The Assistant United States Attorney has submitted a narrower subpoena to the Las Vegas Review-Journal seeking information about only two individuals who commented anonymously on a story the paper ran about a federal criminal trial. The original subpoena sought information about every commenter to the story.

Although the Review-Journal is now considering turning over the information, the ACLU of Nevada is fighting the subpoena and is urging the Review-Journal to refuse or delay complying with the request.

On behalf of the anonymous commenters, the ACLU of Nevada filed an amended motion showing that even the comments sought by the second, narrowed subpoena are protected speech.

The Nevada ACLU has also requested that Judge Dawson recuse himself from ruling on the subpoena issue. While the ACLU does not question Judge Dawson’s integrity or abilities, the motion was filed to prevent any appearance of impropriety, both because of Judge Dawson’s experiences during a prior tax case and because he has recused himself from the criminal case which the comments related to.

The ACLU believes that releasing information about anonymous commenters has a drastic chilling effect on free speech. People are free, under the First Amendment, to express themselves even in crude and strange ways. Only when a statement reflects a true, immediate threat can it be punished. The web is full of hyperbolic vitriol.

Neither of the comments included in the subpoena are criminal and they do not represent a true, immediate threat. One commenter bet fictional Star Trek money (“quatloos”) on whether one of the prosecutors would live. This comment is clearly a fantastical comment and not a real threat.

The other comment says the jurors should be hung if they convict. If every comment about what “should” be done to the ACLU, for example, were followed with a subpoena, law enforcement would have time to do little else. When the ACLU of Nevada stopped an execution, someone posted the following comment about the ACLU on the Review-Journal site: "It's about time that ….the ACLU should get the needle for letting the killer have free room and board and a color TV in his cell for the rest of his life.”

While such comments are crude and even offensive, they are not criminal.

Click here to read the June 18th article "ACLU urges R-J not to reveal those who commented online" from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 

Click here for a copy of the ACLU of Nevada's amended motion to intervene.