Massachusetts Supreme Court upholds Constitutional Right to be a dick at town meetings

Originally published at: Massachusetts Supreme Court upholds Constitutional Right to be a dick at town meetings | Boing Boing


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Honestly, this was probably the correct ruling. Much as it sucks, being a dick in the town council hall is pretty much the definition of the first amendment. That’s specifically what it protects.

That said, the government is under no obligation to give people a platform. It has to give equal platform to all, but that amount can be zero.

This has happened in a few of the towns in my region here in Canada. The Trucker Convoy types show up and disrupt everything by ranting about drag story times and such. It was getting bad enough that some of these places are severely limiting public comment periods to half or less of what they were. Hopefully it’s temporary because it would be unfortunate to lose this important interactive element of local government, but there’s no value in letting these idiots shout everyone down. They are blocking normal folks who have real questions or concerns about town business.


Part of the problem is how does one define “civility.”


I think if the Cambridge city council though they could get away with that, they probably would.


Within the bounds of 1a, can the chair insist that folks stay on topic? e.g. turning up to a school board town hall to rant about drag story hour in public libraries would get you cut off by the chair.

Given that the classic example of the filibuster involves reading a book into the record, I don’t know offhand how the US would deal with a “get back to the point” rule.


I’ve run lots of library board meetings and the Hitler comment is not what would have crossed the line. Rather, speaking out of turn would have been.

The public can speak (and I’ll let them say whatever screwed up shit they want to say), but each person gets their turn, and each person gets a time limit (I think ours is five minutes). After that, the only people that get to speak AGAIN are the ones that are directly addressed a question (usually by a board member, though it could be a subsequent private citizen).

But if you start screaming anything to disrupt the running of my meeting (that I get paid in cookies to run!), I’ll give you a warning, then boot your carcass out of my meeting room!


During COVID most places went to virtual hearings. You get cut off after your time is up - and if you’re abusive.


Good question! I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer, nor even American, so that’s a subtlety beyond me. I’d be interested to hear from some experts on that though.


I’m all for rude and insulting behavior towards anyone… as long as it’s based in fact.

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In general yeah, such rules can exist, but they are notoriously difficult to enforce. A long rambling story with a string of digressions, that lands vaguely back on topic is functionally hard to distinguish from a rambling story that wanders away from the poin, never to return. A bigger hurdle on that front is the specific structure of a lot of New England town meetings. Throughout the region the town meeting is considered a core part of governance, so the topic at hand is frequently anything within the governance of the city. It is a far more expansive view of public participation than is even seen in most of the US.

In most of these situations I’ve found that a better approach is tightly monitored time constraints and a defined section for public comment. Give the loons their time, protect their time, but enforce that they only get to interrupt during their time. Give everyone their 3, 5, 10 minutes or whatever, then enforce it. It is content neutral and tends to reduce the crosstalk and cheering that lets the fringe run the most wild.


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