ACLU Challenges Anti-Mumia Law

Says it impermissibly restricts free speech.

The ACLU has filed suit on behalf of a group of Pennsylvania journalists and academics, challenging the new law passed in the wake of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech to a Vermont college last year.

The law lets crime victims collect damages from prison inmates whose conduct “causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish” in their original crime victim. “The ACLU challenged it in federal court Thursday, saying it stifles advocacy and debate on prison issues,” AP reports.

City Paper reporter Dan Denvir is among the plaintiffs, and he explained his stance in a posting Thursday.

This new law, however, harms far more than individual prisoners’ free speech rights — it attacks mine as a journalist. It could make prisoners think twice before contacting me, or bar them from doing so. As a reporter, I need prisoners as sources to investigate correctional-officer abuse, the wrongful conviction of innocent people and unjust sentencing laws. Even more Orwellian, it could allow someone to petition a judge to stop me or my newspaper from publishing work that is based on interviews with criminal offenders.

This might seem highly unlikely, but the House Judiciary Committee’s lawyer made it clear that “the court would have broad power to stop a third party who is the vessel of that [offender] conduct or speech from delivering it or publishing that information.”

He added: “I feel pretty good about our odds since the law is patently unconstitutional.”

This is the second lawsuit brought against the law. Another, brought by Mumia Abu-Jamal and several other Pennsylvania inmates, was filed last year and remains in process. Abu-Jamal, of course, is the controversial inmate convicted of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia cop, Daniel Faulkner.

The lawsuit below, as posted by The Declaration: