A group of imprisoned activists, led by convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, have filed a
federal civil suit against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, claiming recent legislation signed by Gov. Tom Corbett violates their First Amendment rights to free speech.
Abu-Jamal, Robert Holbrook, Kerry Shakaboona Marshall, the Prison Radio organization, Human Rights Coalition and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal seek collectively a preliminary injunction against Senate Bill 508, also known as the Revictimization Relief Act, leading to a permanent injunction and declaratory judgment stating that the law violates their constitutional rights.
The legislation was fast tracked by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by Corbett in response to Abu-Jamal's recording of a commencement speech for the fall graduates of Goddard College in Vermont, where Abu-Jamal received a Bachelor's Degree while on death row.
Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Over the years, his incarceration became a cause celebre for activists who argue that he was given an unfair trial based on faulty evidence. In 2011, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole.
Supporters of Daniel Faulkner's surviving wife and family have maintained that Abu-Jamal's continued publishing and speech-making have repeatedly caused them harm by forcing them to relive Faulkner's tragic death and forced them into the public limelight.
One day after Abu-Jamal's remarks, recorded via telephone by Prison Radio, were played for the Goddard College graduates, state lawmakers held a press conference announcing the bill, which allows lawmakers to enact an injunction against convicted prisoners from performing actions that would cause victims mental anguish. The general assembly passed the bill weeks later, with Corbett signing it into law surrounded by Maureen Faulkner and Philadelphia police officers during a special ceremony at the site of Daniel Faulkner's murder.
Opponents to the bill say that the language is too broad and strips inmates of their right to free speech.
“This bill is written so broadly that it is unclear what behavior is prohibited,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause ‘mental anguish’ could be banned by a judge."
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with the Abolitionist Law Center in Pittsbugh.
The federal case ID is 3:02-at-06000.