Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull via Flickr
Representative Ilhan Omar

Patrick Carlineo Jr., 55, could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine of $250,000 for pleading guilty to threatening to attack and murder Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the US Attorney’s Office of the Western District of New York announced on Monday.

US Attorney James Kennedy Jr. issued a statement saying that free speech does not protect people who “make threats to harm lawmakers simply because they may disagree with them.”

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The honorable attorney may be wrong. In his 1859 essay, On Liberty, British philosopher John Stuart Mill argues that “…there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.”

In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the US Supreme Court referred to the right to speak openly of violent action and revolution in broad terms: “[Our] decisions have fashioned the principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not allow a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or cause such action.”

In other words, it’s OK to write, “I want to kill Ilhan Omar,” as long as one didn’t attempt to incite others. The opinion in Brandenburg made the right to freedom of (political) speech’s protections in the United States practically absolute. Hate speech is also protected by the First Amendment in the United States, as decided in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, (1992) in which the Supreme Court ruled that hate speech is permissible, except in the case of imminent violence.

Sonya Zoughlin, Carlineo’s attorney, told The Hill that her client did not intend to cause harm to Omar and did not make plans to do so.

“Pat Carlineo is passionate about his political beliefs and his right to express them,” she said. “He has taken responsibility for using threatening and inappropriate language to express those beliefs in this instance.”

She should take it all the way to the Supreme Court, I tell you, all the way!

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