Supreme Court rules on Facebook threats

Jun 01, 2015 9:54 pm
The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 June 1 that threats made over internet web pages may be legal. "The defendant’s state of mind matters, the chief justice wrote, though he declined to say just where the legal line is drawn," Adam Liptak wrote in The New York Times. Anthony Elonis is the Pennsylvania man in the case who made the “crude, degrading, and violent" threats (according to Chief Justice John Roberts) through rap persona Tone Dougie's lyrics on Facebook. Since no general legal lines were drawn, the Court may have just ruled on the specifics of this case, as Elonis also wrote disclaimers about the threats, and indicated they were part of an art project. In Elonis v. United States, No. 13-983, the question was if prosecutors had done enough to prove Elonis’s intent. Without a definitive ruling, “attorneys and judges are left to guess,” Justice Sam Alito wrote, about whether a threat is allowed under free speech or illegal. In his solo dissenting opinion Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “Our job is to decide questions, not create them.... Given the majority’s ostensible concern for protecting innocent actors, one would have expected it to announce a clear rule — any clear rule. Its failure to do so reveals the fractured foundation upon which today’s decision rests.”
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