Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Two SCOTUS 5-4 decisions pit First Amendment rights against other competing human interests.

English: The United States Supreme Court, the ...
English: The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Bill of Rights has been much in the Justices' views during the session of the Supreme Court just ended.  In a 9-0 decision conservatives and liberals on the Court agreed that police need a warrant to poke around inside your cell phone.

However, when it came to the First Amendment, the five conservatives and the four liberals parted company. In the much ballyhooed Hobby Lobby case, the conservatives held that religious freedom --- even for those mythical persons known as corporations--- trumps the rights of women in the workplace to enjoy birth control services under their employer-provided health insurance.

And in another such divided decision, also announced yesterday, the last day of the term, the Fab Five announced that non-union members of bargaining units need not make fair share contributions to the labor organizations representing them.

Earlier in June the Court also held that protesters at abortion clinics could not be cordoned off some 35 feet away from patients entering the facilities.

These three First Amendment decisions, all from a sharply divided bench, will impact American lives for a long time to come.  Besides underlining the political split on the Court, they also indicate that --- like the equally controversial and divisive Citizens United decision of a few years ago --- the conservatives on the Court --- Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas and Kennedy --- either are deeply committed to the First Amendment's freedoms of speech and religion, as the king and queen of our civil liberties, or they have figured out how to use these rights effectively to forward the agenda of the rich and powerful of the political right… or perhaps both.

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