Savor this, Californians. It isn’t every day we have good news from The Golden State.
A federal judge in California ruled this week that the First Amendment protects the publication of anti-gun state legislators’ personal information, as long as that information is already publically available.
A pro-gun blogger writing under the pseudonym “Doe Publius” published on his blog what he called a “tyrant registry”: the names, telephone numbers, and home addresses of 40 anti-gun California legislators.
“If you’re a gun owner in California, the government knows where you live,” he said in his post, according to official court documents. “Isn’t it about time to register these tyrants with gun owners?”
California state officials were not amused. The state legislative counsel ordered WordPress, the company that hosts Publius’s site, to remove the post, citing a state law that restricts publication of government officials’ personal information. They also claimed that several state legislators had received threatening phone calls to their homes since the publication of the list.
WordPress complied, and Publius, along with another blogger who re-posted the “tyrant registry,” sued the state on First Amendment grounds.
They argued that because Publius only published publically available information, the registry is protected under First Amendment speech. The registry is further protected, they argued, because it is a political statement responding to California’s recent legislation that creates a registry for those who purchase ammunition.
The courts agreed. Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California sided with Publius, finding that the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed” in their First Amendment claims.
“The legislators’ home address and telephone number touch on matters of public concern,” the judge said in the 38-page opinion.
“There is no dispute that Plaintiffs lawfully obtained and truthfully published information that was readily available online,” O’Neill continued. “When lawfully obtained, the truthful publication of that information falls within the First Amendment’s ambit.”
Publius responded to the decision on Monday, saying in a blog post that the victory is about more than his personal freedoms: the court’s decision is “a win for freedom of speech and political protest, and most importantly a win for those Californians who have had their civil rights and liberties violated by our state legislators for simply wanting to exercise their fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” he said.
“Much like the Sex Offender Registry, this common sense tyrant registration addresses a public safety hazard alerting the public of tyrants who have violated the civil rights and liberties of people in their communities.”
California has until March 10 to decide whether or not it wants to continue the fight. A spokesman from the state legislature told the Associated Press that they’re evaluating their next steps.