Nazis, Service of Process, and Free Speech

I was looking for an angle to write about the national situation, and then I read about a harassment lawsuit against Andrew Anglin, the publisher of a Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, where the Nazi was ducking service of process.

Mr. Anglin’s lawyer, Marc Randazza, said that the editor should be easy to find and that no one had looked hard enough. Mr. Anglin has written on The Daily Stormer that he is in Nigeria.

This is disingenuous, of course: the lawyer could simply say where the Nazi can be served or, better yet, agree to accept service on his client’s behalf. If you want to make an issue of service of process, fine, but don’t pretend this is the way civil litigation is supposed to proceed.

The lawsuit is pending in the District of Montana. Now, I haven’t read the Daily Stormer, so I don’t now precisely what the article means when it says that Mr. Anglin “has written … that he is in Nigeria.” But if Anglin has said he is currently abroad, and if I were the plaintiff’s lawyer, I would move for leave to serve process by alternate means, namely, by email on his counsel. Such motions are more or less routine, and assuming the motion is granted, the burden will then be on the Nazi at least to appear in the case and explain why the service was insufficient, if he can.

To continue with Nazis: everyone was grateful for the basically peaceful outcome of the protests in Boston over the weekend, and grateful that only a few showed up for the alt-right “free speech rally.” And it was heartening to see so many people come out to repudiate the neo-Nazism, racism, and antisemitism that was on display in Charlottesville.

But there’s a problem lurking behind the apparently satisfactory outcome of the weekend. Two problems, actually. First, the police kept the counter-protesters so far away from the alt-right that no one could hear them. Second, people who wanted to join the alt-right rally weren’t allowed to do it. Here is what the police commissioner had to say:

Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans was asked why some of the speakers that planned to join the free speech rally said they were not let through the perimeter.

“We had a job to do. We did a great job,” Evans replied. “I’m not going to listen to people who come in here and want to talk about hate. And you know what? If they didn’t get in, that’s a good thing because their message isn’t what we want to hear.”

The police had a big responsibility on Saturday, and they did a good job keeping the peace. But they got the First Amendment values wrong. The First Amendment doesn’t require people to listen to Nazis. But I would say the First Amendment does not allow the government to impose restrictions on free speech that prevent anyone from hearing it. Nor, I would say, does the First Amendment allow the government to prevent people from assembling with the group of their choice for the purpose of speaking out, especially when, as Commissioner Evans’s comments indicate, the decision about who was allowed to join his or her preferred group and who was not depended on the government’s assessment of the desirability of the speech.

So again: we can be pleased that the weekend was peaceful and that so many people were speaking out in a good cause. But we can’t be pleased with how the government treated the First Amendment rights of the bad guys.

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