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Freedom Of Speech

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The former head of a widely criticized disinformation board faced a torrent of sexist profanities on social media and menacing emails filled with rape or death threats. Nina Jankowicz, the former head of the Disinformation Governance Board set up by the Department of Homeland Security, is not alone. Women around the globe who have risen to powerful government positions have faced an overwhelming crush of online harassment, stalking and abuse. A recent report from the United Nations found female politicians, regardless of political affiliation, in Finland are subjected to 10 times more abusive Twitter messages. The U.N. says the online abuse prevents democracies from being equally representative.

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The federal government is warning law enforcement agencies around the nation of the increased potential for extremist violence after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion striking down the constitutional right to abortion. A memo from the Department of Homeland Security says violence could come from either side of the abortion issue or from other types of extremists seeking to exploit tensions. Separately, the Justice Department announced Wednesday that the U.S. Marshals Service has the justices of the Supreme Court under 24-hour security.

The U.S. government is asking the appeals court overseeing four western and two midwestern states to recognize that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech gives people the right to film police as they do their work in public. If the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agrees, officers could be sued for interfering with people trying to record them. Six of the 12 U.S. appeals courts have recognized that right, but the 10th Circuit hasn't. The court heard arguments Wednesday in the case of a YouTube journalist and blogger who says he was blocked by a suburban Denver officer from recording a 2019 traffic stop.

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The Department of Homeland Security has paused a new and controversial board’s work on disinformation and has accepted the resignation of its leader. Wednesday's move follows weeks of criticism from Republicans and questions about whether the board would impinge on free speech rights. Nina Jankowicz, picked to lead the board, wrote in her resignation letter that the board’s future was “uncertain.” Jankowicz tells The Associated Press she's “not going to be silenced.” The Disinformation Governance Board was hampered from the start by questions about its purpose and an uneven rollout. The Homeland Security Department says the board “was never about censorship or policing speech.”

A federal judge says North Carolina regulators were wrong to reject a beer label that featured a silhouette of a naked man standing next to a campfire. The owners of Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery argued that the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission violated their First Amendment rights by rejecting the label for its Freezin’ Season Winter Ale. The commission had said the label was in “bad taste,” but later allowed the beer to be sold. Flying Dog proceeded with the lawsuit anyway. A judge ruled in favor of the craft brewery last week, finding that the regulation was vague and overbroad. The judge ordered the state to remove the regulation.

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A federal judge has struck down Tennessee’s first-of-its-kind law requiring businesses to post special signs if they allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger on Tuesday makes permanent her previous decision from July 2021 that blocked enforcement of the law just days after it took effect. Businesses sued, arguing the signs would violate their First Amendment rights by compelling them to communicate language they find offensive. The law threatened a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $500 fine. Officials had conveyed unclear messages about how the measure would be enforced. 

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Several Black high school students suspended for trying to protest Confederate flag displays on campus are suing their school district. Their civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday says the Floyd County school system northwest of Atlanta shows “deliberate indifference to acts of racial animosity.” School officials shut down their protest plans last fall. Now the students allege an extensive pattern of racism and say school officials violated their rights to free speech and equal protection. Superintendent Glenn White says the district disputes the allegations and will present the facts in court. 

Elon Musk’s ties to China through his role as electric car brand Tesla’s biggest shareholder could add complexity to his bid to buy Twitter. Other companies that want access to China’s huge market give in to pressure to follow Beijing’s positions on Taiwan and other issues. Internet barriers block most of China’s public from seeing global social media, including Twitter, though Beijing uses the platform to convey its own messaging. Some experts believe Tesla Inc.’s ambitions in China could give its ruling Communist Party leverage to silence human rights activists and other critics of Beijing if Musk’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter goes ahead. Chinese customers bought half the Teslas sold last year.

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The Arizona Senate has voted to open an ethics investigation into a firebrand Republican member who tweeted inflammatory comments about last weekend’s racist attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. But the Senate rejected a bid by minority Democrats to immediately expel Sen. Wendy Rogers for her tweet implying the federal government was behind the Buffalo shooting that left 10 dead. GOP Majority Leader Rick Gray said due process considerations require an ethics probe. Democrats were furious, noting Rogers was censured in March for tweets and statements that embraced white nationalism and called for violence. Rogers said nothing during discussion but later issued a statement saying her tweet had been “taken completely out of context.”

People who protest in front of private residences in Florida can face jail time and fines under a bill signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis signed the measure Monday. He said it would prevent protests in Florida like those waged by abortion rights protesters in front of U.S. Supreme Court justices' homes in Virginia. The new law will make it a second-degree misdemeanor to protest in a manner that is meant to intentionally harass or disturb someone in their home. Violators face 60 days in jail and fines up to $500. But protesters may only be arrested after ignoring law enforcement’s orders to disperse. The new law will take effect Oct. 1.

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A U.S. senator is apologizing after getting booed and heckled for remarks she made on sexual identity during a university graduation speech. Republican Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis spoke at the University of Wyoming graduation Saturday. In the speech, Lummis said human rights are derived from God but that government seeks to redefine many of them. Lummis went on to say that “even fundamental, scientific truths such as the existence of two sexes, male and female, are subject to challenge these days.” The remark drew boos and heckles and prompted university officials to release statements in support of diversity. Lummis apologized in a statement Monday.

A toxic cesspool. A lifeline. A finger on the world’s pulse. Twitter is all these things and more to its over 229 million users around the world. For Elon Musk, its ultimate troll and perhaps most prolific user whose buyout of the company is on increasingly shaky grounds, Twitter is a “de facto town square” in dire need of a libertarian makeover. Whether and how this will happen, at this stage in the game, is anyone’s guess. But if Twitter’s history is any indication, the process will be messy — inside and outside of the company. 

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A federal judge has blocked part of an Alabama law that makes it a felony to give gender-affirming puberty blockers and hormones to transgender minors. U.S. District Judge Liles Burke issued a preliminary injunction on Friday to stop the state from enforcing the medication ban while a court challenge goes forward. The law took effect on May 8. Parents with transgender children and the U.S. Department of Justice have challenged the legislation as unconstitutional. The judge left in place other parts of the law that banned gender-affirming surgeries and requires school officials to tell parents if a minor discloses that they are transgender. The legislation is the first in the country to levy criminal penalties against doctors who provide the medications.

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The Sandy Hook families’ lawsuits against Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for calling the 2012 Newtown school shooting in Connecticut a hoax appear poised to resume soon. That is based on agreements revealed Friday in a Texas bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy filings of Infowars and two other Jones companies last month delayed the defamation lawsuits filed in Texas and Connecticut. Lawyers say the families will be removed as creditors in the bankruptcy case and Jones' companies will be removed from the defamation lawsuits. That will allow the state cases against Jones  to resume. Jones has already lost the lawsuits. Trials on how much he should pay the families are pending.

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Elon Musk has put his plan to buy Twitter on temporary hold, raising fresh doubts about whether he’ll proceed with the $44 billion acquisition. In a tweet early Friday, the Tesla billionaire said he's skeptical that the number of inauthentic accounts presented by Twitter is as low as the company suggests. The issue of fake accounts on Twitter is not secret. In its quarterly filing with the SEC, even Twitter expressed doubts that its count of bot accounts was correct, conceding that the estimate may be low.

An official says Shanghai will try again to reopen in a few days after it has eliminated COVID-19 transmission among the population at large. An outbreak is waning in the city that is now in the seventh week of a strict lockdown that has been moved, lifted and reinforced at times to the frustration of residents. The lockdown is part of the ruling Communist Party’s “zero-COVID” goal that has exacted a mounting economic toll and that even the World Health Organization says may be unsustainable. Shanghai's Vice Mayor Wu Qing said eliminating the virus in the community would allow for an “orderly opening" and limited movement sometime in mid-May. He didn't specify a date or say how the reopening would occur.

Shares of Tesla and Twitter have tumbled this week. Investors are dealing with the fallout and potential legal issues surrounding Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his $44 billion bid to buy the social media platform. Shares in electric vehicle maker Tesla are down almost 16% so far this week. Twitter shares have fallen 9.5%. Both stocks have taken a bigger hit than the S&P 500, which is down 4.7% for the week. Investors are weighing legal troubles for Musk, as well as the possibility that his acquisition of Twitter could be a distraction from running Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker.

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Fairfax County officials have rebuffed a request from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to establish a security perimeter around the neighborhoods of Supreme Court justices living in the county who have faced protests outside their homes. Youngkin, a Republican, made the request Wednesday in a letter to the county board of supervisors. He said such protests should not be allowed. Judges have seen home protests following the leak of a draft opinion that would overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision. But Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said Youngkin's request is too drastic and would infringe on protesters' First Amendment rights. 

Prospective homebuyers in Oregon can continue to send “love letters” to people selling homes. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez on Wednesday permanently blocked the ban. The Oregon Legislature approved the ban last year, saying such letters could aid sellers in illegally choosing buyers based on factors such as race, color, religion, sex or sexual orientation, which would violate federal fair housing laws. Conservative public interest law firm the Pacific Legal Foundation sued. Hernandez ruled that the ban, which would require a home seller to “reject any communication other than customary documents in a real estate transaction, including photographs, provided by a buyer,” was a violation of buyers’ First Amendment rights. 

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Many people are puzzling what a Elon Musk takeover of Twitter would mean for the company and even whether he’ll go through with the deal.  If the 50-year-old Musk’s gambit has made anything clear it’s that he thrives on contradiction.  Musk boasts that he’s acquiring Twitter to defend freedom of speech. But he has long used the platform to attack those who disagree with him. He’s a brilliant visionary, widely admired for reimagining what a car can be, not to mention his ventures in rocket travel and solar energy. But his apparent joy in trashing the conventions of corporate behavior have alienated some analysts, regulators and employees.

Many people are puzzling what a Elon Musk takeover of Twitter would mean for the company and even whether he’ll go through with the deal.  If the 50-year-old Musk’s gambit has made anything clear it’s that he thrives on contradiction.  Musk boasts that he’s acquiring Twitter to defend freedom of speech. But he has long used the platform to attack those who disagree with him. He’s a brilliant visionary, widely admired for reimagining what a car can be, not to mention his ventures in rocket travel and solar energy. But his apparent joy in trashing the conventions of corporate behavior have alienated some analysts, regulators and employees.

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Groups representing social workers and women have challenged an Ohio city’s ban on abortion. The National Association of Social Workers and Women Have Options-Ohio told the U.S. District Court in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the city of Lebanon's ordinance infringes on their constitutional rights of due process and free speech. Passed last May, the law criminalizes performing or helping with any abortion within city limits. Plaintiffs allege social workers could face prosecution under the law for even discussing abortion as an option with their clients. The Texas-based authors of the law called it sound and predicted victory in court.

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Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced that New York will make $35 million available to help abortion providers boost services and security. The Democrat said the state has to get ready for a potential influx of out-of-state patients if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Hochul's office said she’ll use emergency health funding to provide $25 million in grants and reimbursements to abortion providers. She will also use $10 million for security upgrades at abortion providers and reproductive health centers will come from from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, part of the state’s executive branch.

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A civil rights leader says he won’t stop raising his voice for the poor, uninsured and downtrodden, although his trespassing conviction for a demonstration at North Carolina’s Legislative Building has been allowed to stand. The Rev. William Barber II of Goldsboro spoke on Tuesday outside the building where he was arrested in 2017. The state Supreme Court refused last week to hear Barber’s appeal after the Court of Appeals in December upheld his misdemeanor conviction for second-degree trespassing following a jury trial. He says he wears the conviction “as a badge of honor" and that people have the right to bring grievances to lawmakers. 

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