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April 10, 2004

Strange Fruit #2

Supreme Court Building

Strange fruit is growing on the Tree of Democracy these days. A sitting Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court went out to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to talk to the youth about the values of the Constitution and Democracy, a mission that one would be inclined to support and applaud. Something went wrong, and the kids got a very bad message. At William Carey College, a Christian school that one would surmise is safe turf for a most conservative member of the Court, it is reported that the Right Honorable Justice kicked the press out of the reception. Perhaps he was concerned that one of the reporters might overhear something like the intemperate public remarks he previously made about a Ninth Circuit decision in Newdow, and that caused him to recuse himself from that case. One can understand how he might still be smarting about that, but William thinks his action sends the wrong message from, and to, our college campuses.

William would be among the first to defend the Justice's right to privacy, but when he chooses to appear in public he becomes a public person. As a member of the nation's highest court, he wears a public mantle that cannot be left behind in the Robing Room. One would have hoped that he would use his public appearances to show respect for the press rather than contempt. Perhaps this noted scholar should re-read George Mason's writing in the Virginia Bill of Rights [June 12, 1776, article 1], the precursor to our National Bill of Rights:

The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

It is reported that Carey College has apologized to the local press for the Justice's bad behavior on this occasion.

Not content with the abovementioned display of judicial contempt for the press, the Justice drove his lesson home with an even younger audience. While he was speaking later at the Presbyterian High School in the same locale, a federal marshal, apparently acting in accord with the Justice's orders, seized and erased the cassette tape of a Hattiesburg American reporter whose sole crime was making an audio record of the Justice's speech on the values embodied in the Constitution. reporter extending microphone Again, William can understand how the esteemed jurist, who is used to having his writings and opinions researched, prepared, scrutinized, marked-up, commented on, reviewed and proofed by a brilliant cadre of clerks and colleagues, might feel a bit naked, alone, in front of a bunch of high school students and a local reporter or two. Hey, Mr. Justice, if you can't take the heat generated by your own words, you could always stay home and keep your mouth shut.

Congratulations, Sir, in close proximity to the opening of the 2004 Major League Baseball Season, you scored an extra base hit on the underpinnings of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Your hunting buddy, the Vice President, would be proud of you no doubt, as he seems to have the same attitude toward his secret meetings with his cronies in the oil industry as you do about your meetings with him, and with your friends in academe.

To the Justice's credit, it was recently reported that he sent a letter of apology to the reporter who was so badly used by the government at Hattiesburg Presbyterian High School. One wonders if upon return to Washington, the Chief Justice gave him a Time Out, and sent him to the corner to write out in longhand the First and Fourth Amendments one hundred times. Perhaps we should all take the time to re-read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America [1835] and in particular Part I, Chapter 9:

In order to enjoy the inestimable benefits that the liberty of the press ensures, it is necessary to submit to the inevitable evils that it creates.

Bill of Rights

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