Ninth Circuit: Calling For Obama's Assassination Is Protected Free Speech

A California man convicted of threatening then-presidential candidate Barack Obama after posting racially-tinged comments on an Internet chat forum calling for his assassination has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here's what Walter Bagdasarian, a man of African descent, posted on the Internet during the 2008 presidential election:

"Re: Obama, fk the niggar, he will have a .50 cal in the head soon" and "shoot the nig"
Bagdasarian, who actually had a .50 caliber gun and ammunition in his home when police arrested him after posting the comments, waived his right to a trial by jury. A federal district court judge found him guity as charged. It's a federal crime to knowingly and wilfully threaten to kill, kidnap or threaten bodily harm upon a major candidate for the office of president or vice-president. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that neither of Bagdasarian's comments constituted a "threat" within the meaning of the statute. The statement that he would "have a .50 cal in the head soon" was merely a prediction wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt in an opinion joined by Chief Judge Alex Kosinski. The "shoot" statement was merely an exhortation to others to take violent actions against Obama according to the opinion. Accordingly, Bagadasarian's comments were protected by the First Amendment. Judge Kim Wardlaw dissented, arguing that Bagdasarian's conviction should be upheld taking into consideration the surrounding circumstances under which he made the threatening comments, notwithstanding his public apology following his arrest.