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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Heckler's Veto?

According to reports, tens of thousands of counter-protesters showed up in marches and rallies in Boston, vastly outnumbering the few hundred people attending the the planned rally in Boston Common, which disbanded after an hour without planned speeches. From what I have read, there were so many more counter-protesters than ralliers that the latter could not be heard. And that was the goal of the counter-protesters.

So: Heckler's veto? And if not, how is it different from some of the campus incidents in which crowds outside the lecture hall have made it impossible for the invited speaker to be heard inside the hall?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 19, 2017 at 05:11 PM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


According to a blog post by a local journalist this was not as a result of the counter protestors but rather the police.

Free speech took a back seat to public safety at Saturday’s demonstrations

Posted by: l19584 | Aug 21, 2017 8:08:25 AM

It seems dubious to me that in a large city that it is not possible for a white supremacist (or however you frame this group) to have a rally for which speakers can be heard, even if there is a very large counter-protest going on. Realistically, it's likely a large enough crowd will make it hard on a small group of protestors. They will hear the chants etc.

But, if a group tries over and over again to give a speech in a public park, and over and over again large crowds surround it so that it is not possible to hear, yes, it just might be a problem at some point.

I think the first comment has a point regarding the differences to some degree regarding a university, which is a special place in respect to protests, speeches and so forth. It is also a limited space. As to moral rights or whatever, I do think the right to peaceably assemble etc. involves some sort of obligation not to be able to simply stop it by having a large enough crowd in response. Will people be gung ho if some conservative locale has crowds drowns out pro-gay events?

Posted by: Joe | Aug 20, 2017 11:52:33 AM

The loose phrase "heckler's veto" is used in different ways by different people. Some things that are encompassed within most uses of that phrase are - at least according to traditional late-20th-century USA constitutional doctrine - objectionable. Such as "We, the police, are arresting you for refusing to stop your speech in this public park, because your speech was riling up people who think what you are saying was horrible." But what you are talking about that is very different from that. Very different when college stakeholders make loud noises of speech protest outside somebody else's speech activity - whether or not, then, the college cops tell them to knock it off. And even further different when the speech and counterspeech is taking place in a public park. There is no First Amendment right, nor any corresponding "moral" quasi-right, to make people shush their counter-speech (or have the police make them shush) so you can be heard.

Posted by: Sam | Aug 19, 2017 9:50:15 PM

I think that, on campus, there is a difference between the rights of the general public and the expectations for students. Our students must adhere to a Code of Conduct that prevents them from interfering with the rights/activities of others. It also prevents them from interfering with the orderly function of the University.

The organized use of public space requires a permit. As part of the permit process, the applicants agree to be bound by all policies and procedures (including the Code of Conduct). That eliminates organized hecklers protests. The only thing remaining would be individuals from outside the University "independently" acting in a disorderly fashion. I won't profess to know how campus police would act in that case (or how they should legally act).

Posted by: HokieEngineer | Aug 19, 2017 7:51:11 PM

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