One of our most important rights as Americans is the freedom to express ourselves. This takes the form of voting, it takes the form of activism, and it takes the form of our First Amendment right to free speech.

This summer, the 9th Circuit Court in California is weighing the question of whether companies have the right to take preemptive legal action against peaceful protesters for hypothetical future protests. This will be an extraordinary decision that could have a significant impact on every American’s First Amendment rights.

The case, Shell Offshore Inc. vs. Greenpeace, was filed by Shell Oil Company. Last summer, Shell assumed --based on conjecture -- that Greenpeace USA would protest the company’s drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.  Shell asked the 9th Circuit court for a preemptive injunction and restraining order against Greenpeace USA [Full disclosure: Philip Radford is the executive director of Greenpeace USA].

Despite Greenpeace’s appeal, the court granted the injunction for the entire duration of the drilling period, a decision which effectively gave a federal blessing to the company’s wish to do its controversial work in secret.

Greenpeace has asked the court for a full review, and this summer, the court will decide the ultimate fate of the case.

If the court rules in Shell’s favor, it would have a profound chilling effect on First Amendment rights across the country. Nothing would stop other corporations from taking similar preemptive legal action against anyone they deem to be likely protesters. That could be an environmental group, it could be a civil rights group, or it could be a Tea Party group -- or anyone in between.