Noted pajama blogger Priscilla Villareal is back in troublePolice Used an Unconstitutional Law to Arrest a Citizen-Journalist, and a Texas Court Let Them Off the Hook
The article neglects to mention whether she flies a pink flag from her truck.
5th Circuit reversed qualified impunity for blogger in pajamas
Questioning cops is misusing official information in the wacky world of qualified impunity. I'm glad the 5th circuit put an end to it in this case, but the fact that it's a question at all is disturbing.
It has been five years since police in Laredo, Texas, mocked and jeered at Priscilla Villarreal, a local journalist often critical of cops, as she stood in the Webb County Jail while they booked her on felony charges. Her crime: asking the government questions.
That may seem like a relatively obvious violation of the First Amendment. Yet perhaps more fraught is that, after all this time, the federal courts have still not been able to reach a consensus on that question. Over the years, judges in the 5th Circuit have ping-ponged back and forth over whether jailing a journalist for doing journalism does, in fact, plainly infringe on her free speech rights.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas awarded those officers qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that allows state and local government officials to violate your constitutional rights without having to face federal civil suits if that violation has not been "clearly established" in case law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit forcefully overturned that: "If [this] is not an obvious violation of the Constitution, it's hard to imagine what would be," wrote Judge James C. Ho.
Last week, the full spate of judges on the 5th Circuit voted to rehear the case in a rare move that signals some discontent with Ho's majority conclusion. Put differently, it's not looking good for Villarreal, nor for any journalist in the 5th Circuit who would like to do their job without fear of going to jail for it.
Asking the questions wasn't the real problem. It was publishing their answers that was a felony.