Michigan AG's Stasi-Like Speech-Monitoring Scheme Earns a Federal Lawsuit
It's gratifying to see that the American Freedom Law Center lost no time challenging, in a federal lawsuit, Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel's unconstitutional "hate crimes unit." As discussed last month, Nessel and Michigan Department of Civil Rights director Agustin Arbulu have teamed up to target "hate and bias" actions that don't "rise to the level of a crime or a civil infraction"; in other words, perfectly lawful, constitutionally protected actions like free speech and association that Nessel and her radical friends just don't like.
Nessel's Stasi includes "a minimum of one prosecuting attorney" and intends to follow the Southern Poverty Law Center's reckless "hate map" as its main source for potential suspects. "Civil rights" chief Arbulu warned citizens to "know this, we are watching." AFLC co-founder and senior counsel Robert Muise neatly summed up Nessel's new policy for PJ Media: "'We're going to keep files on you.' It's Orwellian. It's Big Brother. It's the thought police."
The AFLC's lawsuit names Nessel and Arbulu as defendants in their official capacities and seeks a declaratory judgment that the hate crimes unit violates the AFLC's First Amendment right to freedom of speech and association and its Fourteenth Amendment rights by unlawfully targeting AFLC "for disfavored treatment based on the AFLC's political views and the political views of those it represents in court."
The AFLC, which has done wonderful work in Michigan and across the country defending the First Amendment rights of conservative Jews and Christians, has itself been falsely designated as a "hate group" by the SPLC, the actual basis for AFLC's standing to sue. No doubt to avoid drawing a liberal judge in Detroit or Flint, the AFLC filed the lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan. The trial judge, Paul L. Maloney, was appointed by George W. Bush.
Nessel took to Facebook to make her first response to the lawsuit: "Only in Trump's America do you get sued for pledging to prosecute hate crimes and pursue organizations that engage in illegal conduct against minority communities." Nessel's Facebook comments reveal her leftist conviction that whoever first invokes the magic phrase "in Trump's America" is absolved in advance of whatever falsehoods follow. Nessel is perfectly well aware that the AFLC — and many of the other so-called hate groups on SPLC's target list, like Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council — has never engaged in any illegal conduct against minority communities. ("None of SPLC's reports," states the AFLC complaint, "specifically including the reports relied upon by Defendants, cite to one example where AFLC has engaged in any criminal activity.")
She's also perfectly well aware that she and Argulu, her ideologically compromised partner at the Civil Rights Commission, have already defined the "hate and bias" incidents their investigative and prosecutorial efforts are meant to ferret out as "instances where an action does not rise to the level of a crime or a civil infraction." But baldly stating that the AFLC and similar groups are engaged in illegal conduct against minorities is an out-and-out lie by the state's chief law enforcement officer. If this is the quality of A.G. Nessel's thinking about facts, evidence, and the Constitution, this lawsuit is not going to go well for her.
Only last week, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, during an interview with James Comey, displayed a shocking void where knowledge about the liberties cherished in her adopted country ought to have been:
Of course, 'lock her up' was a feature of the 2016 Trump campaign. Do you, in retrospect, wish that people like yourself, the FBI, I mean, the people in charge of law and order, had shut down that language — that it was dangerous potentially, that it could've created violence, that it's kind of hate speech. Should that have been allowed?
Even Comey — who's proved time and again he's no respecter of the rule of law or the Bill of Rights — had no choice but to reply that shutting down speech is "not a role for government to play," because in America "people can say what they want."
And yet — only in Nessel's Michigan — right now, people can't say what they want. As bluntly stated in AFLC's complaint against Nessel:
It is one thing for a radically-partisan private organization like SPLC to express its falsehoods about political opponents. However, when the Michigan Attorney General and the Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights join and officially endorse this partisan attack by lending government resources and thus becoming the government enforcement agency for SPLC's radical agenda, the protections of the United States Constitution are triggered[.] ...
The challenged policy is a tool of intimidation for state government officials. It provides a basis for these officials to abuse their positions of power by seeking to stifle political opinion and opposition. It also provides political adversaries with a basis for making official complaints and allegations against so-called "hate" groups. The challenged policy directive officially legitimizes the illegitimate, partisan attacks of SPLC.
The complaint explains that Nessel's and Arbulu's hate crimes unit is meant "to create in the collective mind of the public that organizations designated by SPLC as 'hate' groups are criminal organizations rather than legitimate charitable organizations." SPLC had "already convinced organizations like Amazon to prohibit Plaintiff and other groups listed by SPLC from participating in its charitable donation program." The very day of Nessel's and Arbulu's announcement of the new policy, the AFLC received a media inquiry asking for its reaction to the defendants' "plan to investigate [AFLC] because it is identified as a 'hate' group by SPLC."
As I explained last month, the MDCR's Arbulu has plans for "a database [that] would document hate and bias incidents that don't rise to the level of a crime." By way of example, he cited one group's distribution of flyers that, Arbulu himself pointed out, "are protected under the First Amendment and do not rise to a crime."
I almost think this "documenting of bias incidents" is more of a threat than any prosecutions — as the latter still require a threshold of proof and the rigors of due process that even Dana Nessel's prosecutors won't be able to disregard. But a database of lawful activities tracking "bias incidents," so designated according to the discredited criteria of the SPLC? That really is taking a page out of the old Stasi manual:
The information gathered on up to 5.6 million individuals was filed at the Stasi's central catalogue and used to stifle political dissent. It also fostered a repressive climate of fear in East German communities because what the Stasi knew about you could, and most likely would, affect your educational, professional and even recreational opportunities.
It's bad enough that an overrated cable news anchor thinks "the people in charge of law and order" should be allowed to shut down spirited criticism of Hillary Clinton. But how much worse is it when Michigan's highest ranking attorney, in cahoots with the top official in charge of protecting Michiganders' civil rights (i.e., "the people in charge of law and order"), shamelessly initiates a policy positively antithetical to the freedoms of speech and association and the right to be free from government harassment and prosecution based on one's political beliefs?
Shame on Dana Nessel. And hooray for the American Freedom Law Center.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.