Right and Left Against the Stream
Anthony P. Griffin, Esq.
MR. PRATT: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. If we could have your attention I'd like to get our luncheon program underway. Could I invite you to continue with your lunch and lend an ear as we get started for this afternoon's program.
I'm Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America and also one of the members of the board of the Free Speech Coalition.
It's a pleasure to be able to bring to the podium this afternoon Anthony Griffin, who graced us last year with his presence and is an attorney in private practice in Houston and also is an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law School. He is a former general counsel of the Texas Civil Liberties Union and also the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center and we are now going to have the opportunity to hear from Anthony Griffin.
MR. GRIFFIN: I was told that I was to talk about an update on what is going on with membership lists. I sat during this morning's session and will have to confess that the speakers who talked this morning about membership lists did a wonderful job of explaining the dangers that confront us if we allow our membership lists to be obtained by the government.
One of the problems I have, though, is -- and I think if I'm going to set a tone -- is that we are probably one of the most regulated societies in the world and I know that some of you will probably say that we represent a true democracy and that America is different. But we regulate and we run to our government and we complain about and we're concerned about safety.
We say we want everybody to put a seat belt on. We want everybody to buckle up and we now allow people to be stopped if you fail to have your seat belt on in the name of safety. I know you sit there and you say, that's some unfair criticism.
Then we get real worried and we want to regulate the environment in dealing with smoking because we're concerned about our health and now we have a whole industry where the next millionaires will be those people who make the outside comfortable for smokers, where they can go outside and have comfortable lounge chairs and a pretty environment and those inventors who understand that because of our over-regulation of individual citizens, you can become a millionaire if you recognize the trend.
We regulate motorcycle riders. We regulate -- and someone mentioned the color of the envelope that you mail your list out. We do it all under the notion that we go to our government and we want to complain. We want you to protect us from ourselves or protect us from others or to help us against our competition.
The list of states that were mentioned in terms of the regulation included Montana, Ohio, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, South Carolina, Florida, New Jersey and I went to the Free Speech newsletter, the "Free Speech Coalition," July of '94. On page number 6, there are a number of other states, Virginia, Illinois, Utah, Pennsylvania. We're covering the country in terms of the attacks and the attempts to obtain membership lists.
One of the virtues, I think, of comics and I think one of the virtues of free speech is that we can't patent everything in our society and we can't regulate everything in our society. A joke that was told by a Hispanic comedian is probably appropriate.
He said he became quite well known. He was making money and he was traveling all over the country and bought his first nice, fine car. He bought a BMW. He said that I bought this car. I went back to visit my folks. I went to the barrio. I got out of the car. I turned around and I walked away and said, oh, my God. He said, I turned around, took a sheet of paper and wrote on the sheet of paper, no radio and put it on the dashboard. He said, I came back to my car from visiting my mother. He said, my tires were flat. My hood was dented. My doors were gone. The window was broken up and the paper had been turned over and it says, next time, get one.
I think that comedian as a sage is probably correct when we talk about membership lists. What we tend to assume is, it applies to the other person and it doesn't apply to us. So, we put no lists, not ours but theirs. We put, it won't happen to my organization because my organization is not a threat, not theirs. We put, no radio and the government says, next time, get one.
I think what that comedian was probably saying is we have certain assumptions about our society that is built in. I know that I'm a little bit paranoid in all of this. My paranoia tells me that in every state in this country there is some bureaucrat sitting in some governmental office thinking about a method or a process of making his office more powerful. That's paranoia on my part, I admit.
I have this vision that somewhere in this country, whether it be Texas or Arkansas or New York or Ohio or some other state there is some person sitting in this country, sitting back thinking of how he or she can increase their budget. Now, I know that doesn't exist and I apologize.
I have this vision that some bureaucrat is sitting back thinking about how I can get more press and make my agency the most noteworthy agency in my state and I can get the "Washington Post" and the "New York Times" and the "Houston Chronicle" and the "Dallas Morning News" and all of the newspapers to love me.
I can give press conferences and I can get up and I can tell everyone, I am from this agency and we are doing this for the public good, sort of like motorcycle helmets, sort of like seat belts, sort of like smoking, sort of like regulation of envelopes, sort of like taking care of us.
I know that where I come from that's just called good old paranoia and it doesn't happen. So, when the comedian talked about, no radio, I think he was tapping into that assumption that we exist in and what bureaucrats oftentimes take advantage of. That if you have nothing to hide, you have no shame in giving your lists up. If you're doing everything properly then you will show us your lists tomorrow. The other assumption that the bureaucrat is very wonderful and does it quite well and again, I must insult you to some degree. Not only do our enemies come after our lists but our friends do, too. They do it under the notion of making us feel good and protecting us and that this governmental regulation that we're passing, it really doesn't affect you, it's really going after the bad guys.
It really doesn't hurt your organization because I like your organization and you shouldn't be concerned because your concern is misplaced and although the letter of the statute reads one way, you should ignore the letter of the statute because we like you and we're your friends and we'll take care of you.
Now, I call that part of my minority paranoia. I don't know whether you understand what that means but growing up as a black youth in America, you develop a certain degree of paranoia when someone starts telling you that they're your friends and start stroking you. You start backing up and start looking, in terms of where the hand is going. You start wondering, since when, how come, what do you mean you're my friend?
So, whether it is in the State of Ohio or the State of Hawaii or the State of New York, I think the point is made. You need to continue to fight any governmental regulation that requests your membership lists.
They'll do it under the notion of accounting, that it is just an accounting function. They'll do it under the notion of fees. We're just collecting fees or they'll do it under the notion that it's some state or federal agency doing their job for the public good.
I need not tell you, it's happening around the country. Governmental agencies are going in and as an example, in the State of Montana there was a -- and the agency is called the Montana Human Rights Network.
A hate group got up and gave a speech talking about the Montana Human Rights Network. The Montana Human Rights Network files a lawsuit against the hate group saying, that's libelous. You libeled us. Now, wait a minute.
I'm sitting here reading this stuff going, wait, come on, you're a public official. Maybe the hate group had a bad night that night and something -- and it was cold in Montana. You know, get a sense of humor about this.
But then what the agency does, it says, we're insulted. We're going to sue you for the public good because you've insulted this state agency and then they turn around and say, give us your membership lists. Even if you say, well, I'm not a hate group and I'm different, any time there is an investigation with respect to just your accounting records, an official with your membership lists can clean your clock. Once that list is given, they start twisting.
Your membership starts disappearing. They'll stop giving. They'll stop attending and with that membership list in hand or that donor list in hand, it becomes the means by which he or she can extract whatever the government wants from you. Now, I guess that's called my paranoia, reaching back again.
In Texas, there was a case called Tilden v. Moyer, where Mr. Tilden was an evangelist and ran a church and there became a dispute over whether his claims of healing were accurate claims. A former member filed a complaint saying, he can't heal anyone. He didn't heal me. I'm angry.
I contributed to the church and the state took the citizen's complaint and said, Oh, Mr. Tilden, we not only want to know who you have healed. We want to know who you claim to have healed and who supports your claims of healing the ill. By the way, give us your membership list and your donor list for your church.
The Texas Supreme Court came down and said, no, don't do that. Stop, I'm sorry. You can't have his membership list and you can't have his donor list because whether it's a religious group or whether it's a hate group whether it's a non-profit organization, the threat is still the same.
It is awfully powerful stuff for a bureaucrat sitting in an office anywhere in this country thinking about how powerful my agency can become and how wonderful it will look for my name to be in the paper, protecting the public good.
Now, I guess there's one other thing. I think you have to start with humor and I think you have to end with a little bit of it.
I caught a lot of flack last year for representing Michael Lowe (phonetic), the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and protecting his membership list. One of the things that happened in that case is, the Klan called me, made another call to me and said, Mr. Griffin, we want to adopt a highway down in Vidor.
I said, why do you want to adopt a highway, Michael? Well, we want to pick up trash, too.
For those of you who don't understand white boy, Texas idiom I'll provide translations as I go. We want to pick up trash, too. He then goes on to say, Mr. Griffin, I think it's unfair. He feels aggrieved. They won't let us adopt this highway. He said, it is our First Amendment privilege. Even the Klan understands the First Amendment.
I said, Michael, what do you want my office to do? I want you to represent us. Okay, we'll think about it. By the time I got off the phone with Michael Lowe, my Grand Dragon of hate, the "New York Times" called, the power of the press. It's amazing how wonderful and fast they work.
I said, well, I'm thinking about representing them. I haven't decided. I'm going to sit down and think about it over the weekend. I said, as a matter of speaking, I'll be honest with you. I think we civil libertarians and us in the civil rights community need to develop a sense of humor about all of this and the reporter said, what do you mean. I said, come on, let those boys have their right to adopt a highway. What is wrong with having a sign that
says -- if the Republican women can do it, then the Klan can have a membership list also.
If you let You Be Free -- there is a sign in Texas that says: "Here is the next two miles of highway." You Be Free is a nudist group.
If You Be Free can get a highway, then let those boys in sheets adopt a highway.
The reporter stopped and said, you're not serious, are you? I said, well, come on, stop. Let's talk about this for a minute. I said, we need to develop a sense of humor about all this. He said, I don't understand. I said, look, let them adopt a highway and then we can get all our friends and we can go down to Vidor on Sunday. We can load up our trash and dump it.
It is the ultimate act of civil disobedience that you can contribute to your society, to go to Vidor, Texas -- and we can have tour groups. We can come from Georgia. We can come from Houston. We can come from Florida. We can come from New York and we can all go down to Vidor and we can take pictures and we can just dump trash and then watch Michael Lowe and his boys pick it up. If he fails to pick it up, we can complain, because some bureaucrat, somewhere, in some office is going to support the claim and take away the license of the Klan to continue to adopt a portion of the highway.
I think that's what it is about. I think we need to fight and recognize whether you're a conservative group or a liberal group or you're far right or far left or whether you wake up in the morning and you're paranoid when you take your first step, then you need to understand how important membership lists are and the right of free speech is. I thank you for the opportunity.
MR. PRATT: That does it. I'm not adopting any highways.
Next, we have the opportunity to hear from the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed.
They have a million members and 872 chapters in every one of the states of the country. Ralph is a columnist and political analyst and he's appeared on a number of television shows and consulted with perhaps even more Congressional campaigns. Among his accomplishments is a Doctorate that he has in American History from Emery University. Ralph, would you come forward?
MR. REED: Thank you, Larry.
I remember in February of 1993, sitting in my office one day minding my own business as I am wont to do and the phone rang and it was a reporter for the "Washington Post" named Michael Weiskopf (phonetic). Michael was doing a story on the fact that in the preceding 24 hours, 450,000 phone calls had descended on the U.S. Capitol switchboard like a sunami of voter anger, out of apparently nowhere, designed to defeat Bill Clinton's attempt to repeal the ban on gays in the military.
He said, I understand that Pat Robertson has flashed the Capitol switchboard number on his television program and I would be curious to know whether or not you all had anything to do with this. I said, well, we became aware of it just like I think everybody else did and encouraged people to get involved. I don't believe for a minute that we generated all of those phone calls. I think just trying to facilitate an opportunity for people to call and make their voices heard and so forth and so on.
It was one of those conversations with reporters that probably some of you had where the computer keyboard is not clicking. He wasn't really taking my viewpoint. It was pretty apparent that he had already written a story about Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and others having whipped up this maelstrom of protest which I believe was primarily spontaneous and probably at least as much sparked by CSPAN and the networks and CNN as it was by religious broadcasters.
I gave the example of my father, who is a career naval officer and served on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam. He had called his two Senators, Sam Nunn and Paul Coverdell, for the first time in my life. For the entire time I grew up in my home, my father never made a phone call to the Capitol. Yet, here he was doing it. I made the point that he didn't have either a satellite dish or cable, because they live out in the country. So, he couldn't have gotten Pat Robertson and he didn't listen to Rush Limbaugh. But at any event, that wasn't what he wanted to write. So, he went on to write a story that sort of became infamous which was that the "followers of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell" had been driven to their phones like glassy-eyed drones, because they were "poor, uneducated and easy to command." This was in a page one news story.
Within about 72 hours, the Washington Post fax lines were jammed with people faxing their college diplomas and their 1040 forms to demonstrate that they did, in fact, have incomes above the national average and did have professional, advanced and collegiate degrees.
Everybody, of course, knows what happened as a result of that barrage. The Clinton Administration backed off. There were hearings and so forth and a different result came about.
That was my first experience with what I think is going to be at the center of politics in the 1990s. That is, a grassroots, high-tech, citizen-oriented protest that is going to have more impact on this city and it's proceedings than all the powerful lobbyists on K Street wearing Armani suits and Gucci shoes. I think it is a combination of three things. Number one, I think it is a sort of volcano of voter anger that began probably roughly in 1990 when Jack Gargeon (phonetic), that entrepreneur from Florida, began running those ads all over the country called throw the hypocritical rascals out.
Then he would have an 800 number at the bottom and an address and the ad made money. More money came in off the ad than he spent on the ad. That was, of course, the first year that term limit restrictions passed anywhere in the country, that year in Oklahoma, California and Colorado.
I think then, of course, in 1992, you have the Perot phenomenon and now we're seeing it again in '94. I think the second thing is a development of technologies that are transforming our politics, some old, some new, some coming into a renaissance, like talk radio. Rush Limbaugh is really a throw- back to the hay day that AM radio enjoyed in the '30s and '40s and he has sort of reinvented the medium and personalized it and turned it into a business, when many people believed that AM radio was finished as a business forever.
Of course, cable television. In 1980 only 12 percent of America's TVs had cable. Today, that figure is 75 percent. Twelve years ago, only about ten million people had cable. Today, that figure is about 62 million. So, you have CNN CSPAN. CSPAN enjoys a daily audience of about two million viewers, about 92 percent of whom vote. I think that is the second aspect of this, is this high-tech, computerized bulletin boards, things like CompuServe, Internet and so forth, fax machines and all of these various things.
Then the third thing is, a sort of seismic shift underneath the plate of American politics that we saw roughly at the end of every great military conflagration, in this case, a cold war rather than a hot war. If you look at the Civil War and how the post-Civil War economic trauma birthed both the Populist Movement and the Progressive Move and, I think, to a degree, the Women's Suffrage movement. After World War I, of course, you get the Red Scare. You get the rise of the progressive movement after World War I.
After World War II, you have McCarthyism. You have the rise of the Klan, which also emerged after World War I, all these sorts of things. I think we are now in the first period of a post-cold war politics which instead of bringing tranquility is, in fact, bringing a tremendous amount of trauma to our political system. I don't think that very many people understand how different politics is going to look by the end of this decade as it did at the beginning.
I think this town and this government has a direct personal interest in those politics not bringing about the changes that they are effectuating. I don't know how many of you all followed the H.R. 6 battle, the battle over the education bill which erupted in March. There was a provision in that bill, a bill that otherwise most members of Congress supported that required that every teacher in America whether in a private, public, parochial or home school be certified by the state to teach the subjects in which they were engaged in teaching.
Well, there's about 12 million young people in private and parochial school and about two million in home schools both of them, of course, the trend line is on the upswing. There were a lot of people concerned that the state regulations that would then be passed to sort of comply with this federal mandate would be Draconian and would make it difficult for them to teach their own children. This was an amendment that was surreptitiously submitted in a bill in a subcommittee at which only three members of the subcommittee were present. No on objected. It was just kind of dropped in there.
In reading through the bill two weeks later, several congressional aides became aware of the existence of this amendment. They contacted a lobbyist at the Home School Defense Association, which in turn alerted our staff and the staffs of other conservative religious groups on Capitol Hill who, in turn, contacted various conservative media outlets, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, Rush Limbaugh and so forth. Fax networks were activated.
Home schoolers, who by he way, one of the ways they get their lessons around amongst themselves is on CompuServe and Internet. They immediately began to talk to each other on computer bulletin boards and said, contact your congressman.
Over a period of about 10 days, a million phone calls descended on the Capitol. It got so bad that I was sitting in my office one day. Members of Congress were out campaigning and couldn't reach their own offices. They couldn't get through. The chief sponsor of the bill, George Miller of California, finally took his phone off the hook and just activated a tape machine because they couldn't deal with the incoming volume.
I got a call from one Congressional aide who said, is there any way that you could turn off this avalanche of phone calls? I said, frankly, there is no way we can do it apart from having a vote and convincing people that this bill is defeated. He said, well, you know, we're all in favor of democracy up here but we've had about all the democracy that we can stand for one week on Capitol Hill.
The vote was not scheduled to take place for two weeks but at the urging of members of Congress who were kind of bleary-eyed and dealing with the cursing epitaphs of their staff who were having to handle the phone calls, they moved the vote up one week and the bill was defeated by a 424 to 1 margin. The only one voting for it being the sponsor of the amendment.
I think you're going to see more repetitions of that. I think we saw that today, on the lobbying disclosure bill. I know that there is a broad range ideologically represented here today but I believe that there is a consensus among grassroots citizen action organizations attempting to influence legislation, attempting to bring the views of their grassroots members to bear on the legislative process that this legislation was a Draconian jackhammer, aimed at the heart of free expression, our constitutional right to free speech and our constitutional right to petition our lawmakers.
It would have required, as you know, anyone who spent 10 percent of their time or more contacting members of Congress, a determination that presumably would have been made by an appointed bureaucrat, who would have been the sort of CZAR of this whole bureaucracy, who would have had subpoena power, who would have had the power to drag people in for depositions and so forth.
These folks would have been then required to register and I believe ultimately would have been required to disclose either their membership lists or the lists of people with whom they were having contact.
Ten days ago, this bill was heading for something like a 300 to 125 vote in the House and something like an 80 to 20 vote in the Senate. As everybody knows, we came within five votes of defeating the rule in the House and today, defeating an attempt to invoke cloture on the bill by a 52 to 46 vote. I just want to walk through, very quickly, the steps that we took and I know many other people took to help bring this about.
The first thing that we did, was when we became aware of the language in the bill we sent out faxes to our one thousand chapters around the country, each of which operates a telephone tree of people either operating out of their offices or at kitchen tables in their homes and each of their telephone trees has between 100 and 500 people net-worked into them.
In Harris County, Texas we have a 4,000 member telephone tree which is computer driven where we have the names and phone numbers of our membership lists tied into a software program where we can have an audio message tell them about the bill, give them a phone number to call and it just randomly dials through that thing. In the space of about six hours we can each 4,000 people, just through that one telephone tree.
The technology is now available, by the way, for grassroots workers to develop a membership list and instead of sitting at their kitchen table after they have put their children to bed and before they turn in for the night making a dozen phone calls and half of the people aren't in, the technology is now available to have those lists auto-dialed off of computers without ever touching a telephone. That's going to dramatically, I think, change politics as more and more people become aware of it.
We estimate we have reached roughly 100,000 people just through the fax network, through messages on both CompuServe and Internet. Secondly, the same broadcast network that got activated on H.R. 6 got activated on this legislation.
I know that there were liberal journalists who were concerned about this as well but it seemed to mostly emanate from conservative broadcast outlets. Again, Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Marlin Maddox (phonetic) out of Dallas, who is a syndicated talk show host, Jim Dobson out of Colorado Springs. We also sent alerts to 35,000 churches nationwide and then, finally, engaged in a lot of personal lobbying, direct calls to lawmakers.
The most successful tactic, by the way, was to identify all the 96 aspirants in the Senate and have people with Iowa and New Hampshire area codes call them and urge that they vote against the bill. We then found that what happened was the 96 aspirants got into sort of a contest to see who could get the most votes against the bill.
Whereas, you know, I mean really three or four days ago we had a hard count of 30 no votes. Today, there were 46 no votes.
After the H.R. 6 battle in March, the "New York Times" had a banner headline in their story about that victory by the grassroots religious activists and the home schoolers and it said, "Congress Makes a Bow to the Power of the Religious Right." Not unusually, they missed point. The point was not that Congress had bowed to one interest group or the other. The point was that the old, sort of oligarchy of how information emanating from this town is controlled and disseminated to the people is breaking apart.
The networks are declining in viewership. The number of people watching the CBS evening news has declined by 40 percent since Dan Rather took the anchor chair in 1983. That is going to continue. The number of people during prime time, between 8:00 and 11:00 o'clock in the evening, tuned to one of the three networks has declined from 95 percent in 1980 to 58 percent today and it is going to continue to decline as direct satellite television now begins to eclipse cable. Instead of being able to get 40 or 50 channels people will be able to get 500 to 600 channels. We are also no more than a few years away from direct satellite transmission radio where you can have a satellite dish on the trunk of your car the size of a quarter and you'll be able to pick up whichever radio host you prefer any time of the day or night, simply by dialing into that satellite dish.
As that information revolution takes place and as voter anger wells up from the bottom, I think we're going to see a new, a more citizen-friendly and a more grassroots oriented politics in this country unlike anything we've seen since the populace revolt of the 1890's. I don't think it's a conservative phenomenon or a liberal phenomenon. I don't think it's a Republican or a Democrat phenomenon. I think it crosses party lines and crosses the ideological divide and I think, again, by the time we get done, this is going to be a very different country and a very different government.
If projections hold for November 8, we'll see another 100 new members of Congress. We have already got 50 that have either lost or retired or are moving on to other offices. We had 110 in 1992. That was the biggest freshman class since 1946. If we get the 100 that are projected on November 8, that would be 210 new members. That would be about a 50 percent turnover in the House of Representatives in the space of three years. That would be the biggest turnover in the House since the Civil War.
These are the kinds of things that are happening around the country. You're going to continue, I think, to see efforts to regulate, stifle and control and direct and hamstring those changes and I think it's incumbent upon all of us, liberals as well as conservatives, whatever our ideological views to give the American people an opportunity to make their voices heard. Thank you very much.
MR. PRATT: Thank you.
It looks like we have some time for questions so if there are some, the speakers are real close to the podium. Could we entertain a question at this time?
PARTICIPANT: I was wondering if the existing statutes or any of the proposed regulations differentiate between membership and donors. For instance, our organization does not ask people for contributions. We ask them to become members.
I was just wondering if any of the things we've talked about today differentiate between those two categories.
MR. SEGERMARK: Larry, can I answer that?
Judy Richmond, from the Chamber of Commerce is going to be speaking his afternoon and I can't remember which session. It is either the three or four o'clock.
The Chamber is going to be filing a suit with the Federal Elections Commission on the issue of defining a member. The FEC is recently doing that. So, we're going to be addressing that this afternoon.
MR. PRATT: Someone over here?
PARTICIPANT: In view of the turnover which we've just heard about in Congress over two years, why is anybody asking for time limits? It seems to me that democracy is working.
MR. REED: Well, I think half of those are retirements and the other half are defeated. So, I think you are still dealing -- for example, in 1992, the House members who didn't retire or run for something else still had a retention or re-election rate of 88 percent which was lower than it had ever been since 1974.
I still think all of the evidence indicates that with PAC contributions, franked mail, name ID, access to broadcast outlets, incumbent members of Congress and incumbent officeholders, have an unfair institutional advantage over challengers.
We think term limits will not only help to even out that playing field, but also frankly, we think it would be good for society, for people to rotate in and out of office, not merely involuntarily in the sense of defeat, but just move on and go back to the town in which they live and live under the laws that they are passing under everybody else. I think, frankly, a lot of the laws that we are dealing with, that strike at the heart of free speech and our right to participate, wouldn't happen if some of those who come to this city and stay longer than Catherine the Great ruled over Russia -- if they had to go to their respective cities and live in our shoes for a while and operate the way we have to operate.
MR. PRATT: Go ahead. There's one behind you.
PARTICIPANT: I'm on the receiving end of a multi-million dollar lawsuit, at one point a libel lawsuit. The fellow is suing us for things that were reported about his background, things which he says are true to the court. He said he needed to see who we defamed him to.
So, not only did he need the name of the organization that the mailings were done for, their house list, but he also needed to have the list of anybody else's list that the letters were mailed to. That came to 2.2 million names.
My question is for Mr. Griffin.
You talked about the government not getting a hold of lists. How do you feel about your political opponent group, the group on the other side of your issue getting the lists? Do you feel the same way?
MR. GRIFFIN: I think it's the same question. I mean, in civil litigation all the time when there is a fight that goes on in a respective community or in the political forum, the first attack is now to sue you for defamation or libel and then to ask for your membership list. I think it is the same concern that the courts have to deal with.
The problem with a civil litigant is, the courts are more readily inclined to give up the membership list versus the state entity. There was a case out of Illinois recently where they were able to fight off the membership list in that state where a civil litigant was sued. They immediately asked for the membership lists and the courts said no, you can't have them.
So, I don't support that method of litigation but it is going to happen and it continues to happen. I'll give you one other example.
I represented, in a civil rights case, a group of citizens that were shot by police officers. My office elected to exercise his First Amendment right and took out an ad in the newspaper for a week. "Please, if you know anything about this officer, contact this number, Anthony Griffin." The police officer then turned around and sued my office and the newspaper for defamation saying that we defamed him for telling the truth. He did shoot. He did use one bullet to kill two people.
So, that tactic is used throughout. If you say something unkind about me, I will sue you and then ask you, if you are an organization, the first thing they ask for is your lists.
PARTICIPANT: Anthony, I would like to pursue government attempts at getting lists, outside the kind we've been discussing. It was mentioned earlier this morning at the Freedom Forum, that there is this new television program where they're considering different First Amendment issues and filmed one last Friday slap suits, particularly the HUD attempts to go after groups in Seattle and Berkeley and other places.
They attempted to enter into a conciliation agreement in Seattle which would -- to get off the backs of the people who they were after who they investigated and harassed for over a year, government attorneys.
One of the things that they demanded was that the group turn over the list of anyone who was a member, anyone who had contributed to or participated in any of their meetings or any of these sorts of things. The group refused to give it up but the HUD attorney was asked later in the meeting, later in the show, how many of these kinds of things were entered into each year.
They said there were approximately 10,000 complaints and that 6,000 of them are -- very few ever go to trial. They just harass people. But 6,000 of them are solved with conciliation agreements such as they offered the people in Seattle. This means that a government agency is using its power to go after every name and every contributing member of a group that objects to their policies that they can find.
MR. GRIFFIN: I think that this is where the real conflict starts and where you will have friends fighting friends. When HUD comes in and says -- a group of citizens get together and they complain about, as an example, a housing project put up in their neighborhood.
HUD then invokes the Fair Housing Act and says, the Fair Housing Act says to use intimidation, to threaten, to coerce or to -- basically, they interpret those words to protest. The housing project put up in my neighborhood is in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Someone clicks off an investigation. So, you will have, let's say, one group on one hand saying, we want to have fair housing in our neighborhood. You have another group that says, I don't want these houses, these projects built in my neighborhood.
PARTICIPANT: The Seattle case was brought because the group of local residents filed suit and the Federal Government said that the filing of suit was a violation of the Fair Housing Act. They could not have recourse to the courts or to protest.
MR. GRIFFIN: I understand that and that's where I part ways. I part ways to the extent that I am of a firm belief that you have a right to protest. You have a right to criticize. You have a right to say we don't want it here. I think that's politics. I think that is the cultural debate that we have to engage in.
I don't think HUD has a right to make those types of positions, because what you're making the citizen do
is -- it's a tightrope that we're being forced to walk on the First Amendment. I don't think we can create those types of exceptions to the First Amendment. I'm really against that.
It is the same thing that Clinton did when he came out and he proposed that anyone who lives in housing projects will give up their Fourth Amendment right to search and seizure. Well, I'm sorry. If I'm poor, it doesn't mean that you can come into my home because you want to counteract drugs in the project. That may be a very pure stance, but I think that is the proper stance you have to take. If you allow HUD to get away with that type of behavior, then we're all in trouble.
MR. PRATT: Well, if that's it, we've got just a few minutes to get back upstairs. Thank you very much.