“Are Censures of Politicians a Form of Free Speech or a Threat to It?”

Adam Liptak in the NYT:

Last summer, the City Council in River Falls, Wis., censured a member for calling an opponent of wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic “a rancid tub of ignorant contagion.”

A few days later and a hundred miles away, the City Council in St. Cloud, Minn., censured one of its own for saying mask mandates were like requiring that “Covid-positive people wear some sort of identification badge, maybe like a bright yellow star.”

Censures, which are formal reprimands and a kind of punishment, seem to be on the rise in these divisive times. The Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall on whether the First Amendment has anything to say about when elected bodies can impose them on their members.

The justices will have to decide whether censures condemning politicians’ statements are a threat to free speech that chills expression or a form of free speech responding to one set of views with another.

The case before the justices was brought by David Wilson, a former elected trustee of the Houston Community College System and an energetic critic of its work. In addition to airing his concerns in interviews and on a website, Mr. Wilson sued the system’s board, orchestrated robocalls and hired private investigators to look into whether another trustee had lied about where she lived.

He was, a federal appeals court judge wrote in a dissent, a “gadfly legislator.”

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