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The Nuremberg Files was an ultra-conservative website sponsored by the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA). Without a flicker of embarassment, it attempted to equate the actions of doctors who perform abortions with those of the Nazi war criminals prosecuted at Nuremberg.
Determined that one day these vile, baby-slaughtering "abortionists" should be brought to justice for their "crimes against humanity" (despite ex post facto trials being prohibited by the United States Constitution), the ACLA assembled online dossiers that included doctors' photographs alongside their home and work addresses, all tastefully packaged in the style of "Wanted" posters.
Similar agitation had been previously linked with the murders of women's health physicians by far-right Christian extremists.
Was this an unconstitutional threat?
The courts certainly thought so.
Were the courts right?
- Context matters. Such information had been recently used to facilitate serious crimes, and could be reasonably expected to do so again.
- The website was not a threat in and of itself, as it did not directly condone criminal activity. It was, however, building a database with considerable potential for harm towards those featured therein.
- The website was making a public statement, not a private threat. It was placing a burning cross in the town square, as it were, rather than in someone's front yard. The courts have frequently held the former to be protected speech. The lack of explicit incitement and the public nature of the website prohibit its classification as a true threat.
- The First Amendment, Second Edition, by Geoffrey R. Stone, Pamela S. Karlan et al. Available from Barnes & Noble here.
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