Some critics of the current U.S. Supreme Court are accusing its conservative majority of turning it into a safe haven for white supremacy.
Any such narrative should have been seen as fully debunked as of Monday, however, when the nation’s highest court rejected an appeal by a pair of white supremacists who pleaded guilty to federal riot charges stemming from their actions during a violent 2017 protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Details of the decades-old law
Furthermore, justices essentially upheld a circuit court determined that the federal anti-rioting statute, which has also been used against left-leaning protesters like those in the Black Lives Matter movement, was overly broad in criminalizing certain protected elements of speech.
In this case, however, the Supreme Court weighed in on a case involving two California men, Benjamin Daley and Micahel Miselis, who traveled to Charlottesville to participate in the protest that devolved into a deadly riot.
Both defendants pleaded guilty to violating the 1968 Anti-Riot Act. Daley was sentenced to 37 months and Miselis received a 27-month term behind bars.
The pair later appealed those convictions on the grounds that the act included unconstitutional prohibitions on protected free speech.
For its part, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2020 that the two convicted rioters had a point in their complaints about the law, but it ultimately upheld their convictions. The Anti-Riot Act was also amended to remove portions that were determined to violate the First Amendment.
“Mere advocacy of violence”
The law itself criminalizes interstate travel and foreign commerce for the purpose of inciting a riot.
In its decision, the circuit court found that Daley and Miselis violated certain portions of that law and thereby upheld their convictions, nevertheless agreeing that some of the statute’s language ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
Specifically, that ruling severed prohibitions against speech that would “encourage” or “promote” a riot as well as “urging” or the “mere advocacy of violence.”
The remainder of the law was deemed constitutional and left intact. Those remaining prohibitions were against inciting, organizing, or participating in a riot.
Notably, both Daley and Miselis had also been convicted of rioting in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reached a decision similar to that handed down by the Fourth Circuit.