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Michigan AG Mike Cox: Andrew Shirvell 'Clearly A Bully,' But Protected By First Amendment


Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox appeared on Anderson Cooper's show last night to defend Andrew Shirvell, his staffer who maintains an exceedingly homophobic blog about the University of Michigan's openly gay student body president, Chris Armstrong.

Though Cox admitted Shirvell's actions are "unbecoming" and that he's "clearly a bully," the outgoing Attorney General insisted Shirvell's well within his Constitutional rights: "Here in America, we have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think and -- and -- and engage in political and social speech."

He did point out, however, that if Armstrong were to receive a restraining order of some sort, then perhaps Shirvell could, in theory, be reprimanded.

"If a personal protection order was sought by Mr. Armstrong and granted in the Michigan civil service or a disciplinary code," said the Attorney General, "we could start looking at things in terms of perhaps sending to an employee assistance program."

In the end, Cox, who lost his gubernatorial bid to Republican Rick Snyder, threw up his hands about the entire affair, and said, "The reality is, I'm out of office in three months. I have a duty to defend the Michigan Constitution. I have a duty to defend the Michigan civil service rules, even at those times when I don't like it."

While Cox would like to forget the Shirvell scandal, our nation as a whole needs to address it and review the First Amendment. It's not just a freedom of speech. It's a responsibility, we're lucky to have it and people should use it wisely.

People like Shirvell, the unidentified anti-gay blogger from Sen. Saxby Chambliss' office, and homophobic preacher Fred Phelps, whose own free speech brouhaha heads to the Supreme Court next week, misuse and waste their First Amendment rights on ugliness and hate. But of course they all believe otherwise, raising the ultimate, unanswerable question: who decides what's right and wrong when it comes to Free Speech?

Watch Cooper and Cox's exchange, AFTER THE JUMP.

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  1. Harassment, Stalking and Defamation are illegal.

    Posted by: tony x | Sep 30, 2010 10:41:20 AM

  2. At any of our companies where we work - if we pulled this we would be fired.


    Posted by: tony x | Sep 30, 2010 10:41:59 AM

  3. What Tony said times 5.

    Posted by: Jon Lee Hart | Sep 30, 2010 10:44:06 AM

  4. Cox is either clueless about the law or a bigot looking to excuse Shirvell's actions. The First Amendment DOES NOT protect everything that high-level public employees say off the job. In case after case, the courts have upheld firing of public employees for off-duty speech that was offensive and incompatible with the mission of the employer. Jeff Toobin pointed out on AC 360 last night that if Cox fired Shirvell and Shirvell sued, Shirvell would lose. Cox is just feigning legal ignorance because he actually agrees with everything Shirvell is saying.

    Posted by: Homo Sapiens | Sep 30, 2010 10:46:35 AM

  5. I think that there are ways of firing him consistent with the First Amendment, especially considering the disrepute and disruption that this asshole's actions have brought onto the office.

    What I will NOT sanction, is "reviewing" the First Amendment. The First Amendment is integral to what this country stands for. I will not have this country turn into a place where one can get sued or arrested because they said something that offends someone else. Leave the First Amendment alone.

    Posted by: Jack | Sep 30, 2010 10:46:38 AM

  6. just the fact that my employee got me all involved in this BS..Id be Pissed off.

    Posted by: Disgusted American | Sep 30, 2010 10:49:12 AM

  7. Eff. Michigan that Hateful,Bigoted state..Id NEVER go there.

    Posted by: Disgusted American | Sep 30, 2010 10:51:00 AM

  8. Mike Cox is himself an anti-gay bully. Details here:

    Posted by: JOHNINMANHATTAN | Sep 30, 2010 10:51:33 AM

  9. So Mr. Cox, an officer of the court, whose job it is to protect the public, can also choose to stalk, harass and defame a member of the public without fear of professional censure. You are one cowardly piece of shit, just like your sociopathic buttboy Shirvell.

    Posted by: MikeMick | Sep 30, 2010 10:52:51 AM

  10. AC should have linked the bullying of Andrew Shirvell and the deaths of the bullied gay teens.

    Posted by: BaoPhac Do | Sep 30, 2010 10:55:24 AM

  11. Yeah, last I checked, libel was not a constitutionally-protected right.

    Posted by: Scot Colford | Sep 30, 2010 10:56:02 AM

  12. Tony X is correct - to go further: The first ammendment does not protect harassment, stalking or defamation.

    Posted by: Jon Mitchell | Sep 30, 2010 10:59:45 AM

  13. @Tony X: True, but unless you work for the government, the first amendment doesn't enter the equation.

    When you ask a government agency to fire an employee over their free speech activities, you are implicating the first amendment.

    When his activities cross over to the criminal (stalking, harassment) or the tortious (defamation), then the government can be expected to do something. Until then, they are forbidden from doing so. This is totally in line with what the AG is saying.

    Meanwhile, @Towleroad: The question "who decides what's right and wrong when it comes to Free Speech?" isn't unanswerable. The answer is "no one". If someone's speech and speechlike activities are protected, they are protected, no matter the content. If they cross the line into the actionable, then so be it—though of course, even then it isn't the belief or the speech itself that is actionable.

    I'm really not liking this new "free speech only includes speech we like" angle that's been showing up on Towleroad the last couple days. The implication that one can "misuse" or "abuse" one's first amendment rights shows a fundamental lack of understanding as to the purpose of the first amendment, and how the free market of ideas is supposed to work. It's also just plain creepy.

    When I want kneejerk gay groupthink, I'll hang out on Queerty, thanks.

    Posted by: Dave | Sep 30, 2010 11:00:02 AM

  14. I called cocks office this morning and spoke to someone named "mikhael". Said I was calling on behalf of the Humans. asked if they condoned stalking college students who were pro co-Ed dorms.

    Posted by: Aqua | Sep 30, 2010 11:03:02 AM

  15. Review the First Amendment? Ha. Yeah, that's gonna fly.

    Posted by: Andalusian Dog | Sep 30, 2010 11:16:06 AM

  16. Free speech is one thing, batshit crazy delusional paranoids obsessively and aggressively stalking innocent victims is quite another. Imagine being insane Andrew's co-worker? Waiting for the inevitable day when he finally completely loses it.

    Posted by: Ernie | Sep 30, 2010 11:25:57 AM

  17. Thank God that Mike Cox will be gone in three months. He has been a truly ineffective and backwards AG for the state of MI. He is VERY conservative and has been pushing his conservative agenda since he took office. It does not suprise me that he has allowed this Assistant AG to keep his job despite the stalking and libel.

    Posted by: Carl | Sep 30, 2010 11:28:05 AM

  18. Dave:

    "When his activities cross over to the criminal (stalking, harassment) or the tortious (defamation), then the government can be expected to do something. Until then, they are forbidden from doing so. This is totally in line with what the AG is saying."

    That is legally incorrect. It does not take an act that is criminal or tortious to justify a public employee's firing under the First Amendment. It simply takes an act of speech that "impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships . . . or impedes the performance of the speaker's duties or interferes with the regular operation of the [government agency]." Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378, 388 (1987). Off-duty hate speech (tortious/criminal or otherwise) certainly "impedes the performance" of the even-handed enforcement of justice. For example, in a case that was far less egregious than this, a low-level police officer's firing was upheld where the officer anonymously distributed racist pamphlets -- an act that was neither criminal nor tortious. Pappas v. Giuliani, 290 F.3d 143 (2d Cir. 2002).

    Posted by: Anonymous Lawyer | Sep 30, 2010 11:31:22 AM

  19. I have worked for government officials in the past, and I remember signing a document that basically said anything we say in public could get us fired since it would reflect on the legislator who hired us. This was the trade-off so that the public could be assured that when I spoke at a public hearing, for example, I was not giving my personal views but rather the views of the government official I was working for.

    Aren't there similar laws/rules/guidelines in Michigan?

    Posted by: ScottNYC | Sep 30, 2010 11:31:53 AM

  20. I think this calls for a minor illegal act. Let us say.....a good bashing in a dark alley!

    Posted by: Brains | Sep 30, 2010 11:36:08 AM

  21. I think that the first amendment does protect Shirvell's right to say what he wants, period, no matter how abhorrent that may be.

    The stalking, harassment, bullying, and slander are, to me, a separate matter. This is criminal behavior. Cox's office should be prosecuting Shirvell, not throwing up their hands and lying about how they're blocked from action because of the 1st amendment. That's bullcrap.

    What to do, though? Like Cox said, he's out of office in 3 months. If he doesn't give a shit, he doesn't give a shit--and no amount of irate phone calls will change that.

    So where is the "Watching Shirvell" blog, eh? Anyone?

    Posted by: Grant | Sep 30, 2010 11:40:24 AM

  22. The issue is not free speech, it is his stalking Armstrong. Anderson hit the nail on the head at the end, it is all about Cox's fear of the religious right backlash if he fires Shirvell.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Sep 30, 2010 11:40:32 AM

  23. Andrew Shirvell is obviously in love with Armstrong. More in likely Armstrong refused Shirvell's advances and now Shirvell is acting like a lover scorned.

    I went to the blog and there is a video that Shirvell obviously took outside a party that Armstrong was at or hosting. The police come (probably called by Shirvell) to answer a noise complaint (probably made by Shirvell). Why is Shirvell hanging outside Armstrong's house?

    Posted by: chrissypoo | Sep 30, 2010 11:41:05 AM

  24. Of course, this has nothing to do with the first amendment. It has to do with Cox not wanting to offend his gay hater base in case he want to run for another office. How low this country has fallen.

    Posted by: phineas | Sep 30, 2010 11:57:43 AM

  25. I'm sure I don't know enough to cite laws and cases to make a legal argument, but what message are we sending our youth when someone like a state AG acknowledges something like this constitutes bullying, and at the same time that this is protected speech?

    Posted by: RP | Sep 30, 2010 12:03:50 PM

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