Monday, July 19, 2010

Recent Supreme Court Decisions a Mix of the Good, the Bad, and the Very Bad

Looking back on the 2009 term of the Supreme Court (which, despite its name, took place mostly in 2010), we can look over a large number of decisions handed down by the Roberts Court. Some are good, some are bad, and one in particular is very, very bad.

First, the good.

In McDonald vs. Chicago, the Court ruled that the inability of the federal government to pass laws violating the right to bears arms, which the Court had recently solidified in the Columbia vs. Heller decision (which centered on the District of Columbia), also applied to state and local governments. This decision will greatly strengthen Second Amendment rights throughout the country, and it is something that 21st Century Jeffersonians should cheer about.

In a victory for both gay rights and the separation of church and state, the Court ruled in Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez that a Christian group at the University of California cannot deny the right of homosexual students the join their organization if it wishes to receive financial support from the university, which is supported by public funds. This decision reinforces the point that taxpayer dollars cannot be used for discriminatory purposes or to fund specifically religious activities.

In Graham vs. Florida, the Court laid down the opinion that giving juveniles life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes other than homicide. If locking as child up in prison for the rest of their natural life is not cruel and unusual punishment (and hence prohibited by the Eighth Amendment), then nothing is.

Second, the bad.

In the Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Protect, the Court ruled that even speech can be considered a provision of material support for terrorism. This outrageous decision subverts the freedoms ensured by the First Amendment, and should have been much bigger news that it actually was. Bizarrely, even advising an organization designated as a terrorist group to renounce violence can now be considered as providing material support to terrorism. This was a nonsensical decision and one we will regret.

In Berghuis vs. Thompkins, the Court made the rather illogical ruling that a person under arrest has to specifically and vocally assert his or her right to remain silent. Citizens posses constitutional protections under natural law, and they do not need to vocally assert them in order to have them. This decision undermines Miranda rights and should concern all 21st Century Jeffersonians.

And finally, the very, very bad.

The best known decision of the term, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, was also the most disastrous. In yet another 5-4 ruling, the Court decided that laws limiting financial campaign contributions by corporations were an unconstitutional violation of free speech. In equating money with speech, the Court essentially opened the floodgates to unlimited masses of corporate dollars that will swamp elections across the country. Holding to the ideal of "one-citizen-one-vote" is critical if the dream of a truly Jeffersonian republic is ever to be achieved, and this decision was a body blow to that ideal.

Dealing with the nefarious influence of money on the American election process one of the greatest challenges our nation must deal with, through the enactment of comprehensive campaign finance reform and the implementation of a system of public financing. With this disastrous decision, the Supreme Court set back progress in that battle by decades, if not a century.

The sad truth, which has been recently reinforced by the confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, is that the Supreme Court has long since evolved from being a constitutional judge to being a partisan tennis match. We even, without irony or outrage, refer to the Court's "liberal" wing and "conservative" wing, forgetting the fact that there should be only a single "constitutional" bloc. This term had a blend of good and bad decisions, but also highlighted continued problems with what the Supreme Court has become.

No comments: