Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bong Hits Follow-Up

For the next few years, at least in cases that don't activate Justice Kennedy's libertarian streak, the interesting disagreements on the Court will be intra-conservative. Justice Alito's strong rejection of Justice Thomas's view in Morse v. Frederick is a nice example. Until some time in the 1980s, conservatives were generally unfriendly to free speech claims. Then, responding to what they saw as liberal/left "political correctness," most conservatives embraced freedom of speech as a value. Justice Thomas reveals himself here to be a throwback to an earlier kind of conservative.

To be sure, it's possible that Justice Thomas favors robust protection for free speech as a policy matter but fails to find it in the original understanding of the 14th Amendment. (Never mind his failure to pursue originalism when it comes to equal protection and even other free speech doctrines.) And it's also possible that Justice Thomas simply thinks schools are special, since he joins the Court's robust free speech decision in the campaign finance case. Still, Thomas is probably the least libertarian of the conservative Justices, which may make for interesting future disagreements.

11 comments:

Sobek said...

"Still, Thomas is probably the least libertarian of the conservative Justices..."

But note that Thomas dissented in Gonzales v. Raich, and Scalia somehow overcame his libertarian bona fides long enough to stick it to the pot smokers.

PG said...

sobek,
Thomas rejects the 20th century commerce clause precedents, especially Wickard. Scalia has a reluctant respect for precedents that predate his admission to law school.

Of all the loopy things about Thomas's concurrence, I think my favorite is his ignoring that the same 19th century public education tradition he happily cites in support of the 1789 understanding of the First Amendment also was so hostile to Catholics that they resorted to private schools in massive numbers. I don't know if he thinks that forcing Catholic students to engage in Protestant prayer is somehow different in the original understanding of the First Amendment than preventing anti-war students from saying they're anti-war, or if he believes institutional Protestantism in the public schools was constitutionally legitimate even after the incorporation of the Bill of Rights.

Sobek said...

"Scalia has a reluctant respect for precedents that predate his admission to law school."

My reading of Raich is that Scalia let his conservative opposition to drugs trump his conservative opposition to expanding federal power.

And there's no way for me to pick a "favorite" loopy part of Thomas' concurrance.

Benjam said...

sobek,

that is your INTERPRETATION of raich, but it does not accurately convey scalia's opinion. the justices were prety clear that the case was not a mini-referendum on the california proposition but was decided based on purely jurisprudential considerations.

i suppose we could just as easily say that justice ginsburg let her love for marijuana be trumped by her love for federal regulation. who really knows?

thomas (and oconnor) was all about the commerce clause in his raich opinion.

btw, i always thought the phrase "bong hits 4 jesus" should be read more literally, as in: "Dude, save some bong hits for jesus."

another important legal riddle to solve.

Sobek said...

"that is your INTERPRETATION of raich"

Well yeah, that's why I started my comment with "My reading of Raich is..."

"i suppose we could just as easily say that justice ginsburg let her love for marijuana be trumped by her love for federal regulation."

I think that's pretty much accurate, actually. [Not "love for marijuana" in the sense that she smokes it -- I won't opine on that].

I think that dynamic plays into a lot of cases. In Kelo, I half-expected the liberal justices to side with the poor, oppressed people over the powerful, greedy corporations, but apparently they like government power more than they hate corporations.

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