One on 1 with Marc Randazza
“The government cannot suppress speech it doesn’t like.”
In this One on 1 interview, we are joined by First Amendment attorney and political commentator Marc J. Randazza. Randazza discusses the importance and nuances of our freedom of speech and expression while sharing some of his experiences as a First Amendment lawyer. You can follow Marc on Twitter: @marcorandazza.
Marc Randazza: The government cannot suppress speech it doesn’t like.
Max Nosbisch: Hello, and thank you for tuning in to this episode of The First Amendment Museum One on One interview series. First Amendment Museum is a nonpartisan nonprofit located in Augusta, Maine. My name is Max Nosbisch. I’m the manager of visitor experience. Today, I welcome Marc J. Randazza, a First Amendment attorney and political commentator. Marc J. Randazza is the managing partner of his law firm and spends the majority of his time in beautiful Las Vegas is a nationally known First Amendment and intellectual property owner who has defended clients as varied as political extremists. Protesters, adult film stars, the Klingon language enthusiast, and the Satanic Temple, among others. So Mark, thanks so much for joining us.
Marc Randazza: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Max Nosbisch: Yeah, no problem. Why do you think the First Amendment is important? What is its purpose?
Marc Randazza: There are various theories of free speech that we look at when we think about why do we want to protect it. Of course, the primary goal is so that we can have a constitutional republic. You can’t have a self-governing society if people can’t engage in debate, discussion on matters of public interest and of public importance. But then, you know, then there’s another theory. This is simply a matter of Self Realization as a human being. Am I if I am not my thoughts, what am I not my expression? You will talk to people who come from societies where freedom of expression was heavily curtailed, and and it just feels like it acts like, you know, a straight jacket on your psyche. So it’s, it’s a multipronged thing that I think was just a brilliant idea that our founders put in there to protect it with, with such vigor and within such language that it would grow to really be a robust, it’s a human right, but it’s also a utilitarian right, let’s put it that way.
Max Nosbisch: So can you tell me about your involvement with Hermon School Department versus McBreaitry?
Marc Randazza: Yes, now they’re actually two McBreaitry cases I’m handling in Maine. Hermon and RSU 22. And both of them are related. Mr. McBreaitry is an educational activist, and he has views that he believes that schoolbooks, books recommended by the school, should be less sexualized than some of those which are currently being promoted. And, you know, I, to be quite honest, I’m not sure I 100% agree with him. But I 100% agree with his right to advocate about that. You know, the New England town meeting is always put forward as the greatest example of democracy that, that exists in the world. And I’d say that, you know, the small-town school committee is another example. Hermon did not like his advocacy and didn’t like the commentary that he was making about the school committee. So they sued him to try to get an injunction from the court. This is to try to get the court to say, essentially, that he can no longer advocate. He can no longer write about this, he can no longer talk about them. That’s called a prior restraint. And as you can see right here, this being the Big Lebowski, this is the scene where Walter Sobchak yells, “The Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint,” which is… is an accurate statement. So you don’t gag somebody simply because what they say is, is troubling to you. New York Times v. Costello says that part of the price of being a public official is that you have to deal with the vehement and sometimes caustic attacks on you. No one’s gonna be 100% popular as a politician. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the president of the United States or, you know, somebody who’s on the waterways committee in Gloucester, Massachusetts, from, from high to low. There’s always going to be somebody who dislikes you, and that’s what democracy is about. That’s what a self-governing constitutional republic is about.
Max Nosbisch 4:56
So what are some of the possible or already ramifications of Hermon School Department versus McBreaitry? And why should the average person care about these cases?
Marc Randazza 5:05
Well, so far now in Hermon, they have, they filed this complaint against him and sought this injunction, and we invoked the Maine anti-SLAPP law. Now, Maine has a very poor anti-slapp law, and it generally only applies to petitioning activity, but here, they are trying to restrain it from petitioning. So if you’re anybody in Maine, and you think I might want to disagree with anyone who’s in power now or who might later, you don’t want this case to come out in favor of the government. Because somebody speaking truth to power, or criticizing power, could find themselves similarly restrained. So, I mean, I’ve been doing this long enough that, you know, I remember when it was largely people who you’d consider more right-wing or conservative suppressing the voices of left-wing people. You know, I remember there would be similar efforts like this to stop people from advocating for equality for gay people or, you know, equality for, for racial minorities or transsexuals. And this was… this was a tool that was used by the right against the left for a long time. The more I dislike what somebody has to say, the more I love their First Amendment case because when I can sit there in front of a judge and say to the judge, you know, when the judge will say, “Mr. Randazza, why, why on earth is your client saying these terrible things,” and I can say, “Your Honor, I’d like nothing more than to shut up voluntarily. But if the government tries to shut him up, then we have a real problem, a problem far greater than any consequence of anything he might have.” The government cannot suppress speech it doesn’t like.
Max Nosbisch: You’ve also protected the First Amendment rights of people that could, maybe probably, would be considered unpopular or controversial. Some might argue you shouldn’t do this, and why do you.. so why do you do it? What would you say to the people that say you shouldn’t do it?
Marc Randazza: Like I, you know, I… this is a calling for me, you know? And, I don’t say that egotistically. I say that I’m here for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to protect freedom of expression. That, that’s what I was tapped to do to do divinely. And I don’t mean, you know, like the Blues Brothers. I might be a degenerate. That’d be a fair thing to call me. A vulgarian, a libertine, but I’m on a mission from God. And I thought about this a lot. You know, I always think about, “Am I doing the right thing?” And I think, you know, and someone did ask me before, “you know, why do you represent terrible people?” Like, I’ve represented a Nazi, and when I got the call from that Nazi, you know, I sort of had that moment thinking, “who better?” You know? Who’s, whose speech rights better to defend? Because, look, if it’s Dr. Seuss, who cares? And if I can protect Mr. Rogers is free speech rights, are you any more free? But you know, when we have so much tolerance for speech in this country, there’s so much tolerance for speech under our Constitution, that even a Nazi is protectable, even their speech is protected, then everyone’s is protected. And if you, if you say, just one bad thought, this one bad guy, once you start making exceptions, the second exception is a lot easier to make than the third is easier. So do I think that Nazi had anything of value to say? No. I don’t agree with a word he says. However, his speeches is as valuable as Martin Luther King’s is, sometimes even more so. And I don’t mean that to denigrate MLK, but I say that even the next speaker is a great value to us in a society that values free expression, and also, if he can publish and speak, you know, he’s gonna be that much less radicalized. I mean how, how radicalized can you be against a system that lets you say anything you want? And I think that that, that we run that risk when we suppress voices, we run the risk of them being driven into more of an echo chamber where they can become more dangerous.
Max Nosbisch: Thinking about again, again, this sort of topic, you’ve often represented adult film stars, and we’ve had similar conversations here at the museum and, you know, undecided, you know, is it important to just defend the First Amendment rights of adult film stars? Many people will say what they do is obscene. They might even say just contribute meaningfully in any way to our society. How would you respond to them?
Marc Randazza: If somebody who says that is truly so divinely inspired, that they know what contributes and what doesn’t? And they can show me that, then I will absolutely take their word for it. I lack that divine inspiration. You know, looking at if we, if we want to weigh the value of speech, look it either is speech or is it isn’t speech. It is expression, or it isn’t. “One person’s vulgarities is another person’s lyric” that comes from Cohen versus California. You know, I, I would say that it is of less value than political, but the First Amendment doesn’t care.
Max Nosbisch: Well, Mark, thank you so much for joining us, and thanks to everyone who tuned in. If you’d like our one-on-1 series, don’t forget to like and subscribe to the First Amendment museums channel on YouTube for more.
Marc Randazza: All right, my pleasure.