Buffalo School Board member Carl Paladino has recently gained national attention for controversial statements in Artvoice regarding President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. These statements have garnered a national and local reaction and some are now calling for Paladino to be removed from the School Board. Civil rights attorney Paul Cambria spoke to both WGRZ and the Buffalo News about Paladino’s First Amendment rights and whether the School Board can take action based on controversial speech. The full story is available on the WGRZ and Buffalo News websites.
Controversial speech is protected
Mr. Cambria told WGRZ that Paladino’s statements may not be enough to warrant his removal from the School Board. “Because their topic is controversial and maybe out of place and all the rest of it, the government still can’t say, ‘we don’t like what you said and, as a result, we’re going to punish you,’” he explained. “The government cannot punish somebody or fire somebody because of the content of their speech as long as the speech isn’t illegal.”
He went on to say that the circumstances would be different if Paladino’s statement had included an explicit threat or plan to hurt the President. These forms of speech are not protected and would have violated the law. Mr. Cambria explained that when people “say fire in a theater or incite a riot with their speech then that would be illegal and they could be punished,” but that this does not seem to be the case here.
Difficult to argue for removal
The Buffalo News reports that, if the Buffalo School Board wants to petition the state education commissioner for Paladino’s removal, they must do so within 30 days from December 23. Mr. Cambria told the Buffalo News that “there is no higher standard than the First Amendment” and that “unless they can show that there is a specific rule of the board or of the education law that Carl violated” it will be very difficult to force Paladino to resign.
Mr. Cambria told the Buffalo News that this process could be both costly and lengthy. “If they really wanted to spend their dollars wisely, they’d use them on education,” he said. “They would simply mount a campaign to defeat him next time. It would be quicker. If this goes into litigation, it would take years.”
About Paul J. Cambria, Jr.
The chair of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, Mr. Cambria advises clients on criminal trials, criminal appeals, constitutional and First Amendment law, zoning and land use, antitrust, and professional licensing defense. He divides his time between the firm’s offices in Buffalo and Los Angeles.