Supreme Court Agrees with James Madison Center for Free Speech in Ruling on Criminalizing Free Speech

Posted by James Bopp, Jr.Jun 27, 20240 Comments

June 27, 2024
Contact: James Bopp, Jr., General Counsel
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Terre Haute, Indiana – On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States found that a federal statute cannot be used to criminalize “gratuities” received by state and local officials. The James Madison Center for Free Speech had filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Mayor James Snyder, to protect First Amendment free speech and free association from being criminalized by the federal government.

In 2013, while Snyder was mayor of Portage, Indiana, the city purchased trucks from a local truck company. In 2014, that same truck company paid Mayor Snyder $13,000. Mayor Snyder has always maintained the payment he received was for consultant services and not related to the city's truck purchase. The federal government convicted Mayor Snyder for accepting an illegal gratuity without proving Mayor Snyder accepted a bribe in exchange for an official action and sentenced him to 17 months in prison.

The Supreme Court overturned his conviction, finding that the federal government infringed on important principles of federalism with its interpretation of a statute meant to criminalize bribes. The government argued that the statute also criminalized (with up to 10 years in federal prison) the receipt of gratuities—for example, gift cards, lunches, plaques, books, framed photos, or the like—given as a token of appreciation to state or local officials.

The Court held that the regulation of state and local officials as it relates to gratuities is up to the states—not the federal government.

The James Madison Center for Free Speech argued that the government's interpretation of the law was wrong. Under the First Amendment, Americans are guaranteed free speech and association. Keeping the government's wrong-headed interpretation of the law would have allowed the federal government to take over law enforcement responsibilities from the state and local level all without giving adequate notice to people who might violate the law. In American law, laws that don't give enough notice are called “void for vagueness” under the Constitution's guarantee of Due Process.

“The federal government should not be able to convict people for their Constitutionally protected speech and association,” stated James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for James Madison Center for Free Speech. “I am pleased that the Court overturned Mayor Snyder's conviction and limited the federal government's power by interpreting this bribery statute correctly.”

Read amicus brief here.