For nearly six months, Michigan’s assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell has been engaging in a bizarre internet campaign against Chris Armstrong, an openly gay student assembly president at the University of Michigan. Shirvell has attacked Armstrong’s “radical homosexual agenda” and has published posts on his blog “Chris Armstrong Watch” with photoshopped pictures of Armstrong with rainbow flags and swastikas. This week on CNN, Shirvell maintained the legitimacy of his campaign against Armstrong, saying, “I don’t have any hate in my body at all.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper last night asked Shirvell’s boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, if Shirvell should be reprimanded in any way for his actions. “We have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think,” Cox said defending Shirvell.
Cooper noted that Cox has even “made Internet safety one of the main initiatives” of his department and has “done public service announcements” on cyber-bullying. Cox conceded that Shirvell is bullying Armstrong but added that his actions are protected by the First Amendment. When Cooper said that CNN legal analyst Jeffry Toobin had suggested that Cox’s reluctance to discipline Shirvell was because he’s a political ally, Cox attacked Toobin:
COX: Well, you know, Mr. Toobin reminds me of the old joke, “I’m not a lawyer, but I play one on TV,” because he clearly didn’t read any of the Supreme Court case that I cited for you.
COOPER: He’s a former federal prosecutor, but you’re saying politics has nothing to do with this?
COX: But that — you know, that doesn’t mean anything, Anderson. He’s not in the ring every day practicing law. He’s spending time on CNN. And it’s a pretty good gig. I wish I had it.
Watch the interview:
“I’m sorry he’s not a fan,” Toobin said later on the program, adding that “the direction the [Supreme] Court is moving is towards less and less free speech protection for stuff that is a heck of a lot less offensive than the stuff” coming from Shirvell. Noting that Shirvell had actually picketed outside Armstrong’s house, legal scholar Jonathan Turley said, “That comes very, very close to stalking. There could be civil liability here. And I think that that moves this away from free speech into conduct. And that does — that is a legitimate basis for discipline. “
This post has been updated with the correct spelling of Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell’s surname.