Dear Supervisors of Vernon County, Wisconsin, and their legal, political, and spiritual advisors:
It is my specific intent, in writing this post, to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, and humiliate you, using this electronic means.
Do I have a "legitimate purpose" in doing so? I think I do. I think it's a legitimate purpose to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, and humiliate public officials who pass insipid, trend-humping measures in defiance or ignorance of fundamental constitutional rights. I think that you took an oath to uphold the constitution, and that you have willfully broken that oath. Oathbreakers ought to be disparaged and humiliated.
I recognize that you and I might differ on what a "legitimate purpose" is.
But that's sort of the problem.
See, via the Student Press Law Center, I learned that you have just passed an unusually vapid county ordinance, apparently in an effort to ride the wave of media hype over "cyberbulling." The ordinance you passed says this:
Whoever sends information to another person by electronic means with the intent to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, or humiliate any person and which serves no legitimate purpose shall be required to forfeit not less than $50.00 nor more than $500 together with the cost of prosecution and in default of payment shall be sentenced to the County Jail until such forfeiture and costs are paid, not exceeding 30 days.
That sounds like potentially a lot of money. I'm not sure I can swing it. It's Christmastime, Vernon County Supervisors, and I need extra money for alcohol to drown out the increasing holiday din from my kids.
More importantly, though, I think your ordinance is clearly, obviously, patently, inarguably unconstitutional, because it prohibits a wide variety of speech protected by the First Amendment, all based on the vague, lonely clause "which serves no legitimate purpose." That clause is apparently one that you people in Wisconsin think is some sort of magic "go away First Amendment!" mantra. But it's not. Used as you've used it, it leaves people to guess at what conduct is legal or illegal, thus violating due process as well as freedom of expression. Courts have upheld the "no legitimate purpose" clause only when it is attached to statutes that are far more specific about the conduct prohibited, and where the conduct prohibited is already outside the protection of the First Amendment. For instance, courts have upheld the phrase in stalking statutes prohibiting willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing someone and making a credible threat against them, or stalking statutes prohibiting a course of conduct that the defendant knows would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety, and is intended to do so, and does so.
By contrast, all I have to do to violate your silly little law is to use electronics to annoy you in a way somebody thinks has "no legitimate purpose."
The document linked above suggests that this ordinance was proposed by your "Legal Affairs Committee." Perhaps, in soliciting and evaluating legal advice about whether your ordinances passes constitutional muster, you should check whether your legal advisor graduated from an institution that is, technically, a laundromat.
And so, Vernon County Supervisors, together with your feckless entourage: I hereby annoy you. I hope to offend you. I demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, and disparage you. Do I humiliate you? In my experience people in your profession are without shame, so possibly not, but I'm giving it my best shot. Moreover, surely you doubt my legitimate purpose, because my purpose is to question whether officious officials like you serve any legitimate purpose whatsoever in society, or whether you simply waste taxpayer money and generate high-grade nuisance. Moreover, by measures like this, you continue to advance the transformation of our society into a collection of whiners and misfits who run to an incompetent government over every slight, no matter how ridiculous. (I recognize your skill at self-perpetuation; such as attitude is the only way you could ever find steady work.)
Come get me.
[cc: By email to all Vernon County officialdom I can find. Feel free to forward yourselves.]
Edited to add: it sure would be a lot easier to use electronic means to annoy, offend, demean, ridicule, degrade, belittle, disparage, and humiliate these people if any of them had email. Does anyone have one of those electronic scrolling signs I can borrow?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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