The Justices further chipped away at the wall that separates church and state, took some of the steam out of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, neutered federal regulators in environmental cases to the benefit of developers and slammed a high school kid who had the temerity to put up a silly sign near his high school.
Indeed, so strong is the conservative bent to the court right now that even when its right-facing Justices did not agree on the legal reasons or rationale for their rulings– which was the case in the religion case noted above– they are able to agree to promote government sponsorship of religion and to block taxpayer efforts to prevent it. In other words, there is room for dissent even among the Court’s working majority– a bad sign for liberal judges, lawyers and litigants in the months and years to come.
Contrary to the forthcoming hysteria, today’s rulings were hardly earth-shattering developments. Yes, the conservatives weakened McCain-Feingold; good news for people who appreciate free speech. McCain-Feingold is a crappy law that tells us when we can and cannot promote a candidate of our choosing with our own money during election season. Even a majority of liberals are satisfied with today’s outcome in this case. Nevertheless the justices restrained themselves from striking it down completely. So don’t worry, Congress can and will still tell us how we we’re allowed to participate in political campaigns.
The supposed “wall” that separates the evil church and state is still intact; the Supreme Court simply reminded us that charities vying for federal funds ought not to be punished because they have a religious affiliation. Instead, charities should be judged by their effectiveness.
The kid whose “silly” sign got him into trouble was reminded that you can be punished for celebrating illegal activity (in this case drug use) if done on school time. To be sure, Cohen is right in his analysis that there was dissent amongst the majority – Clarence Thomas would have given schools the power to regulate all forms of speech because, “in the earliest public schools, teachers taught, and students listened,” and that’s how it should be today. He was alone in concurrence.
Cohen is also right that any doubts there may have been that President Bush moved the court to the Right have been surely extinguished. Expect more of today on Thursday when the court is expected to finish this year’s term.