The state of New York is waging war on free speech, targeting people and platforms who hold views contrary to its own. The “Hateful Conduct Law” subjects users to punishment for failing to endorse the state’s intentionally ambiguous definition of conduct (“use of a social media network to vilify [or] humiliate” on the basis of a number of “protected” characteristics).
With the stated intent of preventing speech that “spreads and promotes hate,” New York requires social media platforms to create and publicize a mechanism for flagging and reporting “hateful conduct” on their sites. While the law’s stated goal of reducing violence seems well-intentioned, the means chosen – a law that implicitly equates speech with violence – is fraught with unintended consequences.
Earlier this year, a few sites pushed back by filing a federal lawsuit against the Hateful Conduct Law, decrying the law’s violation of the First Amendment. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Volokh v. James, is First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, while the defendant is Letitia James, Attorney General for the state of New York.
Government attempts to suppress or control disfavored speech are not new. The pro-life movement has grown accustomed to this sort of censorship. Volokh cites two cases regarding crisis pregnancy centers, NIFLA v Becerra from 2018 and Evergreen v Schneiderman from 2017, as analogous to his case. By requiring these centers to disseminate state-provided information regarding abortion and contraception, centers were forced to endorse government views antithetical to their pro-life mission. The pro-life movement won these cases, but Volokh v. James demonstrates that government attempts to suppress disfavored speech continue.
The plaintiffs won the first round when a federal court issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law, but Attorney General James appealed to the Second Circuit. Life Legal is fighting this attempted expansion of government control of speech with an amicus brief, on behalf of itself and Young Americans for Freedom. We are supporting Volokh and the other plaintiffs and clarifying that the Hateful Conduct Law’s equation of speech with violence is illogical and unconstitutional.
Life Legal knows what sort of speech the state of New York seeks to eliminate. NIFLA and Evergreen have shown us where New York is heading with this law.