Once again a report has surfaced that the office of Sen. Tom Cotton, R.-Ark., has threatened to send a constituent a cease-and-desist letter for using an expletive.
On the politics podcast The Sexy Pundits, guest Don Ernst, of Little Rock, Arkansas, shared the following story. Ernst claims that he called Sen. Cotton’s Washington office, asking for Cotton’s response to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and how Cotton would combat the opioid crisis in the event that the Affordable Care Act were repealed. Ernst was interested because his son suffered from an opioid addiction, as he said on the podcast.
“The role of Obamacare and our son’s health was essential,” Ernst explained on-air.
According to Ernst, he waited two weeks after his first phone call to Cotton’s office, and never heard back.
“I called seventeen times” over a six month period from January to June, Ernst said. “On the eighteenth time — and I have regrets about this to some degree — I said 'you know it’s bulls**t that I can’t get a response to these, I think, quite clear questions.'”
Ernst said that when he said the word “bulls**t,” a young woman who answered immediately hung up the phone. He called back and asked to speak with someone “of more authority.” He was then told that his name had been submitted to the U.S. Capitol Police and he should expect to receive a cease and desist letter. Ernst said he apologized.
“They indicated to me that this letter had been sent on June the 9th,” he said.
Ernst said when he was told that the letter had been sent he “kind of freaked out."
“What does it mean to have your name submitted to the United States Capitol Police?” Ernst asked.
He called the U.S. Capitol Police and didn’t receive any answers. A week later, an assistant counsel eventually responded and told him he didn’t need to worry about the report, according to Ernst. To date, Ernst has never seen the alleged cease-and-desist letter.
This isn’t the first time that a constituent has suffered the wrath of Sen. Cotton cease-and-desist orders. A couple weeks ago Salon reported that Stacey Lane — a human resources professional of 19 years — received a cease-and-desist letter, obtained by Salon, from Cotton in the mail. Cotton's office alleged that Lane called a 19-year-old intern a "c**t" — though Lane told Salon she didn’t recall calling anyone a "c**t," and said that it’s a word she’s maybe used “two times” in her life.
Cotton’s office issued a statement following the news about Lane.
“If an employee of Senator Cotton receives repeated communications that are harassing and vulgar, or any communication that contains a threat, our policy is to notify the U.S. Capitol Police’s Threat Assessment Section and, in accordance with their guidance, send a cease and desist letter to the individual making the harassing or threatening communication."
Cotton’s office has not immediately responded to a request for comment regarding Ernst’s alleged letter.
Salon has been told that in addition to Ernst and Lane, other constituents have received cease-and-desist letters from Cotton's office.
If Senator Cotton is indeed using cease and desist orders as a casual way of silencing protestors or constituents, it could raise eyebrows among First Amendment experts.
“Senator Cotton's apparent practice of sending 'cease and desist' letters to constituents with legitimate (or even illegitimate) grievances about his positions on matters of public policy is deeply disturbing and runs directly counter to the whole point of democratic politics and, indeed, the First Amendment,” explained David Snyder, executive director of First Amendment Coalition. "If the First Amendment stands for anything, it stands for the idea that the people have a right to complain to their elected leaders about positions those leaders have taken on important issues of public policy."