June 26, 2016

LIFE IN OBAMA’S AMERICA: Idaho Federal Prosecutor Wendy J. Olson Threatens Critics.

The prosecutor — a prosecutor backed by the might of the federal government — is not just condemning “threatening statements.” She is equally condemning “inflammatory” statements “about the perpetrators or the crime,” as well as “the spread of false information.”

There is no First Amendment exception for “inflammatory” statements; and even false statements about matters of public concern, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, are an inevitable part of free debate. While deliberate lies about particular people may lead to criminal punishment in some states that have carefully crafted “criminal libel” statutes, that would be under state law, not federal law; and though Idaho still has an old criminal libel law, it is almost never used, and is likely unconstitutionally drafted given modern First Amendment standards. Moreover, honest mistakes on matters of public concern are often constitutionally protected, especially against criminal punishment.

The federal prosecutor surely knows how to speak carefully and precisely about what very limited sorts of speech she can prosecute. Yet she chose to equally threaten federal prosecution not just for the punishable true threats — or for the deliberate lies that may be punished under state but not federal law — but also for an unspecified range of “inflammatory … statements about the perpetrators or the crime itself,” as well as for “the spread of false information” (with no limitation on the spread of deliberate lies). It looks like an attempt to chill constitutionally protected speech through the threat of federal prosecution.

For this sort of thing she should be removed from office and disbarred. There should be zero tolerance for abuse of power. But, remember, Obama’s election in 2008 was marked by prosecutors threatening people who said negative things about him. So I rather doubt there will be much in the way of consequences, though perhaps someone will complain to the Idaho bar.

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