Commentary

First-Amendment Blunder From Pennsylvania AG

Earlier this week, news broke that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett was attempting to subpoena the Twitter user CasablancaPA, who also authors a blog with the same name.

Because the blog -- which says its mission is "Exposing the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett" -- bashes the attorney general, it initially appeared that a powerful state figure was attempting to squelch public criticism.

By this afternoon, however, more information has come out about the subpoena -- and the details look even worse for Corbett than before.

The Patriot Newsreported today that Corbett's office has alleged in court papers that the author of the blog is Brett Cott, a former Democratic legislative aide recently found guilty of using government resources in election campaigns.

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In fact -- despite the subpoenas to Twitter -- Corbett's office was confident enough that Cott is the author to write: "The defendant has extensively, and anonymously, utilized a blog entitled 'CasablancaPA' ... to defect blame and deny responsibility for his criminal conduct, and to attack and malign the investigative and prosecutorial process which resulted in his conviction."

The Associated Press also confirmed that the subpoena was related to Cott's upcoming sentencing.

If Corbett already knows that Cott is the author, there's no reason for the subpoena. If the office doesn't know that Cott wrote the blog, the allegation shouldn't have been made in the presentencing report. What's more, if Cott didn't write the blog, masking the author could violate the free speech rights -- in this case the right to criticize the government anonymously -- of some random citizen with no connection to the criminal case.

Regardless, authoring a blog that criticizes a public official isn't a reason to increase someone's sentence. In fact, adding to someone's jail time because he blasted an official online is exactly the kind of thing that raises serious First Amendment concerns. The state's top law enforcement official should know that.

This afternoon Public Citizen (which is representing MediaPost in an unrelated matter) and the ACLU said they would fight the subpoena on behalf of the blogger.

1 comment about "First-Amendment Blunder From Pennsylvania AG".
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  1. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, May 20, 2010 at 6:17 p.m.

    Good piece, and thanks for the link to the other, MediaPost related Public Citizen suit, of which I was not aware. Very interesting!

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