Monday, June 25, 2007

SCOTUS Free Speech Rulings


The fourth ruling, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., over three full dissents and one partial dissent, declared that public school officials do not violate a student's free speech rights by punishing the student for words or actions that promote a drug message. The ruling in Morse v. Frederick (06-278) also should count as a 5-4 decision because Justice Stephen G. Breyer would have decided the case on qualified immunity grounds, and not reach the First Amendment issue.

The Court issued its fifth ruling of the day, concluding that a Wisconsin abortion rights group had a First Amendment right to aid during election season campaign ads that named a candidate running for the Senate. Three of the five Justices in the majority urged the Court to overturn the part of a 2003 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the federal law restricting such radio and TV ads close to elections. The Chief Justice's main opinion, joined fully by Justice Alito, said the case did not provide an occasion to revisit that ruling. Justice Souter recited at length from the bench for the four dissenters -- who were in the minority in four of the five rulings on Monday. The ruling came in Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life (06-969) and a companion case.

Since the fifth ruling negated parts of the McCain-Feingold act John McCain had the following to say:

“While I respect their decision in this matter, it is regrettable that a split Supreme Court has carved out a narrow exception by which some corporate and labor expenditures can be used to target a federal candidate in the days and weeks before an election,” McCain said.

“It is important to recognize, however, that the Court’s decision does not affect the principal provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which bans federal officeholders from soliciting soft money contributions for their parties to spend on their campaigns,” he added. “I am grateful to the Bush Administration and all those lawmakers, both past and present, who have joined us in our efforts to put an end to the corruption bred by soft money. Fortunately, that central reform still stands as the law.”

I understand the logic behind the first ruling but I don't particularly care for the second. Schools should be able to punish minor students for promoting illegal activities by their students at school functions.

I don't care for the second ruling as I tend to be a purist when it comes campaign financing but given a choice between campaign financing ideals and free speech protections I'll take the free speech protections.