The ban on “sex offender” art

Leaving the artwork up could serve as a trigger for our students and staff who have been victims of child abuse and sexual assault. Since the display is at the campus main entrance where our students and staff are required to enter and exit, the potential to trigger is very real. . . . In the end the requirement to provide a safe place for our students stands paramount.

— President of the University of Southern Maine explaining his order to remove three paintings from an art exhibit upon learning that the artist was a registered sex offender.

The exhibit was a curated group show entitled “Industrial Maine: Our Other Landscape.” The artist whose three paintings presented “a very real” potential to trigger traumatic memories of abuse was a well-regarded Maine painter whose “industrial landscape” work looks like this:

Title: Distant Industry. “I painted this piece plein air at a local closed paper mill. . . The smokestacks, the icons of the Industry survive to remind us of our past.”

Title: Cape with Yellow Truck. “Many times in my travels in the back roads of Maine I have come across these old trucks just rusting in the fields. . . put to pasture, so to speak.

Title: Signs and Overpass. “The painting was all about simple design and the feeling of loneliness.”

He’s on Maine’s SORA registry based on a conviction from 20 years ago for which he served six months in jail. When the show went up, a relative of the victim complained to the Prexy.  Before you could say “public safety,” his three paintings were gone.

The outraged curator refused to replace them.  Instead, she put placards in the empty spaces saying:

Apparently the placards also constituted a clear and present danger of invading the safe space of victimized students.  The Prexy had them removed.

Mind you, this wasn’t the act of some freshman snowflake melting over being assigned to read “Hamlet.”  This was the middle-aged president of a state university proclaiming in all seriousness that looking at a painting of Maine landscape has the “very real” potential to trigger a traumatic episode.

The greatest absurdity, of course, is his notion that college students take their noses out of their Smartphones long enough to notice anything at all, unless it’s something to eat.

Tiffany: Hey, Jason, there’s something on the wall where we’re required to enter and exit.

Jason: Duh?

Tiffany: I’m going to see if any of them are on the Sex Offender Registry.

Jason: Careful, the potential to trigger memories of abuse is very real.

Tiffany: There’s free wine and cheese at the opening.

Jason: Beam me up, Scotty!

The artist was generous about it, saying he was sorry his paintings had drawn “negative attention” to the exhibit.

At least he’s in good company. The National Gallery of Art in D.C. just canceled a show of Chuck Close because of allegations of verbal sexual harassment by a portrait model. What if Leonardo had said something fresh to Mona Lisa? Would the Louvre send “La Gioconda” back to Italy in disgrace?

The only solution is a Salon des Refusés for artists rejected from mainstream venues based on their sexual misbehavior. Starting with Gauguin, Picasso, Close and our painter of Maine landscapes. There would be lines around the block.

h/t to @TheDobbsWire

Postscript: In September, the Anti-Registry Movement will hold an outdoor art show of works by SORA registrants in front of the USM campus. For more information, go to Oncefallen.com.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Satire and parody, SORA | 13 Comments

Criminal defense vs. “social justice”

A recent communiqué from HR casually let fall that we’re now a “social justice organization” dedicated to the interests of “the most vulnerable.”

And all these years we thought we were a public defender! We feel like the hero of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” who woke up one morning to find himself turned into a giant beetle.

As an appellate squawk, we represent people convicted of crimes. Sometimes we think they might be innocent or that what they did shouldn’t be a crime, but  we’re still not going to enter them into any “most vulnerable” contest.  You want vulnerable, go read the Brooklyn DA’s press handouts about crime victims. Just kidding, don’t go near them.

As for “justice,” that’s exactly what we’re defending our clients against. “Bringing to justice,” “obtaining justice,” etc. are gassy expressions for prosecution and punishment. The Italians are more candid: giustiziare means putting to death.  Tacking “social” onto it doesn’t make it less retributive. Might as well put a hat on a piranha. As Hamlet said, “Use every man after his desert and who should ‘scape whipping?” We try to help our clients escape whipping, deserving or not.

How would a defense lawyer look plumping for social justice?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: The machete allegedly found on my client should be suppressed as the fruit of an unlawful search. The officer testified that his only reason for stopping him was that he was wearing a Red Sox cap.

PROSECUTOR: We concede there’s no possible interpretation of the Fourth Amendment that could justify the search. But the defendant had the machete hidden in his jacket while walking around the hallway of a public housing project inhabited by itty-bitty little children, marginalized women and the gaga elderly.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Golly, I guess the interests of the vulnerable come first.

COURT: You bet. Suppression denied.

*******

DEFENSE COUNSEL:  The statute requires the indictment to be dismissed if the People aren’t ready for trial within 180 days without good cause. Since it’s now the 181st day, my client is entitled to dismissal.

PROSECUTOR: We candidly admit the delay is due solely to our laziness and incompetence. But the defendant was caught shooting into the window of a bodega, thereby offending the dignity of huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Well, I certainly don’t want to be a xenophobe. We’ll let it go this time.

*********

DEFENSE COUNSEL: I move to preclude any testimony about my client’s prior record, pursuant to People v. Rodriguez.

COURT: What does Rodriguez say?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: How should I know? The point is, my client belongs to a marginalized, powerless, historically underrepresented group.

PROSECUTOR: So does the victim.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Oh, yeah? What supposedly powerless group does your so-called victim belong to?

PROSECUTOR: Dead people.

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Oh. Okay, you win.

Moral: If you need to wear a halo, don’t go into criminal defense.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law & Parody, Satire and parody | 22 Comments

Courts should take a tip from the Dept. of Agriculture

Reasonable people can disagree about GMO (genetically modified organism) food production. You can take the word of the multi-billion dollar agrichemical behemoths like Monsanto who deny its damaging effects on the environment, human health and the livelihoods of farmers and who go to scandalous lengths, such as pouring money into fake scientific journals and front organizations with names like the “American Council on Science and Health” or the “Genetic Literacy Project,” to portray its critics as tinfoil-hatted cranks.

Or you can ask why GMO’s are either banned outright or strictly regulated in over 60 countries. Not in America, of course.

Fortunately, the ever-vigilant Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed an array of warning labels for GMO foods:

The message is clear. You are solemnly warned that this Frankenstein food might be very bad for you, wink, wink.

Courts should take a leaf out of the USDA’s book:

Judge: Do you understand that by pleading guilty you voluntarily give up your right to trial? 

Judge: Do you understand that as part of the plea agreement, you’re voluntarily waiving your right to appeal? 

Judge: Do you understand that if you don’t come back for sentencing I’ll impose the maximum prison sentence? 

It’s the perfect appeal-proof warning. The judicial equivalent of the GMO. Usda gmo copy

Posted in Humor, Law & Parody, Satire and parody | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The ACLU uncompromisingly defends free speech — unless it’s offensive.

Why is everybody so down on the poor old ACLU just because of an internal memo proclaiming its zealous defense of free speech unless it offends vulnerable and marginalized minorities?  Even the NY Post joined the affray, moaning, “ACLU Stops Caring About Free Speech!”

Let’s be reasonable. Do you blame the buggy-whip manufacturers for switching to a different product when the horseless carriage took over? Do you make a scene at Rite-Aid because they no longer develop film?  Wake up and smell the coffee! Why shouldn’t the ACLU change with the times and don the robe and crown of the social justice warrior, now that free speech has gone the way of the dodo and the typewriter ribbon?

The deal with the First Amendment is that the government can’t restrict expression based on disagreement with the message.  You can be prosecuted for falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or downloading porn involving real children, but not for the mere content of your ideas.

So eyebrows are raised when the ACLU memo’s very first paragraph worries about what to do when “the content of the speech we seek to protect conflicts with our policies on these matters” (emphasis added). Policies such as opposition to “white supremacy” and “bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups,” such as women, LGBT’s, the disabled,  etc. and “the empowerment of people of color.”  The ACLU “understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms” and impedes “progress toward equality.”

Very noble, but isn’t the ACLU known for defending unpopular speech? Neo-Nazis marching in a Jewish neighborhood and things like that? Not any more, apparently. After all, the memo sniffs, “the ACLU as a private organization has a First Amendment right to act according to its own principles, organizational needs, and priorities.” According to the memo, they’re not going to defend a white supremacist group if doing so would piss off the ACLU’s “allies.”

So they now consider the following factors in deciding whether to defend persons being prosecuted for exercising their First Amendment rights:

  • The impact of the disfavored speech/expression “on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed.”
  • The speech’s potentially bad effect on marginalized communities.
  • Whether the speech helps white supremacists or others “whose views are contrary to our values.”

Every few paragraphs, they toss in some jive about how the ACLU’s commitment to neutral principles of free speech remains unchanged. Say what?  It’s like Marc Antony’s repeated assurances that “Brutus is an honorable man,” in a speech that conveys exactly the opposite. The crowd wasn’t fooled.

And if the ACLU finds that not  defending some oppressor of the marginalized might “impact on the credibility of the ACLU as a staunch and principled defender of free speech,” they reserve the right to make up for it by condemning and denouncing his cause “in press statements, op-eds, social media and other available fora,” participate in counter-demonstrations, and organize events and projects condemning those views, paid for by the fees they earn from defending him.

The memo explains, “We generally should not agree to represent people who will not agree to sign an ethically appropriate advance waiver of potential conflicts arising from our condemnation of their views.”

That must do a lot for the attorney-client relationship. Imagine you’re being prosecuted for heckling at a high school gun control rally and the first thing your ACLU lawyer does is have you sign an ethically appropriate waiver allowing her to organize events and counter-demonstrations and condemn your views in op-eds, social media and other fora.

“In other words,” says former director Ira Glasser, “the ACLU now advises its affiliates to consider the content of speech, and whether it advances our goals, before deciding whether to defend the right to speak. That is a balance never before recognized by the ACLU in deciding whether to take a free speech case. To deny that this is a departure from free speech policy is intellectually dishonest, an Orwellian smokescreen thrown up to obscure what they are doing.”

He’s probably still looking for a typewriter ribbon.

Irrelevant Postscript: List of “Most Visited” Articles from Reason Magazine.

  1. Leaked Internal Memo Reveals the ACLU Is Wavering on Free Speech.
  2. Huge Win for Everyone with a Cellphone (and for the 4th Amendment) at the Supreme Court.
  3. Immigration Hardliners Lose Today in an 8-1 Supreme Court Ruling.
  4. 13-year Old Charged with Felony for Recording Conversation with School Principal.
  5. We Are Most Likely Alone in the Universe.

 

Posted in Civil Liberties, First Amendment, Satire and parody | Tagged | 9 Comments

Judge Bludgeon rules on cyberbullying

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, the mad Emperor Caligula had the penal code placed at the top of a tall column in the Forum.  Judges soon got tired of shinnying up and down whenever they had to look up the law and started secretly improvising instead. Hence the origin of “judicial discretion.”  It was not until the invention of the file cabinet that laws were printed on paper and it began to be considered bad form to enforce them without fair notice of what they were.

So we were flabbergasted to learn from Simple Justice that the NY State Senate has just passed a bill criminalizing cyberbullying without providing a smidgen of a definition of what conduct constitutes that offense.  Surely the law has to be struck down as unconstitutional.

Fugettaboutit, says Justice Bludgeon, the controversial Brooklyn judge who tried to return Manhattan to the Indians for a refund. In a case of first impression, he writes:

Defendant Stinky K. stands charged with cyberbullying after texting 125 “Yo mama” jokes to her classmates.  As an initial matter, we reject her claim that the statute is void for vagueness. Laws are presumed to be constitutional, otherwise they wouldn’t have been passed.

To be sure, a superficial reading of the statute might suggest that it contains no definition of cyberbullying. But statutory construction must not be nitpickingly over-technical.  The Legislature is not obliged to adhere to a rigid litany, catechism or rosary.  As Supreme Court Justice Potter famously observed regarding hardcore pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” Indeed, any law enacted for the purpose of protecting children is by definition constitutional.

That is not to say, however, that the statute at issue does not suffer from a grave deficiency: it is not named after a child. But it is not for this Court to cure legislative oversights.

We accordingly find Stinky K. guilty as charged. Sentence will be imposed as soon as the bill is passed in the Assembly and signed by the Governor.

So ordered. Bludgeon, J.

Posted in Criminal law, Law & Parody | 3 Comments

Cake, religion and Summa [obscenity deleted] Laude

We didn’t make this up: a proud mom ordered a cake to celebrate her son’s graduation “Summa Cum Laude.”  The bakery took it upon itself to eliminate the obscene word “cum,” and replace it with dashes, as shown above.

Can’t be too careful these days. A celebratory cake was the subject of the just-now-decided Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop where a Christian Evangelical baker declined to create a wedding cake for a gay marriage ceremony, while offering to provide the couple with any other kind of baked goods. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission called the baker’s religious scruples “a despicable piece of rhetoric” of the sort used to justify slavery and the Holocaust, and enjoined him from making any wedding cakes unless he agreed to provide them for same-sex marriages. As a result, his mom-and-pop bakery lost nearly half of its business.

The Supreme Court decision cannily focuses on the Commission’s hostility to religion while ducking the issue of compelled speech. Justice Kennedy, duly invoking the dignity, respect etc. due to same-sex couples, nevertheless concluded that sneering at the baker’s beliefs “was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

It’s hard to know what this limited decision means for the baker.  Presumably any same-sex couple can request a wedding cake and sue him again if he refuses, this time in front of a Commission that’s learned to be more politic in its language.

While not sharing the baker’s beliefs, we sympathize, knowing what it’s like to be hounded by a junta of “the offended.” Justice Thomas’s concurrence, recognizing that the right to speak entails the right not to be compelled to express unwanted ideas, says it all (citations omitted):

States cannot punish protected speech because some group finds it offensive, hurtful, stigmatic, unreasonable, or undignified. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

A contrary rule would allow the govern­ment to stamp out virtually any speech at will.  After all, much political and religious speech might be perceived as offen­sive to some. As the Court reiterates today, “it is not . . . the role of the State or its officials to prescribe what shall be offensive.” Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection.

If the only reason a public accommodations law regulates speech is “to produce a society free of . . . biases” against the protected groups, that purpose is “decidedly fatal” to the law’s constitution­ality, “for it amounts to nothing less than a proposal to limit speech in the service of orthodox expression.”

Where the designed benefit of a content-based speech restriction is to shield the sensibilities of listeners, the general rule is that the right of expression prevails. “A speech burden based on audience reactions is simply government hostility . . . in a different guise.”

Consider what Phillips [the baker] actually said to the individual respondents in this case. After sitting down with them for a consultation, Phillips told the couple, “I’ll make your birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brown­ies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” It is hard to see how this statement stigmatizes gays and lesbians more than blocking them from marching in a city parade, dismissing them from the Boy Scouts, or subjecting them to signs that say “God Hates Fags”—all of which this Court has deemed protected by the First Amendment. . . .

Nor does the fact that this Court has now decided Obergefell v. Hodges somehow diminish Phillips’ right to free speech. “It is one thing . . . to con­clude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share [that view] as bigoted and unentitled to express a different view.”

This Court is not an authority on matters of conscience, and its decisions can (and often should) be criticized. The First Amendment gives individ­uals the right to disagree about the correctness of Obergefell and the morality of same-sex marriage. Obergefell itself emphasized that the traditional understanding of marriage “long has been held—and continues to be held— in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.”  If Phillips’ continued adherence to that under­standing makes him a minority after Obergefell, that is all the more reason to insist that his speech be protected. “T]he fact that [the social acceptance of homosexuality] may be embraced and advocated by increasing numbers of people is all the more reason to protect the First Amendment rights of those who wish to voice a different view.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Thomas, J., concurring).

Posted in Civil Liberties, First Amendment | Tagged | 10 Comments

Stalkers of Lady Justice

Which of the below is not the slogan of one of the New York City District Attorney’s Offices?

  1. “Committed to Public Safety, Fairness and Equal Justice.”
  2. “Moving Justice Forward.”
  3. “Steadfast for Justice.”
  4. “To Pursue Justice.”
  5. “Pursuing Justice with Integrity.”
  6. “A Seedy Cesspool of Sex-Fueled Parties.”

Okay, #6 doesn’t count, since it’s not the official slogan of the Bronx DA’s Office, just an observation by one of the staff.

The correct answer is #3.  Although practically identical to the mottos of the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island DA’s Offices, it’s the watchword of the city’s largest public defender’s office. Whose slogan used to be “Making the Case for Humanity,” a play on the double meaning of “humanity” as all people and humaneness. No longer: they’ve caught the Justice Bug. Poor Lady Justice! Whether being moved forward, pursued or steadfasted, everybody wants a piece of her.

 

Posted in Law & Parody, Satirical cartoons | Tagged , | Leave a comment