First Amendment

Judge Explains First Amendment Basics to Wisconsin Sheriff Who Threatened Teen with Jail for Instagramming Her COVID Infection

No, law enforcement and school officials cannot order students to remove posts about exposure to the coronavirus.

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A sheriff violated a teen's First Amendment rights when his department threatened her with jail if she didn't remove an Instagram post about becoming infected with COVID-19, a federal judge has ruled.

Last year, Amyiah Cohoon went on a spring break trip to Florida with schoolmates from Westfield Area High School in Westfield, Wisconsin. The trip coincided with the early spread of COVID-19, the trip was canceled partway through, and she returned home.

When she got home, she began developing symptoms of COVID-19 and sought medical assistance. She posted a picture of herself in April 2020 and described her situation on Instagram, telling people she had been infected.

It wasn't entirely clear whether Cohoon actually had COVID at the time. She tested negative, but she might have missed the detection window—and in those early days, COVID tests weren't nearly as reliable as they are now. Her family says that doctors told her that she probably did have COVID, even if they couldn't prove it at the time.

The day after she posted a picture of herself in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask, a Marquette County deputy showed up at the family's home, sent there by Sheriff Joseph Konrath to order Cohoon to take down the post or face arrest for disorderly conduct.

Cohoon complied, but the family also filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department with representation from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Coverage of the lawsuit made the story go viral. It turned out Konrath was apparently acting in response to pressure from Cohoon's school, which was trying to reassure parents that everything was fine and that the county had no infections.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Brett H. Ludwig, of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin, granted a summary judgment concluding what was obvious to many observers (but not, it seems, to the sheriff and school): Cohoon's post was protected First Amendment speech, and the sheriff did not have the legal right to order her to remove it.

"Defendants may have preferred to keep Marquette County residents ignorant to the possibility of COVID-19 in their community for a while longer, so they could avoid having to field calls from concerned citizens," Ludwig wrote. "but that preference did not give them authority to hunt down and eradicate inconvenient Instagram posts."

Ludwig firmly reminded the sheriff that even if Cohoon had been wrong about her infection—even if she had been deliberately lying—he still shouldn't have ordered her to take it down: "The Marquette County Sheriff had no more ability to silence Amyiah's posts than it would to silence the many talking heads on cable news, who routinely pronounce one-sided hot takes on the issues of the day, purposefully ignoring any inconvenient facts that might disrupt their preferred narratives. Indeed, even if Amyiah's posts had been untruthful, no court has ever suggested that noncommercial false speech is exempt from First Amendment scrutiny."

It's an interesting time capsule. While many of us now are frustrated at government responses that exaggerate the risks of infection among the vaccinated while at the same time dragging their feet on access to vaccination boosters and home testing, let's not forget about the early days, when the authorities had their heads in the sand and tried to act like everything was going to be just fine.

NEXT: CDC Director Recognizes Confusion Over COVID-19 Booster Vaccines

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  1. No, law enforcement and school officials cannot order students to remove posts about exposure to the coronavirus.

    They just have to order the corporations to do it for them.

    1. Nah that would be legally actionable.

      They’ll call them up and, one Woke to another, ENCOURAGE them to shut down that kind of seditious chatter.

      1. It is worse than that. They haul the CEO before Congress, call him a monopoly and then demand to know why there is misinformation on his platform. The message and threat couldn’t be clearer.

        1. Before or after they get the campaign donation from said CEO?

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  2. Can they discuss their chlamydia infections?

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  3. No, law enforcement and school officials cannot order students to remove posts about exposure to the coronavirus.

    Butt… Butt is it OK to threaten with death, all of the disease-causing and stillbirths-causing and crop-failures-causing WITCHES and vote-stealing DEMON CRAPS and ALL of the vermin who do NOT believe in Lord Trump’s conspiracy theories!??!

    https://www.newsweek.com/pro-trump-congressional-candidate-says-audit-all-50-states-execute-all-involved-1632838
    Pro-Trump Congressional Candidate Says ‘Audit All 50 states’ and ‘Execute All Involved’

    BURN the witches AND the vote-stealing Demon-Craps!

    1. Holy crap. It’s like some Republicans are deliberately ruining the future of the party. Trumpistas think this shit will play with mainstream voters? Really? I mean, how out of touch does one need to be?

      Starting to seriously doubt this republic can survive past 2024.

      1. This whole ball of crap is starting to seriously scare the shit out of me. It may be written in our behavioral DNA.

        From http://www.churchofsqrls.com/Jesus_Validated/ :

        We aren’t merely just self-righteous by genetic programming; we are also prone to making up lies about our “tribal enemies”, in order to justify attacking them! Not to make you retch, but please recall your history. And not to pick on Christians too much; this is just the history that I am most familiar with. Dark-ages Christians spread horrible lies about “witches” (pre-Christian Wiccans, pagans, etc.) in order to justify witch-burnings, witch-drownings, etc. And the same with rumors about Jews and (ugh!) drinking the blood of Christian babies, etc. (Sorry I had to go there).

        This, too, may be at least somewhat genetically programmed. See https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/equality/566982-terrifying-new-study-says-our-conspiracy-theory-epidemic
        A terrifying new theory: Fake news and conspiracy theories as an evolutionary strategy.

        Social scientist Michael Bang Petersen on why people believe outrageous lies — as a tool in violent group conflict.

        So we instinctively hold fast to the lies that we WANT to believe, to mark our tribal allegiances! And to pre-justify “my tribe’s violence GOOD, and YOUR tribe’s violence BAD!” This is next to impossible to “educate away”, since it is so primordial. It’s not a matter of FACTS; it is FAR more so, a matter of tribal alliances and allegiances, and political (and even physical, in times of war) survival.

        The true nature of reality has very-very little to do with short-term political success. That’s what the above-cited article is all about! Short-term political success has MUCH more to do with signaling that “I am part of OUR tribe! I hold ALL of the wacky beliefs that OUR tribe holds, whether they are true, or not! My tribe’s violence GOOD; THEIR tribe’s violence is BAD! So when our tribal chieftain is looking to whack the bad guys with a stick… Remember! I am one of the GOOD guys! I go with the untruths of OUR tribe, NOT those of the BAD tribe!”

        Dear Reader, I’m sorry to rain on your parade! All I can add, that amounts to much, is that Love is the anti-dote to the above. “Love” most certainly includes resisting tribal stupidity, and treating individuals as individuals, not as mere representatives of their tribes. Sometimes, due to “do-gooder derogation”, your doing the right things will get you killed! Just as Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. were killed for speaking moral-ethical truths, often largely concerning this exact same thing!

        1. >>Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King

          remember when Big Bird and Grover and Mr. Rogers and Electric Co. taught us about being nice to people?

  4. Yeah, the sheriff isn’t in charge of taking down misinformation. We’ll leave that in the capable hands of Twitter.

    1. You do not see the difference between the owners/managers of a website deciding what user posts they want to put on _their own_ website vs the local school and sheriff forcing a user to take down their post?

      1. Yeah, local sheriffs can only violate their contracts within a single district.

      2. I see the difference. The difference gets a heck of a lot fuzzier though when they they haul Dorsey in front of Congress threaten him with all sorts of regulatory action and laws, and then in the exact same hearing start haranguing him about the “misinformation” on his platform. It is pretty clear that Big Tech is terrified of pissing off Congress and Congress is making it clear what they want. The line between state action and private action is blurring.

        1. It is blurring, but it’s not clear that Twitter isn’t sympathetic to Democratic Party viewpoint in the first place, in which case it is violating Dorsey’s first amendment rights to tell him he cannot decide what he wants to take down from his website.

          But the story above is about Instagram, by the way, which I believe is owned by Facebook.

          1. Twitter is a democrat party booster and an enemy to anything dissenting from the narrative.

    2. What was the misinformation?

  5. …the sheriff did not have the legal right to order her to remove it.

    Oh, man. I would hate to be in the sheriff’s and school administration’s shoes right now. The punishment for conspiring to violate the United States Constitution has got to be pretty severe.

    1. Poor bastards will get 2 weeks off with pay.

    2. First you have to find an AUSA with a set of balls.

      Won’t find one in Wisconsin. Won’t find many anywhere.

  6. You get one petty dictator in the White House (Biden) and all of a sudden there are petty dictators everywhere. No surprise that it is a cop, cops love authority, as long as it is their authority.

    1. There have always been petty dictators everywhere. This happened at the onset of the epidemic, before Joe The Slow was in office.

    2. The incident occurred last year.

      1. We had a petty dictator in the White House last year too. He wasn’t named “Biden” though.

        1. Hardly a dictator compared to what the left has produced over the last 100 years.

          But “both sides” again – count it.

        2. Trump showed more constitutional restraint than the last several presidents and the imbecile that usurped the presidency. How was he specifically dictatorial?

          1. The ban on bump stocks was an excellent example of his constitutional restraint.

    3. Let me guess, White Mike completely ignored the substance of the article and the post to note the timing. Am I right?

      I didn’t even peek beneath the Show username yet.

    1. What is the relevance to this story?

      1. Since when was relevance to the story a factor in these comments?
        Next thing you will expect the pictures to relate to the story.

        1. I would be fine if they just posted pictures of hot chicks with really good tits with every article. Given the journalistic quality at Reason, it would be a step up.

  7. Her family says that doctors told her that she probably did have COVID, even if they couldn’t prove it at the time.

    Do we have a science judge to explain science to these doctors?

    1. Yeah, that was an interesting subtext to this whole case. The hospital admitted her as a COVID patient, yet her test was negative. So she was “presumed” to have covid. This has nothing to do with the case at hand which deserved this outcome, but it told me something about how we’ve been extrapolating “cases”.

      1. Are we going by the 1A 1A or the internet’s 1A? If the latter,

        No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

        would seem to indicate to me that the Sheriff’s beef is with the doctor, not the user that was just publishing information provided by another information content provider.

        Also, kinda indicates that the TOP MEN at the CDC who are usurping local authority/policing powers haven’t got a clue what they’re doing.

      2. Not really. With the tests, especially last year, there is a window where a person can have COVID-19 but the test is still negative. We are pretty sure this happened to our son last year

        The error would cause cases to be undercounted, not overcounted.

        1. There are also false positive results, dumbass.

          1. That goes against the narrative, so it isn’t possible.

    2. “Do we have a science judge to explain science to these doctors?”

      No, but no one needs an accountant to tell them that if they say “COVID” three times looking into a mirror, money will appear.

  8. “Ludwig firmly reminded the sheriff that even if Cohoon had been wrong about her infection—even if she had been deliberately lying—he still shouldn’t have ordered her to take it down”

    If Instagram had taken her post down–because she contradicted the CDC–that would have been totes okay, though, right?

    . . . despite the fact that the FTC is suing to break Instagram off of Facebook into a new, separate company for tolerating misinformation supposedly false speech on their platform.

    1. How is the FTC forcing Facebook/Instagram to censor false speech under threat of legal action different from a sheriff threatening legal action against an individual unless she takes her own speech down?

      Does private property enter into any distinction between them?

      I don’t think so.

      1. “How is the FTC forcing Facebook/Instagram to censor false speech under threat of legal action different from a sheriff threatening legal action against an individual unless she takes her own speech down?”

        Does the FTC swagger around and carry guns all over town and threaten to put disobedient ones in jail?

        From the article… “A sheriff violated a teen’s First Amendment rights when his department threatened her with jail if she didn’t remove an Instagram post …”

        Arresting and jailing someone to let the courts sort it out after who-knows-how-long of a delay, while victim stews in jail and tries to come up with bail money, is a bit different than “threatening legal action”! I can threaten a ham sandwich with legal action!

        1. Not to mention Facebook has a fuck-ton of lawyers and lobbyists.

          1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton%27s_law

            “The law is named after the bank robber Willie Sutton, who reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” ”

            Sue FaceBoooo and FacePoooo ’cause they have money! (Instead of suing who wrote the shit on FacePoooo). Where, oh where, did simple, basic (and true) ideas about justice go?

            I wish that I had some money! But then I’d get sued, of course… For something that someone vaguely related to me might have done!

      2. “Does private property enter into any distinction between them?”

        I have very little access to my property while sitting in jail, awaiting my trial, trying to raise bail.

    2. Maybe, maybe not.

      Possibility a) Instagram is taking it down of their own accord. It is their right to do so.

      Possibility b) Instagram would not have taken it down but felt pressured by the Biden FTC to do so. Then the Biden Administration is abusing its power, and it’s debatable whether Instagram is smart or cowardly to comply.

      Possibility c) The Biden FTC is pressuring Instagram to do something they were going to do of their own volition, anyway. Instagram has the right to do so, and the Biden Administration is abusing their power.

      You keep insisting lately that b is going on, but that is not logical because you never address possibilities a or c.

      1. C has the sub-possibility that social media companies actually welcome the regulation as a way of shutting out competition.

        1. Who cares, this corporatism crap is so fucking anti libertarian.

  9. “the many talking heads on cable news . . . purposefully ignoring any inconvenient facts that might disrupt their preferred narratives.”

    That pretty much describes all news-gatherers. Why limit the purposefulness only to cable news?

  10. >> a Marquette County deputy showed up at the family’s home, sent there by Sheriff Joseph Konrath to order Cohoon to take down the post or face arrest for disorderly conduct.

    whatthefuck Marquette County?

  11. The story went viral…I see what they did there.

    1. scattershot like a sneeze

  12. I see everyone is ignoring the fact that this is a Trump appointed judge. I am betting it this had been an Obama judge the ruling would have been different.

    1. I was assured by Chief Justice John Roberts there are no Obama judges or Trump judges.

    2. I’m betting not. In general, judges rule based on the law, not partisan politics.

      1. That’s a really naive response. Even from you.

      2. Holy shit, Mike Laursen is a parody account. It all makes sense now.

  13. Using the flawless logic of common sense gun control, Instagram should be outlawed.

  14. Hope she got some big bucks. I’d have asked for seven figures.

    1. The stupid family asked for nominal damages, so they got shit.

  15. They only got declaratory relief. Basically, the court said, “Stop this, or we shall scold you a second time.”

    1. Yeah but it was so sternly worded we’re damn lucky the cops got home safe that night.

      1. They are not “cops”. The Sheriff has deputies.

    2. The good news is the next time the sheriff shows his ass, it will be raped in front of a judge.

  16. And fuck Joe Biden also.

  17. A sheriff is top law enforcement in a county and is elected. Obvious the sheriff and the voters do not know that. It seems the comments do not either, the usual display of obtuse humor, the ‘blame Trump’ parade of losers with no sign of bracing themselves for the big slap upside their heads. What they slap represents I do not know but it is often fatal. So be it.
    Technology is supposed to make your life better not control it.
    The Bill of Rights is for The People. The People cannot think and half wish for a rewrite and to sell someone else’s soul down the river. The original called for sacrifice so don’t push it unless…

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