Judge Sides With Gun-Rights Blogger in Free Speech Suit

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) – Ruling in favor of a political blogger known as “The Real Write Winger,” a federal judge on Monday defended the blogger’s right to publish the home addresses of California lawmakers who support gun-control bills.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill’s ruling bars the state from enforcing a law which allows public officials to demand the removal of private information from websites if they believe it’s tied to threats of violence.

“At its core, plaintiffs’ speech is a form of political protest. The court therefore finds that the legislators’ home address and telephone number touch on matters of public concern in the context of plaintiffs’ speech,” O’Neill said in the 38-page ruling.

The lawsuit was prompted last July after California lawmakers demanded the blogging website WordPress to censor the Real Write Winger’s blog, which included the addresses and telephone numbers of 40 state lawmakers. The blog post titled “Tyrants to be registered with California gun owners” vowed to keep the lawmakers’ information up until recently passed gun-control bills were either repealed or the lawmakers died.

The California Office of Legislative Counsel said the blog post violated California Government Code section 6254.21(c) and threatened WordPress with legal action if it didn’t take down the lawmakers’ addresses within 48 hours.

“With the recent anti-gun, anti-liberty bills passed by the legisexuals in the state Capitol and signed into law by our senile communist governor, isn’t it about time to register these tyrants with gun owners?” the original post asked.

The blog was posted four days after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of gun-control bills which established background checks for ammunition purchases and expanded the state’s ban on assault weapons. California pro-gun groups called the legislative package “Gunpocalypse.”

Backed by the distinguished free speech and religious freedom attorney Eugene Volokh of the UCLA School of Law, who has had six of his articles cited in the opinions of Supreme Court justices, the blogger responded with a First Amendment lawsuit.

Under the pseudonym “Doe Publius,” the blogger and co-plaintiff Derek Hoskins accused the state of violating the First Amendment by threatening WordPress with the takedown demand.

O’Neill of the Eastern District of California granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that they are “likely to succeed” on their First Amendment claims.

He agreed that the nonpartisan legislative counsel office was acting under color of law when it issued WordPress the takedown demand letter.

“The office, a government entity, therefore provided legal services on behalf of 40 state legislators at their request and made that clear to WordPress and Hoskins when doing so. In the court’s view, it is difficult to conceive how this could not constitute state action,” O’Neill wrote.

The judge gave the state until March 10 to continue the case. State Assembly spokesman Kevin Liao said the legislative counsel “received the court order today and is evaluating the case.”

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which helped fund the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, said it was “delighted” with the ruling.

“In a time where government officials are actively passing legislation to criminalize law-abiding gun owners and eliminate Second Amendment rights, the First Amendment’s protection of political speech and protest by law-abiding gun owners is more necessary than ever,” coalition president Brandon Combs said in a statement.

The coalition also successfully challenged another California law that prohibited the use of video footage from state Assembly hearings in political advertisements. Last June, a federal judge found the law unconstitutional and allowed the gun-rights advocates to include Assembly footage in its advertisements against a November gun-control initiative that was eventually approved by voters.