Here Come da Judge: US Marshals Mangle Free Speech Rights with Unusual Crackdown
Hampton Coleman, a military veteran, felt secure in his constitutional free speech rights until a few weeks ago when three U.S. Marshals showed up at his Delaware home issuing demands Coleman considered threats.
Those U.S. Marshals, two male and one female from Philadelphia, came to Coleman’s home last month accusing him of sending a threatening letter to a federal magistrate judge.
“Why would I put my name and address on a letter containing a threat? I’m not crazy,” Coleman said during a recent interview.
Those Marshals warned Coleman to not send any more letters to U.S. Magistrate L. Felipe Restrepo.
Coleman claims the Marshals service is overreacting to his three-sentence, 28-word letter voicing concern about bias he felt Restrepo had exhibited in a race discrimination case handled by that judge, who ordinarily has a reputation for fairness.
Coleman attended an April 2011 hearing in that case.
Coleman said when he asked the three Marshals about his supposed Constitutional right to freedom of speech, “one of the marshals said “that’s an old document.” Coleman said that response startled him implying that the U.S. Constitution is “irrelevant.”
The five freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution include barring the federal government from “abridging the freedom of speech” and from blocking “the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Coleman’s chilling encounter with those Marshals comes at a time when some experts and individuals across America are raising alarms about actions by governmental entities which are eroding Constitutional rights under the cloak of counterterrorism. Recent actions include revelations about surveillance of activists by FBI agents, court rulings limiting Bill of Rights protections and recent congressional renewal of the rights- curtailing Patriot Act.
Persons attempting “to exercise their rights will often be forced to defend themselves against an increasingly inflexible and uncompromising government,” warns John W. Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, in a recent commentary.
Paralleling what Whitehead sees as increasing strong-arm government tactics imploding constitutional freedoms is what commentator Paul Craig Roberts sees as an “indifference and even hostility to civil liberties” among too many American citizens. Roberts once served as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan.
Hampton Coleman calls the Marshals visit and their order intimidating. “My wife thought they came to arrest me. She was scared to death.”
In a “Complaint of Misconduct” Coleman has filed against Judge Restrepo with federal judicial authorities Coleman stated Restrepo “made an intentionally inaccurate and false claim of a threat…and then employed the United States Marshals Service to retaliate, threaten and intimidate me for exercising” his First Amendment rights.