WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether people who post violent or threatening language on Facebook and other Internet forums must show intent to follow through on their threats in order to be prosecuted.
Anthony D. Elonis, of Pennsylvania, was sentenced to nearly four years in prison for the ominous photos and violent rants he made against former co-workers, law enforcement officials and his estranged wife.
Elonis said his postings, which included the lyrics of songs by the rapper Eminem, were free speech and not specific threats to harm anyone. The justices will consider the case next fall.
The announcement came on a busy day at the court, with justices scheduled to complete their term in two weeks. They also:
But the court held unanimously that just the threat of being prosecuted over disputed speech was enough to allow the group to challenge the constitutionality of the statute.
The court gave no reason for not accepting the case, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said the court should have heard the dispute. They said the lower court's decision was at odds with some of the reasoning in the court's recent decision allowing sectarian prayers at legislative meetings.
Elonis' petition to the court said: "Although the language was - as with popular rap songs addressing the same themes - sometimes violent, petitioner posted explicit disclaimers in his profile explaining that his posts were 'fictitious lyrics,' and he was 'only exercising `his~ constitutional right to freedom of speech.' "
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the court there was no reason to accept the case. He said lower courts had correctly decided that a reasonable person would have found the rants - some of them about his wife even more explicit - real threats.
The case is Elonis v. U.S.