Fighting to protect free speech in Vermont

It happens every day: An individual posts something online, and the community reacts. In 2020, Isabel Vinson, a resident of Brattleboro, saw a local business owner publicly post his personal views about Black Lives Matter on Facebook. In her opinion, his views were racist.

So, she did what thousands of other Vermonters do every day when they encounter speech they disagree with. She responded with speech of her own. Soon after, Vinson was criminally cited by Brattleboro police.

In a lawsuit the ACLU of Vermont filed in 2022, Vinson asserts that the statute she was cited under—which “prohibits disturbing peace by use of telephone or other electronic communications”—unconstitutionally restricts online speech. 

This week the ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) filed a motion for summary judgment in Vinson v. Clark, et. al., asking a judge to rule on this case.

ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Harrison Stark: “Isabel Vinson spoke up about an important political issue in a non-threatening Facebook post. That simple action never should have resulted in a criminal citation. The state law in question is both vague and extremely broad in scope and is a recipe for abuses like this.”

Vinson is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont to declare that the “Online Disorderly Conduct Law” violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and to issue an injunction prohibiting its enforcement going forward.

A motion for summary judgment requests that a court decide a case based on evidence and statements presented in court filings—without a full trial—on the grounds that there can be no real dispute about the relevant facts. Find a link to the motion here. Stay tuned for further updates on this case.