Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.

As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own, and his children's liberty.

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap; let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and Let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

- Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838
  Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

SCOTUS: 1st Amendment double standard

I was reading USA today for a quick update on the recent controversial rulings handed down yesterday; most especially the two that affect the First Amendment (free speech.)

First, I noticed that they cut into the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law by deciding to allow big corporations and special interest groups to flood the television airwaves with massive ad campaigns just before the 2008 election.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said, and I quote: "Where the First Amendment implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

USA Today:

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for a 5-4 Supreme Court majority, provided an answer Monday that changes the rules of the nation's tawdry political game. "Where the First Amendment is implicated," he said, "the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor."

In other words, free speech, particularly political speech, is so important that it must be protected, even when there's a huge downside. Money spent on a political message, whether by an individual or an interest group, is free speech.


Now - onto the next decision, where the court, in a 5-4 vote decided that high school senior Joseph Frederick, who was suspended for unfurling a giant sign in 2002 as the Olympic torch passed by (the now famous 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' sign,) was not entitled to his own right to free speech, and apparently... the right of the school to censor him over-ruled the right of the speaker:

In Monday's ruling, all nine justices clearly sympathized with the harried principal. They agreed she could take the banner down. But on the core question of whether she violated the student's free speech rights by suspending him, the court split 5-4. The majority held that he merited no First Amendment protection because the banner was an obvious invitation to illegal drug use, which school rules banned.

While there is something comic about the nation's highest court conducting a high-minded textual analysis of the "bong hits" banner, the effects of this ruling aren't amusing. In the schools where it will be put into practice, the interpretations are likely to be as varied as the explanations for the banner's meaning. The decision is an invitation for school officials to ban or punish any student speech they can reasonably interpret as promoting illegal drug use or perhaps other activities. Some of the justices who supported the ruling seemed to realize the dangerous latitude that it gives schools, noting that the ruling shouldn't be construed to limit comment on "any political or social issue," such as the war on drugs or medicinal marijuana.

Since a landmark 1969 ruling that permited students to wear armbands protesting the Vietnam war, the high court has repeatedly held that students don't shed their free-speech rights at the schoolhouse door, within certain limits: They can't be clearly disruptive or obviously lewd and inappropriate. Monday's ruling adds a new, open-ended limit.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, correctly notes that illegal drug use is a scourge in the nation's schools. But the danger he sees in the "bong hits" banner seems wildly overblown. As Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissenting opinion, "The notion that the message on this banner would actually persuade either the average student or even the dumbest one to change his or her behavior is most implausible."

USA Today seemed to notice the same incongruity that I immediately noticed between these two cases:

Roberts' restrictive view of free speech in the bong hits case contrasts with the court's far more permissive action Monday in the campaign finance case discussed in the editorial above this one. In that dispute, the chief justice broke a 4-4 tie by ruling that in free speech cases, ties should go to the speaker. If only he had shown the same solicitude for students' free-speech rights as for those of moneyed interests that asked the court to increase the size of their megaphones.

Ah, that pesky double standard.

Nice going, Judge Roberts. In the course of one day you have managed to prove to everyone, without a shadow of a doubt, that you have one set of standards for big corporations -- ie MONEY INTERESTS -- and an entirely different standard for us 'little people.' That would be right in line with your conservative 'values' no doubt. Unfortunately, it has very little to do with justice or the rule of law.

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