Capital Video Attorney Michael Pill: Fickle Defender of Free Speech

Capital Video Attorney Michael Pill has tried to portray himself as a First Amendment hero, suggesting that legal restrictions on porn shops are impermissible infringements on freedom of speech. However, not so long ago he was on the other side of the argument, trying to use the law to impede people from practicing their religions, arguably far more worthy endeavors than the one he advocates for today. As we wrote back in October,

[I]n 1998 he represented homeowners who sought to block Amherst’s multiracial Hope Community Church from building a new sanctuary, on the grounds that it would attract too much traffic. (“Plan to build church stymied”, Sunday Republican, April 5, 1998, p. A17.) This litigation cost the church hundreds of thousands of dollars over five years.

Similarly, in 1996, Dr. Pill represented an Amherst couple who wanted to force their next-door neighbor to take down a tepee in her backyard, which she used for meditation, New Age therapy and spiritual drumming. (“Tepee neighbors resume ban effort”, Springfield Union-News, April 9, 1996, p. B1; “Zoning board rules tepee can stay”, Union-News, April 12, 1996, p. B4.)

Dr. Pill well knows the First Amendment is not absolute, and that other interests should be considered to get the optimal result for the community.

3 thoughts on “Capital Video Attorney Michael Pill: Fickle Defender of Free Speech

  1. Although the first amendment is not absolute, it is much more absolute than you would have us believe. There are exceptions (or rather, the supreme court has been willing to make exceptions), but these exceptions are narrow

    There is an exception for libel: libelous speech must be both demonstrably false and made with a demonstrably malicious intent. Malicious lies are unprotected by the first amendment.

    There is a narrow exception for “fighting words”: fighting words must lead immediately to harm in order to be unprotected. Yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is unprotected.

    There is a narrow obscenity exception: obscene speech must appeal to the average person’s prurient interest in sex, have no redeeming value, and be patently offensive according to the standards of the local community.

    There are no exceptions for unpopular speech, (merely) offensive speech, or speech which has a negative impact on the property values of the Victorian mansions owned by the wealthy. There is no exception on purely utilitarian grounds: the fact that the community would be better, or nicer looking, or more comfortable, or safer, or contain more valuable property if some speech was prohibited is not a good enough reason to enact a prohibition.

    Everything C/V is doing is protected. They’re not libeling anyone. Their displays, signage, and wares do not immediately lead to harm. Their signage, displays, and wares are similar to the signage, displays, and wares of other local businesses. That they’ll sell more of the vile porn than Oh My! or the Movie Gallery, or that they will drive the value of your property down, or will make you feel less safe, or will hurt your feelings is irrelevant as far as the first amendment is concerned. There are no exceptions for those kinds of cases. There’s no “balancing act” in cases like these. There may be in other types of case, but not this one.

    Prohibiting speech is illegal according to the first amendment even if the prohibition is accomplished through zoning laws. That’s the right policy and that’s the way the framers wanted it, whether you like it or not. There’s no precedent for it, and permitting prohibitions like that is dangerous and in conflict with our basic national principles.

  2. I don’t know why Michael Pill’s history as a lawyer is relevant. When in the business of representing clients in adversarial proceedings, lawyers are civil mercenaries; over the course of an entire career, it’s not uncommon for them to be found representing different clients with inconsistent points of view.

    The first amendment freedom of speech may not be absolute, but because it is a constitutional right, when we are put into the scale conflicts rights and interests, it ought to be given significantly more weight than non-constitutional rights and interests.

    As I’ve said before, NPN, you are free to reconcile yourself to the truth of your position which is that our right to free speech should not be a constitutional right and interest and advocate repeal of the first amendment, but, please stop insulting our intelligence by claiming that you support a constitutional right to free speech. You do not, and what you advocate is, in effect, its de facto repeal.

  3. I guess it’s within the rules for Michael Pill to prostitute the Jewish people’s tragic history (PDF) in the service of a callous pornographer, who, among other things, promotes products from Hustler, a publisher of Nazi propaganda. Yes, it may be within the rules, but it’s shameful, blameworthy, and may not even represent Dr. Pill’s actual beliefs about the First Amendment, which at this point are unclear. It’s amazing what some people will do for money. Dr. Pill’s opinions should be given little weight.

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