Attorneys for the California Legislature are weighing whether to appeal a federal court ruling that could allow gun rights advocates to publish the personal information of individual lawmakers.
Diane Boyer-Vine, the state’s legislative counsel, said Wednesday that her office was reviewing the preliminary injunction issued by U.S. Chief District Judge Lawrence O’Neill of Fresno.
O’Neill had moved to halt a California law that restricts the internet publishing of home addresses or phone numbers of elected or appointed officials who feel their safety is threatened, or if the elected officials or their representatives demand that they not be published.
“At its core, plaintiffs’ speech is a form of political protest,” O’Neill wrote, giving the parties until March 10 to decide how to proceed. “The court therefore finds that the legislators’ home address and telephone number touch on matters of public concern in the context of plaintiffs’ speech.”
The case, brought last fall with the help of the Firearms Policy Coalition, was filed after the Legislature’s lawyer blocked a blog post from listing what its author described as the home addresses of 40 legislators who voted for gun control legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The original take-down demand was issued by the Office of Legislative Counsel to WordPress, which hosted the blog.
Firearms Policy Coalition officials noted at the time that the information was quickly removed from the site and the author was barred from “publishing any similar content.” This week, they hailed the judge’s injunction as a victory for the First Amendment.
“We are delighted that Judge O’Neill saw the statute and the state’s enforcement of it for exactly what it was: an unconstitutional restriction on free speech,” Brandon Combs, president of the gun group, wrote in a prepared statement.
“Especially in times where some government officials are working to pass legislation that would criminalize law-abiding gun owners and eliminate Second Amendment rights,” Combs added, “the First Amendment’s protection of law-abiding gun owners’ political speech and protest is more important than ever.”
The original post, published last July by a blogger using the pseudonym “Doe Publius,” repeatedly referred to California lawmakers who supported the bills as “tyrants.” The author wrote that they would keep the names online until lawmakers voted to repeal the laws, or died.
“The Senators and Assembly Members whose home addresses are listed on this Web site fear that the public display of their addresses on the Internet will subject them to threats and acts of violence at their homes,” the deputy legislative counsel wrote to Wordpress.com in July.
Lawmakers’ addresses and phone numbers are generally part of the public record, and obtainable, though digging up the information can be a time-consuming endeavor. Their office phone numbers and addresses are easily found online.
Bombs told The Sacramento Bee in August when the lawsuit was filed that his group would never condone threats. He argued the author’s comment about removing a lawmaker’s address if they die wasn’t a threat because they could die of natural causes unrelated to the author’s blog post.
“If we thought the speech was threatening, we wouldn’t support the case.”