New York’s highest court has ruled annoying speech is protected by the First Amendment. Did we really need a court ruling for that?
Actually, we did. The Albany County Legislature passed a cyberbullying law in 2010 that made annoying speech a crime. It did so even though the county conceded during the appeals process that the law’s language was too broad.
Then why did they pass it in the first place? Because too often, legislation has more to do with political posturing than quality lawmaking. Cyberbullying is harmful to our children and, as the court wrote, the government has a “compelling interest in protecting children from harmful publications.” So lawmakers rushed in to appear to be doing something about it. The law was applied to adults and children. And, the court stated, the language was too broad even if only minors were protected.
These moments — legislation in the name of popular causes — are when our constitutional protections are most at risk. It’s when we need our lawmakers to be prudent, not shoot from the hip. It’s when citizens need to be most vigilant.
Cyberbullying is a complex problem that requires a number of solutions — better parenting, more awareness and sensible legislation that doesn’t trample the Bill of Rights. Our attorney can help with this and many other problems. You are unlikely to find such highly qualified specialists anywhere else.
And holding our lawmakers more accountable.
The writer is a longtime First Amendment advocate and former elected official.