The Price of Free Speech

Here I am, agreeing with the Roberts Court twice in one week.

Tuesday’s ruling was fun. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that ATT cannot claim its communication with various government agencies are exempt from Freedom of Information laws based on a clause protecting “personal privacy.”

Although the court has ruled – unfortunately – that corporations are “persons,” Justice Roberts ruled they are not covered by the adjective “personal.” “Adjectives typically reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, but not always,” he wrote. “The noun ‘crab’ refers variously to a crustacean and a type of apple, while the related adjective ‘crabbed’ can refer to handwriting that is ‘difficult to read.’ ‘Corny,’ has little to do with ‘corn.’”

Wednesday’s ruling was not fun. I agree with it nonetheless. The court ruledthe hate mongers at the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to spew venom publicly. Even hateful speech is covered by the First Amendment, or perhaps is especially covered by the First Amendment.

It helps to remember that not so long ago, the haters at Westboro Baptist would not have been sued for their speech nor perhaps would they have felt the need to seek attention with blatant homophobia. “God hates fags,” was a fairly prevalent idea not so many years ago. It’s still far too prevalent around the world and in this country. Let’s hope Westboro represents the death rattle of such notions, but at the same time bear in mind change is not always for good. The First Amendment protection extended to bigots at Westboro Baptist Wednesday may be needed by speakers of truth and common sense in the not-too-distant future.

Now, two cases unlikely to be heard by the Supreme Court or any other court. The first is a potential violation of Title 18, U.S.C., Section 241 – Conspiracy Against Rights. The alleged perpetrator is Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

In his phone(y) call with a man who is not David Koch, Gov. Walker said he’d considered planting “troublemakers” in the crowd of citizens protesting at the state capitol. I’m not an attorney, but the statute cited above clearly states that it’s “unlawful for two or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person of any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the United States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same).”

Problem is, any charges against the governor would have to be brought by the US attorney for Wisconsin and since the George W. Bush administration did such a thorough job of polluting US attorneys offices with politics, any attempt would draw cries of “Politics!” from Republicans. Ahh, Bush corruption, the gift that keeps on giving.

Speaking of polluting with politics, the other case that will never be heard is the one against Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes for suborning false statements to authorities. Various outlets reported last week that Judith Regan says Mr. Ailes encouraged her to lie to federal investigators about her affair with Bernard Kerik, who was then a nominee for Director of Homeland Security but is now a jailbird.

The New York Times quotes Law Professor Daniel Richman of Columbia University saying Mr. Ailes’s action probably constitute a federal crime but such things are rarely pursued.

Why is that? Some dude who’s lost his job and his house gets caught stealing a can of beans from the Food King gets arrested and thrown in jail. Roger Ailes commits a crime (allegedly) so one of his crony crooks can run a huge branch of the federal government and it’s the kind of thing “rarely pursued.”

Here’s why: money, influence and corruption. Tuesday’s Supreme Court case was fun; Wednesday’s was important, but it’s going to take more than grammar lessons and the First Amendment to bring justice to this country.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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