Carolina Journal’s Sara Burrows provides us with this full report on the Court of Appeals ruling that is a huge win for North Carolina diet blogger Steve Cooksey, and a big loss for the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. The ruling sends the case back to the trial court to be viewed as a First Amendment case. Institute for Justice attorney Jeff Rowes explains what it means and what happens now.
“This is a decisive, pivotal decision in Steve Cooksey’s favor,” Rowes said. “It will be an important precedent not just in his case, but for cases all over the country where licensing boards are trying to censor people’s advice.”
Coburn’s new decision will have to be based on the principle that advice is speech protected by the First Amendment, Rowes said. “That drastically changes things.”
“The state can now argue, ‘it’s true we restricted his speech, but this particular restriction doesn’t violate the First Amendment for reasons A, B and C,’” Rowes said. “What [it] can’t say at this point is that this is not a First Amendment case.”
Rowes said the state might argue that it has a legitimate interest in restricting Cooksey’s speech to protect public health, as it did the first time around, saying Cooksey’s “target audience is a uniquely vulnerable population that suffers from the chronic and life-threatening condition of diabetes and often struggles to control blood sugar levels,” and that his advice could have “potentially serious health implications.”
“We will argue that speech in this context gets a very, very high degree of protection, and it should be almost impossible for Steve Cooksey to lose, because they are censoring his speech on the basis of its content,” Rowes said.
“They’re saying what you have written on the Internet, those words are illegal because of their meaning,” he said. “That is content-based censorship, and it is virtually a per se violation of the First Amendment.”