After spending five months locked up for contempt of court, an Alabama blogger was released from the Shelby County jail on March 26, 2014. Roger Shuler writes and publishes a blog on Alabama law and politics called “Legal Schnauzer.” He had been accused of defamation and was ordered to stop writing about a prominent Alabama attorney, Robert R. Riley, the son of a former Alabama Governor. Mr. Riley was rumored to be planning a run for Congress at the time.
SHUT UP, SHULER!
Mr. Shuler asserted he was never personally served with the Court’s “gag order” and had continued writing about the potential future congressman. Mr. Shuler’s posts alleged Mr. Riley was having an extra-martial affair and impregnated a local lobbyist named Liberty Duke (can’t make this up). Mr. Riley filed a Petition with the Court and requested Mr. Shuler and his wife be locked up for violating the Court’s Orders by continuing to post defamatory statements.
Shortly after Mr. Shuler was jailed in late October 2013, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), a non-profit legal assistance organization, sent a letter to the presiding Judge. The RCFP’s letter requested The Honorable Claude D. Neilson to reconsider his decision that censored and confined the blogger. The RCFP argued Mr. Shuler’s jailing for contempt of court was an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Prior Restraint is when the government makes you shut your mouth before you can even open it–more descriptively called “Pre-Publication Censorship.” The RCFP’s letter succinctly laid out the law for one of the most egregious types of censorship and First Amendment violation:
The Supreme Court has never upheld a prior restraint, or a government prohibition on speech. In Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, it found these bans on speech presumptively unconstitutional and called them “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” 427 U.S. 539, 558-59 (1976). See also Near v. State of Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U.S. 697, 713 (1931) (calling prior restraint “the essence of censorship.”) The Supreme Court has speculated that prior restraints may only be allowed to prevent disclosure of information that would provide troop locations in wartime or “set in motion a nuclear holocaust.” Id. at 716.
MORE TO COME
The blogger’s wife had to take down the blog posts to spring Mr. Shuler out of jail. Mr. Shuler writes well, but I’ll tell you, his posts about the alleged illicit affair were not as torrid, dangerous or inflammatory as an actual nuclear holocaust.
Shuler plans to sue.
- More from ThinkProgress here
- And RCFP here
- And from Alabama’s Best Community Newspaper, The Shelby County Reporter, here