Monday, June 25, 2007

Free Speech? Not in the Supreme Court

Today the Supreme Court handed down two rulings on freedom of speech issues. One decision held that the part of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that prohibits issue ads was a violation of the free-speech rights of corporations, unions, and other organizations. The other decision upheld the right of an Alaskan school to expel a student for holding up a banner saying "BONG HITS 4 JESUS" on a field trip to watch the 2002 Winter Olympics torch procession.

Now, if you believe in free speech as a principle- that expression should not be restricted by the government- the proper rulings would have been to overturn McCain-Feingold entirely (which didn't happen, although dissenting justice David Souter wrote that the ruling would make it almost impossible to regulate corporate speech) and to support the student's free speech rights.

On the Campaign Finance Reform case, the votes were:

BCRA Unconstitutionally Restrictive on Issue Ads: Alito, Roberts

Supporting Above, but Voting to Overturn All Issue Ad Restrictions Completely: Thomas, Scalia, Kennedy

BCRA A-OK or Not Restrictive Enough: Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg, Breyer

So, a 5-4 decision with the liberal justices opposing free speech. The fact that the case was a combination of two cases both involving anti-abortion activist groups might help explain the conservative votes in favor of free speech, which generally is a rarity...

... as witness the vote breakdown on the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" Case:

School Immune from Lawsuit but Wrong to Punish Student for Free Speech: Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg

School Immune from Lawsuit (Dodge the Issue): Breyer

School Has a Right to Censor Speech if it Promotes Drug Use: Roberts, Scalia

... and ONLY if it Promotes Drug Use, or is Disruptive of Education, and Never Otherwise: Alito, Kennedy

School Has a Universal Right to Censor Speech of All Students for Any Reason: Thomas

So the same five who voted in favor of free speech voted against it- including Roberts, who in the official decision had the gall to quote Tinker v. Des Moines: "[Students do not] shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." The four who voted against it either voted for it or, in Breyer's case, recommended the court duck the free speech issue entirely.

Seems to me we have nine justices who only support the First Amendment when its application agrees with their own personal political views.

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