Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Than "Categorical Balancing"

Heartening stuff from SCOTUS on the First Amendment in yesterday's 8-1 decision striking down federal ban on commercial depictions of animal cruelty. Here's Chief Justice Roberts:
[T]he Government points to Congress's " 'legislative judgment that ... depictions of animals being intentionally tortured and killed [are] of such minimal redeeming value as to render [them] unworthy of First Amendment protection,' " Brief for United States 23 (quoting 533 F. 3d, at 243 (Cowen, J., dissenting)), and asks the Court to uphold the ban on the same basis. The Government thus proposes that a claim of categorical exclusion should be considered under a simple balancing test: "Whether a given category of speech enjoys First Amendment protection depends upon a categorical balancing of the value of the speech against its societal costs." Brief for United States 8; see also id., at 12.

As a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage, that sentence is startling and dangerous. The First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social costs and benefits. The First Amendment itself reflects a judgment by the American people that the benefits of its restrictions on the Government outweigh the costs. Our Constitution forecloses any attempt to revise that judgment simply on the basis that some speech is not worth it.
Whole thing here, including Justice Alito's dissent.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday, April 06, 2010