Campus Free Speech

Woman Alleges Police Demanded She Remove Anti-Kavanaugh Sign

The Hamilton, Texas City Manager, claims the police didn't threaten her or forcibly remove the sign, but that "a police member visited the owner's home, and the owner asked the officer to take the sign."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Here is the sign, which was put up by Marion Stanford, alongside several signs supporting Democratic politicians; the Dallas Morning News (Brianna Stone) reports that Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller claims that the sign was intended to depict one of Justice Kavanaugh's daughters, but there seems to be no evidence of that.

The sign apparently drew various complaints, such as that the sign was "pornography" or "a graphic depiction of child abuse." But it is indubitably constitutionally protected speech. It doesn't fit within the "obscenity" exception or even the "obscenity-as-to-minors" doctrine (which might be relevant because it's displayed where minors can see it)—that obscenity is limited to material that is in some sense erotically appealing to some people. It's not "child pornography," which is limited to speech that uses photographs or videorecordings of real children, and that shows them having sex or lewdly exhibiting their genitals. It may be offensive to some people, but of course offensive speech is fully constitutionally protected. That would be true even if the image was indeed intended to refer to a real child, though I see no real reason to think that it does.

If the police indeed threatened Ms. Stanford with arrest for this, or otherwise demanded that she remove the sign, that would be a clear First Amendment violation. But even if they just came to ask her to remove the sign, making clear that this is just a matter of keeping good relations among neighbors and not something that she is required to do, that strikes me as wrong. (I think there is sometimes some room for such conversations initiated by some government officials, especially if they make clear that this is just a request and not a demand; but that shouldn't be a task for the police, it seems to me.)

For a different sort of suppression of Kavanaugh-nomination-related speech, see this item from College Fix (Jennifer Kabbany):

Earlier this week a mob of students, enraged by a pro-Brett Kavanaugh tabling effort at the University of Texas at Austin put together by its Young Conservatives of Texas chapter, encircled and yelled at its members while chanting obscenities. Several students were also filmed grabbing the young conservatives' signs out of their hands and ripping them up.

One student told the conservatives if they did not want their signs ripped up they should not have written such offensive things. The signs stated phrases such as "#MeToo gone #TooFar," "KavaNotGuilty" and "No Campus Kangaroo Courts in Congress."

In the wake of that melee, campus authorities are reviewing the incident, UT Austin spokesman J.B. Bird told The College Fix.

"Because of federal privacy law, the university does not talk about specific student discipline cases," he said. "Damaging another person's sign is a violation of university rules. The Dean of Students has reached out to students involved to determine appropriate action. University Police are also reviewing potential criminal violations."

I lead with the Marion Stanford story, because the alleged speech suppression there was coming from government officials, and in the Texas story government officials weren't responsible and might even be taking steps to punish the perpetrators, if the allegation is correct. But both strike me as troubling, and worth noting.

Thanks to reader Matthew Caplan for the pointer to the first story, and InstaPundit for the pointer to the second.


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  1. If the police come to your doorstep and “suggest” you stop engaging in certain speech, this goes beyond mere “community relations” or “mild suggestions.”

    A reasonable (wo)man would reflect on the vindictiveness of police and other government authorities, and how if (s)he persisted in speech they don’t like, (s)he might face more than a “friendly” visit in the future. Maybe they’d discover some kind of zoning violation….

    1. If someone threatened the woman with violence if she didn’t remove the elephant and girl sign then the police would surely be justified in ordering her to remove it.

      Threats of violence always trump free speech rights in our contemporary culture.

  2. “in the Texas story government officials weren’t responsible and might even be taking steps to punish the perpetrators”

    If they *fail* to deal with the perpetrators, then government officials will be implicated in the violence.

  3. Depictions of child abuser are never appropriate…

    1. Propriety is not the standard.

    2. “Depictions of child abuser are never appropriate…”

      So then if we take this literally… A photo of a convicted child-abusing politician should not be published for all to see? If the emperor has no clothes, it is wrong to let that be known?

      1. A picture showing a convicted child-abusing politician, abusing a child? No.

        Which is what would be analogous.

        1. So all those pictures of Joe Biden?

          1. Alas, not yet convicted…but otherwise, still inappropriate. And creepy as hell…

    3. Have you ever seen the movie Sleepers?

  4. Leave it up.
    That kinda stuff motivates the anti-Democrat voters by reminding them what hateful loons the Dems are.

  5. I gotta admit: I chuckled.

    1. It is pretty funny. One of the “anti” memes is “old white men please hands off my vajayjay”, and this is succinct and funny, just what you need to change minds.

  6. That’s not how you draw a jackass. Jeez, go back to kindergarten.

    1. I think you did not understand the message. See, the elephant is the icon for the RepublicanpParty. It is an *elephant* that is being depicted…the long trunk is the tip-off. The message is: The Republican party enables sexual abusers by–when the alleged abuser is a Republican candidate, nominee, etc–reflexively supporting the accused.

      Now, you can agree or disagree with any particular person’s guilt, naturally. But I am surprised that you did not see that the message was a criticism of Republicans. You probably have not been following the news recently, so it’s possible that you missed to context, and this context would have helped you understand a bit better. A conservative was nominated for the Supreme Court, and–regardless of his guilt or innocence–Republicans in the Senate jammed through his confirmation, and the Republican president supported this nominee by criticizing and making fun of his accuser.

      It did not get much national exposure, so it’s not surprising that you missed that story. 😉

      1. That is not an elephant; elephants have tusks. It’s a snuffleupagus. Here he is reaching for the wallet of our children, as (in these deficit-laden times) it is they whom he is forcing to fund their own indoctrination with one-sided prog propaganda. She is crying out for help but no one wishes to hear.

      2. “Concerned” Dems aren’t concerned about past sexual assaults by Dems

        Who among these “outraged” Senators has complained about serving with Democratic colleagues credibly accused of assaulting women?

        Sen. Sherrod Brown’s ex-wife claimed that Brown threw her up against a wall and showed “physical violence and abusive nature.” This allegation is contained in court documents.

        It must also be mighty difficult for Kavanaugh’s Senate critics to serve with Sen. Tom Carper. He admits he gave his ex-wife a black eye.

        Sen. Cory Booker has admitted groping a friend when he was in high school. He made the admission in a characteristically pompous column in the Stanford school newspaper.

        And what about Sen. Mazie Hirono? From her perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee, she asks every male judicial nominee whether he has ever sexually harassed or assaulted anyone.

        Yet, according to the Washington Free Beacon, Hirono’s Senate campaign accepted $1,000 from Sen. Carper’s First State PAC in June of this year.

        Finally, let’s not forget the case of Keith Ellison. He stands very credibly accused of assaulting two women as an adult. Contemporaneous police records back up at least one of the assault claims.

        Yet, Ellison remains Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

      3. I honestly thought it was a President Trump reference.

  7. re: “(I think there is sometimes some room for such conversations initiated by some government officials, especially if they make clear that this is just a request and not a demand; but that shouldn’t be a task for the police, it seems to me.)”

    If it’s not a proper task for the police, who should be allowed to have that conversation?

    I ask because for all the training failures and the justified misgivings that people have about the police in these kinds of discretionary interactions, the police have at least some smidgen of training in how to deal with the public. Who in any reasonable level of city government would be any better qualified to convey the concerns of offended neighbors? What other government official would be perceived as any less coercive than the police themselves?

    1. “If it’s not a proper task for the police, who should be allowed to have that conversation?”

      In the old days, that would be neighbors who actuallly knew each other by name.

      But no, there is no government official who can have this conversation without it silarly being a 1a violation.

    2. I agree: maybe no government official should be permitted to have that conversation, but it doesn’t make sense to say that it shouldn’t be the police. Policemen are entrusted with being the first line of defense in resolving neighborhood problems, and receive training (in most jurisdictions) in resolving petty squabbles. I don’t think most municipalities would have anyone else better suited to the role.

      1. How about someone who doesn’t have the power to arrest, and who isn’t the main source of referrals for a prosecutor? I can see a city councilman, for instance, having a conversation with a local resident that would be considerably less threatening than a police officer’s conversation (though even that too would pose some risk of intimidation). Better yet would be someone who has dealt amicably with the resident before, though I realize that sometimes there isn’t anyone who has that kind of relationship.

        1. “How about someone who doesn’t have the power to arrest, and who isn’t the main source of referrals for a prosecutor?”

          And isn’t carrying a gun, a knight-stick, and a Taser?

          1. Henceforth I wish to be known as “Lance Knightstick”.

            1. Lancer Knightstick is better, although it raises some questions.

            2. lol is that your stage name?

        2. What about a case where the only local government is someone with such power? I’m thinking of a (recently) unincorporated community in my state that voted itself out of existence over an old blue law, leaving everyone in the village extremely bitter. Nobody would have an amicable relationship with someone they think is being a jerk and the only nearby government is the state patrol.

          There’s a similar lack of officials for some suburbs or satellite communities outside many larger cities’ limits.

        3. I don’t know much about Hamilton, Texas, but here in New York City, there are 50 city councilmen and 38,000 police officers. It is very difficult if not impossible to get an individual appointment with a city councilman; they don’t possibly have time to respond to petty neighborhood disputes about unsuitable lawn signs. Meanwhile, the police generally respond to every complaint, though it may be slow in non-emergency situations like this one. Maybe we could hire a separate force of 38,000 mediators, who would not have arrest power or carry weapons, but that would be a bit of a strain on the municipal budget.

        4. Major cities have people who go deal with residents for code violations, such as not mowing your lawn or junk in your front yard. One of those folks would have been better.

        5. I can see a city councilman, for instance, having a conversation with a local resident that would be considerably less threatening than a police officer’s conversation

          Think through the logistics of that. Add in the number of similar calls (annoyed people bitching about inconsequential BS) that happen daily. Account for the number of city councilman. Even assuming that such councilmen receiving the majority of their wages from their position (unlikely in almost all cases outside of very large urban areas), and hopefully you’ll see how absurd that comment is.

          Cops are stuck with the unenviable task of being the first line of intermediation in a civil dispute. Generally, they’ll start with “cut it out” and escalate if they have, or even think they have, the authority.

          And cops aren’t experts in the blurry lines of the 1st. They may understand free speech, but they also get to wield the power of “free speech zones”, sign regulation, etc.

          In this instance, they were likely wrong. But the fact that they responded and took some level of action is SOP.

  8. Encircling and yelling obscenities at conservatives seems like an eminently reasonable thing to do, and it should be done frequently. Their property should not be destroyed, however.

    1. If that is indeed your real name, I doubt your great grandparents would agree with you.

      1. They’d probably drop dead of shame on the spot if they saw his valued and courageous leaders.

  9. No surprise, progs are the classical case of mental projection. They have pretty dirty perverted minds which clearly disseminates into everything they do from their urine stained crucifix art, morally relativistic movies, and disgusting protest signs and lewd pussy hats. This applies doubly to how they react to their opposition. They project their opponents as sex obsessed degenerate control freaks because sexual degeneracy and control are among their top obsessions. As an example marvel for a moment how often leftists accuse conservatives of being fixated on homosexuality while they’re off building entire institutes and college majors focusing on the subject.

  10. Perhaps they need to start teaching about the Streisand Effect in the police academy.

  11. It’s outrageous that acts like the opponents ripping up signs at UT Austin are left up to campus discipline. The police have got to arrest and prosecute the perps. If this does not happen, then the victims need to use force. It’s that important.

  12. I am concerned that the female person depicted has no arms.

    1. Perhaps the Republican tied them behind her back?

      1. Perhaps if she didn’t think that guns are only for hunting and for use by properly trained government authorities, she’d have had a means to properly defend herself.

  13. Of all the anti-Kavanaugh slogans, I’m surprised Kavanaughty didn’t appear more.

    1. During the 2016 campaign, I tried to introduce “Throwing a temper tanTrump” to describe the almost daily whining that then-candidate Trump was doing–first, about his Rep challengers, and then about Hillary.

      Despite my best efforts, it never got much traction. I doubt Kavanaughty will fare much better.

      Sigh. Genius is never recognized in its own time. Alas. 🙁

      1. I prefer Justice Bart O’Kavanaugh — declared “proven innocent” by President “Central Park Five” Trump!

        Carry on, clingers.

        1. Nobody who didn’t follow the case closely and know about the novel character is going to get it. I hope you don’t work in advertising, Don Kirkland Draper.

          1. Arthur still wears his “Mao: More than Ever” shirt to impress the ladies.

            1. +1 funny!

            2. When he really wants to impress them, he regales them of tales of his bomb-making days during the 60s-70s.

          2. Some things work fine as inside jokes.

  14. I’d be way more upset…but odds are strong she votes for more government regularly. She is getting it.

  15. “But even if they just came to ask her to remove the sign, making clear that this is just a matter of keeping good relations among neighbors and not something that she is required to do, that strikes me as wrong.”

    Is there case law that forbids the police from politely talking to someone?

    Unless there is it is not “wrong”.

    1. I believe Bob from Ohio has claimed to be a lawyer.

      I know there are some backwater hamlets in rural stretches of Ohio, but . . .

      1. I know there are some backwater hamlets in rural stretches of Ohio, but

        For instance, Arthur L. Hicklib’s family home.

  16. After all the lies from the left about incidents that supposedly happened which were later found to be hoaxes, it is hard to take these types of claims seriously any longer.

    1. See the prescient post “progs are the classical case of mental projection” by Amos Arch above.

  17. Any word on how awesome Justice Kavanaugh was today in oral arguments?

  18. Personally, I have no problem with a university punishing destruction of private property and harassment that occurs on their campus. They should also refer it to the police.

  19. The sign shown is actually censored.

    The full caption is “Help! I have no arms!”

    The elephant is just trying to keep her from losing her balance and falling over…

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