Many people are now aware of Pennsylvania’s infamous Silencing Act, enacted into law in response to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont.
The Silencing Act authorizes PA’s Attorney General, District Attorneys, “victims” of personal injury crimes, and victims’ families to bring civil actions seeking injunctive and other relief whenever an “offender” engages in any “conduct” which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.
What most people aren’t aware of regarding the Silencing Act is that it not only seeks to censor the speech of PA’s prisoners, but that it would also penalize a “third party” for providing prisoners a speaking platform.
The Committee Counsel, of the PA House Judiciary Committee, explained that the Silencing Act vests broad discretion in courts presiding over such cases, positing that it may even permit a court “to stop a third party who is the vessel of [offender] conduct or speech from delivering it or publishing that information.”
On November 10th, 2014, twenty days after the Silencing Act became law, we (the Abu-Jamal plaintiffs) filed a civil complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that the Silencing Act is an unlawful restriction of speech in violation of the First Amendment as it is void for vagueness and over breadth. We sought declaratory judgment and permanent injunctive relief, in addition to preliminary injunctive relief sought by motion filed on January 8th, 2015.
Also on January 8th, 2015, plaintiffs in Prison Legal News, simultaneously, filed a verified complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction with the court. The Prison Legal News complaint challenges the Sentencing Act as an unlawful restraint of speech.
The court consolidated the civil actions of Abu-Jamal and Prison Legal News for purposes of resolving the motions of injunctive relief and defendants’ anticipated Rule 12 filings.
On January 23rd, 2015, the defendants PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philly’s District Attorney Seth Williams moved to dismiss both civil actions, asserting that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under federal rules to review the case.
March 6th, 2015 brought us an opening victory to abolish the Silencing Act when the court ruled that both plaintiff groups have standing to maintain this civil action and that the dispute is ripe for adjudication.
On March 6th, the court ORDERED that the parties are notified that trial on the merits shall be consolidated with the preliminary injunction hearing and that trial on the merits shall commence on March 30th, 2015.
It is of utmost importance that we receive your financial donations at Prison Radio.org for our legal challenge to abolish the Silencing Act because if this law is undefeated in PA it eventually will be enacted in all 50 states of America. We have won the battle; now help us win the war to abolish the Silencing Act.
I am Kerry “Shakaboona” Marshall, a plaintiff in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal v. Attorney General Kane, Co-founder and Editor of The Movement magazine and Prison Radio Correspondent. I can be reached at: SCI-Rockview, #BE7826, Box-A, Bellefonte, PA 16823.
Thank you for listening.