Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Supreme Court Decision

I'm no law expert, by any means, and I haven't read Thursday's ruling from the US Supreme Court.  (I have read parts of it.)  But this is what I understand:

      1. Originally, court was asked to rule on a very narrow question: whether some networks not willing to run an anti-Hillary Clinton movie by Citizens United was a violation of free speech.

      2. The court then decided to rule on a much larger issue: whether it is constitutional to limit the contributions from corporations to political candidates

      3. The vote was 5-4, with the most conservative judges being in the majority.  Clarence Thomas, although siding with the majority, wrote a separate opinion.

Here is what I think (as opposed to the facts as I understand them):

      1. Why do we continue to call "activists judges" those whose rulings are considered to be more left of center?  Thursday's decision seems to me to be a very activist decision, basically gutting a century of constitutional precedent.

      2.  What does this mean for Roe v. Wade?  Will it only take a narrow question concerning abortion to gut over three decades of precedents?

      3. And, finally, more to the topic of this blog, just what was going on in Clarence Thomas' mind in his separate opinion?  While agreeing with the majority that corporations have the right to use their funds to support candidates with few if no restrictions, he added a caveat.  The government does not have the right to require disclosure of the names of corporate donors to the public. 

     Here's what Clarence Thomas used as an example of the danger of requiring public disclosure: The Proposition 8 Question.  According to Thomas, supporters of Prop 8 whose names were made public were subject to threats, harassment, and in some cases physical violence.  He cites a number of specific incidents against Prop 8 supporters, while citing not one example of anti-gay violence or harassment.  One has to wonder why Thomas chose gay people and their fight for civil rights as the basis for his separate opinion.  One probably doesn't have to wonder how he will vote if the Prop 8 trial ever makes it to the US Supreme Court.

This decision goes far beyond equal marriage rights, so I don't want to give the impression that this is my only concern.  It isn't, by a long shot.  But it's disturbing that it ended up being part of the ruling in this way.

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