Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yet Another Free Speech Arguement

So much to talk about!

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Class this morning was fascinating to say the least. Today we went over speech cases involving obscenity, as well as a brief introduction to landmark freedom of the press cases. Its a funny thing, looking at the precedents and watching the jurisprudence (the study of law and the structure of the legal system) evolve over time while the words of the Constitution are not altered in any way. Now, take these next few remarks with a grain of salt, as I freely admit that I am a strict constructionist when it comes to the rather explicitly worded First Amendment, not to mention a libertarian raised in a Democratic household. Yikes. With that being said, I find there to be no Constitutional basis for any of the limits on free speech, which includes obscenity, as its pretty frankly stated that “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” not “Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, except in cases of obscenity, fighting words, incitement to riot, defamation, or such cases where there is a 'clear and present danger' [Holmes, majority opinion in Schenck v United States] stemming from that speech.” If it said the second part, then by all means, declare certain speech unprotected by the First Amendment and allow the government to make all the laws it likes around those exceptions. But it doesn't say that, does it? So thats where I get confused. If the government makes a law limiting some type, any type, of speech, even if that speech is harmful, the Constitution as it stands now expressly forbids that act, and the Supreme court has a duty to uphold those words and strike down the law as they swore to do to protect the United States Constitution. You've heard this argument before in my blog, and as long as we keep talking about the First Amendment in class, you'll keep hearing it.

The afternoon was a little funny. We met in our normal smaller discussion classes, but we were divided into groups of four within that class. Each group was given a different case and told that the next day they would be arguing their case against another section of the class. The case our group got is, well, difficult. Despite my vehement support of the absolutism of the First Amendment, there is a huge amount of precedent that says the Court feels otherwise. My group is arguing that a federal law prohibiting the transport of obscene materials is in violation of our imaginary client's First Amendment rights, but we have no precedent to back up our arguments (as the only times a Supreme Court has found in favor of the appellant convicted under such speech-regulating laws has been in cases where the material was found to not actually be obscene and was therefore protected) whereas the other side has two hundred years of Court ruling in their favor to cite with confidence. Its going to be a difficult debate tomorrow.

We broke early from class to do research in our groups, and I began drafting the closing statement after we had done some research into obscenity cases. Our argument seems a little shaky: I'll tell you tomorrow if it works out or not. Mrs. L took Eric and I to purchase our textbooks (our instructors weren't kidding: the books are like heavy bricks in shape, size, and color, just as they said it would be. Then came dinner!

Because of a mix-up our first week here, we hadn't gotten a chance to meet with anyone from Vassar College yet, so Beilul organized a more informal meeting with a Vassar alum at a sushi restaurant across the street from Columbia. There we met Brian, and to be perfectly honest, Vassar just jumped up to the top of my short list of colleges. Brian was fun to be around, engaging, had a lot to say about the school (not just the good things, mind!), and honest about everything we asked him, be it about the town, the other schools, or life at Vassar. The food was delicious (heck, it was sushi!) and I know that Beilul and I left dinner grinning from ear to ear, excited about a possible future at Vassar.

After I got back to the dorm, I spent most of the rest of the evening researching for my paper (due Monday!) and my debate tomorrow. I was pulled, only mildly complaining, out of my room by my suite-mates to be hustled down to an outdoor dance at the gazebo, before we all gathered for a late pizza snack (dinner for some) and movie-watching in honor of our RA's twentieth birthday.

My squeaky bed is calling my name; good night to everyone, and more free speech rants tomorrow!

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