Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Nicholson Baker, author of The Mezzanine, Vox and The Fermata, has written a new novella, Checkpoint, in which a character fantasizes about killing the President. Although it won't be published for two months yet, the book has already been written up in the Washington Post -- and while advance publicity is usually welcome, this particular article focuses not so much on the book itself as on the question of whether Baker can be arrested for writing it. Check out that first adverb:
Though it is against the law to threaten the president in real life, a work of fiction is usually protected by the First Amendment.If White House counsel and the DoJ dawdle too long in devising grounds upon which the First Amendment may be legally dispensed with, the administration will reportedly consider issuing a fatwa against Mr. Baker.
"Under a big 1968 Supreme Court precedent, Brandenburg v. Ohio, speaking of assassinating the president cannot be forbidden or punished unless the speaker's purpose is to provoke an assassination attempt and that is likely to be the effect," says legal scholar Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal. "It's quite possible in the wake of more recent developments -- 9/11 especially -- the court might modify that in some kinds of cases. But it's almost inconceivable that the court would allow punishment of a novelist for what one of his characters says about killing the president."
"Without seeing the work," says Charles Bopp, a spokesman for the Secret Service, "a determination can't be made at this time."