The first amendment to the United States Constitution reads in part that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

The fourteenth amendment made that restriction on government—and others in the Bill of Rights—binding on state and local governments, too.

No law. It doesn’t say “except on college campuses.” It doesn’t say “except for hate speech or offensive utterances.” It doesn’t say “except for the judiciary.”

We have no idea what possessed state District Judge Charles Weller to say that budget cuts reducing enforcement of the Violence Against Women Act “will put women back in their place … the kitchen and the bedroom” and we surely do not sympathize with his stupid comments. What we do know is that his opinion is no business of the state.

Half a century ago, when the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a new penalty hearing for Thomas Bean—convicted of raping and murdering Reno resident and Olympic skier Sonja McCaskie and dismembering her body—Washoe County District Attorney William Raggio denounced the ruling: “[The] most shocking, certainly to this office, and I’m sure to anyone who has dealt with similar problems”; “the court in the majority opinion has frankly gone to a great extent to do some semantical gymnastics … I feel very strongly as I sit here today faced with the … almost insurmountable task of reacquiring witnesses after some six or seven years and retrying the case. I feel that it’s an example of judicial legislation at its very worst.”; “In my opinion, this is the most shocking and outrageous decision in the history of the Supreme Court of this state. It’s unexplainable, and in my opinion totally uncalled for.”

The bruised orchids on the Nevada Supreme Court reprimanded Raggio for having an opinion which it claimed breached “inherited standards of propriety and honor” that override the First Amendment. It remains a black mark on Nevada’s law books (In Re Raggio, July 13, 1971) that allowed the court to damage Raggio’s candidacy for higher office at the time.

If the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission wants to penalize Weller, it needs to find a court ruling he made that applies his private opinions at the expense of justice. But fining him and forcing him to write compelled speech (!) and attend indoctrination classes is a violation of his rights. And if Weller’s rights can be abridged, so can all of ours.

A lot of people shoot off their mouths in ways we all find offensive, but offensiveness is not actionable, and the notion that the state has a role in protecting the hurt feelings of citizens has gone way too far, particularly on campuses where speech codes are imposed to protect people from demeaning or hostile language.

If people find words “intimidating,” then they are too easily intimidated. We all want pleasant places in society, but bringing state power to bear as a means of enforcing that end is hazardous and self-defeating, and in Weller’s case, imposing forced speech as a remedy for free speech is sick.

The discipline commission should revoke its decision and stop its history of seeking monsters to slay outside legitimate judicial discipline.

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