In a tweet on Wednesday, President Trump implied that Snoop Dogg, “failing career and all,” would have received “Jail Time!” if the West Coast rapper had released his mock presidential-assassination video during the Obama administration.
Here’s the thing, though: Rap lyrics aren’t actual bullets. So in the case of Trump vs. Snoop, there is no case, according to several lawyers specializing in the First Amendment.
“If there’s not a true threat, then it’s absolutely protected free speech,” said lawyer Bruce Johnson of Snoop’s music video “Lavender,” in which the 45-year-old rapper shoots a clown version of Trump with a fake gun.
Johnson said that the First Amendment protects a wide swath of speech that might very well be offensive but that it makes an exception for “true threats,” in which there is a direct link between cause and effect.
The lawyer offered the example of Sarah Palin and her infamous “crosshairs map.” In 2010, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee posted a U.S. map on her Facebook page with bull’s eyes placed over the districts of 20 Democratic lawmakers whom her political action committee was targeting for defeat, including then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (Ariz.). Giffords was shot in the head 10 months later.
“No one thought Sarah Palin should have been prosecuted for bringing that image to bear in the public marketplace,” Johnson said — although plenty of think pieces placed the blame at Palin’s door.
Floyd Abrams, a constitutional lawyer, agreed that Snoop’s video is protected under the First Amendment, but he conceded the president’s point — that there would have been more outrage over the video while Barack Obama was in the White House.
“In light of the amount of threats on his life,” said Abrams, referring to Obama, “there might well have been public denunciation. But as a legal matter, it’s quite clear that there could have been no prosecution or jail time.”
“One can conjure up circumstances in which [it] would not be taken as political commentary, attempted humor or the like and direct advocacy of an assassination,” Abrams added. But for any prosecution to hold up in court, he said, there would have to be what the law considers an “incitement,” or “very clear advocacy with the intent that people imitate it.”
Snoop described the song and its accompanying video, which deals with police brutality and Trump’s travel ban, as political commentary.
The rapper told Billboard in a recent interview that when he releases records, he doesn’t “look for a reaction. I just put it out because I feel like it’s something that’s missing. Any time I drop something, I’m trying to fill in a void. I feel like it’s a lot of people making cool records, having fun, partying, but nobody’s dealing with the real issue with this f–king clown as president.”