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Supremes put the chill on war protestor's free speech

There’s no doubt that the Supremes passing on this case creates a chilling effect on the exercise of free speech by widely defining what is a “Threat to the President.” Brett Bursey was the first (and apparently the only) person charged under that statute. (Chi Trib):

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from an anti-war protester who was convicted of violating the boundaries of a “restricted area” established during President Bush’s visit to South Carolina in 2002.

Brett Bursey had urged the justices to hear the appeal of a $500 fine he was assessed for entering an airport hangar in Columbia on Oct. 24, 2002. Bursey’s lawyers argued that he was exercising his free-speech rights when he carried into the restricted area a megaphone and a placard reading, “No more war for oil, don’t invade Iraq.”

OK. It’s quite reasonable to make a case that Bursey was in a restricted area, and that he could somehow have been a threat to the President if he, perhaps, had some sort of weapon (a megaphone doesn’t qualify). A reasonable person might ask why Bursey couldn’t have protested in a non-restricted area designated for such free speech.

Well, the problem is that the only designated area for dissenters was A HALF MILE AWAY. Come on, the feeble Chimperor needs a half-mile-radius bubble of mental and emotional safety for his fragile-ego?

Bursey’s lawyers said the Secret Service allowed people to pass through the area and did not block it off. Guess who had did have access to the restricted area? Only people with tickets to the presidential event. As we know all too well, even the most pedestrian event that Bush goes to in the outside world is now a ticketed affair.

Chris Kromm at Facing South has more.

For these unthinkable sentiments, Bursey was commanded to retreat to an Orwellian-named “free speech zone” or be charged with trespassing. As Bursey relates, “I told the police that I was in a free speech zone called the United States of America.”

The trespassing charges were dismissed four months after the arrest, but the feds wouldn’t have it. The Secret Service quickly moved to press the unprecedented “Threats to President” charges, and, after being refused a jury trial, Bursey was convicted and given a $500 fine.

…It’s no exaggeration to say the Supreme Court’s decision to let the conviction stand sets a dangerous precedent. A Secret Service official in South Carolina, Neal Dolan, admitted as much in Charleston last year when he declared that “If Bursey’s prosecution holds, we have another dozen cases” across the country.

Chris also has information on Bursey’s effort to stage a protest rally — asking 499 citizens to bring a dollar and join him at federal court to protest the decision — to make a visible statement about the protection of free speech.

* Interview with Bursey and background on his case at UpstateBeat.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding