Illustration for article titled Chief Justice: Are Internet Death Threats Kinda Like Eminem Lyrics?

Our ever-hip and funky Justices of the Supreme Court are today hearing a case about what constitutes online harassment and what constitutes just a guy who is mad at his ex wife blowin' off some steam. During the hearing, Eminem was invoked by the Chief Justice.


The case the Justices are considering involves the sentence of one Anthony Elonis, who was sentenced to 44 months in prison for incessantly threatening the life of his ex-wife on Facebook (occasionally via a hip-hop alter ego whom Elonis called "Tone Dougie.") Elonis is arguing that he never really meant to hurt her; he was just destressing by discussing, on a public forum, how he'd like to murder the mother of his child. The state is arguing that it doesn't matter whether or not he meant it; that his rights to free speech don't trump his ex wife's right to live without fearing for her life.

In a move that someone with thinkpiece-y inclinations might argue embodies why our nation's most powerful group of Luddites should not be ruling on types of technology that is used in ways they don't seem to fully embrace or understand, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wondered aloud if Elonis's Facebook postings (one of which read "There's one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you.") being prosecutable meant that Eminem's rap lyrics could put the artist behind them in legal jeopardy. To illustrate his point, Roberts cited lyrics from "'97 Bonnie and Clyde." From the New York Times:

Treading gingerly, the chief justice quoted vivid lyrics from " '97 Bonnie and Clyde" in which Eminem seems to threaten to drown his wife.

"Could that be prosecuted?" Chief Justice Roberts asked Michael R. Dreeben, a government lawyer.

Mr. Dreeben said no and started to say something about context. Chief Justice Roberts interrupted.

"Because Eminem said it instead of somebody else?" he asked.

The lyric Roberts "gingerly" quoted is "Da­da make a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake."


Justice Alito seemed to feel differently.

"This sounds like a road map for threatening a spouse and getting away with it," Justice Alito said. "You put it in rhyme and you put some stuff about the Internet on it and you say, 'I'm an aspiring rap artist.' And so then you are free from prosecution."

Something tells me that Roberts might not question if the Eminem parallel applied if it was his wife or daughter being harassed — via shitty rap or just plain shitty prose — by somebody like Anthony Elonis.

Image via Getty.

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