That’s rights, transfolks and boring people, it’s another post about everyone’s favorite lawsuit, Devin Nunes’ US$250 million defamation complaint against Twitter, Liz Mair, Devin Nunes’ Mother, and Devin Nunes’ Cow. One of the things I plan to dive into later is that US$250 million figure. It’s all compensatory damages, and it is a major violation of every bar association’s code of conduct to file anything with the court that a lawyer knows to be false. In certain circumstances it can also be a violation if a lawyer should have known something to be false. There’s a case to be made here that Nunes’ lawyer should have his license suspended or revoked.
But what if you’re not the lawyer. What if your day job is a mere member of congress? Should you really be expected to know the law as a member of congress? Probably not all the law, but maybe a bit of constitutional law? Is asking our legislators to know a bit about the constitution asking a wee bit too much?
Oh, probably. But I’m in an asking mood.
There are indications in the complaint that Nunes is entirely unfamiliar with various laws, but it’s also possible that Nunes’ attorney (now there’s a Twitter parody account waiting to happen) wrote the complaint with little input from Nunes. (In fact, there is apparently good reason to think that Nunes is not funding the lawsuit.) So instead let’s take a gander at public statements on the lawsuit that come from Nunes’ own mouth, shall we?
To Sean Hannity, presumably after a 7-course Irish meal and immediately after asking Sean to hold his beer, Nunes opines:
…[T]here were several fake news accounts, whether its regards to the Russian investigation or to me, and we have to hold all of these people accountable. Because if we don’t, our First Amendment rights are at stake here.
As anyone who reads this blog should know, s2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms & the First Amendment of the US Constitution are restrictions on government regulation of free expression. First we must aside the fact that these accounts didn’t engage in “fake news” but rather in the same kinds of jokes you see on Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show or Samantha Bee where comedians ascribe slightly-to-wildly inaccurate views to or report the non-existent actions of prominent people for comedic effect where the funzies occur specifically because people know this isn’t real. Nunes is trying to paint this as an issue of “fake news” to (try to) make it harder for the lefties – who were pissed about Russian media-hacking in US elections – to oppose his lawsuit. I don’t think it’s going to work. I think people know the difference between Doonesbury and what happened in 2016. But that effort explains the first bit.
But now look more carefully at the second bit: if we don’t, our First Amendment rights are at stake here. Nonsense. Anyone with a modicum of understanding of any aspect of the constitution knows that the constitution does not regulate relationships to which the government it creates is not a party. A constitution can set out that the government will have such power going forward (see clause 5 of the 14th Amendment, for instance), but those regulations are entirely set forth in statute. To the extent that other parties than the government created by a constitution are mentioned in a constitution, it is only to further the end of clarifying what powers belong or do not belong to a newly created government.
So even if we just know that, even if we haven’t studied the specifics of the US constitution at all, we would and we should view with deep suspicion the idea that rights spelled out in the First Amendment are at issue in any way in the relationships between private companies (e.g. TwitCo Inc.) and random, non-governmental end-users (e.g. Devin Nunes’ Cow). But if you live in the USA you probably have read the First Amendment, haven’t you? And if you don’t, there’s still a decent chance that you might. And when you do, what do you find about free expression?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of cows peaceably to assemble
Congress shall make no law! Not Twitter shall make no End-User License Agreement! And then, of course, there’s Nunes’ obvious attack on the rights of cows. Is there no end to Nunes’ constitutional incompetence?
As Yoda would say, “No!”
Dear FSM this can only get better until Nunes dies of embarrassment, voluntarily withdraws the lawsuit, or is banned from all networks and internet sites forever. I think he’s just too stupid to leave this alone, much less comment intelligently on serious issues of free expression that lie beyond the limits of the First Amendment’s protections.