United States v. Hansen
Since before the Founding, advocating for civil disobedience has been a regular feature of American politics. From the Boston Tea Party to the abolition of slavery to the women’s suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, encouraging others to violate laws has been instrumental in exposing societal injustice and hastening reform. As he encouraged others to violate Jim Crow laws that required segregation, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously argued in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that there is a “moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Dr. King’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.
To protect this powerful form of American advocacy in the future, on February 24, 2023, FIRE signed onto an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States in United States v. Hansen. Co-authored by the Rutherford Institute and the University of Texas School of Law Supreme Court Clinic, the brief supports Hansen’s challenge to an overbroad law that puts the right to advocate for civil disobedience squarely in the government’s crosshairs.
The challenged federal law makes it a felony to “encourage or induce” another person to enter or reside in the United States unlawfully. But restricting this speech allows government to put its thumb on the scale for a particular political idea and endangers advocacy that has played a vital role in the evolution of American democracy.
Our nation has a long history of social movements encouraging civil disobedience. Today,
advocates for the environment, economic inequality, taxation, COVID, gun rights, abortion, animal rights, and many more issues do the same. Grounded in longstanding First Amendment precedent and our nation’s history, the amicus brief urges the Supreme Court to affirm that overbroad speech restrictions criminalizing the encouragement of civil disobedience violate the First Amendment.