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This site is the inspiration of a former reporter/photographer for one of New England's largest daily newspapers and for various magazines. The intent is to direct readers to interesting political articles, and we urge you to visit the source sites. Any comments may be noted on site or directed to KarisChaf at gmail.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Welcome to the Collective -- Justice Breyer turns the First Amendment on its head -- By James Taranto, The Wall Street Journal

In his plurality opinion in yesterday's free-speech case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, Chief Justice John Roberts notes an anomaly in contemporary "liberal" First Amendment jurisprudence: "If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades--despite the profound offense such spectacles cause--it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition."

We'd take the point a step further. The examples Roberts cites all involve fringe political expression. But the First Amendment also protects outrĂ© speech outside the political realm--most notably pornography, the subject of a great deal of Supreme Court jurisprudence over the past few decades, in which judicial liberals took the lead in expanding free-speech rights. 

In recent years something of a consensus has emerged. When the court extended First Amendment protection to "depictions of animal cruelty" (U.S. v. Stevens, 2010) and violent video games (Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 2011), the decisions were written by Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, respectively, for 8-1 and 7-2 majorities.

So why have the court's "liberals" adopted a hostile attitude toward political speech, which has long been understood as being at the core of First Amendment protection? In his McCutcheon dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer elaborates the theory behind this odd development.

We should note that Breyer has proved more willing than his liberal colleagues to uphold restrictions on nonpolitical speech. He was one of the two dissenters (with Justice Clarence Thomas ) in Brown v. EMA, which involved a statute restricting sales of games to minors. He also dissented in U.S. v. Playboy Entertainment Group (2000), which invalidated limits on sexually explicit cable TV programming.

But in both those cases Breyer was alone among the court's liberals. In McCutcheon, his dissent gained the support of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. It's a familiar pattern: A series of high court rulings pitting campaign finance restrictions against free speech, beginning in 2007, have been decided 5-4, with the same majority as in McCutcheon and the identity of the dissenters varying only by virtue of changes in the court's personnel.
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