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June 30, 2003

A Really Important Court Decision

Okay, in a week of blockbuster cases at the federal level, I still think this decision by the California Supreme Court is more important.

The summary: a fired employee, Kourosh Hamidi, bombarded former colleagues at Intel with email complaints about age discrimination at the company. A lower state court issued an injunction against Hamidi as a "trespasser" on Intel's computer system. The California Supreme Court rejected the decision:

In addition to saying Hamidi did not commit trespassing, the majority on the court ruled that the lower-court injunction barring him from the activity was violating his First Amendment rights.

"He no more invaded Intel's property than does a protester holding a sign or shouting through a bullhorn outside corporate headquarters, posting a letter through the mail, or telephoning to complain of a corporate practice," Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote in the majority opinion.

She also said that Intel's servers were not harmed and that the thousands of Hamidi e-mail recipients were able to request that the e-mails stop, which Hamidi honored. Had that not been the case, Hamidi may have been trespassing, she said.

Why is this decision more important that either the gay rights or the affirmative action decisions? Because courts preserving the right of workers, gays, blacks and any other protester to tell others their grievances and organize democratically is the core of democracy. And if corporations had the right to block access to their employees' email, that would essentially shut down democracy in much of our society and most definitely in the workplaces where people spend 40-80 hours per week.

I don't like judicial review, as I note often. But I sometimes joke that my view on judicial review is like the Cheshire Cat-- nothing much remains but the grin of the first amendment.

But in a democracy, that's all that's needed from the courts. And the California Supreme Court delivered on that in this decision.

Posted by Nathan at June 30, 2003 07:39 PM