Big Legal Questions In Court Hearing Between Memphis And The ACLU

Local News

On one end of Front Street in Downtown Memphis is the Federal Court Building.
It is where the bench hearing concerning whether the city has the right to challenge a 40-year-old consent decree is being held.

A lot of things have changed in 40 years, according to the city lawyers, making the consent decree a relic.
For example, the only social media 40 years ago was a party line telephone.

“I don’t think this is the first one to delve into the use of social media by police,” says University of Memphis Law Professor Steve Mulroy, “… but I do think there may be some need to reconsider some of the provisions of consent decree.”

Professor Mulroy is at the University of Memphis Law School, about six blocks away from the Federal Court Building.
He is talking about a consent decree that was ordered in 1978 after the ACLU took the Memphis Police to court.
Long before the first tweet was tweeted, decades before the first friend was Facebooked.

Memphis Police used fake profiles to become friends and monitor certain people and organizations.
This is the big legal issue, does social media change everything?

“If the city of Memphis feels the consent decree is outdated and overbroad,” Mulroy says, “… they could have, at any time, moved to amend that consent decree. Instead, they simply ignored it and there’s got to be a price for that.”

A judge has already ruled the city violated the consent decree.
And remember, all of this picked up after the bridge protest a few years ago, and a demonstration called a die-in in front of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s home.

The trouble, according to Mulroy, is they weren’t just monitoring who actually did the die-in at the Mayor’s house, but people who were engaged in other peaceful protests, and even the Facebook friends of people who were involved in protests.

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