The assistant attorney general for the state of Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, has been engaged in a vitriolic internet campaign for nearly six months now against Chris Armstrong, the openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Shirvell launched his “Chris Armstrong Watch” blog with a message declaring, “this is a site for concerned University of Michigan alumni, students, and others who oppose the recent election of Chris Armstrong — a RADICAL HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVIST, RACIST, ELITIST, & LIAR — as the new head of student government.”
On CNN’s “AC 360,” Shirvell made no apologies for his blog postings, which include a picture of Armstrong with “Resign” written over his face. The same picture also had a swastika superimposed over a gay pride flag, with an arrow pointing toward Armstrong.
Anderson Cooper delved into the question of whether this type of activity by a government official is protected by the First Amendment. Read the transcript.
– Michgan Attorney General, Mike Cox: “He’s clearly a bully, absolutely. And is he using the Internet to be a bully? Yes. But is that protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? Yes . . . I have a duty to defend the Michigan Constitution. I have a duty to defend the Michigan civil service rules, even at those times when I don’t like it. I mean, part of my job as attorney general is to stand up and defend the First Amendment, even when that protects offensive people and people who are saying things I don’t like.”
– George Washington University Constitutional Attorney, Jonathan Turley: “In fairness to Mr. Cox, there is a legitimate free speech issue here . . . What makes this case, I think, a much closer issue, even for free speech advocates, is that have you an assistant attorney general saying: I’m actually doing a political campaign. But the campaign’s not even an anti-homosexual campaign. It’s — it’s more of a campaign against this individual. And where he crossed the line seems to be when he — when he stands outside the person’s house. That comes very, very close to stalking. There could be civil liability here. And I think that that moves this away from free speech into conduct. And that does — that is a legitimate basis for discipline.”
– CNN Senior Legal Analyst, Jeff Toobin: “If you look at the range of these cases, clearly, the direction the court is moving is towards less and less free speech protection for stuff that is a heck of a lot less offensive than the stuff that Shirvell . . . He is up there representing the entire state of Michigan. And I think many people in the employer position, in Mike Cox’s position, would say, of course he can’t represent the state of Michigan, because people who express those kind of hateful sentiments are not representative of my office or of the state.”