Serious South Dakota

     It’s amazing what you can learn from reading appellate opinions.
     Truly amazing.
     For example, did you know that South Dakota’s constitution says that “the Governor has authority to require opinions of the Supreme Court upon important questions of law involved in the exercise of his executive power and upon solemn occasions.”
     No cheerful questions allowed.
     I now know this after reading a South Dakota Supreme Court ruling called In Re: The Request of Governor Dennis Daugaard for an Advisory Opinion in the Matter of the Interpretation of South Dakota Constitution Article V, §§ 2 and 6 in which the very solemn court decided it could answer a question posed by a former governor two years earlier.
     Why did it take so long to answer?
     Well, because the question was about a residency requirement for South Dakota Supreme Court nominees and there hadn’t been a vacancy on the court until now. There wasn’t a contemplated exercise of the governor’s power back then and “this matter does not present a solemn occasion because there is little likelihood of the circumstances surrounding your questions arising during the time remaining in your term.”
     So why was the former governor asking back then?
     Beats me. Maybe he was feeling frivolous.
     I’ve never been to South Dakota but now I want to go. I think it may be a foreign country.
     Here’s another clue: the ruling begins with the phrase “To his excellency, Dennis Daugaard, the Governor of the State of South Dakota.”
     Yes, his excellency.
     Apparently they have royalty. I really want to see the castle.
     One more excerpt from the opinion: “… the current vacancy due to the retirement of Justice Meierhenry continues to exist until her appointed successor commences discharging the duties of the office of justice.”
     And you thought vacancies filled themselves.
     GRAPHIC WARNINGS. I don’t smoke so I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for the tobacco companies when I heard they were suing over a plan to require them to display scary pictures on their packaging.
     But I wondered if I might feel differently if I did smoke.
     I eat ice cream. How would I feel if it came in packages with pictures of obese people with horrible complexions or images of open heart surgery?
     I might consider a diet.
     Or I might eat the ice cream anyway. The urge is strong.
     There are lots of other products and services that could use some graphic image warnings.
     Say, a billboard of an angry wife with a rolling pin backed up by a divorce lawyer outside strips clubs.
     Or maybe a realistic image of a guy drowning in a sea of empty Cheetos bags outside a medical marijuana dispensary.
     It’s not Big Brother – it’s Big Mother. A little nagging can go a long way.
     But what about the legal issue here? The lawsuit, as the news reports have noted, claims that adding a message – a rather large and attention-getting message – to cigarette packaging somehow violates the tobacco companies’ free speech rights.
     Cigarettes are a legal product so they have a right not to have their marketing overshadowed. That’s the suit’s initial argument anyway.
     But if you read a ways into the complaint, an odd thing happens. The plaintiffs – or at least their lawyers – contradict their own argument by claiming (at some length) that the government warnings don’t work.
     This is from the complaint – read it if you don’t believe me: “(T)he FDA study demonstrated that none of the 36 graphic warnings were effective across all three of the variables measured, and the vast majority of them had no statistically significant effect on beliefs about the health risks from smoking and second-hand smoke.”
     So, apparently, they’re suing over something that has no effect.
     And then there’s this interesting tidbit from the complaint: “(M)ore people are aware of the health risks of smoking than ‘are aware that George Washington was the first U.S. President, or that the Earth revolves around the sun.'”
     What we really need are graphic images of U. S. presidents and the solar system on our cigarette boxes.

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