Florida certainly has its reputation for general nuttiness, and sometimes it goes beyond the prototypical “Florida Man” to the “Florida Judge.” Last week, Florida judge Mark Mahon decided that because he personally couldn’t take a little criticism from protestors outside the courtroom, he could unilaterally suspend the First Amendment of the Constitution, leading him to issue a hilarious order barring people from demonstrating anywhere near the courthouse if those demonstrations included mocking judges:
Demonstrations or dissemination of materials that degrade or call into question the integrity of the Court or any of its judges (e.g., claiming the Courts, Court personnel or judges are “corrupt,” biased, dishonest, partial, or prejudiced), thereby tending to influence individuals appearing before the Courts, including jurors, witnesses, and litigants, shall be prohibited on the Duval County Courthouse grounds….
The order further stated that anyone exercising such a First Amendment right could be “found in criminal contempt of Court.” Considering that he’s already stomping on the First Amendment, perhaps it’s no surprise that he falls back on the misleading-to-wrong anti-free speech trope of “yelling fire in a crowded theater.”
[T]he proper procedure for challenging a court’s decision is to file an appeal with the appropriate appellate court. Shouting out on the Courthouse grounds that the Court and judges are “corrupt” during business hours while people are entering the Courthouse is entirely inappropriate and disruptive and is analogous to falsely shouting “fire” in a crowded theater….
This is flatly unconstitutional. Demonstrations and leafleting are protected speech under the First Amendment. So, for that matter, is flag-burning and walking around on stilts as a giant puppet of Uncle Sam. Burning a giant photograph of Judge Mahon, a public figure and a judge no less, would be protected speech.
And sidewalks surrounding a courthouse are a public forum, the sort of place the founders envisioned protest, and flag-burning, and giant puppets, and burning giant photographs of Judge Mark Mahon. Indeed, the United States Supreme Court has held that its own adjoining sidewalks are a public forum where demonstrations, leafleting, and giant puppets are allowed.
The sidewalks comprising the outer boundaries of the Court grounds are indistinguishable from any other sidewalks in Washington, D.C., and we can discern no reason why they should be treated any differently. Sidewalks, of course, are among those areas of public property that traditionally have been held open to the public for expressive activities, and are clearly within those areas of public property that may be considered, generally without further inquiry, to be public forum property.
Demonstrations, signs, and leaflets outside public courthouses may be quite triggering for the sensitive souls who work there, but they have an alternative: GET A REAL JOB IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR. You can put black robes on a goon like Mark Mahon, but a goon he remains. He has no business enforcing the law, much less making up new law of his own goonish devising.
So who were these demonstrators that Judge Mahon was so upset about that it made him completely forget the very First Amendment to the Constitution? They were associated with the site Photography Is Not A Crime, better known as PINAC, and who we’ve written about/linked to many times for exposing ridiculous efforts to bully photographers/journalists/citizens exercising their rights to photograph and videotape in public (including the actions of public officials). Mahon was hearing a case involving a PINAC reporter who had been arrested concerning a demonstration against the TSA. Other PINAC folks were demonstrating outside of this case, leading to Mahon’s order.
In response, Mahon quickly “scaled back” his original order, but didn’t get rid of it completely.
Mahon wrote a new administrative order that “vacates and supersedes” the previous one. It continues the ban against photography of secure areas and security features, but he eliminated the ban against protests that question the court’s integrity.
The new order is certainly better and appears to remove the reference to “fire in a crowded theater” along with the clearly unconstitutional ban on calling the integrity of the court into question. But it still seems pretty clearly targeted at protected activity that the judge doesn’t like. He tries to present it as being all about safety, but that seems like a tortured attempt to ban a form of protest that he doesn’t like. PINAC claims it will continue to fight the new order as well. One hopes, as part of this process, Judge Mahon familiarizes himself with the Constitution that he’s supposed to be enforcing.