information about gag orders

by deedee and eddie Thursday, Apr. 26, 2001 at 2:43 PM

Here are some tidbits about gag orders.

>From the Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism


In an effort to suppress the still feeble antislavery forces, Southern Congressmen proposed what was, in effect, an intellectual blockade. They urged federal authorities to allow states to censor literature that they deemed "incendiary," including not only abolitionist broadsides but also a wide range of general magazines, Northern newspapers and religious journals that only occasionally mentioned slavery. Postmasters were encouraged to monitor citizens' mail and remove anything that they deemed related to

abolitionism. All petitions to Congress on the subject of slavery were to be automatically tabled, without being printed or referred to in any way.

(Bordewich, Fergus M., Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress; book review of book by William Lee Miller, Smithsonian December, 1996)

"When Adams idly presented his colleagues with another anti-slavery petition, a Georgian congressman rose to move that the list of signatures not be accepted. Some months later the notorious "gag rule" was put into effect, forbidding the further admission of such petitions to Congress. It would prove one of the more maladroit instances of Southern intransigence."Where Adams had hitherto been a mild thorn in the side of the slave forces, he now became "old Man Eloquent," challenging the gag rule and slavery with a fanatical devotion that knew no pause. Moreover, the

spectacle of a former president standing alone, unswayable and unyielding was not without its political psychodrama. Men who had no fixed opinion on slavery could not help but be moved by the struggle of wills between one old man and the whole Southern delegation. (Tom Dowling, Washington Star,

Great Drama in Saving the Nation, October 6, 1976)

More shocking still, a gag rule imposed by Southerners and their Northern Democrat allies forbade members to discuss the subject of slavery upon the floor of Congress, under threat of censure. Not only was the enslaved black person denied every freedom but now the white person was even to be denied

the freedom to talk about it. The hero of Miller's story is John Quincy Adams, the only former President in American history to later be elected to Congress, where he served with distinction for 17 years. Steeped from childhood in the hardheaded New England idealism of the Revolutionary era,

Adams not only deplored slavery in principle, as many of his contemporaries did, but went far beyond most of them in condemning racial prejudice, which, as he put it, "taints the very sources of moral principle" by establishing "false estimates of virtue and vice." (Bordewich, Fergus M.,

Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress; book review of book by William Lee Miller, Smithsonian, December, 1996) Beginning in 1836, and for nearly a decade, Adams relentlessly fought the gag rule, struggling to make white citizens see that the South's

determination to protect slavery at all costs represented an assault upon their own treasured rights. It was a lonely and humiliating battle, almost without allies. Although a vigorous septuagenarian, Adams was openly scorned as a dotard by his enemies. He was at least twice threatened with

assassination. At one point, the ex-President was nearly censured for daring to attempt to submit what his colleagues believed was a petition from a group of Maryland slaves. "Had anyone, before today, ever dreamed that the appellation of the people' embraced slaves?" demanded Aaron Vanderpoel, an influential New York Democrat and frequent apologist for

slavery. (Bordewich, Fergus M., Arguing About Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress; book review of book by William Lee Miller, Smithsonian December, 1996)

"All petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions or papers relating in any way or to any extent whatsoever to the subject of slavery shall, without either being printed or referred, be laid on the table and that no

further action whatever shall be had thereon."

The right wing likes to write about it as well see


A bit more of gag order history:

From a 1999 case of the Transit Workers Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote this in their brief:

( )

In Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), the United States Supreme Court held that "constitutional guarantees of free speech ... do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of ... law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to inciteor produce such action." (emphasis supplied). The Court cautioned that a statute which fails to draw a distinction between the mere advocacy and an actual incitement to imminent lawless activity "impermissibly intrudes upon the freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It sweeps within its condemnation speech which our Constitution has immunized from governmental control." Brandenburg, 395 U.S. at 448.

Measured against the Brandenburg standard, the injunction requested by plaintiffs sweeps much too broadly. Even if a strike by certain public employees is illegal, a meeting to decide whetheror not to conduct an illegal strike and a debate over the issue and even a vote on the issue cannot be equated with "advocacy of imminent lawless action" for it is entirely possible that even if avote were to be held the rank-and-file would decide not to strike.Similarly, even if some union members were to advocate a strike,there is no basis to believe that the majority of members would agree and would decide to strike. In sum, a meeting to decide whether or not to strike and even to vote on the issue remains protected by the First Amendment. Such expressive activity does not necessarily constitute advocacy of imminent lawless action coupled with a likelihood that such lawlessness will occur.


And from a report on a gag order in Pittsburg:


By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gag orders are used to decrease publicity in high-profile cases so criminal defendants receive a fair trial and to ensure that prospective jurors are not unnecessarily prejudiced in civil cases.

Law professors and First Amendment lawyers also agree that gag orders usually are not filed at the start of a case, and not before third parties, such as the media, are allowed to voice their objections.

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