Virginia is among the top 10 states in book banning conflicts, according to a PEN America study. There, the ongoing battle has led most recently to a state judge throwing out a decades-old state obscenity law that had the effect of imposing a prior restraint on book distributors. And it stirred widespread opposition including one of the largest booksellers in the nation, Barnes & Noble.
On February 1st, a Virginia state senator filed a federal lawsuit against the Senate of Virginia, the lieutenant governor, and the president of the Senate after lawmakers voted to censure her for speaking at then-President Donald Trump’s rally prior to the attack on the Capitol on January 6th.
"[T]he Court has significant concerns about forum shopping," U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Judge Robert E. Paynes wrote. "As the Court has explained to Plaintiff's counsel on numerous occasions, the Court cannot stand as a willing repository for cases which have no real nexus to this district.”
“While Defendants did, of course, have a constitutional obligation to refrain from restricting Plaintiff’s speech on account of the threat, or possibility, of public hostility to their Alt-Right message, the law is clear that Defendants had no constitutional obligation to prevent that public hostility,” Judge Norman K. Moon wrote.
The Virginia code dates back to George Washington’s 1776 “Order Against Profanity” which was used to keep soldiers from engaging in “the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing.”
In September 2019, Justin Fairfax sued CBS over its interviews and subsequent coverage of two sexual assault claims against him. This week, a U.S. District Judge dismissed his claims, citing no evidence that CBS' coverage would have led a reasonable viewer to assume they were true or that the organization endorsed the women's allegations.
Current loopholes in the state's law have lured a number of individuals into using Virginia courts to intimidate their critics. For example, of the six defamation complaints Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) filed in the past year, four were filed in Virginia.
In a new amicus brief, Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union argue that Nunes cannot legally pursue the identity of the anonymous speaker without first proving he has a valid defamation claim. Without meeting this legal standard, they write, the court could threaten people's First Amendment right to anonymous speech.