Lewd Note on Toilet Paper Isn't Protected Speech
(CN) - A Texas prisoner's vulgar note, penned on a scrap of toilet paper and mailed to opposing counsel, does not constitute protected speech, the 5th Circuit ruled. The corrections department properly disciplined the inmate, the court added, because the note "demonstrated a completely unjustified disrespect for authority, expressed in the most unacceptably vulgar form."
In 2005, George Morgan responded to the state's motion to dismiss his habeas petition by mailing assistant U.S. attorney Susan San Miguel a note that read: "Dear Susan, Please use this to wipe your ass, that argument was a bunch of shit! You[rs] Truly, George Morgan."
One of Miguel's co-workers returned the note to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where Morgan is incarcerated.
Morgan was charged with using vulgar language and was punished with a loss of 15 days of credit earned for good behavior.
He appealed, claiming the punishment violated his free-speech and due-process rights.
Judge Jolly acknowledged that prisoners have certain First Amendment rights, but said those rights are restricted by the state's interest in rehabilitating the prisoner.
"Morgan's note demonstrated a completely unjustified disrespect for authority, expressed in the most unacceptably vulgar form, which would be offensive in mainstream society," Jolly wrote.
"It would not be tolerated from a peer member of the bar, and would not be tolerated from a pro se litigant in the free setting."
The New Orleans-based appeals court upheld Morgan's punishment and dismissed his constitutional claims.