Supreme Court holds that at least some “weaponized” speech loses at least some First Amendment protections
In Houston Community College System v. Wilson, the Supreme Court unanimously held that a public official, like all of us, enjoys free speech rights under the First Amendment; however, that speech cannot be weaponized in an effort to silence the free speech of others.
The First Amendment surely promises an elected representative like Mr. Wilson the right to speak freely on questions of government policy. But just as surely, it cannot be used as a weapon to silence other representatives seeking to do the same.
How broadly will the Supreme Court’s ruling be applied? The Court cautioned that its holding may be limited to its rather specific set of facts, which included that the public official at-issue had merely been censured.
Our case is a narrow one. It involves a censure of one member of an elected body by other members of the same body. It does not involve expulsion, exclusion, or any other form of punishment. It entails only a First Amendment retaliation claim, not any other claim or any other source of law. The Board’s censure spoke to the conduct of official business, and it was issued by individuals seeking to discharge their public duties. Even the censured member concedes the content of the censure would not have offended the First Amendment if it had been packaged differently. Neither the history placed before us nor this Court’s precedents support finding a viable First Amendment claim on these facts. Argument and “counterargument,” not litigation, are the “weapons available” for resolving this dispute.