Supreme Court Roundup

Ken AshfordCampaign Finance Reform, Constitution, Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

Two seemingly contradictory cases on the First Amendment from the Supreme Court today.

On the one hand, it is permissible to regulate student speech (at a public parade) when it references drugs.  So, the First Amendment be damned.

On the other hand, the same coalition of Justices think we cannot restrict issues ads (a McCain-Feingold regulation) because that would place a burden on free speech.  So yaaaay First Amendment.

Do you get the sense that the conservative-majority judges are merely deciding the cases based on whether they like the outcome, rather than some consistent legal doctrine?

I haven’t read the cases yet, but something tells me that if the student in the first case was protesting abortions, then it would have been baaaaaaad to regulate his speech.

UPDATE:  The student speech case is interesting.  The facts are simple.  Joseph Frederick was 18 when he unveiled an 14-foot paper sign on a public sidewalk outside his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002.  The sign said "Bong Hits For Jesus".  Principal Deborah Morse confiscated it and suspended Frederick. He sued, saying his free speech rights were violated.

The Supreme Court said "no", his rights were not violated.  Apparently, thyey saw the message as advocating drug use, which is contrary to the school’s educational mission.  (The student said he was not advocating drug use, or indeed advocating anything.  The reason for the sign, he said, was to be absurdist and the only "message" he was conveying was his right to convey messages).

SCOTUSBlog makes this observation:

The Chief Justice’s opinion, too, indicates that the case would have come out differently if the banner had "convey[ed] any sort of political or religious message," such as that involved in "political debate over the criminalization of drug use or possession," rather than (in the Court’s view) mere "student speech celebrating illegal drug use."

Debate, political and religious messages — protected. "Celebration" of illegal activity (drug use, anyway) — no go. That’s the upshot.

So if the sign had read, "Torture Jesus Like He’s A Gitmo Detainne", it could not have been confiscated.  But since it says "Bong Hits For Jesus", the student has no First Amendment Rights.

The majority today seems to suggest that the school has an interest in promoting its viewpoint and quashing dissent…to preserve order.

Horrible, horrible decision.



So the Supremes took a strong stand for the First Amendment today and stood up for the right of little guy corporations, aggrieved rich guys and voiceless conservative special interests to influence elections with misleading advertising. The first amendment is sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with for any reason. God bless America.

Well, not exactly. The words "bong hits for Jesus" aren’t covered because they could be construed as promoting something that some people think is bad. (At least if you are under eighteen years old.) I’m awfully impressed with the intellectual consistency of the Roberts Court so far, how about you?

I think we need to start thinking about how to deal with the new era of wingnut judicial activism. If anyone actually thought the Warren Court was activist for trying to right long standing social inequality, they haven’t seen anything until they see what John, Clarence, Nino, Sammy and Tony do to expand the rights of rich people and corporations while turning back the clock on everything else. It’s going to be a generational battle. I hope everyone realizes this.