Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why the Supreme Court Matters




In case there are those who still ponder the merits of voting, and who sits in the Oval Office, a quick glimpse of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court might give you some pause for reflection.


In the first three rulings, all of them dealing with the First Amendmant, the Roberts Court estalished its conservative leanings. In a case involving student free speech, the so-called "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, the court found in favor of the school against the student. The court also ruled in a separate case that taxpayers can't challenge the Bush Administration's faith-based program, And finally, in what is being called a blow to campaign finance reform, the court allowed corporate backed "issue ads" close to elections. In yet another ruling this Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that race could not be a deciding factor in attempting to diversify public schools--a decision that could have far reaching effects across the nation. The rulings highlighted a heavily divided court, where the newly assigned Chief Justice John Roberts helped lead the shift in a court that seems more friendly to corporate causes, authoritarianism, the erosion of the separation of Church and State and whining white males. What follows are some analyses, reactions and commentary on the court's rulings.


Three Bad Rulings

The New York Times Editorial
Tuesday 26 June 2007

The Supreme Court hit the trifecta yesterday: Three cases involving the First Amendment. Three dismaying decisions by Chief Justice John Roberts's new conservative majority.

Chief Justice Roberts and the four others in his ascendant bloc used the next-to-last decision day of this term to reopen the political system to a new flood of special-interest money, to weaken protection of student expression and to make it harder for citizens to challenge government violations of the separation of church and state. In the process, the reconfigured court extended its noxious habit of casting aside precedents without acknowledging it - insincere judicial modesty scored by Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion.

First, campaign finance. Four years ago, a differently constituted court upheld sensible provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act designed to prevent corporations and labor unions from circumventing the ban on their spending in federal campaigns by bankrolling phony "issue ads." These ads purport to just educate voters about a policy issue, but are really aimed at a particular candidate.

The 2003 ruling correctly found that the bogus issue ads were the functional equivalent of campaign ads and upheld the Congressional restrictions on corporate and union money. Yet the Roberts court shifted course in response to sham issue ads run on radio and TV by a group called Wisconsin Right to Life with major funding from corporations opposed to Senator Russell Feingold, the Democrat who co-authored the act.

It opened a big new loophole in time to do mischief in the 2008 elections. The exact extent of the damage is unclear. But the four dissenters were correct in warning that the court's hazy new standard for assessing these ads is bound to invite evasion and fresh public cynicism about big money and politics.

full article:

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/062707D.shtml


Did Student-Speech Rights Up in Smoke?

By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment scholar

With a stroke of the powerful pen of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the U.S. Supreme Court limited student-speech rights this week, creating another exception to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, its landmark 1969 First Amendment decision in which it declared that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

As a result of a colorful case colloquially known as “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” the Court ruled June 25 that students just outside the schoolhouse gate lose their First Amendment rights if they speak even ambiguously about drugs. Though many associate the “war on drugs” with a loss of Fourth Amendment freedoms, the First Amendment also fell victim in the Court’s decision in Morse v. Frederick.

The question becomes whether the Court’s recent decision will curtail student-speech rights dramatically or will represent only a narrow “drug exception” to Tinker.

full article:

http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=18730


Resegregation Now

The New York Times Editorial
Friday 29 June 2007

The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation's schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.

Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation's driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn't always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously.

Yesterday, the court's radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the majority's fifth vote, reined in the ruling somewhat by signing only part of the majority opinion and writing separately to underscore that some limited programs that take race into account are still acceptable. But it is unclear how much room his analysis will leave, in practice, for school districts to promote integration. His unwillingness to uphold Seattle's and Louisville's relatively modest plans is certainly a discouraging sign.

In an eloquent dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explained just how sharp a break the decision is with history. The Supreme Court has often ordered schools to use race-conscious remedies, and it has unanimously held that deciding to make assignments based on race "to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society" is "within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities."

full article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/opinion/29fri1.html?8dpc


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