Rutgers Law Adjunct Professor Eli Segal Wins First Amendment Case Striking Down PA “Revictimization Act”
In sweeping language, Federal District Court Judge struck down Pennsylvania’s “Revictimization Relief Act” which made it a crime for violent “offenders” (undefined) to speak in ways that cause offense to victims. Prevailing plaintiffs had characterized the law as the “Silencing Act.” Passed and signed hastily by former Governor Corbett, the law was a reaction to the fact that Mumia Abu Jamal (via voice recording) — the notorious cop-killer — had delivered a commencement address to his alma mater via voice recording (the address itself did not mention his crime or its victims. In language destined to be cited frequently in the Third Circuit, Judge Christopher Conner, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that the “First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech extends to convicted felons whose expressive conduct is ipso facto controversial or offensive. The right to free expression is the shared right to empower and uplift, and to criticize and condemn; to call to action, and to beg restraint; to debate with rancor and to accede with reticence; to advocate offensively, and to lobby politely.” Rutgers Adjunct Professor Eli Segal of Pepper Hamilton LLP argued the case on behalf of a wide array of media plaintiffs and civil rights advocates. The court found the Act unconstitutional because: 1. It was an impermissible content-based speech restriction. “Its terms single out a distinct group and disincentivize its members from speaking.” 2. It was impermissibly vague and substantially overbroad. “The Act’s central limitation turns on the unknowable emotive responses of victims. Short of clairvoyance, [covered persons] cannot determine in advance whether and to what extent a particular expression will impact a victim?s sensibilities.” 3. It chilled the speech of a wide array of prisoners, media, and prisoner advocates, even before ever being enforced. For this reason, the court granted plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief.