This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Elonis v. U.S., a case involving rap lyrics that were prosecuted as threats. Today, the University of Florida’s Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project submitted this amicus brief to the Court, which I wrote along with Professors Clay Calvert and Charis Kubrin. In it, we argue that the complexities of rap, not to mention the negative reactions that it evokes in many people, make it susceptible to misinterpretation. It makes sense, therefore, that a speaker’s intent is crucial in determining what constitutes a real threat.
To any rap fan, this is basic common sense. In the legal system, unfortunately, common sense doesn’t always prevail.