Anonymous speech has been a vital part of public discourse from the earliest days of our country’s history. Just ask Publius, the pen name used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in writing The Federalist some 225 years ago. The US Supreme Court reaffirmed that anonymity is constitutionally protected in its 1995 McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission decision.
But town officials in Smithfield, Rhode Island, appear to believe that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them. Because in March 2013, Smithfield police arrested a Democratic political consultant named Robert Horowitz and charged him with violating a state law by distributing negative anonymous campaign materials targeting Republican House candidate James Archer and several other Republican politicians.
State Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office dismissed the charges against Horowitz, citing the 1995 Supreme Court decision. But when the ACLU of Rhode Island called on Smithfield police to refrain from enforcing the unconstitutional law in the future, Smithfield’s town solicitor, Edmund L. Alves Jr., called the ACLU’s position “absolute nonsense,” according to an article in the Valley Breeze. Alves added: “It’s not up to police departments to decide which laws they’ll enforce.”
Perhaps not. But certainly it’s up to the town’s chief lawyer to advise police not to make the same mistake twice. By failing to do so, Alves not only earned a Muzzle — he goaded the ACLU into filing a federal lawsuit.
Isn’t a good lawyer supposed to keep his client out of trouble?