by Paul Alan Levy
Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is running for governor, in part, based on his having sued to block the new health care bill on the theory that it puts the federal government too much into citizens' private lives, apparently doesn't have any problem abusing his access to grand jury subpoenas to put pressure on his anonymous critics. Techcrunch reports that Corbett has summoned Twitter to appear before a state grand jury to identify two anonymous bloggers, CasablancaPA and bfBarbie, who have been criticizing Corbett on Twitter.
Over the years, we have defended consumer critics of companies and politicians against civil suits to identify their critics, concerned that, if it is too easy to identify critics, there will be a chilling effect on public discourse and, consequently, a loss to the marketplace of ideas. A couple of years ago, we defended against a grand jury subpoena from the Bronx DA to force Room Eight, a popular blog on New York politics, to identify a critic who was going after his Republican allies. The DA had an attack of good judgment and pulled the plug before we could set a good precedent extending the Dendrite standard to the grand jury context. Will Corbett be brought to his senses too, or will he press on to the end?
We have teamed up with the ACLU of Pennsylvania to oppose this subpoena. Happily, Twitter is standing firm against Corbett's having threatened it with contempt for withholding production of the identifying information until we can secure judicial review of the First Amendment issues.