• January 6, 2020

The right to free speech ‘includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read,’ and ‘freedom of inquiry and freedom of thought.’ Karsjens v. Jesson, 6 F. Supp. 3d 916, 938–39 (D. Minn. 2014) (quoting Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482 (1965)) (cleaned up).

Wagner v. Harpstead, et al.

Mr. Thomas Wagner is civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (“MSOP”). Helped by lawyers at Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A., Mr. Wagner is challenging MSOP’s termination of a program that had enabled him and other MSOP clients (this is the chosen terminology (not “patients” nor “inmates”) to check out library books.

First, kudos to the lawyers from Winthrop & Weinstine P.A. for taking on the case of Mr. Wagner. It is one thing to take on pro bono cases that neatly fit the “innocent little guy” against “the evil giant” narrative. It is another thing for lawyers to take on the cases of less sympathetic causes and widely reviled clients.

Second, is it not enough for our state to incarcerate MSOP clients, possibly forever (and, in any event, for an indeterminate amount of time)? Now MSOP decides that its clients should be deprived of books? What next, deprive them of beds? Of dreams?

If you have not already, watch the four-part documentary, College Behind Bars. Watch it to appreciate that prisoners (or “clients”) are human beings and we dehumanize them when we strip them of literature and learning.

Watch it to appreciate that allowing access to literature and education to prisoners or “clients” is consistent with the society’s self-interest. It is not some kind of indulgence to the undeserving. It is not only the morally right thing to do but also right to do from a purely pragmatic point of view. (Recidivism rates are dramatically lower when prisoners have access to education while incarcerated.)

Watch it to shed tears of sympathy and understanding, to appreciate that “prisoners,” “clients,” or “convicts” are far less foreign to us than most of us deceive ourselves into believing day to day. To one degree or another, we simply can’t handle that truth. It is hard, almost intolerable, to witness others suffering and so easy to ignore them.


We note that the Report & Recommendation (“R&R”) of U.S. Mag. Judge Bowbeer’s (D. Minn.) cites to the Karsjens case which, in turn, quotes the Griswold case (quoted, above, and here at page 8). Then the R&R notes parenthetically: “cleaned up.”

To our amusement, the “clean-up” appears to be that the original quote read, “…the right to receive, the right to read’ as well as ‘freedom of inquiry’ and ‘freedom of thought,'” (emphasis added) and Judge Bowbeer’s R&R replaces “as well as” with “and” in the quote.

This tiny detail highlights two aspects of U.S. lawyer’s lives that we both love and hate.

On the positive side, there is a devout allegiance to accuracy. We do not alter text — any text — without copping to the alteration. On the negative side, many of us, if not all of us, develop, over time, idiosyncratic and rigid writing rules (the classic example being the “oxford comma”) (and the obsession sometimes expands into areas like typography). (Was it really necessary to “clean up” the quote?)