William Standring's blog
“Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication.”
More people have opinions about United States Supreme Court decisions than trouble to read them. For at least two reasons, that’s a shame. First, those people tend not to know what they’re talking about. Second, they miss gems of rhetoric—rhetoric used here in its academic sense—fashioned by scholars talented not only the law but in the language. Case in point: United States v. Alvarez, in which, 5-4, the court found unconstitutional a law popularly known as the Stolen Valor Act.
Last October, iCitizenForum asked “Is Free Speech too costly when it hurts others?” and wondered whether the First Amendment protected Kansas’ homophobic Westboro Baptist Church from liability for its intentionally outrageous and unwelcome demonstrations at the funerals of fallen servicemen and servicewomen. That could colorably be among the civil offenses lawyers call “torts.”
Free speech is most endangered when the speech at issue is unpopular. In the case of the fringe Christian, homosexual-baiting Westboro Baptist Church, it is repugnant. All the same, a federal appeals court has ruled, it is protected. Now the United States Supreme Court is to consider the question.
There was a time when the phrase getting “the third degree” was more than a metaphor. A time when a bad cop knew how to use a length of good rubber hose. A time when rogue detectives opened the doors to a confession by hanging a suspect over one—his hands cuffed behind him. That time officially ended forty-four years ago, in 1966.
The debate over whether the accused Underwear Bomber should be tried in a defendant-friendly federal court instead of by a more rigorous military tribunal got me to reflecting: just who was the 100 percent-American Bill of Rights drafted to protect in the first place? Terrorists? Does the reach of the flag-wrapped first ten amendments extend to a radical Nigerian Muslim like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to blow up an airplane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit? He’s not even a citizen of the United States. Just what claim does he have to the Bill’s red-white-and-blue benefits to begin with?
The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that, practice and precedent to the contrary, the First Amendment gives corporations and unions the power to spend as much of their general treasuries as they care to influence candidate elections—just as long as always they do it independently of the candidates themselves. The conclusion may be good or bad, but it had little to do with the cause before it, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
In the prize rings of public disputation, I’m not tagged as a "No más," kind of guy. But like Robert Duran, the Panamanian boxer who probably didn’t actually say those words but really did give up during his 1980 championship fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, I think I’ve had enough.
Among the better features of the English language is that it leaves room for its users to make up words of their own—blog, for example—import words from other tongues—rendezvous, comes to mind—or freight old words with new meanings—like filibuster.
The nexus between science and citizenship may not be obvious. What good does it do a citizen to know about dark energy and dark matter, and the difference between them? Or that we live in four dimensions, or that space bends? That’s stuff for eggheads, right?
In the words of New York Times reporter Adam Liptak, “So far, Heller is shooting blanks.”
Liptak was writing nine months after the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia vs. Heller, a gun-control decision that discovered in the Second Amendment an individual right to firearms that the country’s highest tribunal had not noticed before.