By Oregon State Senator Brian Boquist:
Oregonians can celebrate a win for free speech! On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane upheld the First Amendment rights of Sen. Brian Boquist (I-Dallas) by ruling that his 2019 comment to a reporter, “Send bachelors and come heavily armed… I am not going to be a political prisoner in the State of Oregon,” is protected speech. Full federal opinion ruling in Senator Boquist’s favor linked here. Talking points on the decision linked here.
Quoted from Judge McShane’s opinion, highlighting the strength of Boquist’s case against the status quo of the Democrats in power: “…it is certainly beyond debate that hyperbolic political rhetoric is protected speech and that subsequent retaliatory action taken against a speaker engaging in such speech is prohibited by the First Amendment” (page 23).
The lawsuit was against Sens. Peter Courtney, at the time the Senate President, Floyd Prozanski and James Manning.
The success of this court case benefits all Oregonians who are maligned and put in tough positions for speaking freely, an inherently American right that has eroded in the age of cancel culture.
In an age of cancel culture where old tweets or even ‘incorrect’ book preferences can cost someone their job, court cases like this that show the First Amendment prevailing above social contagion are critical. The court case is pertinent because if a sitting state senator, elected by the people, does not have free speech, there are even greater threats to this constitutional right for all Oregonians.
At the time, the Democrats in power used Senator Boquist’s enthusiastic comments on the Senate Floor that preceded the interview as an opportunity to push their agenda. The judge’s opinion includes information about how the comment was received in the Senate Chamber; “The assembly gave a collective shoulder-shrug and moved on. In fact, according to President Courtney, not a single person stood up, objected, or visibly reacted to Plaintiff’s statements,” (page 3).
Senator Boquist faced retaliation after the comments. Senators. Courtney, Prozanski and Manning implemented a 12-hour rule, requiring Boquist to provide notice before entering the State Capitol. Acting as if he was a threat and needed a babysitter to come to work. For all the crying Democrats do about Republicans needing to “work”, they prevented Senator Boquist from doing so.
The Court held that the rule served “…no legitimate purpose other than to retaliate against [Senator Boquist] after he engaged in protected speech” (page 2).
The judge continued: “The 12-hour rule was a thinly veiled publicity stunt that did nothing to increase public safety in the State Capitol” (page 16).
In our opinion, if there were danger in the legislature, Senator Boquist is the person you’d want on your team.
Senator Boquist experienced prejudice for his status as a veteran. Judge McShane rebuked defendant Senators Courtney, Prozanski and Manning’s inappropriate bias against veterans: “The Court will not entertain Defendants’ prejudiced contention that Plaintiff’s veteran status makes him more likely to carry out a violent attack. It is insulting to veterans” (page 13).
Further, the 12-hour rule impacted Boquist’s right and duty to work with constituents; the people who elected him. In the opinion: “Plaintiff has shown that the 12-hour rule infringed upon his right to freely associate (for purposes of speech) with his constituents at the Capitol at any time of day” (page 18).
This court case sets a precedent for the understanding that elected legislators work for the people and when the government infringes on elected legislators’ actions, functions and speech, it impacts the rights of the Oregonians who voted for them. This is particularly applicable after the most recent legislative session. Most Republican senators denied quorum to prevent the passage of a child mutilation bill and pedophile protection act, but some returned after a deal was reached.
These legislators potentially sacrificed their Senate seats with the walkout after the passage of Ballot Measure 113 that “adds language to the Oregon Constitution preventing any lawmaker from running for reelection if they have 10 or more unexcused absences in a single legislative session,” as reported by OPB.
This ballot measure can be argued as unconstitutional in several ways, and if successfully argued, it would reinstate minority party legislators’ rights to deny quorum in defense of Oregonians. Measure 113 snubs legislators’ First Amendment rights to free speech and the right to protest; undermining the constitutional rights of the Oregonians who elected them.
The same OPB article continues, “Measure 113 places too much power in the hands of the Senate president and House speaker, the two legislative leaders — currently Democrats — who decide whether absences are marked excused or unexcused.”
That Senator Boquist proved successful in this 4-year lawsuit and prevailed over the corrupt government machine in power should give hope to Oregonians. It is miraculous because the Democrat machine that controls the Oregon government did not persevere; the “little guy” did. Sens. Courtney, Prozanski and Manning all had legal Attorney General representation paid for by the state, while Sen. Boquist paid personally out of pocket. Special treatment for Democrats at taxpayer expense. All four of these people are/were elected legislators, but the 3 on the Democrat side had legal representation from the state. Senator Boquist took this court case to the federal judge because the state judicial system is largely corrupt. The same could be done in the fight against Measure 113.
Despite it all, Senator Boquist was looking at the bigger picture; in winning this court case, it means that Democrats in power should never retaliate against another legislative member for protected speech they do not like. As said by S.G. Tallentyre, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”
This win is a small downward slope on the wagon trail of freedom. The road continues, and much of it is uphill. It is critical to persevere.
Talking points on the federal court case here. Some great quotes from U.S. District Judge McShane.
U.S. District Court decision here.
Original Ninth Circuit Court Ruling in 2022 here.
Boquist’s federal motion for summary judgement here.