The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, based at the University of Virginia, has been issuing "Jefferson Muzzles Awards" for 24 years to those who have wantonly trampled First Amendment rights.
Claud Neilson, a retired circuit judge the Alabama Supreme Court specially appointed to hear a lawsuit brought against me by Republican political figures Rob Riley and Liberty Duke, was among eight individuals or entities to receive "Muzzles Awards" for 2014-15.
Josh Wheeler, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center, says the "Muzzles" are designed to spotlight First Amendment violations that might not have made front pages around the world. From a center press release:
Josh Wheeler, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center, says people might be as surprised by what is not on the list this year as they are by what is. “At several points during the past year, the news was understandably dominated by coverage of the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, the café shooting in Copenhagen, and the threats against theaters screening the movie The Interview. While the Thomas Jefferson Center stands united with those condemning violence as a response to speech, our mission has always been focused on meeting challenges to the rights and principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. This year, as always, the Jefferson Muzzles reflect that focus.
Wheeler also believes it is important for the Jefferson Muzzles to include lesser-known acts of censorship. “It challenges the assumption held by many that, because of the First Amendment, attempts at censorship are few and far between in this country. In fact, such acts occur every day. Our hope is that the Jefferson Muzzles help to dispel the complacency with which many view free speech issues.”
The mayor of Peoria, Illinois; a district attorney in Bedford County, Pennsylvania; the administration of a New Jersey community college; and the administration of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are among those joining Neilson as "winners" of the dubious awards. The Associated Press picked up on the Muzzles Award story last night, and it ran at al.com, seeing as how one of the chief "winners" is from Alabama.
Here is the citation for Neilson's "award":
Alabama Circuit Court Judge Claud D. Neilson for ignoring a basic tenant of defamation law that “equity will not enjoin a libel” and holding blogger Roger Shuler in contempt of court until he removed allegedly defamatory statements from his website. Shuler spent five months in jail before finally agreeing to remove the statements because he felt he could not endure jail any longer.
(Note: It's not quite accurate to say I felt I could not endure jail any longer. Obviously, I wanted to get out ASAP, but the main reason had to do with my physical well-being. I had witnessed an inmate suicide and numerous fights or near fights and feared for my safety.)
The Jefferson Center then provides more details about Neilson's unlawful actions in my case:
Alabama resident Roger Shuler is a former newspaper reporter who since 2007 has maintained the blog Legal Schnauzer. The blog aims to “scale all obstacles in pursuit of truth and justice” and since its founding Shuler has used it to allege a wide variety of illegal or unethical activities by Alabama’s public officials and political figures.
|Judge Claud Neilson|
While in many circumstances it is not unusual to find someone in contempt of court for refusing to obey a court order, it is virtually unheard of in the context of allegedly defamatory speech. Were it otherwise, individuals could effectively silence critics by merely alleging their speech to be defamatory without actually having to prove it. To avoid this, the established remedy for reputation harming falsehoods is post-publication relief, not pre-publication censorship. Yet Judge Neilson issued an injunction without any finding that Shuler’s posts about Riley were defamatory. By issuing a prior restraint on Shuler’s speech, Judge Neilson employed a legal mechanism that the U.S. Supreme Court has described as “the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” Moreover, Judge Neilson’s unconstitutional injunction deprived a U.S. citizen of his liberty for 5 months. In hopes that it will inspire him to learn what any law student in a basic First Amendment course already knows, Alabama Judge Claud Neilson is awarded a 2015 Jefferson Muzzle.
*When a law enforcement officer went to Shuler’s house to arrest him for contempt of court, an altercation occurred resulting in a resisting arrest charge against Shuler. That matter involves legal issues that are not relevant for the purposes of this Muzzle.
The full Muzzles press release can be viewed below. Of the eight cases, mine is the only one that involves incarceration of a citizen. A strong argument could be made that Neilson's actions were far and away the most serious and outrageous infringement of First Amendment rights on the list: