How Can You Teach Free Speech’s Limits if You Don’t Understand Them Yourself?

miniaturized version of portion of front page of website

From the front page of American Justice Associates' website

As a postscript to yesterday’s post about court-ordered free-speech lessons for Occupy L.A. protesters, let’s look at one more heaping spoonful of irony.

Jeffrey P. Hermes at CMLP blog pointed out that American Justice Associates, who has been tapped to run the course, bills itself on its website as “a supportive arm of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office since 1995.” Yet, as Hermes notes, the company is a private firm and not a branch of the government.

That’s pretty funny, because you imagine that one of the first things they will say in this free-speech class is that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression is not absolute. And that’s true. Of course, one of the hallowed examples of speech that’s not entitled to protection is false advertising. There’s federal and California state law that prohibits false statements in advertising. And saying your organization is an “arm” of the city attorney’s office, when it’s really a private contractor, sure seems false to me.

Patent diagram of a crutchBut I’m going to try to be thorough and fair before I accuse anyone of making false and misleading statements.

I’ll begin with the obvious: The word “arm,” when used in conjunction with an organization, is ordinarily understood to mean a branch of the organization.

Now, American Justice Associates could argue that you’ve got to look at the fact that they use the word “arm” in context with the word “supportive.” They claim to be “a supportive arm.” But then we have to ask, what the heck is a “supportive arm” anyway?

If “supportive arm” doesn’t mean a helpful branch of the government, then it’s oxymoronic. Arms don’t support. Okay, well, I guess arms are supportive for someone who is down on their hands and knees. So is that what American Justice Associates is saying about justice in Los Angeles? That it’s crawling on the floor? That’s pretty rough.

So, I have to conclude that “arm,” as American Justice Associates uses it, is false and misleading.

I think what they probably should revise it to is “crutch”: American Justice Associates – The Crutch of the LA City Attorney’s Office. That’s what they seem to mean when they put themselves out there as the solution to a justice system too overburdened to try defendants and put the guilty ones in jail.

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