The Supreme Court Uses Rap Lyrics To Debate The Limits of Free Speech on Social Media.

Supreme Court
(Mark Wilson Getty / Images News)

Last June, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case of Anthony Elonis. Elonis used made violent, graphic, threats to his estranged wife on his Facebook page, in one post stating,

There’s one way to love you but a thousand ways to kill you. I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.

After being questioned by the FBI in his Pennsylvania home, Elonis made another violent Facebook post, about slitting female FBI agent’s throat, this time, however, he was quoting rap lyrics. In 2012, Elonis was sentenced to nearly four years in prison, for what he describes as merely letting off steam. Elonis argued that he was exercising his First Amendment rights by making those posts and that his words on Facebook didn’t show any intent to actually harm his ex-wife or the FBI Agent.

During a hearing yesterday, Elonis referred to the lyrics from Eminem’s ’97 Bonnie and Clyde,” in which, the rapper fantasized about murdering his wife, tying her up, and throwing her into a lake.

The hearing has attracted the attention of many rights groups, including the A.C.L.U., which has spoken out in support of Elonis and National Network to End Domestic Violence, which has opposed Elonis’ contention that posts like his on social media mean no harm. The organization stated, in a brief, that a ruling in favor of Elonis “would leave too many victims of threats without any meaningful protection. It would also effectively decriminalize conduct that predictably and reasonably creates a genuine fear of violence with all its attendant psychological, emotional, economic, and social disruptions.”

Though Anthony Elonis cited Eminem to argue his case, rappers can’t always appeal to their First Amendment rights when it comes to violent rap lyrics. Last month, it was reported that California rapper Brandon Duncan, aka Tiny Doo, is facing life in prison for lyrics which allude to gang activity and murder.

ABC10 reports,

Duncan and some of the 14 other gang members facing attempted murder charges were in court for day two of a preliminary hearing. They are charged in a gang conspiracy involving nine local shootings since April 2013, as a judge mulled a possible trial.

Prosecutors are calling upon a little used statute put in place by voters in 2000. It allows for the prosecution of gang members if they benefit from crimes committed by other gang members.

Though Duncan hasn’t been tied to the shootings, prosecutors argued that he benefited from the shootings because his gang gained in status, allowing him to sell more albums.

Unlike Eminem, Brandon Duncan is being called to explain his lyrics, and unlike Anthony Elonis, he hasn’t been given the opportunity to speak for himself and defend his speech in a larger context.