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Posts Tagged ‘SCOTUS’

I really wish I didn’t have to make this post, but unfortunately, I do. Unlike many folks I encounter, I have a code of ethics and morals and I believe in true equality. Many folks seem to have this hypocritical habit of supporting things like free speech and equality only when it suits them or their interests, or only when the topic in question is not too controversial or only so long as certain people they place upon pedestals don’t object. This is not the mark of a patriot, a freedom fighter, an independent or someone worthy of support. Its the mark of a coward, a hypocrite, an imbecile and folks who ought not to have the right to inhabit our country.

I don’t hate very many people or organizations, but The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is one fundamentalist Christian organization I do reserve a special spot in the deep, dark bottom of my cold, dead heart for. WBC is better described as a cult and its a disgusting little organization run by a deranged lunatic who appointed himself to be a preacher named Fred Phelps. The flock is comprised mostly of members of his family. I truly hate this organization, its membership, its leaders and what it stands for.

Being a gay homosexual myself, I am one of the groups of people they have targeted. So far, I have had a couple of run-ins with this organization, the most recent of which was when they came to Moore, Oklahoma and decided to picket Moore High School. Moore has alot of gay youth, as one friend of mine so politically incorrectly observed, “Moore is where all the bottoms come from.”. There is a video about the protest that I got involved in on my YouTube channel.

Now word comes that The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is going to hear an appeal regarding a lawsuit filed against him Phelps for WBC’s activities. One fine day in 2006, Phelps decided to picket the funeral of a dead US solider in Maine with their usual vile message of hate. The family sued WBC and Phelps and was awarded the family over $11 million in damages for emotional distress. The judge reduced the award to $5 million, then a federal appeals court threw out the award all together. The family now appeals to SCOTUS to reinstate the damages.

This is an important case because we are about set a key precedent. That family deserves the money, that I will tell you. But unfortunately, if they are awarded those funds, it will come at great expense to all of us. Because the case will not just decide if they get the money, it will decide if free speech extends to funerals. While most decent people know that a funeral is no place to make a political statement, this is not about decency – of which Phelps has none – this is about freedom of speech. As we should all be aware, the right to speech in this country includes the right to speak at times when it is not socially acceptable (at a funeral) and also the right to say unintelligent, disagreeable, stupid things (as WBC does early and often). As we should also be equally aware, rights are have often been lost by taking a well-meaning step towards silencing a highly offensive message in the name of cleaning up the public forum.

Fred Phelps is an old man, soon he will be in the ground dead and no longer voicing his hatred for all. WBC has not been very successful in recruiting new members, either. When his family dies off, so to will his church and its vile message of hate. While the message Phelps and WBC have for the world is annoying and undoubtedly painful for those who have to hear it, it is not worth gutting the first Amendment over to rid ourselves of it! If we start saying that objectionable or offensive speech is not allowed at funerals, we have just set a dangerous precedent that you can bet will be promptly extended to other areas – like churches and other religious gatherings. Will it be illegal for homosexuals to protest WBC while they are in session if SCOTUS decides in favor of the family? Thats a real possibility if SCOTUS finds in favor of this family.

Many people are going to argue that funerals are off-limits and that no one has the right to come into a funeral and make a statement. In other words, SCOTUS should find in this family’s favor because the ends (stopping people from being assholes through speech at funerals) justify the means (making it illegal to be an asshole through speech at places where such conduct is prohibited by law). In one way, they are correct. Funerals are closed events and there should be a legal right to exclude undesirables. Funerals, when held on private property as they usually are, are off-limits to anyone who does not have permission of the real property owner to come onto that private property. All that is needed is for the property owner to tell the Phelps that they are not welcome and ask them to leave. If they don’t, a phone call to the police will result in an arrest for trespassing.

But if they stand beyond the property line on public property or on the property of someone who allows them to be there, then that’s fair play. Legally, there is no sound argument to be made for silencing WBC so long as they stand beyond the property line. That wont keep them from sending their message, and the best thing to do would to be to use a very large piece of property, so that the property line is far enough away that the Phelps are out of sight and out of mind. If this case is about protecting the privacy and sanctuary of funerals, this will be an adequate fix to the problem. But I suspect alot of people want to see this family win to silence the Phelps and thats not an action that should be undertaken.

I must say that in this case, I support the right of WBC to speak because it’s a right granted to all citizens of this country – even at funerals and even when the message being spoken is morally repugnant and devoid of value. I hope that SCOTUS, with its conservative makeup, makes this connection. True conservatives tend to understand these types of arguments and will see them under the Castle doctrine, so there is hope that common sense will prevail.

We must resist the temptation to take feel-good actions in extreme cases that have far-reaching consequences. Part of not being a hypocritical coward is having the courage to defend people you truely hate when their ability to remain equal is threatened. In this case, the equality of WBC and Phelps is being threatened in a manner that threatens our collective right to free speech. This I cannot and will not be a part of supporting.

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Like most Americans, I was shocked when I heard that the Supreme Court decided to obliterate the regulations that kept corporations from directly spending money to influence elections. At first, this decision looked like a flaming disaster for liberty from the perspective of the average person. I was ready to call for assassinations and do all of my usual rantings, but I stopped to think about this for a little while and what it meant. This case is very far-reaching, on the magnitude of Roe v. Wade. It’s hard to imagine a recent case with implications that are more broad or far-reaching. If you’re wondering where various groups stand in all this, The Washington Post did an admirable  job of compiling the opinions of the various factions in a succinct format for all to digest in a single page. This is the last time I’ll praise the Post herein, though – as you’ll soon see.

The first reality check we need to get through to understand this issue is to realize that corporations have always influenced elections in this country. There was never a moment in time when they didn’t and I’d be wiling to stake my life on the fact that there never will be. This is not a new revelation, one would have to have been living under a rock to have missed this memo. But judging by the uneducated opinions I have been hearing on this topic, its pretty darn clear that more than just a couple of folks did – in fact – miss the memo.

Under the old law, a corporation had to form a PAC in order to run ads on an issue. The PAC allowed the corporation to basically hide its involvement in a given message. Either that, or the managers or directors of a corporation had to use their own salary to put a message out there, after taxes were taken out. The former option is time-consuming, chock full of red tape and expensive, which ensures that only the largest corporations (which are usually the most conservative) undertake the effort. The latter requires directors to sacrifice after-tax pay to do engage in activism, which for many smaller managers and directors at smaller corporations is a deal breaker. Both allow the corporation doing the influencing to hide their involvement to all but the most knowledgeable researches who know their way around FEC campaign finance databases.

Even after the decision, corporations still cannot give money directly to campaigns for specific candidates. However, they can now use their money to buy airtime and target those unfriendly to their causes and they can do it easily, without having to invest in the infrastructure and deal with the red tape of setting up a Political Action Committee (PAC). They still have to mention which corporation is behind the message, just like they had to identify the PAC sponsoring a media blitz. Under the new rules, it will be easier to see who is behind the message and associate them with the source of the money.For instance, instead of having ads by some generic-sounding industry lobby group named something like “The Plastics Council” running ads which could be coming from any number of plastics manufactures, we might now see that Dow Chemical sponsored an ad.

While its likely that the use of PACs will not fall out of favor anytime for this very reason – they allow companies with the resources to set them up to divorce their name and brands from a message which they hold but may offend certain customer segments – there is another effect of this decision that’s worth considering – and celebrating. Most small companies – and yes, a lot of them are incorporated – don’t have the time, money or resources to start a PAC to fight for interests near and dear to them or their leadership. Until now, they were locked out of the process. Completely. That’s obviously changed with this decision, so what we may see is a surge of involvement by small businesses on a level never seen.

As for how this can help us queers, we outright control lots of corporations – most of them the ones described above who until this decision have been locked out of the process. Many of us own stock in various corporations even if we don’t own controlling stakes, and that gives us a chance to make our voices heard. Most people are completely ignorant of how corporations came to exist, ignorant of how they work, ignorant of the all-important rule of the shareholder, ignorant of the value of voting with dollars and ignorant of how corporations stand with the law. Not surprisingly, they therefore misconstrue this as the handing over of Democracy to the corporations and fail to recognize that this is a new tool for us activists to add to our arsenals.

Often times, the queer community seems to take Democratic party positions, even when doing so is not in their own best interest. Barak Obama’s recent attacks on the Supreme Court over this decision are downright foolish. For someone who is supposedly one of the smartest people in the country, he sure is failing to miss several key advantages of the decision. Of course, in the typical hypocritical fashion popularized in US politics, Obama and the Democrats have chosen to bitch, moan and groan – while at the same time plotting as to how they will make use of this latest so-called “loophole” to eviscerate and destroy their opponents. Gee, what a surprise. American politics aren’t called hypocritical for no reason.

But while the Democrats are acting like idiots, this time they have friends on the conservative side, too. The Washington Post, well-known for its apologetically conservative commentary, ran a piece blasting the Court that contained this little nugget of stupidity: “It was the height of activism to usurp the judgments of Congress and state legislatures about how best to prevent corruption of the political process.” This brings me to one of my favorite pieces of caselaw of all time. I am not sure if it is still “good” caselaw (as in it has not been overturned since being written way back in 1886) or not, I don’t honestly care. The wisdom expressed in it is as irrefutable as it is easy to understand.

“An unconstitutional act is not a law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; it affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as inoperative as though it had never been passed.” — Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425 (1886)

The Post piece also decries the fact that the Court went further than the Plaintiffs asked them to in striking down laws – laws that Congress passed. So what? Nearly all petitions for relief include a phrase similar to “… and for all other relief as the Court may find just, proper or equitable.” as part of the standard boilerplate. Even if this particular petition did not, the Court always has the right to grant relief on its own motion. Obviously, a majority of the Court felt it was just and proper to do what it did. Its the job of SCOTUS to strike down laws that are unconstitutional, and a court that is doing its job is by definition not engaging in judicial activism, its just being judicious. Its still their job even when (and I’d argue especially when) Congress passes laws. Just because you disagree with a decision does not mean that judicial activism has occurred or that legislation is being passed from the bench. This entire concept is often lost on the folks who cling to the lower runs of the intelligence ladder in our society.

But love it or hate it, the ruling is already having an effect in Oklahoma, as the Ethics Commission met to revise its rules to comply. “We don’t really have a choice. This is the decision of the Supreme Court,” Ethics Commissioner Karen Long astutely observed. While the Supreme Court’s ruling applied only to candidates for federal office, the Constitution (and the Constitutional issues that SCOTUS dealt with and decided) applies to all elections for all offices and all speech. Therefore, its likely Oklahoma and other states that have laws abridging corporate speech are similarly unconstitutional. I do have to say its breath of fresh air to see Oklahoma officials complying with the decision rather than taking the approach Steve Russel (HD – R) did with Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (an approach which Democrats loudly decried – as did I). Of course, not everyone is happy. All of the usual Democrat groups in the state are hymning and hawing at the notion of changing the rules so soon, most likely hoping that Congress can cook up some sort of bill to effectively opt out of the new way of doing things. Its not hard to see the irony in this latest approach if you have even a small amount of intelligence.

You know who I blame for all of this symphony of stupidity? Teachers. That’s right, red apple toting, teachers union card carrying, my union rep will sue the school district if you try to make me accountable public school teachers. After all, they are the ones graduating kids these days who clearly don’t even understand the basic role of The Supreme Court in the process of running our government. Its really scary to see that one of them has gotten himself elected as our president, right after another idiot who couldn’t read or talk who pulled off the same feat. If you want to change the world, invest in education.

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