rouge and filed a lawsuit against McKesson. The lawsuit does not accuse McKesson of injuring the officer. Instead, it says he used social media to drum up attention for a demonstration and that makes him liable. McKesson denies any wrongdoing and his organizing activities are protected by the First Amendment.
“This case will have a chilling effect on political protests in general as nothing prevents a bad actor from attending an otherwise peaceful protest and committing acts of violence,” wrote one of the judges in their dissent.
The frivolous lawsuit against McKesson is part of a wider pattern of retaliation by lawmakers and police to silence BLM activists and their supporters. Along with a disturbing pair of bills introduced in Louisiana that would provide legal authority to justify the killing of protestors, there have been a number of unwarranted high-profile arrests and other harassment. For example, a prominent activist was recently arrested at a public hearing in Los Angeles, accused of battery against a police officer after an officer said she grabbed his arm- the baseless charges were later dropped. In Virginia, police filed charges against a Black state senator who attended a rally where people toppled a confederate statue even though she had left hours before the statue fell.
Ain’t No Sunshine
At least they waited until after Sunshine Week before a small town in New Jersey sued an 82-year-old woman for filing a “burdensome” amount of public record requests via New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Irvington township apparently draws the line at 75 requests over a 3-year period, or about 2 per month, despite there being no limits on the number of OPRA requests that can be submitted to a government agency. In addition to malicious abuse of process, the suit also accuses her of harassment and defamation.
“It would be a dangerous precedent if towns are allowed to start suing people because they file two requests a month, or even if they file 10. Reporters might need to file 20 a month, right? There’s nothing in the statute that authorizes them to do that and it’s retaliatory,” the woman’s lawyer said.
This story comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed in Washington, DC where activists and journalists say their requests for public records are being delayed or denied as part of an organized effort to prevent damaging stories about police from being uncovered.