First Amendment Rights

     I want to start out here by freely admitting that I know nothing about getting elected to office.
     The only election I ever won was in junior high school (the Utah equivalent of middle school in California). I was elected editor of the school newspaper.
     You may be wondering why editor of the junior high newspaper was an elected office. I can’t explain it – it’s still a mystery to me after all these years.
     I won the election, by the way, by getting up at a school assembly and telling jokes. Apparently I was the only standup comedian candidate and that worked for me (for the first and only time).
     I know I ought to be encouraged by the success of Al Franken, but I don’t think joke-telling was his entire platform. So I’m not planning on running for anything in the near future.
     But despite my general political ignorance, I do think I’ve spotted a flaw in the candidacy of one Martha Dean, a candidate for Attorney General of Connecticut – she thinks it’s a good idea to fight for the rights of lawyers to create conflicts of interest.
     Maybe it is, but I suspect word of that fight getting out hasn’t helped her election prospects. I’m just not picturing TV ads with an announcer proudly exclaiming: “Martha Dean – the only Attorney General candidate who will do whatever it takes to make sure lawyers working for the Attorney General’s office can contribute to her campaign.”
     Apparently, the incumbent Attorney General was enforcing a bothersome rule barring contributions by private lawyers contracting with the AG’s office for work, so Dean sued him, claiming this violated her First Amendment rights. This went up to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and produced a biblical ruling: ‘Tis better to give than receive.
     OK, they didn’t exactly say that, but that’s what it amounted to. The court said Dean didn’t have a First Amendment right to receive contributions as opposed to giving them.
     And there you have the solution to campaign reform.
     You can’t bar corporations from spending millions on pro-business candidates. You can’t bar political action committees from spending whatever they want on elections without directly contributing to candidates.
     But maybe you can bar TV stations and newspapers and Internet sites from taking their money. That doesn’t restrict their freedom of speech or press.
     Imagine a nice, quiet election season.
     With maybe a few jokes from the candidates.
     
     AN EDUCATION. On another First Amendment front, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has managed to ruin a high school student’s two-year project.
     Well, it wasn’t exactly a school project, but a kid named Paul Palmer started his First Amendment battle to wear a San Diego t-shirt in school in Texas when he was a sophomore and the Fifth Circuit stripped him of that right now that he’s a senior.
     Check out Palmer v. Waxahachie Independent School District in which we learn of a kid who went to school with a t-shirt that said San Diego on it and was told by an assistant principal that he couldn’t wear it. I don’t know whether this had anything to do with the school being in Texas or not.
     Now comes the best part: the kid calls his parents and they bring him a “John Edwards for President ’08” t-shirt to wear instead.
     When that one gets rejected too, the parents have no trouble with the concept of litigation as a backdrop for their son’s high school experience.
     Hmm. Wonder what they think of their choice of shirt now.

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