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Trump's threats amount to a First Amendment violation

By       Message Trevor Timm       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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DONALD TRUMP TURNED HIS TWITTER IRE on NBC and the NFL this past week. But beyond just criticizing them, Trump is threatening to punish the network and the league with the government's regulatory might.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that NBC's broadcasting license "must be challenged" and potentially "revoked," based on a series of NBC news stories that embarrassed him. He also suggested the NFL's tax status should be changed if the NFL continues to allow its players to peacefully protest police brutality by kneeling during the National Anthem.

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Many have commented on the First Amendment implications if Trump were to actually go after NBC's license (or really, the licenses of local affiliates since NBC itself doesn't need a license) or the NFL's tax status. But Trump need not act on his threats for his actions to be considered a First Amendment violation. There's a compelling argument Trump is in violation of Constitution right now -- after he crossed the line from criticism of protected speech to openly threatening government action.

There's plenty of case law on this subject from the Supreme Court to appeals courts around the country. Most recently, in a case in the Seventh Circuit called BackPage LLC vs. Thomas Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, just-retired Judge Richard Posner articulated exactly why Trump may already be running afoul of the First Amendment merely through his threats.

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In Backpage, Dart embarked on a one-man campaign to get Visa and Mastercard to cut off credit card donations to Backpage.com because of its adult section. Instead of prosecuting Backpage for any specific violation, he sent letters pressuring the credit card companies to cut off any payments to Backpage.com for any reason, since some of the Backpage ads, as Posner wrote, "might be for illegal sex-related products or services."

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