Our Views: Court should nix ruling

Recent controversies involving selective scrutiny of conservative groups by the IRS and the U.S. Justice Department’s probes of Associated Press phone records underscore the power of the federal government to influence free expression.

That reality was evident in an order by a U.S. District Court in Lafayette that forced the shutdown of a website critical of the Lafayette Police Department.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear arguments next month on whether to lift that court order. We hope that the appeals court advances the cause of public discourse by allowing the website to operate.

The court order stems from a lawsuit filed by current and former members of the Lafayette Police Department alleging widespread police corruption, racial discrimination and retaliation against whistleblowers.

Some of the disgruntled officers recorded department activities and posted the results on the website realcopsvcraft.com, which contains the name of Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft. In September, U.S. Magistrate Patrick Hanna issued a protective order sought by Lafayette officials, including Craft. The order, ratified by U.S. District Judge Richard Haik, shut down exchanges with the media and the website.

In a document requesting an appeals court hearing on the matter, the plaintiffs argued that Hanna’s ruling “imposes a . . . prior restraint on speech and publication, and . . . it constitutes an impermissible restraint on First Amendment rights.”

We agree, and we hope that the appeals court rules in favor of free expression.