Last month, Rep. Devin Nunes announced plans to sue Twitter, me and two parody Twitter accounts for several purported torts — fancy lawyer speak for “unlawful” actions as a matter of civil law.
The Twitter accounts, @DevinNunesMom and @DevinCow, posted not very nice things about the Republican California congressman. As for me, Nunes seems upset about my scrutiny, discussion and highlighting of publicly available information pertaining to him, and my criticism of his conduct, record and behavior — as well as my generally not having acted like a Miss Congeniality award winner toward him. In other words, he is suing me for doing my job as a political communications strategist.
Of course, a formal, legal response from me to Rep. Nunes’ lawsuit will be forthcoming.
But in the meantime, it’s vitally important that the entire nation understands what this lawsuit is really about: A sitting member of the U.S. government, specifically, a congressman, is trying to stifle free speech — mine, yours and every other American’s — by using litigation as a cudgel to bully and intimidate.
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The fact is, free speech is recognized and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Framers correctly considered it a God-given right, an inherent freedom so important to the system of government they were establishing that they explicitly stated its existence straight at the outset of the Bill of Rights.
James Madison, fourth president of the United States, father of the Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers, famously commented that “the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.” Nunes’ lawsuit flips that notion entirely on its head.
Nunes has sworn to protect free speech
As a congressman, Rep. Nunes will have sworn an oath to “support and defend” the Constitution. That includes the First Amendment. His action in filing this pleading draws into question not just his view of law applicable to this case, but also his belief in freedom of speech and his commitment and adherence to his own oath of office. Individually and collectively, all of these things should be extremely concerning to every American, no matter where they live, whom they vote for and where they fall on the philosophical spectrum.
Rep. Nunes’ lawsuit also rightly generates skepticism that he truly understands the United States’ history of broadly and firmly protecting liberties, and the truth about why the Bill of Rights — including the First Amendment — was drawn up and remains the law of the land to this day.
Pamphleteers during the colonial period were obviously highly critical of an undemocratic, illiberal, monarchical system against which those fighting Great Britain in the War of Independence rightly rebelled. They literally risked their lives and the vastly more limited liberty they had then to deliver the American republic, and champion the justifiably broad and expansive liberties that too many of us now take for granted and which some people are seeking to sharply curtail and constrain.
Foremost among those was the right of free speech. Rep. Nunes has benefited from it for his entire life, as have I. Very likely if you’re reading this you have, too. And if you haven’t, it’s probably because you were born or lived somewhere that did not respect and value this fundamental liberty and now choose to live in the most freedom-loving country in the world, where your ability to criticize your government in public even in harsh terms is ironclad.
Rethink this lawsuit and assault on freedoms
The plain fact is, Rep. Nunes’ lawsuit constitutes a grave threat to the long recognized and respected civil liberties belonging to each of us, and indeed our system of governance writ large. Madison also said, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” He was right, as was British historian Lord Acton when he said, “Power tends to corrupt.”
This is why Americans should scrutinize our public officials’ political committee expenditures — including those of leadership PACs — voting records, public statements, financial interests, behavior and conduct. It’s what the Framers wanted, it is what the First Amendment guarantees a right to do, and it is sound policy to boot. True freedom and good, constitutional government are impossible to maintain unless each of us is able to question, research and review what our public officials do, based on publicly available information and interactions with them and their staff, and then engage in unimpeded, public debate about what we find. They work for us, not the other way round.
Rep. Nunes should rethink his lawsuit and his assault on our fundamental freedoms. Liberty matters — and America remaining a beacon of it around the world by virtue of our own citizens’ embrace of it is vital.
As President Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it, and then hand it to them with the well-thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same."
I stand firm in my determination to continue championing American civil liberties, including the right of free speech, not just by talking about it but also by exercising it day in and day out. At the end of the day, our forefathers died for my right to do so.
Republican consultant Liz Mair, a veteran of campaigns for Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry, is the founder and president of Mair Strategies and strategist for the Swamp Accountability Project. Follow her on Twitter: @LizMair
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Free speech means I don't have to be nice to Devin Nunes on Twitter. So why's he suing me?