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Opinion: Attorney General Dana Nessel must not weaponize her office

Robert J. Muise

The American Freedom Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Dana Nessel, the Michigan Attorney General, and Agustin Arbulu, director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, challenging a policy directive which they announced via a joint press release last February. 

In their public release, they stated an intention to target groups in Michigan designated by the radical, left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups.”

The George Soros-funded SPLC has for years dishonestly and falsely labeled its political opponents as “hate groups” based on their conservative (typically Christian and Jewish) views in an effort to marginalize them and the work they do.

More:Nessel, civil rights unit to increase prosecution of hate crimes

AFLC is one of the groups that SPLC falsely maligns as a “hate group” operating in Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

In their official joint press release, Nessel and Arbulu linked to SPLC’s “Hate Map report” and vowed to “stand up to hate in Michigan” through the creation of Nessel’s “hate crime unit initiative” and by “developing a process by which (the MDCR) can document hate and bias incidents in the state,” including “incidents” fully protected by the First Amendment.

Shortly after we filed our lawsuit, The Detroit News reported on the filing.

Nessel linked the news report on her Facebook page with the following commentary:

"Only in Trump’s America do you get sued for pledging to prosecute hate crimes and pursue organizations that engage in illegal conduct against minority communities," Nessel said. "I will never back down on my commitment to protect the safety of all Michiganders. Bring it."

This is not the statement of an objective, clear-minded, law enforcement official disavowing an intention to abuse government power and resources to unlawfully target those on the SPLC’s hit list. Indeed, the opposite is true.

It is one thing for a radically-partisan private organization like SPLC to express its falsehoods about political opponents. However, when the Michigan attorney general and the civil rights director join and officially endorse this partisan attack by lending government resources and thus becoming the government enforcement agency for SPLC’s radical agenda, the protections of the U.S. Constitution are triggered.

Last April, Nessel and Arbulu each filed motions to dismiss our lawsuit. Last week, the court denied the motions. In his twenty-one-page ruling, Judge Paul L. Maloney concluded that AFLC has “standing” to pursue its legal claims. In other words, we properly alleged an injury in fact (the chilling of our right to free speech and harm to our reputation), that this injury was fairly traceable to the challenged policy directive, and that this injury can be redressed by a favorable court ruling.

Maloney specifically noted that “as representatives of the State government, Defendants’ endorsement of the SPLC’s list of hate groups constitutes a concrete and particular reputational injury to AFLC” and that “[b]y referencing SPLC’s reports as the justification for the Policy Directive ... Defendants have placed the State’s imprimatur on SPLC’s list of hate groups in Michigan, which includes AFLC.”

Maloney further concluded that our lawsuit properly alleged claims arising under the First (freedom of speech and freedom of expressive association) and Fourteenth (equal protection) Amendments. Maloney stated, in relevant part:

"AFLC asserts that the hate group label and the surveillance and investigations have a deterrent effect on its activities and on its rights to free speech and expressive association. These allegations are sufficient to set forth a plausible claim under the First Amendment."

In the final analysis, Nessel is weaponizing her office and taking a page right out of George Orwell’s "1984" by creating, in essence, a “thought police” regime.

Robert J. Muise is the co-founder and senior counsel of the American Freedom Law Center.