Published on: Friday, August 28, 2020

The Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of two white supremacists who participated in violence during the Unite the Right rally, but indicated part of an anti-riot law may violate the First Amendment. Congress enacted the Anti-Riot Act in 1968, an era the Fourth Circuit observed is, "not unlike our own." And while the law sweeps up substantial amounts of constitutionally protected speech, including advocacy intended to "promote" or "encourage" a riot, the unconstitutional provisions can be severed from the remainder—which, in turn, can permissibly be applied to two California residents who traveled through interstate commerce to attend the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville.

"Because we also find that the discrete areas of overbreadth are severable — meaning that the remainder of the statute is constitutionally valid, capable of operating independently, and consistent with Congress's basic objectives — the appropriate remedy is to invalidate the statute only to the extent that it reaches too far, while leaving the remainder intact," the three-judge panel wrote.

The appeal was filed on behalf of Benjamin Drake Daley and Michael Paul Miselis, two members of the California-based white supremacist Rise Above Movement, whose members attended the Charlottesville rally in 2017, as well as two rallies in California. After pleading guilty to federal charges in 2019, Daley and Miselis received 37-month and 27-month prison sentences, respectively. Additional information available here.