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Protecting Dissenters

March 12, 2018

I have surprising news for at least some of you out there: the U. S. Supreme Court may be about to reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. No, you haven’t awakened in an alternate universe. This could really happen.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

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I have surprising news for at least some of you out there: the U. S. Supreme Court may be about to reverse Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. No, you haven’t awakened in an alternate universe. This could really happen.

Citizens United, for the one or two of you out there who missed it, is the 2009 Supreme Court ruling that said, essentially, that corporations can spend as much money as they want on political speech. Corporations, after all, are people just like the rest of us.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the ruling: “The Government contends further that corporate independent expenditures can be limited because of its interest in protecting dissenting shareholders from being compelled to fund corporate political speech. … The First Amendment does not allow that power. There is, furthermore, little evidence of abuse that cannot be corrected by shareholders.”

Shareholders are so bossy.

Whether you agree with that ruling or not, it’s possible you may have switched positions completely. I, however, remain firm in my appreciation for irony.

Raise your hand if you understand what I mean. That’s right – the Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether the First Amendment rights of nonunion workers have been violated by making them pay a “fair share” to unions who have negotiated wages and benefits for them.

Unions, after all, can spend as much money as they want on political speech without worrying about protecting dissenting members. Guess which side the justices who didn’t care about dissenting shareholders appear to be on?

Now go back to the Citizens United quote above and substitute the word “union” for “corporate.”

The mental acrobatics are going to be amazing to watch.

Recommendation to union reps: The only way around this is to have union contracts apply only to union members. Nonunion employees who think it’s better to fend for themselves can do exactly that. Suddenly unions will become popular again.

Lawyer control. Are there a lot of unidentified lawyers out there? Are mysterious figures showing up in court to argue cases?

I wouldn’t have thought so, but the California State Bar’s Board of Trustees (or at least its staff) just got through gathering comments on a proposed rule requiring all practicing lawyers in the state to be fingerprinted and to pay for the privilege.

We need to know who these lawyers really are!


Who knows? Bureaucrats, however, love rules whether they make any sense or not. Lawyers – not so much. If you want to have some fun, you can check out the 169 pages of public comments here. Fortunately, the Bar’s staff broke the comments down into categories.

Now see how many comments you can find that support the new rule. I counted zero. The closest that came to support were the four (out of more than 2,600) in the category summarized as “Commenters indicated that ALL attorneys should be required to be re-fingerprinted.”

I’m not going to claim I read all the comments, but some of the ones I glanced at were pretty emotional – and quite long. One was so long that it required a separate web page link.

Here are a few of my favorite lines:

“At 72, my fingerprints are no longer readable by any electronic means. My gym has given up on requiring me to sign in with my fingerprint. Please make some provision for attorneys whose fingerprints are generally worn off.”

I’m guessing that guy’s got something to hide.

“In the interest of ‘public protection,’ why should we stop at fingerprints? All State Bar members should also submit a DNA swab. They should be required to submit a quarterly hair sample, urine sample, and an updated mug shot. They should be required to wear electronic trackers at all times.”

Expect to see those proposals soon.

“Doesn’t the State Bar still have my fingerprints? Did somebody lose them? Why is this necessary? … What is the assumed benefit? Is there any evidence that some criminals have slipped through the cracks, and are now practicing law? Did some criminals hire others to submit fingerprints on their behalf?”

Look around your offices – some of those people you’re practicing with may be criminals in disguise.

“What are international lawyers supposed to do? I work overseas with the US Govt and I don't go back to the US very often.”

That guy’s definitely on the lam.

“The abuse of power by judges who are bullies needs to be checked and effective sexual harassment policies need to be in place.”

That one was in the middle of a rant that started with objecting to fingerprinting and then wandered off into general complaining. This demonstrates the therapeutic effect of public commenting.

“This is a really dumb idea. Does the bar organizations (sic) assume that we are some kind of criminal?”

Well, maybe, grammatically criminal.

“This proposed fingerprinting rule is nothing more than an Orwellian attempt to circumvent privacy rights merely because those of us who worked hard to become members made the unwitting mistake of doing so.”

Yes, times like these make us wonder about our life choices. Maybe reassessing life is what this is all about.

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