Court holds that state officials violated the First Amendment when they ordered retired engineer Wayne Nutt to stop talking about math in public.
ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, Chief Judge Richard Myers issued an opinion holding that the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors violated the First Amendment when it ordered retired engineer Wayne Nutt to stop expressing opinions about engineering without a state license. Nutt, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), filed the lawsuit after the Board sent him a series of threatening letters ordering him to stop publicly offering opinions about engineering without a license, on pain of potential criminal punishment. Today’s ruling confirms that those letters—and the law they were based on—violate the First Amendment.
“State licensing boards nationwide increasingly act as if they are boards of censors, deciding who may or may not speak about the topics they regulate,” explained IJ Attorney Joe Gay. “Today’s ruling is a powerful reminder that in this country we rely on people to decide who they want to listen to. We don’t rely on government boards to decide who gets to speak.”
Wayne’s case began after the Board discovered he was using his decades of experience as a working engineer to offer opinions about the designs of public works. That speech, according to the Board, was punishable as a misdemeanor unless Wayne (a retiree in his 70s) obtained a professional engineer’s license from the state. Wayne sued, sparking nationwide controversy—including a viral YouTube video that has been viewed over two million times. And, today, he was vindicated.
The court’s opinion makes clear that the case turns on basic free-speech principles: “At its core, this case concerns the extent to which a law-abiding citizen may use his technical expertise to offer a dissenting perspective against the government,” the opinion says. “Stating that dissent required the speaker to use his expertise in several ways. He had to do some math. He had to apply recognized methodologies. He even had to write a report memorializing his work. Some of that work may plausibly be considered conduct. But it ends up providing him the basis to speak his mind.”
“This is a win for more than just me,” said Wayne. “There are a lot of people in the same situation—people who have expertise that they’ve been blocked from talking about. This decision is an affirmation that the First Amendment protects all of our rights to share what we know.”
“The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to speak their minds, whether they’re talking about politics or talking about math,” explained IJ Deputy Director of Litigation Robert McNamara. “Regulators often seem to forget that basic fact, but we always stand ready to remind them.”
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To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may contact Phillip Suderman, IJ’s Communications Project Manager at email@example.com (850) 376-4110. More information on the case is available at: https://ij.org/case/nc-engineering-speech/
This press release was originally published by Institute for Justice.