“A Classic Assault on the First Amendment”

Nat Hentoff on the forcible silencing of Andrew Meyer.

Under First Amendment law, you can loudly question, disagree with, or heckle a speaker—unless you make it impossible for the speaker to continue. That’s called “the heckler’s veto,” and is not protected by the First Amendment.

In this case, as the insistent Meyer’s own speech was fractured—his microphone cut off, college police wrestling him to the ground, handcuffing and then Tasering him—the speaker, Kerry, was saying, “That’s all right, let me answer the question.”

Then, as the boisterous student was screaming for help and pleading not to be tased, the former presidential candidate told the audience that he still wanted to answer Meyer’s “very important question.”

Clearly, this speaker was not unable to continue. On the contrary, in what I consider one of Kerry’s finest moments—amid all the turbulence, much more of it caused by the campus police than by Meyer—he still wanted to go on.