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Kaczynski’s right to write

Unabomber Contretemps


Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who became Montana’s most notorious antisocial resident when federal agents arrived at his Lincoln cabin in 1996 to arrest him for a string of bombings that killed three and wounded others, is now fighting the government’s plan to auction his personal papers to raise money for his victims.

On Jan. 22, Kaczynski’s latest effort to convince the court that the First Amendment protects his right to own his own writing moved forward when his request for a new attorney was granted. Federal defender John Balazs—who was also an attorney in the criminal case where Kaczynski pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence and $15 million in restitution—was dismissed at Kaczynski’s request over a dispute involving legal strategy. A new attorney has yet to be appointed.

Balazs tells the Independent he disagreed with Kaczynski’s desired approach to challenging the constitutionality of a federal statute that permits the government to seize and sell a convict’s intellectual property. The fate of both the physical documents and their copyrights are at stake.

In 2005, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Balazs that the government couldn’t keep Kaczynski’s property indefinitely, but instead ordered it sold for restitution. At this point, Kaczynski is arguing that the First Amendment protects his ownership of writings he’s generated, as well as the public’s right to the information. Kaczynski hopes to donate his voluminous writings to the University of Michigan, which houses a collection of radical manuscripts, and both The Freedom to Read Foundation and the Society of American Archivists have lodged legal arguments supporting Kaczynski’s attempt to recover and donate his original manuscripts.

Balazs says the federal government’s stance that it can seize anything Kaczynski writes in the future is also an issue, the resolution of which could impact more than just the Unabomber.

“On the broadest level, it’s precedent for future cases,” Balazs says. “The whole idea that they can just seize anything he writes at any time is very troubling—it’s essentially a prior restraint on his expression.”


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