On Monday, the United States Supreme Court tossed out the conviction of a Pennsylvania man who typed violent rap lyrics to his Facebook page after a split with his wife.
Anthony Elonis was arrested and convicted in lower court proceedings, and a jury sentenced him to over three years in prison. However, the High Court sided with Elonis, who said he was simply applying his First Amendment rights.
NPR reported on the Supreme Court matter and has been following the case closely. Elonis, who posted messages under the rap name “Tone Dougie,” was viewed as a threat by his ex-wife of seven years. The pair split in 2010, and the Facebook messages sparked the ex-wife to file a state-ordered protection against her husband. The legal issues also led to Elonis’ firing from an amusement park. Elonis was charged with sending threats to a kindergarten class and law enforcement officers as well.
In court, the jury had been instructed to consider whether the government had proved that a reasonable person would view the messages as a threat. But Elonis sought a stricter standard that includes his state of mind: whether he had meant to issue a “true threat.” On Monday, the court agreed with Elonis.
The justices returned the case to the lower court for further proceedings.
The Supreme Court Justices largely sided with Elonis, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion. Justice Samuel Alito both concurred in part and dissented in part, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting altogether. Chief Justice Roberts said that Elonis was simply emulating the shock-rap lyrical style of rappers like Eminem.
This will be one of many high-profile cases for the Supreme Court this coming month. A case that will most likely be the last to be heard regarding the Affordable Care Act, King v. Burwell, has the potential to divide partisan lines and put the High Court front and center of an ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives who both view the healthcare law in their own light.
Another case, Obergefell v. Hodges, will put in balance the state of same-sex marriages being a federal right. The Daily Beast speculates that Chief Justice Roberts could write an opinion that says states should recognize same-sex marriages but doesn’t give them authority to issue licenses for the marriages.
This is of particular concern to conservatives, who still hold some resentment towards Chief Justice Roberts for saving the Affordable Care Act, but his record of voting swings to conservative.
Another case with serious implications is the Texas Dep’t of Housing & Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project matter. This case would impact the Fair Housing Act, but also calls into question the “disparate impact” portion of the Act that points to housing policies or practices that have an “adverse impact” on any group regardless of race, age, gender, disability and other such issues.
In some civil rights cases, disparate impact claims have been heard, but some experts feel it sets a false standard as discrimination in housing is a lot harder to determine without verifiable proof.