Prison Legal News v. Kane

Lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of a state law, known as the "Silencing Act," that stifles the free speech rights of thousands of individuals and organizations.

Court/Assoc.: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

Attorneys/Firms: Witold Walczak & Sara Rose (ACLU-PA); Amy Ginensky, Eli Segal, Tom Schmidt & Tucker Hull (Pepper Hamilton); Seth Kreimer (University of Pennsylvania Law School); Lance Weber & Sabarish Neelakanta (Human Rights Defense Center)

The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of journalists, news outlets, advocacy organizations, and community leaders who were formerly incarcerated, seeking to block enforcement of a recently passed state law that stifles the free speech rights of thousands of individuals and organizations. Under the “Silencing Act,” a district attorney, the Attorney General, or a victim of a personal injury crime can ask a judge to prohibit an offender from engaging in any conduct, including speech, that would cause “a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish” to the victim or otherwise “perpetuate the continuing effect of the crime” on the victim. The law was passed this fall in response to a recorded commencement speech given by Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence in a Pennsylvania state prison for the shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

On March 6, 2015, Judge Christopher Connor ruled on the defendants’ motions to dismiss the case.  He ruled that because District Attorney Williams had pledged not to enforce the law until the court decides the constitutional challenge, he should be dismissed from the case.  The judge refused to dismiss Attorney General Kane.

On April 28, 2015, Judge Connor found that the statute was unconstitutional, stating "A past criminal offense does not extinguish the offender's constitutional right to free expression. The First Amendment does not evanesce at the prison gate, and its enduring guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct that some may find offensive." 

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