By Miriam Raftery
April 3, 2017 (Washington, D.C.) - The Constitution’s First Amendment protects free speech – but not if that speech incites violence.
On the campaign trail, Donald Trump once said he’d like to punch a protester in the face. And at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky in March last year, he pointed at African-American protesters and repeatedly told the crowd to “Get them out.”
Audience members pushed and punched the protesters, two women and a man, Kashiya Nwanguma, Molly Shah and Henry Brousseau. The protesters filed a lawsuit, contending that Trump issued an order that incited the violence against them. The ugly incident was documented on video.
Trump’s lawyers tried to get the suit dismissed, claiming Trump didn’t really mean what he said, and that he was not responsible for what happened. They asked to have the lawsuit dismissed.
But last week, Judge David Hale ruled that the demonstrators’ injuries were a “direct and proximate results” of Trump’s actions, noting that the Supreme Court has previously held that the Constitution does not protect speech that incites violence—and that even the President can be held accountable for speech that causes physical harm.
In addition to suing Trump, the protesters also sued crowd members who committed the violent acts. One defendant’s attorney tried to prevent information about his client’s association with a white supremacist group from being heard.
But the judge also rejected that argument, finding that the defendant’s racist views could be included as “repulsive” but “relevant” for a jury to weigh when determining whether punitive damages might also be awarded in addition to compensation for the plaintiffs’ injuries.
The civil case will be next heard by a federal magistrate.