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Supreme Court Reminds Us That the Best Answer to Unwanted Speech Is More Speech

SCOTUS says that a reprimand doesn’t materially affect freedom of speech. There’s an old adage—spawned by former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in 1927—that the best way to counter speech one doesn’t agree with is not with censorship but with more speech. The Court seems to still believe that this principle is valid (fortunately). Justices unanimously upheld David Wilson’s conviction as Houston Community College System Board member. Wilson had claimed that his college board members verbally censured him, violating his First Amendment rights.

NPR notes that Wilson was elected for a six year term in 2013. However, he found himself in conflict with his fellow board members. He even employed a private investigator in order to verify that a board member actually lived in the area she represented.

All of this prompted the board to issue a public repudiation against Wilson’s actions and speech, which they called “The Other Board Members”.Not consistent in the best interest of the Collegeate, but reprehensible.” Wilson argued that it was not constitutional.

Wilson sued for the first time in 2018. The case was dismissed by a district court. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 5th Circuit ruled in Wilson’s favor and allowed the suit to proceed. An verbal “reprimand” against an An elected official is someone who speaks on a topic of public concern. “Actionable First Amendment claim”, the appellate court stated. 

The Supreme Court has ruled in the opposite.