DOJ Seeks Identities of Libertarian News Site's Anonymous Commenters
The Justice Department wants to figure out the identities of anonymous online commenters who made threatening remarks about a federal judge.
Some commenters wrote about their desire to kill the judge who imposed a life sentence on Silk Road Founder Ross Ulbricht.
The Wall Street Journal reported:
A June 2 grand jury subpoena, obtained by Popehat’s Ken White, asks Reason to provide “any and all identifying information” for readers who wrote macabre comments in reaction to the life sentence Mr. Ulbricht received from U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan.
“Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” wrote one commenter.
“Why waste the ammunition?” another commenter asked. “Wood chippers get the message across clearly. Especially if you feed them in feet first.”
Judge Andrew Napolitano, first disclosing that Reason.com carries his opinion pieces, criticized this move by the Justice Department. He said in cases like this, the presumption is always that "all speech is protected."
But he said a just-issued Supreme Court ruling laid out the following three standards that the government must follow if it wants to prosecute speech:
- If there is a threat, the person must have the present, apparent ability to carry out the threat.
- The words must manifest a clear intention to carry out the threat
- There must be a likelihood of success before other words can negate or challenge the threat.
Napolitano said none of these circumstances are present in the Reason case.
Despite the speech being "reprehensible," Napolitano said the Supreme Court defends a person's right to say these things.
Steve Doocy countered that if authorities don't know who the commenters are, they cannot determine whether they have the ability to carry out a threat.
Napolitano said that one right under the First Amendment is "the right to speak anonymously, which is the beauty of the internet."
He said there are different laws in place when it comes to threats against the president.
"If these words had been uttered about President Obama, the government would have found out who said it and they would have been knocking on the door," he said.
He explained that the Supreme Court would agree that it is better to give the judge 24-7 protection, rather than silence free speech.
Watch the full segment above.