N.C. House Bill 330: Immunizing Drivers Who Accidentally Hit Protestors

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of McKenzie Wark

By Kaleigh Darty; Staff Member (Vol. 16)

Imagine that an unarmed young man in your hometown was shot and killed by police in the course of an arrest. Word spreads throughout the town, and soon after the incident, a video surfaces online. In a matter of hours, the young man’s name has gone viral, attached to the popular hash tag “#BlackLivesMatter.” Before you know it, people from all over the country are tweeting and posting about this man’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. In a matter of days, people near and far begin migrating to your hometown preparing for a protest.

Fast-forward: a rally is held. The young man’s family speaks out, a preacher offers words of encouragement, and then an activist speaks about the long battle between minorities and police in this country. The crowd’s mood is a mix between pain, sorrow, and anger, and so the march begins. The streets are filled with hundreds, maybe thousands, and they are all chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”

Now imagine you are a single parent, with three mouths at home to feed. Your minimum wage job is barely enough to keep the lights on anymore. Last week, your kid was sick, and the week before that your car wouldn’t start. Your manager gave you your final warning: one more late arrival and you will be out of a job. So here you are, on your way to work, and somehow you get stuck in the middle of a protest. You ask yourself, “Could this day get any worse?” By the time you arrive, madness surrounds you. Police can’t seem to get things under control, and there’s barely enough room for your car to make it down the street. So, you slow down, remain calm, and stay focused on the road. But then, out of nowhere, a protestor steps in front of your car. You collide.

While this picture is applicable to many all over the United States, it also hits close to home for those in North Carolina. Last year, this scenario took place in Charlotte, NC, following the death of Keith Lamont Scott. What began as a protest quickly turned into a riot. At first, just the streets were filled with people, but before long, the interstates became inaccessible.  Buildings were vandalized, stores were looted, and the protest ended with another protestor being shot.

It seems as though, in the past year, we have seen hashtags for almost every social and political issue fathomable: #BlackLivesMatter, #WomensRightsAreHumanRights, #DakotaAccessPipeline. These hashtags are accompanied by pictures and videos that tell the stories of protestors all across the nation. As social and political issues rise in prominence, social media allows protestors nationwide to rally together swiftly and effectively to voice their grievances. However, many protests have been highly publicized as violent riots.  As a result, lawmakers have proposed a series of bills that will increase penalties for specific “protest-related activity.” Many of these bills suggest that motorists should not be held liable in civil suits if their vehicle hits protestors that are blocking traffic.

In March 2017, North Carolina Republican state representatives introduced House Bill 330, also known as the “Driver Immunity Bill.”  House Bill 330 proposed that a person driving an automobile with due care be immune from civil liability for any injury to a protestor who is participating in a demonstration that is blocking traffic on a public road at the time of the accident. State Representative Justin Burr, who introduced the bill, said the purpose of the bill was to ensure that “drivers don’t have to fear driving in Charlotte or anywhere in North Carolina.” The bill received renewed attention after Heather Heyer, a protestor at the Charlottesville protest this past August, died when a car ran into protestors. Burr has stated that the bill does not “allow for the driver of a vehicle to target protestors intentionally,” but it does “protect individuals from rightfully trying to drive down the road.” For those fearful of protesting under such a bill, lawmakers have stated that, if you simply avoid protesting on the roads, then this bill will not affect you.

While some argue that this law is necessary to maintain public safety, other lawmakers and constitutional scholars fear that these bills would be used as an intimidation tactic to discourage peaceful protests. Those in opposition to House Bill 330, and other bills similar to it, assert that “inconvenience is at the heart of protest.” Therefore, activists believe that when a person is inconvenienced by a protest, the chances of that person paying attention to the issue are much higher. Some worry that House Bill 330 will discourage peaceful protestors and infringe  on many people’s First Amendment right to peacefully protest.

However, legal experts believe that the bill would have little impact due to North Carolina’s “contributory negligence” doctrine. The legal doctrine states that if a plaintiff is even 1% responsible for their injuries, they are unable to collect damages, making it very difficult for a plaintiff to win. Regardless of one’s stance on the issue, it is unlikely that House Bill 330 will be passed any time soon, as Governor Roy Cooper has vowed to veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

While it is understandable that representatives want to protect their constituents, it’s likely that this bill is unnecessary, as there are already protective measures in place to protect cautious drivers. In practice, it seems at least probable that this bill could be used to potentially intimidate and discourage protestors from exercising their First Amendment right to protest on public streets–a result with far-reaching implications.

 

 

Sticks and Stones May Break my Bones, and Words [Can Sometimes] Hurt Me: Commonwealth v. Carter and Words that Kill

Plott_Blog ImageBy Jasmine Plott; Staff Member (Vol. 16)

“I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it! You can’t keep living this way. You just need to do it like you did last time and not think about it and just do it babe. You can’t keep doing this every day.”

These were some of the last words that Michelle Carter texted to her then-boyfriend Conrad Roy III, in July 2014 as he contemplated suicide.

In the summer of 2012, while on a vacation in Florida, Carter and Roy met for the first time and entered into a relationship.  The relationship continued as the two discovered that they lived less than an hour away from each other in Massachusetts — Carter in Plainville and Roy in Matapoisett.  Despite the proximity, the two did not meet up in person, but instead regularly texted and Facebook messaged with each other to communicate.

Both teens were fighting private battles.  Roy had been struggling with severe depression, stemming from his parents’ divorce.  Carter was also fighting a battle with depression and feelings of loss after a close friend had suddenly cut Carter out of her life.  The two bonded over their struggles, and as their communications progressed, they gradually began to talk more about Roy’s depression in June 2014 and began to talk seriously about Roy’s plans to kill himself.

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First Amendment Newsflash 11/13-12/3

Welcome to First Amendment Newsflash, the First Amendment Law Review’s bi-weekly roundup of the latest in free expression and religious freedom news and commentary. Check here every other Sunday for a new edition! Need First Amendment news in the meantime? Follow FALR on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates.

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Federal Court News

The Supreme Court will decide whether it violates the First Amendment for California to require “crisis pregnancy centers,” which counsel patients against abortion, and instead tell patients that the state offers contraception and abortion services.

The Supreme Court will hear a case that tests whether cops need a warrant to track individuals through cell tower location technology.

The Supreme Court agreed to revisit the issue of whether five million government workers can refuse to pay union fees arguing that mandatory fees violate the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case to determine whether a Colorado cake shop owner has a First Amendment right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple.

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Blaine Amendments–Friends or Foes of the Constitution? The Impact of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer

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By Kayla Rowsey; Staff Member (Vol. 16)

Ah, yes—playgrounds. Definitely the forum we all had in mind for presenting such a divisive Establishment Clause issue to the Supreme Court. Let’s figure out how we got here.

Missouri has a clause in its state constitution, commonly known as a Blaine Amendment, which forbids the allocation of public funds to any church, religious organization/figure, or religious school/university. Additionally, it prohibits the donation of real estate and personal property by the state. It does not consider whether or not the funding would be used for a secular purpose.

In 1875, Representative James G. Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution with the goal of taking the Establishment Clause a step further. Specifically, the amendment sought to prohibit state funds from going to religious schools. Many believe the Anti-Catholicism movement and other nativist sentiments motivated this, as the Catholic Church taught many immigrant children.

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North Carolina’s First Amendment: Provisional Protections for Liberty in a State Constitution

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM

By Adam Griffin; Staff Member (Vol. 16)

North Carolina’s First Amendment

Before the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and before the Supreme Court doctrine of incorporation was created to impose the protections of the First Amendment against the State Governments, most State Constitutions had sister provisions that protected core First Amendment liberties. The existence of these provisions was a principal reason that the Federalist Framers of the Constitution argued against the need for a Federal Bill of Rights. So long as the States recognized these fundamental freedoms in their constitutions, and the people remained conscious of the natural existence of these rights, they would be protected by the structural limits on government and the censorial check on excesses of power imposed by an active, informed, and alert citizenry.

The North Carolina Constitution and Declaration of Rights provided such First Amendment protections for its citizens in separate clauses of its fundamental charter. The freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly and petition, the freedom of conscience, and the free exercise of religion, and prohibition on an establishment of religion were all rights protected in North Carolina’s original 1776 Constitution. Surprisingly to modern eyes, the original North Carolina State Constitution did not include an express provision protecting the freedom of speech.

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Protecting Protestors’ First Amendment Rights, or Silently Supporting a Government’s View? Charlottesville Under the Government Speech Doctrine

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stephen Melkisethian

By Sarah Rozek; Staff Member (Vol. 16)

Charlottesville, a city in West Central Virginia, has a population of more than 200,000. It was not, however, the city’s size, its great selection of wineries, or its world-class university which made it into the headlines this year. Rather, it was the “Unite the Right” torchlight rally, which started on a Saturday night in August, and that “would prove to be the catalyst for a horrific 24 hours in this usually quiet college town that would come to be seen by the nation and world as a day of racial rage, hate, violence and death.

The rally was organized by white supremacists to protest the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. The rally proved to be deadly with violent confrontations erupting between the “Unite the Right” protesters and counter-protesters. One person was left dead after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, and at least 34 people were wounded in the clashes. However, it was not just the protests or their deadly aftermath that captured the nation that day. News of police inaction and allegations of police’s failure to protect protesters, coupled with President Trump’s condemnation of violence on “many sides” were what left pressing questions and doubts in many people’s minds.

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First Amendment Newsflash 10/30-11/12

Welcome to First Amendment Newsflash, the First Amendment Law Review’s bi-weekly roundup of the latest in free expression and religious freedom news and commentary. Check here every other Sunday for a new edition! Need First Amendment news in the meantime? Follow FALR on Twitter and Facebook for regular updates.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pete Sheffield

Federal Court News

Progressive group One Wisconsin Now has sued Republican lawmakers for blocking the group on Twitter, which the group alleges violates the First Amendment.

Citing the First Amendment, the Ninth Circuit lifted a gag order that had prevented the Salt Lake Comic Con from discussing its ongoing trademark lawsuit.

In the case of the 40-foot cross in Maryland deemed a First Amendment violation by the Fourth Circuit, supporters have asked the Fourth Circuit to rehear the case en banc.

A federal judge issued an injunction, saying the Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, seal featuring a cross violates the establishment clause.

Valencia College in Florida settled a First Amendment lawsuit brought by three former students. The suit alleged that the college retaliated against students when they complained about being subjected to required trans-vaginal ultrasounds.

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