By Staff Published Dec. 18, 2022
Chief U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson has denied a motion to dismiss First Amendment claims against a New Jersey state judiciary employee. the chief U.S. District Court judge wrote "Plaintiff has adequately pleaded a threat of invoking legal sanctions that originated from the NJ Administrative Office of the Courts, which should not be lightly disregarded,".
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It’s no secret that online criticism can be harsh and often quite personal. But what happens when the person being criticized is a judge in a court of law? This is the issue at hand with a case filed in U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey. A suit claims that the state's judiciary violated a litigant’s First Amendment rights by asking a website operator to take down a post criticizing two Superior Court judges.
The case began when an anonymous poster on an internet site criticized two Superior Court judges involved with a lawsuit. The post was later removed after one of the judiciaries allegedly, sent the internet site a letter demanding, its removal and threatening legal action if it wasn't taken down immediately.
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This type of censorship violates freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment, according to Robert McNamara, a lawyer for the Institute for Justice, in addition to violating free speech rights, this kind of censorship does very little, since once something is posted online it can be nearly impossible for authorities to completely erase it from public view.
So how can we balance protecting our right to freedom of speech while also respecting the authority of courts? In this instance, New Jersey should do more than agree not to repeat such actions in future cases; they should make amends with those whose rights were violated. By doing so, they are not only acknowledging wrongdoing but also demonstrating respect for their citizen's constitutional rights, an example other states should follow if they too want to maintain their place as respected and trusted institutions within society.
How do we manage criticism online when judges are personally offended by such criticism, and for those who have been denied their First Amendment rights due to censorship, imposed by judicial authorities without due process or gag orders being issued first? As this case continues through U.S. District Court in Trenton, New Jersey will have an opportunity to demonstrate its alleged commitment both to protecting citizens' freedoms and upholding justice in its courts, regardless of if it means admitting wrongdoings or not. Either way, this could be an important turning point for how we address these issues going forward.