June 20, 2017

The Supreme Court handed down a couple of major First Amendment case decisions on Monday. One case ruled it an unconstitutional violation of free speech to ban sex offenders from social media sites; the other struck down the so-called “disparagement clause” of the Latham Act that allows the Patent and Trademark Office to deny registration to names that officials deem to disparage or bring into contempt or disrepute any persons, living or dead. The SCOTUS ruled that the federal government can’t use the withholding of its “seal of approval” to convert private speech into government speech and censor it.

Conservatives probably won’t like the first ruling, and liberals will hate the second, since by ruling in favor of an Asian-American rock band called The Slants that was denied a copyright, it overturned the disparagement clause that was cited to revoke the Washington Redskins’ trademarks on their team name. But that’s the sticky thing about the First Amendment: if it protected only speech that didn’t offend or anger anybody, then we wouldn’t need it.

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There is one larger issue that both of these disparate cases have in common: like the recent SCOTUS ruling that church-owned hospitals are exempt from federal pension rules, it was unanimous. All these unanimous rulings in support of the First Amendment show that despite concerns about the left-right “balance” of the court and Neil Gorsuch as the “swing vote,” both the conservative and the liberal Justices take their duty seriously and will make rulings that protect free speech, even if it doesn’t achieve an outcome they personally desire. If lower court judges would just do that, the Supreme Court might be able to take a lot more vacation days.

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  • Mary Meier

    06/20/2017 05:33 PM

    I wonder if SCOTUS made these decisions BECAUSE Justice Gorsuch was confirmed, with the liberal justices knowing that they couldn't carry the majority or split the decision. If it had been a different justice, the vote could have gone differently.