Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conservatives for free speech?

I was disturbed to read of the Supreme Court's ruling to allow unlimited spending by corporations on political ads - Obama Turns Up Heat Over Campaign Spending Decision.

Here below is a blog post from the Chicago Tribune that brings up the inconsistencies of the conservative court ....

Conservative justices and free speech
- Steve Chapman

Yesterday, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court struck down a campaign finance law that effectively prevents corporations from spending money promoting or opposing political candidates. The reason: The rule violates the First Amendment.

I think the court was right. But it's worth noting that this decision, as University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone puts it, came from conservative justices who seldom exhibit much concern for free speech. "It's a little hard to explain their unbounded enthusiasm for the First Amendment" here, he told me.

The decision was right to see the harm to free expression from letting the government impose such controls on people merely because they act through corporate organizations. But when free expression is attacked by those on the right, conservative justices are often indifferent.

A good example is the 2007 decision allowing a public high school to suspend a student because, while off-campus, he raised a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" when the Olympic torch relay passed by. Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the banner promoted drug use and that schools have pretty much a free hand in suppressing speech that promotes drug use -- because, after all, it's dangerous.

Another is the 2003 decision allowing Congress to force public libraries and schools to install filtering software on their computers, in the name of protecting children from sexual material. Justice David Souter pointed out that the filters would impede the freedom of adults to access constitutionally protected material, but the conservative justices didn't care.

Freedom of expression is a foundation of our democracy and an essential aspect of individual autonomy. Conservatives understand that in the realm of campaign finance. Why not elsewhere?



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