Monday, June 25, 2007

Five to four

Only a couple of months ago, First Amendment champion Nat Hentoff was feeling pretty optimistic about the chances of "Bong Hits for Jesus" when it finally made it to the Supreme Court.

And the unlikely Justice upon which Hentoff hung his hopes? None other than "Strip Search" Sammy Alito.

A bold gambit, but it didn't pay off. Not even close.

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court decided that his high school did not violate his First Amendment rights when it handed a 10-day suspension to then-18-year-old Joseph Frederick for unfurling a homemade "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner on private property across the street from the school during the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch Relay.
"The message on Frederick's banner is cryptic," Chief Justice John Roberts said. But the school principal who suspended him "thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one," Roberts said in the majority opinion.

In a concurrence, Justices Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy said the court's opinion "goes no further" than speech interpreted as dealing with illegal drug use.
"It provides no support" for any restriction that goes to political or social issues, they said.

Yes, thank goodness drug use (illegal or otherwise) is neither a political nor social issue in America. Good call, guys.

Odds are that we're going to be hearing "in a 5-to-4 decision" a lot in the years ahead. The occasionally dubious swing-vote of Sandra Day O'Connor is gone. The bought-and-paid-for vote of pro-corporate, anti-liberty Alito is firmly in place. Except during his actual Senate confirmation testimony, where he prevaricated and hedged like mad, Alito's never made a secret of what he stands for as a jurist.

Curtailing students' right to free expression because you don't like their dumb sense of humor is lamentable, but that's going to seem like eating the salad course with the wrong fork compared to where this court is headed in the years to come.

Digby is spot-on:
I will never forgive Joe Lieberman, Huckelberry, St John and the the rest of the milquetoast losers of that gang of 14. This is on their heads.

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