Governments can weaponize First Amendment to silence critics, groups tell SCOTUS

Appeals court allowed Pennsylvania school districts to file “objectively baseless” suit against anti-union group.

(Just the News) Is it constitutional for the government to file a lawsuit to stop you from criticizing its decisions? 

If you live in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Delaware, it is for now.

Anti-union and free speech groups are urging the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to a ruling in favor of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), whose members are public school districts.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that PSBA sued activist Simon Campbell and Pennsylvanians for Union Reform (PFUR) expressly to make them stop filing embarrassing public records requests and pressuring members to leave the PSBA.

Though it determined the suit was “objectively baseless,” the 3rd Circuit upheld “petitioning immunity” for the PSBA. That means it has First Amendment rights to file lawsuits against individuals using their own First Amendment rights to criticize it.

The case has been pending at the Supreme Court for nearly two months yet has received little attention in legal communities. That may soon change: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Berkeley Law School, recently joined the petitioners as counsel.

“The Third Circuit’s opinion is a road map for how government officials and other state actors can retaliate against their critics with impunity by using the judicial process,” Jack Cohn, who is representing PFUR and Campbell, told Just the News.