By Michael Green
The City Council begins every meeting with a recitation of their rules of decorum. The problem is these rules do not pass constitutional muster. The reasons are plentiful and will be explored further here.
One of the rules stated is that no personal attacks will be allowed. But they give no guidance on what is meant by personal attacks. It appears to be up to the mayor or mayor Pro Tem to decide what is a personal attack. This essentially makes this rule arbitrary and capricious and therefore not allowed by the Constitution. Numerous Supreme Court cases have held that any rule that is arbitrary and capricious is unconstitutional and unenforceable.
The next and perhaps larger problem is that these rules as a whole are a content-based prior restraint on Free Speech. Once again the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that content-based prior restraint is the primary reason for freedom of speech in the First Amendment. Without protecting this right the American Revolution could never have happened. Examples of where such restraint has been ruled unconstitutional include the case known as the Pentagon Papers case in which the Washington Post and New York Times wanted to publish papers obtained revealing the US government had lied to the public in order to garner support for the Vietnam War. The Court ruled that the papers had an absolute right to publish. In fact one of the few cases in which they ruled otherwise dates back to World War 1 in The New York Times versus United States when the New York Times was going to publish information about troop movements. In that case the Court ruled that National Security and the protection of the troops during a time of War superseded freedom of the press. Nothing happening at the Amarillo City Council meetings rises to that level.
While it is understandable that rules are needed to maintain order, the current rules of decorum have no basis in that concept. They are simply unconstitutional on their face and not worth the toilet paper they're written on.