More On the Law of Heckling

At the Washington Post Eugene Volokh helpfully summarized some of the other legal considerations governing heckling. The short version is that an occasional “boo” is no more illegal than applause is but organizing people to disrupt a political rally or meeting is illegal.

My gripe on this issue has been the reaction of the Chicago Police and Rahm Emanuel. Contrary to the mayor’s assertion, Chicago did not stand up for freedom of speech but quite the opposite. It stood up for those who were abusing their freedom to suppress the free speech of others.

Supporting freedom of speech is most difficult when you dislike the speaker or believe that his or her ideas are wrong or pernicious. As has been said, these are the times that try men’s souls.

3 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    My various comments on this topic were not advocating putting a bunch of kids in jail, but my concern is how those laws reflect an underlying understanding of how conflict escalates. Some of my daughter’s HS classmates went to disrupt the Trump rally back in November, and their goal was to get handled by the police or security guards and become a youtube sensation. Ah, the privilege of youth, perhaps even white youth I don’t know, to fear nothing from being handled by law enforcement. I know too many of the rare instances where people have suffered serious injury, which is the burden of age.

    Volokh draws attention to one important point, those assembling have rights to use reasonable nondeadly force to stop someone from disrupting the assembly. The rules vary from state to state and depend on a lot of context, but the two important things to take away are that (1) the legitimacy of the use of force is going to be judged by a jury after someone is seriously injured, and (2) the rules favor those who came there to assemble over those that came there to disrupt. I mostly agree with Josh Marshall on this:

    “We all have angers and prejudices and hostilities which our socialization keeps in check, sometimes even hidden from ourselves. Some of us, of course, have much more than others. But in crowd settings, with what can now only be called Trump’s almost nonstop incitement to eject or beat “thug” protestors, jostling and shoving, ramped up emotions, things can escalate very rapidly. And let’s be honest, it can happen on both sides.”

    Someone Will Die

  • steve Link

    I just assumed that the Chicago protestors were breaking the law. After reading Volokh I guess I will never know. If they just clapped, maybe they would not have been. Anyway, I am surprised he did not cover the aspect of civil disobedience. If they try to disrupt, they get escorted out and arrested.


  • PD Shaw Link

    @steve, he has a companion piece explaining that Trump calling on people to push or punch hecklers who are seriously disrupting the meeting may be legal. If they’re breaking the law its not illegal necessarily for private citizens to use nondeadly force to stop them.

    I think there are a couple of points that could have been explained better. First, I don’t think is tlikel

Leave a Comment