Racial ridicule in Connecticut

is apparently a crime. C.G.S 53-37 provides:

Any person who, by his advertisement, ridicules or holds up to contempt any person or class of persons, on account of the creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race of such person or class of persons, shall be fined not more than fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days or both.

Volokh notes that the statute has resulted in 79 convictions since 1995, not a large number by any stretch, but still troubling considering the First Amendment implications:

This strikes me as pretty clearly unconstitutional, because it suppresses speech based on its content (and viewpoint), and because there’s no First Amendment exception that covers such speech. Yet the statute seems to be pretty commonly enforced; the Connecticut criminal records database on Westlaw uncovers 79 convictions since 1995. Do any of you know more details on how the statute is enforced, whether there’s some narrowing construction that has been imposed on it (though my Westlaw search reveals no cases doing so), whether it’s been challenged, and so on? Even if it’s limited to race– or religion-based fighting words, that would be unconstitutional under R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul; but in any event, at this point I’d just like to know how the statute is actually being used.

UPDATE: I noticed, by the way, that the statute is listed in various Connecticut government documents — alongside many other statutes — under the “affirmative action” category, for instance see this Affirmative Action Policy Statement and this Affirmative Action — Laws List. I also noticed that the 1999 “Hate Speech on the Internet” report from the Connecticut legislature’s Office of Legislative Research has noted that the statute’s “constitutionality is questionable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings.” But I’d still like to know just how it’s being applied.

Yes. So would I. I’d also add that the statute was enacted in 1949 and hasn’t been amended since. A quick Lexis search reveals only one hit for that statute, and that too in a footnote:

As noted, Section 53a-183 is directly relevant to the issue in this case and provides, in and of itself, a basis for determining that a clear, well-defined and dominant public policy exists prohibiting the kind of conduct which is at issue here. It is worth remembering that there are other state statutes which recognize the particular harm that racially motivated criminal conduct inflicts on society. These statutes include Section 46a-58, which criminalizes cross burning under specified circumstances; 53-37, which criminalizes holding persons up to ridicule on account of race, creed or color; 53-37a, which prohibits the wearing of a mask or hood under certain circumstances; 53a-40a, persistent offenders; and 53-181b, intimidation based on bigotry or bias. Related federal statutes exist as well.

State v. Local 387 of Council 4 AFSCME, 1999 Conn. Super. LEXIS 437 (1999) (which is an interesting case that involves the appeal of a decision to reinstate a corrections employee who was terminated after he called a state Senator and left a message calling him an n-word, after the Senator allegedly referred to corrections employees as criminals).

Anyone? Bueller?

3 thoughts on “Racial ridicule in Connecticut

  1. John David Galt

    I’m very tempted to test this law by making a pejorative joke against people from Connecticut.

    Then again, I think the law at issue has done a better job of making them look like fools than I could in a lifetime.

    Maybe Connecticut should prosecute its own legislature for violating this law by writing it.

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