Higher Court Rulings

Song Lyrics and the First Amendment

Cannabis Legal Solutions founding partner Patrick K. Nightingale, along with Magistrate-elect and attorney Mikhail Pappas, appeared before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Tuesday, November 28, 2017.

The case in question involves the lyrics to a rap song.

Jamal Knox, 23, and Rashee Beasley, 26, wrote and performed their song in 2012, and someone — they say it wasn’t them — uploaded it to YouTube in November of that year.

Shortly thereafter, they were charged by Pittsburgh police who construed the song’s lyrics as threats made specifically against Det. Daniel Zeltner and Officer Michael Kosko, both of whom had previously arrested the men.

“The song was artistic in nature. As a gangster rap artist, Knox considered himself a poet, musician, and entertainer,” Mr. Nightingale wrote in his brief, going on to say,   “Rap music served as his vehicle for self-expression, self-realization, economic gain, inspiring pride and respect from their peers, and speaking on public issues including police violence, on behalf of him and others who may lack the courage or ability to speak on such issues. Threatening police was not the intent of Knox’s expression.”

The ACLU has also weighed in on the case.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania wrote that artistic expression is often disturbing, offensive and shocking.

“This is especially true of rap, Knox’s musical genre,” attorneys wrote. “As scholars of the genre have described it, rap is a form of political expression that gives voice to urban poverty, street crime, and limited life options, and a criminal justice system that sweeps up young men of color.”

Read more about the case in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

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Vinni BelfioreSong Lyrics and the First Amendment
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“Play That Funky Music, White Boy” — Censorship, Art, and the Law

Art becomes entangled with the law through censorship, resulting in unintended consequences and a perversion of justice.
This clip from the past is an example of censorship utterly destroying a work of art and even worse, altering the facts to obscure an inconvenient truth.
And still worse, the censorship of the past has spread to the justice system itself.
The back story of this song, as well as the infamous chorus line, are absolutely true. It really happened.
It is significant to note “Play That Funky Music” is the most licensed song in history. That’s how much it resonates with people, and it crosses all barriers– race, religion, politics– all become irrelevant when this song comes on.
This is, to me, proof that as human beings, we all have some core traits that ultimately unite us. Music and art are most often examples– expressions– of our shared humanity.
Music and art also define us as a society. History museums prove this out.
Photographs, statues, paintings, poetry, symphonies and folk songs and crude markings on cave walls– these are most often the representatives of societies throughout history.
Unfortunately, there are many people who can ignore this inconvenient truth, and worse, try to bury it under their own prejudice, ignoring their own humanity in the process.
So we can fairly say those who endorse censorship will ultimately lie and hide the truth in order to impose their morality on others.
The real import of this is the underlying attempt at altering history itself, in order to fit a narrative based on motivated self-interest, regardless of the stated intent.
This struck me as being interesting in the current climate of restricting and controlling, “The Fourth Estate” and freedom of speech itself.
We are currently preparing a Supreme Court case involving a Rap song which was deemed a terrorist threat to police officers, so I’m very aware of how censorship can take on a life of it’s own and work it’s way into the justice system itself.
Censorship is a cancer that spreads throughout the body politic and eventually, the legal system itself.
.Censorship is not justice.
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Patrick Nightingale“Play That Funky Music, White Boy” — Censorship, Art, and the Law
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A Few Words on the Passing of Justice Antonin Scalia

sentencing guidelinesPresident Obama was  kinder in his words of praise for Justice Antonin Scalia than I could ever be. Justice Scalia was the most conservative of Justices, and the longest sitting Justice of the current court, having been appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Despite being one of my least favorite Justices, even Scalia had to admit that Justices must turn aside their personal opinions in favor of the law.

The judge who always likes the results he reaches is a bad judge. –Justice Scalia

Even then, it would hard to think Justice Scalia wasn’t perfectly happy pushing through his own conservative agenda, as he was quite often behind such legislation and wrote dissenting opinions that did not benefit individuals, but did benefit corporations and also religious organizations looking to impose their morality on all.

He was responsible for Citizen’s United, and I expect a number of Corporations to attend his funeral. After all, in his mind, corporations are people, too.
In Lawrence v. Texas he equated same sex relations to bestiality: “In his 2003 Lawrence v. Texas dissent,  Justice Scalia argued that if state sodomy bans are unconstitutional, then a slew of other bans are, too: “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of [a previous decision validating] laws based on moral choices.”
One could just as easily interpret those statements as making a case for individual choices when it comes to ‘morality’, but in true conservative fashion, Justice Scalia chose to interpret the law through his own moral compass, and ignored the reality of individual choices made between consenting adults. In his mind, anyone who didn’t share his morality was basically an animal, not a human being. That philosophy crept through nearly every decision or dissent he made.
More telling perhaps, is his unqualified racism. One can almost hear the echoes of the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis,  in his words, when he wrote that Blacks might be better off at “slower” schools: “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well,” he said. “One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
Republicans wasted no time coming out against an Obama Supreme Court appointment. Within hours of Scalia’s death, Rep. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to block ANY Obama appointee without any hearings at all, and even going so far as to flat-out lie regarding Supreme Court appointments by a President in their final year of office. Despite their histrionics, there have in fact been appointees confirmed in a Presidents final year in office.
Appointments have traditionally taken 2-3 months to confirm a nominee- President Obama has almost ten months left in office. Certainly time is not a factor in the confirmation process, unless it’s an effort to block a nomination. The Supreme Court cannot function properly with a ten month or more gap between now and after the election.
And that is all presupposing the Republicans will win back the White House this election. What happens if they lose? Will they block a nomination for an additional four years?
McConnell and company are not concerned at all with the rule of law, or they would most certainly work with the President to find a nominee. They refuse to acknowledge that the Dogmas of the past no longer apply to present. They truly represent only their own personal beliefs, ignoring even members of their own party who agree, for example, with legislation giving Gays the right to marry.
Beyond the obvious fact that bestiality is repulsive to the vast majority of people regardless of their political persuasion, bestiality is not sex between two consenting adults. The animal has no choice in the matter. It’s no different than laws preventing any form of animal cruelty. Once again, Scalia’s legal opinion reflects his view that people who disagree with him morally are no better than animals being forced to comply with a sick individual. He saw Gays as just that: Sick Individuals imposing their sickness on helpless, misguided people and in turn, making them sick.
How the Republicans think they can get someone who thinks that way nominated under a new President in the current political climate escapes me. They would be far better off working with President Obama on a new appointment, rather than risk the inevitable damage that will occur by preemptively blocking any nominees, regardless of their political leanings or who appointed them.
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Patrick NightingaleA Few Words on the Passing of Justice Antonin Scalia
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