Online messages urging the assassination of presidential candidate Barack Obama, coupled with racial slurs, is protected free speech, according to Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Reinhardt, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, reversed a lower court that such online speech does not constitute a felony threat to kill or harm a major presidential candidate.
From October 2008 to just before the 2009 election, Walter Bagdasarian posted statements on a Yahoo message board that Obama would “have a 50 cal in the head soon” and filled with racial epithets. He later posted statements on the same message board that he was drunk at the time he posted the comments.
Secret Service agents subsequently searched his home and found six firearms, including a .50 caliber rifle and .50 caliber ammunition.
He was charged in federal court in San Diego with two counts of threatening a candidate for president.
But the 9th Circuit said Bagdasarian’s comments did not constitute criminal threats.
Judge Kim Wardlaw dissented.
Case: U.S. v. Bagdasarian, No. 09-50529