On Tuesday, April 28, a federal judge in Pennsylvania struck down the state's "Revictimization Relief Act," agreeing with plaintiffs that it violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the US Constitution.
The law at issue was passed in October 2014, and permitted crime victims to sue convicted offenders to stop "conduct" - including speech - that cause "mental anguish" to the victims. The law was not limited to prisoners - even those completely out of the justice system could be subject to its restrictions. Much of the press surrounding Tuesday's decision focused on controversial prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, whose commencement address at Goddard College last year took place three days before the bill was introduced and was referenced by then-Governor Tom Corbett when he signed the bill into law.
The case is Prison Legal News v. Kane. (Edited to add: the ruling covered another case as well, Mumia Abu Jamal v. Kane.)
In his decision, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Christopher Conner wrote, “A past criminal offense does not extinguish the offender’s constitutional right to free expression.” Judge Conner dismissed the state’s argument that the law was a mere regulation of conduct with an incidental impact on speech, and noted that even if that had been the case, the law would still be flawed:
Assuming arguendo that the Act or its history revealed a principal intention to regulate behavior and only an incidental regulation of speech, the court‟s holding would remain unaltered. The Supreme Court has held that when a law “generally functions as a regulation of conduct” it is nonetheless subject to strict scrutiny when “as applied to plaintiffs[,] the conduct triggering coverage under the statute consists of communicating a message.” Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, 561 U.S. 1, 27-28 (2012).
As reported in the March edition of FTRF News, the Freedom to Read Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case in February, arguing that allowing judges to issue injunctions in accordance with the law constitutes prior restraint "on a limitless range of speech, including matters of public interest, such as deterring crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, prison conditions, and fundamental issues of justice."
You can find the judge's decision here. For more on the ruling, visit Volokh Conspiracy and Philadelphia City Paper (one of the plaintiffs).
The bill's sponsor has indicated he will ask about an appeal and, if the Attorney General declines, will introduce new legislation.