Texas Democrat Rep. Rubén Hinojosa said Monday that he is open to joining Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Robert Brady in support of a bill to curb speech that could be perceived as “threatening” to public officials.
“The level of discourse is out of control,” Hinojosa said. “Yes, I would certainly sit down with him and look at the wording and see how we could strengthen it. There’s a need to tone down the rhetoric that occurred here these last few years. In my opinion, I would support legislation, yes.”
Brady told the New York Times on Sunday that he would seek legislation banning certain types of speech in reaction to the weekend shooting in Tucson, Ariz. that left Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords injured and killed six others.
“You can’t threaten the president with a bullseye or a crosshair,” Brady said Sunday. “This is not a wake-up call. This is a major alarm going off. We need to be more civil with each other. We need to tone down this rhetoric.”
Brady was referring to political messaging ads used by both parties that use crosshairs to show districts they are targeting for victory. There are currently restrictions against threatening the president, but the law is more open to other public officials.
Brady has not yet made the specific language of the bill public.
Hinojosa also called for legislation to increase security for members of Congress.
“I believe that legislation should be written up that will address this problem that we are facing,” he said, adding that he would leave it to leaders to write the specifics. “After 9/11 legislation was passed that increased the security at all the airports and all the different types of transportation that are used not only by members of Congress but by the public. So that takes legislation to be able to enforce that. …We need to increase the level of protection if we are to do our work.”
UPDATE: UCLA Constitutional Law Professor Eugene Volokh explains the constitutionality of Brady’s bill below:
“As it happens, federal law already provides that ‘Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing … any threat to injure the person of another.’ (A separate law provides that anyone who ‘makes any … threat [to inflict bodily harm] against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.’) So if any proposed law merely bans true threats, then it would be unnecessary (with one exception noted below). And if it tries to go beyond true threats — which is what the proposer’s rhetoric seems to suggest — then it would be unconstitutional.”