You may have noticed that once you finished law school and passed the bar, people started coming to you with the absolute weirdest questions about the law. And all those questions come with that unspoken undercurrent of hopefulness where they are wishing you’d jump to their defense and say “Good Lord! That is the best and most important issue of our time and I will be representing you pro bono forthwith!”
Trust us when we say that after a few years you’ll learn to edge away from those people gracefully after they explain their pet problem. When you’re ten years out of law school you’ll have actually developed a sort of internal radar that will let you know when those people are approaching and give you ample time to hide.
Make no mistake: these are key life skills to develop, because otherwise you’ll be stuck listening to 9/11 conspiracy theorists who are pretty sure you can sue George W. Bush and/or people who are certain that fluoridation is a continuing criminal enterprise.
Thank God that the guy at the heart of this lawsuit didn’t find a lawyer to help him defend his rather…unique…interpretation of how the First Amendment works.
Erik Watkins [pro se] claimed in his lawsuit that a postal employee denied his request to purchase a mailbox after he refused to stop singing what he described as an anti-gay song by reggae artist Buju Banton in February 2014 […] Mr. Watkins filed suit, claiming he is entitled to $50,000 in damages from the postal employee for a willful violation of his First Amendment rights and the resulting “psychological injury” of “fear, anxiety and embarrassment,” according to the appeals court ruling.
Setting aside the fact that everyone on earth except this guy is pretty sure there’s no constitutional right to sing in the post office — thank god — we are actually kind of curious as to what sort of psychological injury this guy hoped to prove at trial. Is he now afraid to sing in public at all? Was he so disheartened by the postal worker’s failure to appreciate his homophobic singing that he now can only sing show tunes and songs by Erasure?
Sadly, we will never know, because the district court tossed it out under a Rule 12 motion and the 11th Circuit denied it on appeal, but not after they made some poor clerk actually write a semi-lengthy, well-cited, and entirely serious bit of forum analysis:
As the district court noted, “public place” and “public forum” are not synonymous; indeed, “[n]othing in the Constitution requires the Government freely to grant access to all who wish to exercise their right to free speech on every type of Government property without regard to the nature of the property or to the disruption that might be caused by the speaker’s activities.” Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Def. & Educ. Fund, 473 U.S. 788, 799–800, 105 S. Ct. 3439, 3447 (1985). The physical location of the post office is not a traditional public forum because the principal purpose of the post office is not the “free exchange of ideas.” See id. at 800, 802, 105 S. Ct. at 3448, 3449; see also U.S. Postal Serv. v. Council of Greenburgh Civic Ass’ns, 453 U.S. 114, 129, 101 S. Ct. 2676, 2685 (1981) (“[T]he First Amendment does not guarantee access to property simply because it is owned or controlled by the government.”); cf. United States v. Belsky, 799 F.2d 1485[.]
Damn right the post office is not the location for a free exchange of ideas, unless “free exchange of ideas” means “people over 85 years old buying stamps, incoherently angry people trying to ship things like dynamite to Guam, and shady people who need a post office box for ‘business.'”
Unlike Mr. Watkins, who is being oppressed right this very minute because he is not allowed to sing offensive, bad, and offensively bad songs by Buju Banton to unsuspecting post office workers, the denizens of the 11th Circuit are free to say whatever they want, which means they closed out this opinion with the most obvious joke ever:
In sum, while singing in the rain may result in a glorious feeling, singing in the post office is not a constitutional right.
This is what happens when judges are appointed for life.