Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bong Hits 4 Jesus: Sam Alito to the Rescue?

And on the subject of appreciating help from unexpected quarters:

From today's online Wisconsin State Journal, I think quoting from a story in the Times:: "In that case, Saxe v. State College Area School District, Alito said the policy 'strikes at the heart of moral and political discourse - the lifeblood of constitutional self- government (and democratic education) and the core concern of the First Amendment.' His opinion was based on an interpretation of the Tinker precedent that was notably more robust than that put forward on Monday by Starr and Kneedler and, seemingly, by Roberts.

During the argument, Alito interrupted Kneedler as the deputy solicitor general was asserting that a school 'does not have to tolerate a message that is inconsistent' with its basic educational mission.

'I find that a very, very disturbing argument,' Alito said, 'because schools have defined their educational mission so broadly that they can suppress all sorts of political speech and speech expressing fundamental values of the students under the banner of getting rid of speech that's inconsistent with educational missions.'

Well said, and very different from the approach of the new Chief Justice.

I actually teach a course (in two flavors, one for law students, one for undergraduates) entitled "Children, Parents and the State". I love teaching it: it provides the opportunity for engaging, and encouraging students to discuss, many of the hottest topics in the ongoing "culture wars." The course examines the allocation of decisional authority over the lives of children, with a particular focus on the developing legal rights of adolescents as they mature toward adulthood. One of our principal cases of study is Tinker, which involved the wearing of black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

Personal aside: I wore a black armband to my high school graduation the week after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in June of 1968. I joined classmates wearing protest signs on the backs of our graduation robes (for women's equality) to our Harvard graduation in 1972. I wrote a number of controversial articles for my school papers. So did both of my own children--was, and am, I ever proud of them, then and now (Is that okay to say?). We're a family of troublemakers from way back, for those wondering about my involvement in more current controversies. Probably has something to do with my wanting to be a law professor.

Needless to say, this issue strikes very close to home for me.

There is, of course, a considerable likelihood that some Justices will "go off" (precise sense unstipulated here) on the drug issue (perhaps enough to contribute to a majority opposing the students' claim in this case), giving that a priority over the First Amendment's strong application to the students' right to demonstrate. (One critical technical legal issue involves appropriate expectations for the school principal's ability to understand the state of the law following several Supreme Court decisions cutting back very considerably on the initial promise of Tinker. Having taught these cases, I agree the current state of the law is pretty much of a hash, to pick an evocative term. God save me, I may even agree with Scalia on that limited point.)

If so, count one more collateral casualty of this nation's proclaimed War on Drugs, which has been approximately as successful as our War in Iraq. (For those interested, I prefer what is called a "harm reduction" strategy for substances like marijuana, based on regulation of sale and use--particularly for the young-- rather than a "prohibition-style" approach.) But that is a subject for another day, another posting.

Disclosure: Samuel Alito was the teaching assistant in my first-year law school course on Constitutional Law. I do not agree with him on very much, and do not anticipate being a fan of many of his votes as a Supreme Court Justice. I do think he is a person of integrity and principle (even where I may disagree with his principles, and with his politics), and I hope that will show in his work on this case.

I invite serious comments on this posting, and plan to return in greater depth to several of the issues lightly dipped into on this first venture into mentioning them.

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