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Identity & Community

Advocacy Groups Will Go to Trial on Constitutionality of the 'Silencing Act'

Advocacy groups that work on behalf of prisoners' rights to free speech won a right to a trial on constitutionality of the Crime Victims’ Act, which was passed in October of 2014.

It was proposed and passed in the aftermath of when Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has spent the last 33 years in prison after being convicted in the homicide of a police officer, was invited to give the commencement speech at his Alma Mater, Goddard College via video recording of a phone call.

Abu-Jamal has maintained innocence.

State Rep. Mike Vereb introduced the Crime Victims Act, (PA Senate Bill 508) legislative that would allow victims of personal injury crimes or prosecutors to go into court and get an injunction against any offender who has engaged in conduct that causes victims permanent or temporary state of mental anguish.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett signed this into law at the end of October. Shortly after, the Abolitionist Law Center, the Amistad Law Project and the Civil Rights Clinic at Northwestern University filed a lawsuit on behalf of Abu-Jamal and other incarcerated individuals and organizations who communicate with prisoners such as the Human Rights Coalition. They are referring to this act as the "Silencing Act."

The Chief Judge of the Middle District of Pennsylvania held that it could proceed to trial on March 30 along with a companion case filed by the ACLU called Prison Legal News v Kane.

“If this statute were permitted to stand it would create a gaping hole in the free speech rights that are available to people in this society,” said Bret Grote, Legal Director at the Abolitionist Law Center.

This statute is unprecedented.

“We were able to find none that exist like this anywhere else in the country,” said Grote.