Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Supreme Court actions

The US Supreme Court has had some action in the last day, holding a hearing on campaign finance and handing down a ruling dealing with abortion protesters.

First up, the Court held hearings regarding a Vermont campaign finance law and, from the sounds of it, weren’t inclined to by sympathetic:

For most Americans, the tiny state of Vermont evokes images of maple syrup and flannel-clad environmentalists, not rampant corruption.

And perhaps for that reason many Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared skeptical about the Green Mountain state's claim that its campaign finance law, the strictest in the land, was necessary to keep its officials clear of corruption.

"How many prosecutions for political corruption have you brought?" Chief Justice John Roberts asked the state's attorney general, William H. Sorrell.

"None," Sorrell conceded moments after declaring that the state law entitled Act 64 would free politicians from making decisions based on their major campaign contributors.

The Vermont law was never specifically detailed in the story but it’s supposed to be the most strict in the nation. I hope that the High Court’s skepticism on such matters holds long enough to re-challenge the hideous McCain-Feingold Act and get that damn thing relegated to the junk heap.

The Court also ruled in favor of abortion protesters in saying that their actions cannot be considered criminal under the Rico Act.

The Supreme Court dealt a setback Tuesday to abortion clinics in a two-decade-old legal fight over anti-abortion protests, ruling that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations.

The 8-0 decision ends a case that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had kept alive despite a 2003 ruling by the high court that lifted a nationwide injunction on anti-abortion groups led by Joseph Scheidler and others.

Anti-abortion groups brought the appeal after the appellate court sought to determine whether the injunction could be supported by charges that protesters had made threats of violence.

The opinion can be read here. Frankly I thought there was merit to the idea that a group of organized people seeking to blockade access to a legal business was engaging in racketeering. The extortion was obvious: do as I say or we’ll choke off your business. If this were a local liquor shop or a cigar bar there’d be no question that the actions of these protesters would be considered illegal.

That said, the Court is interpretting the law closely to how it was written. The message that needs to be taken away from all this is that if the people don’t approve of this kind of behavior, they need to smack their legislature around to pass laws specifically addressing it. I have a feeling this is going to be a recurring theme with this court.

Oh, and I would note for the record that Justice Alito did not participate in the voting on this case since it was argued before he arrived on the Court. Just sayin’...