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The 2013 Muzzle Awards

The worst crimes against the First Amendment

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Based on the Liquor Division's explanation of its decision, Ogden's Own concluded that the only group who might find the concept of Five Wives Vodka offensive was Idaho's Mormon population. While Mormons make up 27 percent of the state's population—certainly a "prominent segment"they also, as a rule, do not drink alcohol and would presumably be very unlikely to encounter Five Wives in a bar or one of the state-run liquor stores. When Ogden's Own pointed this fact out to the Liquor Division and it was picked up in the press, the division claimed that women, not Mormons, were the issue. Bottles of Five Wives Vodka feature a historical photograph of five 19th-century women in bonnets and petticoats holding kittens near their lady parts. What this image has to do with the "concept" of the product is unclear, but according to Jeff Anderson, director of the division, at least one female member on his staff found the label to be objectionable. Anderson then added a new wrinkle to the controversy: Despite evidence to the contrary in its letter to Ogden's Own, he suggested that the division's decision to ban Five Wives was unrelated to the label at all. Calling the award-winning spirit "an average product trying to get a premium price," Anderson claimed that there simply wasn't enough space for Five Wives alongside the 106 other similarly priced vodkas sold by the state.

It wasn't until Ogden's Own threatened a lawsuit that the Liquor Division's parade of justifications for the ban came to a halt. The agency agreed to make Five Wives available to customers in Idaho, but only on a special order basis. Bars and individuals can order Five Wives through the state, but liquor stores still may not stock it on their shelves. This status also means that Ogden's Own may not engage in the same type of advertising and promotional activities for Five Wives that are available to companies selling products stocked in the state-owned stores.

Idaho’s liquor division initially balked at allowing this Utah-based vodka label in the state, claiming it could be considered offensive to women.
  • Idaho’s liquor division initially balked at allowing this Utah-based vodka label in the state, claiming it could be considered offensive to women.

Because the value of speech is a completely subjective determination that can vary from person to person, the First Amendment does not permit government officials to impose their individual preferences on the public. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harlan famously wrote, "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric." Whether one finds the "Five Wives" name and label amusing or offensive is a matter of personal taste. For believing it has the right to define what is offensive for all the citizens of Idaho, the Idaho State Liquor Division earns a 2013 Jefferson Muzzle.



6. Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara

In the wake of the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the role of guns in American society has become hotly debated, perhaps more than ever before. Gun control advocates believe limiting the types of guns that can be privately owned would be an effective means to prevent, or at least reduce, incidents of gun violence. Proposals for restrictions on gun ownership are currently being considered at the federal, state and local levels of government. Such proposals have met with strong opposition from those who believe the greatest protection against tragedies like Sandy Hook is gun ownership by law-abiding citizens, unimpeded by government regulation.

One point often overlooked in the gun control debate is that both sides share a common goal—the reduction of gun violence. The debate centers on the best means to achieve that goal. As such, most Americans can agree that even those with opposing views should have the right to participate in the gun control debate. There are some, however, who believe that merely proposing a law that restricts gun rights should be a criminal act. Earlier this year, Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara proposed a bill that provides "[a]ny member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony." Leara has stated that he has "no illusions" about his measure actually becoming law, but he unveiled his plan anyway "as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians."

Unfortunately, Leara's symbolic gesture of support for the Second Amendment is also a symbolic slap in the face of the First Amendment. Protecting political debate on issues such as gun control is at the very core of First Amendment protection. Yet Leara's proposal suggests that the First Amendment should provide no barrier to silencing those legislators who disagree with him on gun control. Leara's bill also disregards the Missouri Constitution, which provides that "[s]enators and representatives . . . shall not be questioned for any speech or debate in either house in any other place."

This Muzzle should not be interpreted as taking a position in the current gun control debate; it concerns free speech. Leara has the First Amendment right to express his strong opposition to proposed gun control measures. He earns a Muzzle for believing his colleagues in the state legislature should not be entitled to the same.

In the wake of December’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara attempted to pass a law making it a felony for any of his fellow state lawmakers to propose bills restricting gun rights. - CHAD HARDER
  • Chad Harder
  • In the wake of December’s Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Missouri state Rep. Mike Leara attempted to pass a law making it a felony for any of his fellow state lawmakers to propose bills restricting gun rights.


7. The Democratic and Republican National Committees

"There is not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans" is a sentiment that has been expressed by persons on the political left and right. The accuracy of the statement is, of course, a matter of individual judgment and opinion. Those believing it to be true, however, will find evidence to support their view in the 2012 national conventions of both parties.

As a practical matter, the role of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in nominating their respective candidates for president has been reduced to a mere formality by the advent of the primary system. Delegates to both conventions are now largely selected through the state primaries based upon the candidate they intend to support. As a result, the party's nominee is decided months in advance of the "nominating" convention. However, the role of a convention delegate is not limited to selecting the party nominee. Delegates are called upon to vote on a variety of questions, setting the party's direction on those matters for the next four years. At least, that's what the Democratic and Republican National Committees (essentially the governing boards of the respective parties) would like us to believe.

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