Former Democratic presidential candidate and Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean claimed Thursday evening that speech from conservative author and commentator Ann Coulter is not protected by the First Amendment.
“Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” Dean tweeted in reference to Coulter’s scheduled speech at Berkeley, which campus administrators cancelled due to the threat of leftist violence.
But Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA who writes the The Volokh Conspiracy blog, set things straight in a 1,300-word column for The Washington Post Friday, entitled "No, Governor Dean, There is No Hate-Speech Exception to the First Amendment."
"Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas," Volokh writes. "One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans."
Volokh goes on to cite major Supreme Court decisions dealing with offensive speech and the First Amendment, and clarifying that legally speaking, there is no such thing as "hate speech."
"U.S. law has just never had occasion to define 'hate speech,'" Volokh writes, "any more than it has had occasion to define rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn, but that does not constitute a legally relevant category."
Dean, the former Democratic governor of Vermont, made his comment in reply to a tweet from someone who had written: "Free Speech Defenders Don't Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."
But Volokh says Dean is wrong if he thinks this comment of Coulter's is not protected by the First Amendment. It is.
Best-selling author and conservative columnist Ann Coulter was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, on April 27, but the university canceled the speech this week, saying it could not provide adequate security, given recent riots to shut down other conservative speakers, such as Milo Yiannopoulos.
Coulter subsequently told The Hollywood Reporter: "They can't stop me. I'm an American. I have constitutional rights."
The university announced it would reschedule the event for the afternoon of May 2, during final exam week, but attorneys for the groups that had invited Coulter, including Young Americans for Freedom, blasted university officials in a letter, saying it was attempting to impose "discriminatory" time and place restrictions and warned of "imminent litigation" if the university does not confirm by today, April 21, that it will cooperate with plans for the April 27 event.