Republican legislators aren’t just targeting voting rights, they’re targeting the First Amendment by trying to chill protest:
In the wake of the 2020 election, there’s been a lot of attention paid to attempts by states to restrict voting. The Brennan Center for Justice has counted more than 350 pieces of legislation that include such restrictions, including a number that have been signed into law. In some cases, as with the new laws in Georgia and Florida, the enactment of those laws has spurred controversy and backlash.
But this is not the only arena in which states — meaning largely Republican legislators in states — are responding to the events of 2020 with new legislation. New analysis from the nonprofit organization PEN America has identified 100 pieces of legislation that in some way aim to amplify or introduce penalties associated with what the group calls “protest-related activity.” A number of those bills have been abandoned, as is the case with the voting legislation tracked by the Brennan Center. But six have been signed into law.
There is necessarily some gray area around both sets of legislation. The bills do not argue for limiting the ability of people to vote or to protest — the latter of which is a constitutionally protected right.
But the intent of the restrictions is generally obvious. Many of the bills targeting protest, for example, both increase penalties for rioting and adjust the threshold for declaring a riot downward, as is the case with legislation signed into law in Florida. Many increase penalties for acts of vandalism or for obstructing traffic. Others introduce new trespassing rules, including, as a bill proposed in South Carolina would do, making it a felony to camp on state property without authorization. Another common component of these bills reduces penalties for drivers who strike protesters if the driver feels as though his or her life is at risk. (You can see them all on the organization’s website.)
In several states, the proposed legislation seeks to leverage not only to impose new criminal penalties but new social penalties as well. In Minnesota, a proposed bill would make those convicted of an offense committed at a protest ineligible for student loans or unemployment benefits. In Michigan, a similar effort would rescind such benefits from those charged with such violations.
I am beginning to think that Republican complaints about CANCEL CULTURE are not being made entirely in good faith.