Brickbat: About to Get Schooled


The Shelby County, Tennessee, county commission has asked a federal court to order the Memphis Commercial Appeal to turn over the IDs of everyone who has commented online about plans to create new school districts in the suburbs. The commission's attorney has not said why commissioners want the information or what they plan to do with it.

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  1. I couldn’t tell from the article if the court actually issued the subpoena or not. I assume the commission has to at least justify the request to the judge if not to the public.

    1. I’d worry less about the court subpoenaing the information than about the Memphis Commercial Appeal turning it over voluntarily (depending on the political orientation of the county commission), as that has been known to happen fairly often.

      Seems unlikely in this case, since the people that would be subpoenaed are the ones reporting it, but stranger things have happened.

  2. It says here a certain XxX-Sephiroth-XxX is advocating for moving the District 3 border 5 miles to the northwest, while someone named Darth Lohan just gives a general invective about the entire school district, and also states that the sexual orientation of their entire school administration is other than stated.

  3. Given the nature of the kinds of people who would want the same information about commenters here, I doubt there will ever be a formal request. There is no doubt in my mind that some spook has already obtained that information surreptitiously.

    Seems kinda pointless to be anonymous, but I will keep kidding myself.

    1. Anonymity lets me feel 99% certain that employers, clients and such won’t stumble across my political ramblings. I’ve no delusions that it would protect me from the state.

  4. what they plan to do with it.

    Set up user registration to deal with the trolls, naturally.

  5. After RTFA and the comments, I have to say that the request for a subpoena is not as insane as it might immediately appear, and is based on a novel (and I must say, clever) application of the 14th amendment to the citizen initiative process.

    The 14th amendment says that state and local governments can’t discriminate on the basis of race.

    A lawsuit is before a federal court claiming that a series of local citizens initiatives to break off new school districts from a very large regional school district is motivated by the desire to separate suburban white students from minority urban students.

    If a state legislature was crafting such a plan, evidence of racial bias by legislators (online diaries kept by state legislators announcing how much they hate blacks and want them out of white schools, for example) would constitute evidence that the legislation was motivated by racist intent.

    Here, because we’re talking about citizen initiatives, the plaintiffs want to argue that the citizens undertaking the initiative are motivated by racist intent. They want the online IDs because some posters have posted support for the initiative based on exactly that intent.


    1. It’s brilliant. They appear to be effectively arguing that when citizens launch or vote in initiatives, they are making themselves into legislators, and are bound by the same rules that would bind legislators. I think they deserve to lose their suit, because I don’t think the central argument holds (citizens can base their vote on whatever they want, regardless of the 14th amendment) but damn, I have to admire its sneaky cleverness.

      1. bound by the same rules that would bind legislators.

        So no rules at all then?

        I agree it’s an interesting theory.

      2. It’s just a waste of the courts time. Since they’re not elected, they’re de facto NOT legislators.

        And the likelihood that the postings are from someone completely and utterly outside the jurisdiction of the council, state (and indeed the court issuing the subpoena) is high.

        And the fact that the only reason they could ask for names would be for retributive purposes, which is so far from the council’s mandate that it’s not even funny.

        I mean whatever, more power to the council to waste their time and make people afraid, but the court’s not likely to issue it and may not even consider it.

        Now the voluntary turnover of ‘names’ is still possible…smartest thing to do would be to “register” or spoof on as the council members and start posting a bunch of racist rhetoric. But who has that kind of time…

        1. Since they’re not elected, they’re de facto NOT legislators.

          That’s not actually as obvious as you might think.

          One problem is that our republic is predicated on a bright line between being a citizen and being the government.

          Citizens have rights; the government is constrained.

          Citizen initiatives really fuck that up. A citizen initiative, since it creates a law, can reasonably be argued to be an act of governance. So when you participate in such an initiative, which side of the bright line are you on? Are we talking about speech or voting (where your motive doesn’t matter, and no one is really even entitled to ask about it) or legislating and governing (where there are any number of ways in which your motive for taking your action could impact the constitutionality of your action)?

          1. Yeah, I understand that. Citizens may constrain governments (especially local ones) and may put forth policy. But nothing they do will have legal binding power, and will be unreviewable by the courts. They can’t legislate (even if, in effect by their actions, they do), so they can’t be legislators. Citizens initiatives don’t codify anything, they just are legal actions under the laws that are already there.

            If that’s truly the tack that the council is taking, I’d be very surprised if the court even considered it.

        2. It’s just a waste of the courts time.

          Not if they get slapped down hard it’s not. It should give pause to others who would be tempted to try this BS.

      3. Technically, the 14th Amendment doesn’t forbid people from holding the belief that their suburban child would be better educated if they had their own district separate from the urban district for any reason. Even wrong and racist ones. Also, as long as they aren’t talking about forcefully excluding blacks from their new district, it also isn’t 14A actionable. It is unfortunate that racism would be used to justify these initiatives.

        1. Like I said, I don’t think they deserve to prevail.

          But I can definitely see the court deciding to let the subpoena stand, so they can gather their “evidence” and offer the argument.

          The usual legal arguments offered by liberals are so repetitive and boring. You know, the usual “COMMERZ CLAUZ!” nonsense. To see something novel is actually entertaining to me. I feel a little like the first WW I Germans to see a tank come across no-man’s land must have felt – disturbed, but oddly awe-struck and fascinated.

          1. My great-grandfather was driving one of those tanks.

            1. Your great-grandfather didn’t drive that tank.

              1. I laughed.

    2. Isn’t it also discriminating on the basis of race to force students to go to school together based on race?

      “”‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.””

      Here is the relevant part of the 14th amendment. Where does it say that the state have the right or responsibility to force people to attend school together. As long as they don’t stop students from attending a public school, I don’t see where the 14th amendment gives the state the power to force people together. But the actual law has never stopped the government from expanding its powers.

      1. The science is settled. Cross-district bussing for all!

  6. Apparently, some of the Commissioners are opposed to this subpoena, and didn’t know about it beforehand.

  7. Lori Patterson, who along with Leo Bearman is one of the firm’s two lead attorneys in the case, sent an e-mail saying, “At this point, we would prefer not to comment on the purpose of the subpoena.”

    However, Patterson also sent a mysterious text saying, “FYTWkthxbai”.

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