Let’s Cut to the Chase: Should Racist Speech Be Protected by the First Amendment?
Bill Quick

NBA Suspends Clippers’ Owner Donald Sterling For Life, Imposes $2.5 Million Fine « CBS Los Angeles

Okay, first off, let me say that yes, I do understand that this is not, stricty speaking, a First Amendment case.  It is an attempt on the part of the NBA to punish one of their owners for speech they disapprove by forcing him from the enjoyment of his legally acquired property.

I’m further guessing that, depending on whether he’s turned into a “don’t give a fuck” geezer, or a “who needs this crap” geezer, he’ll either fight this in court, or he’ll walk away.  I’d guess that if he chooses to fight, the NBA will find itself with some major problems in enforcing their judgment, not least of which is that by forcing him into a fire sale of his property, they are depriving him of the ability to get what the team is really worth.

But I wanted to bring up the First Amendment question, because I’m curious just how far people are willing to go.

For instance, the state already punishes speech.  In particular, I’m thinking about the so-called “hate crime” laws, which exist at federal, state, and local levels.  Basically, if you commit a crime against somebody and keep your mouth shut, you’ll be charged with, and punished for, the simple crime.

But if you utter “hateful” statements in the commission of the same crime, you’ll be charged with a greater crime, and generally be subject to a greater penalty.  The difference between the two is your speech (or other expression) during the commission of the crime.  And the difference in penalties is the criminal penalty you pay for speech.  So, is cases like these, the bottom line is that your speech or expression is not protected by the First Amendment.

If you think that racist or bigoted speech should not be protected by the First Amendment, explain why you think that should be the case.



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Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


Let’s Cut to the Chase: Should Racist Speech Be Protected by the First Amendment? — 6 Comments

  1. Allow me to pre-translate the reasons and justifications and rationales of anyone who might answer your request: “I know what’s good for people better than you do. My judgment is better and more valid than yours. I’m a delicate flower and can’t be exposed to anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m tough — Really! Don’t be fooled by my whining like a little girl! — but some other people are delicate flowers and I have to protect them.”

    Did I miss any?

    • Yeah.
      “The Consitution? Are you kidding? Are you kidding??

      “The First Amendment was written more than a hundred years ago, and should have nothing relevant to say to our modern society and lifestyle.”

      “The First Amendment was written by patriarchal racist white men who kept slaves. It means nothing, and nobody should pay any attention to it.”

      Shut up, you racist!”

  2. We’ve already seen people gunning people down yelling “Allah Akbar” and everyone professes to be flummoxed as to their motive (except sane and/or non-biased people).

    “Hate” speech is subjectively and not objectively defined and so it can be selectively enforced. That is why it should be protected speech.

  3. I loathe the very idea of a hate crime. If I knock old ladies on the head and steal their purses, that’s assault and robbery; or whatever it’s called. Now if I do the exact same thing, but made a joke using the word n*gger before, after, or during the commission of the crime, I’ll get penalized worse. Frankly, criminalizing words is frightening. The best antidote to bad speech is more speech.

    Re the Clippers owner: if I were him, I’d go out like a cranky rich bastard and fight the NBA in court. He might eventually lose because the courts are so politicized these days, but he would cost the league hundreds of millions in legal fees. Even better? He might win, and then where would the league be?