Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Look of Change

It's still too early to tell whether Obama will manage to effect meaningful change during his presidency. He has retrenched from earlier talk of quickly closing Gitmo and exposing the illegal use of torture by his predecessor. It's difficult for observers like myself to not revert to the cynical position that things are generally run by Powers That Be (PTB), which trancends political parties and the electoral process.

Hopefully Obama's first pick for the supreme court represents change in the right direction. Judging by the howls from the extreme Right, she must embody some good qualities.

My concern is that free speech is under attack in this nation, and though a liberal justice on the court would be a welcome change from the likes of Roberts and Alito, I'm aware that tyranny can come from the Left as well as the Right. Seeing that congress will likely pass a version of the so-called "hate crime" bill this year, I'm concerned about how Sotomayor will weigh in on cases where free speech is under attack. It happens to be part of the liberal agenda to pass a law that criminalizes certain forms of speech in the name of "protecting" certain minorities. I have written on this before, and think it's a bad idea.

I recall that an unlikely hero emerged in 1989 in defense of free speech - Justice Antonio Scalia. Although he has since earned a great deal of notoriety in my book, I was more than pleased to watch him draw the wrath of conservatives when he sided with a 5-4 decision that struck down prohibitions on flag burning. His reasoning? Flag burning represents a form of political speech, protected by the constitution. One could only hope that a future "hate crimes" law would be subjected to the same analysis by the high court, but something tells me that Sotomayor would not likely be defending constitutionally protected free speech in that instance.

I could be wrong, and justices have been known to shed ideological rigidity when elevated to that lofty level. However, they could have checked Bush's unconstitutional excesses over the past 8 years, and did not - Scalia included. In many critical cases, constitutional principle did not overtake partisan loyalty. Hopefully, this will begin to change for the better, although Justice Souter (who she will replace) was not generally part of the problem. It will probably take many years for turnover on the court to make a meaningful change. Hopefully the republic can stay intact for that long.


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