Federal Judge Bars Enforcement of The Silencing Act: “The First Amendment Does Not Evanesce at the Prison Gate”

Former District Attorney and mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham with Governor Corbett at the Revictimization Relief Act signing in October 2014. Photo by Joshua ALbert

Former District Attorney and mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham with Governor Corbett at the Revictimization Relief Act signing in October 2014. Photo by Joshua Albert

By Kenneth Lipp

A Federal judge in the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an order yesterday that would prevent enforcement of the Revictimization Relief Act, signed into law by a Parthian Governor Corbett last year, and dubbed “The Silencing Act” by the plaintiffs who filed suit to nullify it. The law was designed to allow victims to take judicial action against convicted persons whose expressions “perpetuated the continuing effect of the crime.” Chief Judge Conner stated in his ruling that the “guarantee of freedom of speech subsumes the right to expressive conduct that some may find offensive.”

Plaintiffs in the suit include media outlets, journalists, and inmate advocacy organizations. They named both Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams as defendants; the court later dropped Williams from the suit given his promise not to enforce the law pending the court’s review.

A spokesman for the Attorney General said her office is reviewing the decision. Ben Finley reports for the Inquirer that bill sponsor Mike Vereb (R, MontCo) stated he will rewrite the bill if Kane fails to appeal the court’s decision.

“Justice isn’t just about the criminals and their rights,” said Vereb, according the Inquirer. “It’s about the victims and their rights.”

From the court’s opinion, the full text of which is embedded below:

“The court concludes that the challenged statute betrays several constitutional requirements; the enactment is unlawfully purposed, vaguely executed, and patently overbroad in scope. However well-intentioned its legislative efforts, the General Assembly fell woefully short of the mark. The result is a law that is manifestly unconstitutional, both facially and as applied to plaintiffs. Thus, the court is compelled to grant plaintiffs‟ requests for declaratory relief, declare the Revictimization Relief Act, 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 11.1304, to be violative of the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and permanently enjoin its enforcement.”

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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