According to Philadelphia’s CBS affiliate, the new law allows victims and prosecutors to sue felons in prison or after they’ve served their time.
The law defines conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim” as including behavior that causes the victim “mental anguish.” Corbett said Tuesday that the law would curb the “obscene celebrity” of convicts like Abu-Jamal, the Associated Press reported.
Although the governor said in a statement that the law “is not about any one single criminal,” Corbett signed the bill near the spot where police officer Daniel Faulkner was killed. Faulkner is the officer Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering.
Corbett said the law “was inspired by the excesses and pious hypocrisy of one particular killer.”
Earlier this month, Abu-Jamal spoke via a pre-recorded video message to a group of 20 students at Goddard College as part of a commencement ceremony. The Vermont college’s announcement of Abu-Jamal as a speaker prompted outrage in Pennsylvania, where the inmate is serving his sentence.
Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, condemned the college’s decision, saying in a statement to Fox News that Abu-Jamal’s “freedom was taken away when he murdered a police officer in the line of duty. It seems like our justice system allows murderers to continue to have a voice over the public airwaves and at college commencement. It’s despicable.”
Some civil rights groups, including the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, have criticized the new law, saying it’s too broad. “Essentially, any action by an inmate or former offender that could cause ‘mental anguish’ could be banned by a judge,” Pennsylvania ALCU director Reggie Shuford said in a statement to the AP. “That can’t pass constitutional muster under the First Amendment.”
Goddard College was “surprised” by the new law. Goddard spokeswoman Samantha Kolber told the Patriot-News that “in essence this law is suggesting that people are not capable of making choices about what speech they will listen to and how they will react to that speech. We wonder how libertarians and free-speech conservatives feel about this action, and we also speculate about how far this diminishment of free-speech rights will go.”
Abu-Jamal, who maintains that he is innocent, has built a following among those who believe he did not receive a fair trial. The case is such a charged subject that it effectively derailed President Obama’s nominee to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Debo P. Adegbile used to work for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, which helped to overturn Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.
Of Abu-Jamal’s commencement speech, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said in an earlier statement to The Post that “while we do not support or endorse this specific type of activity, we cannot prohibit it from happening.” Wetzel added that Abu-Jamal had a constitutionally protected right to access a telephone.
Abu-Jamal earned a bachelor of arts degree at Goddard from prison in 1996, and he’s written prolifically from behind bars. The inmate also gave two previous commencement addresses: In 1999, he addressed the students of Evergreen College. And in 2000, he addressed the graduates of Antioch College.