The latest GOP talking points seem to be chalking up Pat Robertson's invocation to "take out" Hugo Chavez as something covered by the First Amendment.
Your right to engage in free speech does not cover your right to go into a crowded theater and yell "fire," and it certainly does not cover your right to say that someone should be killed. Following the release of Natural Born Killers it became quite the trend for dangerously sick people to claim they had gotten the inspiration for their acts from watching the movie, and because there were big names and deep pockets involved my name wound up on a lot of lawsuits.
Most of them were dismissed in rather short order, but one of them made its way to the Supreme Court. And in that particular case they had taken the position that in making the film, we had intended to induce people to go out and commit murder.
Now before you get any image in your head of me on my knees pleading with Antonin Scalia for mercy, know that I only heard about the case from occasional memos that sailed across my desk, I really wasn't involved. The charge was absurd, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and that was the end of it. But the fact remains that had they been able to prove we acted with that intent, we could potentially have been found liable.
There really isn't much of a limit to what I'll say to get a rise -- ad hominim attacks on Kay Grogin's face, Jonah Goldberg's fashion sense and Michelle Malkin's entire existence are de rigeur around here. But I'm very careful to never even joke about physical harm being a good thing. Pat Robertson cannot say the same.
On the other hand I did win a case based on First Amendment privileges after I called some lawyer a "Kmart Johnnie Cochran." It actually turned out to be something of a landmark freedom of speech case. I think the judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals got a kick out of the whole thing, because the decision they wrote is pretty funny:
Hamsher' s imaginative phrase "Kmart Johnnie Cochran" is also not actionable. Fer****o asserts the phrase means that his legal services were of low quality and that he is unethical. The phrase is a lusty and creative expression of contempt, too loose and figurative to be susceptible of being proved true or false.Yep, that would be me.
I've decided that hate speech is what you must resort to when you have absolutely no ability to be funny.