The Associated Press reports that a three-judge panel in the 9th District Court has thrown out the controversial civil lawsuit against the Nuremberg Files web site.
The Nuremberg Files was a web site set up by anti-abortion activists. Among other things, the site listed names and other personal information about doctors who performed abortions. It also included posters that mimicked wanted posters but included pictures of abortion providers which it referred to as “baby butchers.”
Three doctors whose names appeared on lists maintained by the Nuremberg Files were murdered. Planned Parenthood sued the Nuremberg Files in court under provisions of the |Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization| statute claiming that the web site was essentially the focal point of a criminal conspiracy. That nobody involved with the web site had committed or even planned any acts of violence was irrelevant — the contents of the web site itself made the Nuremberg Files responsible, in part, for abortion-related violence.
A jury agreed with Planned Parenthood and the proprietors of the site were ordered to pay damages to Planned Parenthood and several abortion doctors.
The 9th District Court unanimously agreed that the jury was wrong — what the Nuremberg Files did was speech protected by the First Amendment. In the majority opinion, Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote,
If defendants threatened to commit violent acts, by working alone or with others, then their [works] could properly support the verdict. But if their [works] merely encouraged unrelated terrorists, then their words are protected by the First Amendment.
This will have a major impact on a number of pending suits against animal rights activists.
First, this is going to end up in the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood has the deep pockets necessary to see this case through to the end. They will especially be encouraged to do so since the 9th Circuit Court’s decisions are often overturned by the Supreme Court. It has a reputation for rendering decisions that the Supreme Court later deems to be an excessively broad interpretation of the Constitution.
Second, if the verdict survives a Supreme Court challenge, the various RICO suits against animal rights activists are dead. If the 9th Circuit Court is correct, then an Animal Liberation Front site can list personal information about, say, federally-funded medical researchers, and cheer those who commit violent acts, but so long as they don’t directly threaten or engage in a conspiracy with those who commit violence, there is no legal recourse.
I suspect the Supreme Court will overturn the 9th District’s opinion, even if it ultimately sides with the Nuremberg Files, since the decision provides a gaping legal hole for people conspiring to commit murder.
Court: OK to Encourage Abortion Threat. David Kreats, Associated Press, March 28, 2001.
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