The Democrat & Chronicle published a Letter to the Editor written by Professor Karen Morris addressing the relationship between the First Amendment right of free speech and the Congressional rule against hats, including hoodies, in the legislative body. The letter follows.
Concerning “Lawmaker chastised for wearing hoodie,” (March 29, 2012), the House of Representatives’ presiding officer, Mississippi Representative Gregg Harper, may need a brush-up on the First Amendment right to free speech. Harper interrupted Rep. Bobby Rush’s comments on the legislative floor deploring the killing of Trayvon Martin. Harper did so to direct Rush to remove the hoodie Rush wore during the speech. Per Harper, the headgear violated a House rule.
If Rep. Rush had used the headwear for the purpose of disguising a bad hair day, the House rule against hats would indeed apply and the hoodie would need to go. However Rep. Rush’s purpose in donning the hoodie was otherwise. He sought to demonstrate that “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.” Rather, people of all stripes wear them; they are not indicators of imminent aggressive or criminal activity. The head cover was thus part of the message and a form of protected speech.
The constitution is the supreme law of the land. When a statute or rule conflicts, both cannot exist simultaneously. Since the constitution is supreme, the rule must yield. Let’s watch for more hoodies on the House floor.
The writer is a Monroe Community College professor and Brighton Town Judge.
Karen Morris, Professor
Business Administration/Economics Department