MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - The Shelby County Commission voted to stick behind a subpoena for the identities of those posting online comments on The Commercial Appeal's website.
The subpoena specifically seeks the names, addresses and phone numbers of those who left comments on the newspaper's stories about municipal school districts, to see if racist comments may have affected the decisions of lawmakers.
The ACLU has called the subpoena a "slippery slope" on what they consider an infringement on free speech, but attorneys for the commission have stated the identities will not be made public and will only be used to determine their comments' influence.
"The mere fact of them seeking these names has a chilling effect on people who may be afraid to say something publically, either for their job or their reputation, or their inter-relationship with their neighbors," stated ACLU lawyer Bruce Kramer. "They have the right to speak anonymously."
Commissioner Steve Mulroy countered, "They want to see if there's any overlap between people who made racially-charged commentary on the one hand, and the people that were contacting and influencing Nashville to make this decision on the other. The only way to check for that overlap is to look at the names."
Many commissioners argued to withdraw the subpoena, but the decision to move forward was passed with an 8-5 vote Monday afternoon.
A federal injunction was filed July 26 by the Shelby County Commission to block a referendum on creating and funding municipal school districts from the August 2 election's ballots. The commission sought to block the vote on grounds that independent school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington created a separate and unequal school system in Shelby County - both financially and racially.
U.S. District Judge Samuel "Hardy" Mays allowed the referendum to remain in the ballot, but has yet to rule on whether municipal school districts are constitutional on the state and federal level. Those trials are scheduled for September 4 and November 6 respectively.