The tragic suicide of Megan Meiers — which has already generated a reckless and legally questionable federal prosecution of the vile Lori Drew — is generating other there-oughta-be-a-law reactions as well. Not surprisingly, one such reaction is from Missouri, where the dreadful incident happened. Eugene Volokh points out that the Missouri legislature has passed a won't-somebody-think-of-the-children bill that makes it illegal to be mean:
565.090. 1. A person commits the crime of harassment if [for the purpose of frightening
or disturbing another person,] he or she:
(4) Knowingly communicates with another person who is, or who purports to be,
seventeen years of age or younger and in so doing and without good cause recklessly
frightens, intimidates, or causes emotional distress to such other person; or
(6) Without good cause engages in any other act with the purpose to frighten,
intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, cause such person to be
frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, and such person's response to the act
is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person.
To which I say: in a free society, "good cause" to cause emotional distress to another person is because I bloody well felt like it. We may draw all sorts of moral conclusions about people whose words inflict emotional distress, and may impose social consequences on them like condemnation and shunning. But making it a crime to cause emotional distress? Getting the state involved in policing hurt feelings? That's ridiculous — ridiculous in a way that illustrates how tragic cases like this one unhinge our representatives and make them scramble to do damnfool things just so they seem to be doing something for the children.
This portion of the statute, as drafted, will not pass constitutional muster. It's astonishingly overbroad and vague. I have little doubt that a court would strike it down quickly in any prosecution, and that in fact it would be easy to seek to enjoin the state from enforcing it. But it's an embarrassment when such laws are passed. Legislators are supposed to uphold the Constitution. I think that Dan Solove has this exactly right:
The problem with both the federal prosecution and the Missouri law is the "if it's bad it must be a crime" mentality. There is a lot of conduct that's bad — sometimes really bad — but that's not a crime and that shouldn't be a crime. Trying to stretch the law to criminalize everything we dislike is not a productive solution. Sadly, it scores political points, which is why a federal prosecutor and the Missouri legislature are acting so irresponsibly.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Popehat Goes To The Opera: Un ballo in maschera - August 19th, 2017
- Department of Justice Uses Search Warrant To Get Data On Visitors to Anti-Trump Site - August 14th, 2017
- America At The End of All Hypotheticals - August 14th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: Why John Oliver Is Anti-Diversity Now - August 11th, 2017
- Anatomy of a Scam, Chapter 15: The Wheels, They Grind - August 10th, 2017