The U. S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in Elonis vs. United States on December 1 with a slight twist to the usual decorum of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts began court proceedings quoting violent rap lyrics, which was relevant to the case in which clarification is being sought between offensive statements vs. bona fide threats.

“It is a significant case if for no other reason than it represents the Supreme Court’s first foray into the First Amendment and social media,” said David Bodney, who leads the firm’s Media Law Group. “It poses two important but conflicting interests: freedom of speech on one hand and the right to be free of menacing communications on the other.”

Anthony Elonis in 2010 posted self-described original rap lyrics—regarded by some as threatening to his estranged wife— on his social media account despite having received a protection-from-abuse order. He was arrested under federal laws prohibiting “interstate communications” that threaten someone. In 2011 he was convicted and sentenced to a 44-month prison term.

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Media Law