Last August, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Jamal Knox, a rap artist, for multiple charges stemming from what the trial court found were terroristic threats based on the contents of his rap song “F**ck the Police.” Knox petitions for Supreme Court review and if granted, the Court could not only clarify the “true threats” standard – a muddledarea of First Amendment jurisprudence – but weigh in on the culturally-sensitive and complicated relationship between rap music and free speech.
It is well-established law that true threats of violence fall outside of First Amendment protection. What constitutes a “true threat,” however, remains far from settled. In Watts v. United States, 304 U.S. 705 (1969), the Supreme Court held the First Amendment does not protect statements a reasonable person would regard as threatening. In Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), the Supreme Court added a discussion of speaker intent to “true threat” jurisprudence, but
Since Black, courts have
Petitioner in Knox v. Pennsylvania argues his case i
The Supreme Court is likely to grant certiorari in this case to clarify the law and ensure uniformity of application. The scope of First Amendment protections should depend on the content of the speech at issue, not the location of the speaker. Furthermore, First Amendment jurisprudence focuses on balancing the risk of chilling speech unnecessarily with the government’s interests in ensuring public safety and order. An objective element – i.e., assessing the harm faced by a reasonable listener – is crucial to the analysis of other unprotected categories of speech including libel, obscenity, and fighting words. Including an objective element helps contextualize sp
The strength of our democracy rests on the free exchange of ideas. That right is recognized under the First Amendment and safeguarded by our courts. The right is not absolute, however. Speech that is intended and likely to produce imminent lawless action, for example, falls outside the purview of the First Amendment and can be restricted to ensure public safety and order. But courts are careful to keep restrictions on speech as limited as possible. Because of the significant implications of this case on artistic expression and potential overcriminalizat
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