Good News

Supreme Court bars Ten Com­mand­ments at courthouses
The deci­sion does­n’t go as far as I’d like, but it’s progress!

Tues­day, June 28, 2005; Post­ed: 5:40 p.m. EDT (21:40 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court strug­gled in a pair of 5–4 rul­ings Mon­day to define how much blend­ing of church and state is con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly per­mis­si­ble, allow­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments to be dis­played out­side the Texas state Capi­tol but not inside Ken­tucky courthouses.

In its first rul­ings on the issue in a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry, the high court said that dis­plays of the Ten Com­mand­ments on gov­ern­ment prop­er­ty are not inher­ent­ly uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. But each exhib­it demands scruti­ny to deter­mine whether it amounts to a gov­ern­men­tal pro­mo­tion of reli­gion, the court said in a case involv­ing Ken­tucky cour­t­house exhibits.

In effect, the court said it was tak­ing the posi­tion that issues of Ten Com­mand­ments dis­plays in cour­t­hous­es should be resolved on a case-by-case basis.

In the Ken­tucky rul­ing and a sec­ond deci­sion involv­ing the posi­tion­ing of a 6‑foot gran­ite mon­u­ment on the grounds of the Texas Capi­tol, Jus­tice San­dra Day O’Con­nor joined mem­bers of the lib­er­al bloc in argu­ing the dis­plays were uncon­sti­tu­tion­al. Stephen G. Brey­er, nor­mal­ly part of the more lib­er­al wing, joined them in the Ken­tucky case but vot­ed with the more con­ser­v­a­tive mem­bers to make a 5–4 major­i­ty in favor of the Texas display.

Jus­tice Antonin Scalia released a sting­ing dis­sent in the cour­t­house case, declar­ing, “What dis­tin­guish­es the rule of law from the dic­ta­tor­ship of a shift­ing Supreme Court major­i­ty is the absolute­ly indis­pens­able require­ment that judi­cial opin­ions be ground­ed in con­sis­tent­ly applied principle.”

The jus­tices vot­ing on the pre­vail­ing side in the Ken­tucky case left them­selves legal wig­gle room, say­ing that some dis­plays inside cour­t­hous­es would be per­mis­si­ble if they’re por­trayed neu­tral­ly in order to hon­or the nation’s legal history.

But framed copies in two Ken­tucky cour­t­hous­es went too far in endors­ing reli­gion, the court held. Those cour­t­house dis­plays are uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, the jus­tices said, because their reli­gious con­tent is overemphasized.

In con­trast, a 6‑foot-gran­ite mon­u­ment on the grounds of the Texas Capi­tol — one of 17 his­tor­i­cal dis­plays on the 22-acre lot — was deter­mined to be a legit­i­mate trib­ute to the nation’s legal and reli­gious history.

“Of course, the Ten Com­mand­ments are reli­gious — they were so viewed at their incep­tion and so remain. The mon­u­ment there­fore has reli­gious sig­nif­i­cance,” Chief Jus­tice William H. Rehn­quist wrote for the major­i­ty in the case involv­ing the dis­play out­side the state capi­tol of Texas.

“Sim­ply hav­ing reli­gious con­tent or pro­mot­ing a mes­sage con­sis­tent with a reli­gious doc­trine does not run afoul of the Estab­lish­ment clause,” he said.

Rehn­quist was joined in his opin­ion by Scalia, and jus­tices Antho­ny Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Brey­er filed a sep­a­rate opin­ion con­cur­ring in the result.

The rul­ings were the court’s first major state­ment on the Ten Com­mand­ments since 1980, when jus­tices barred their dis­play in pub­lic schools. But the high court’s split ver­dict leaves some­what unset­tled the role of reli­gion in Amer­i­can soci­ety, a ques­tion that has become a flash point in U.S. politics.

“While the court cor­rect­ly rejects the chal­lenge to the Ten Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment on the Texas Capi­tol grounds, a more fun­da­men­tal rethink­ing of our Estab­lish­ment Clause jurispru­dence remains in order,” Thomas wrote in a sep­a­rate opinion.

Dis­sent­ing in the Texas case, Jus­tice John Paul Stevens argued the dis­play was an improp­er gov­ern­ment endorse­ment of reli­gion. Stevens not­ed in large let­ters the mon­u­ment pro­claims ‘I AM the LORD thy God.“ ‘

“The sole func­tion of the mon­u­ment on the grounds of Texas’ State Capi­tol is to dis­play the full text of one ver­sion of the Ten Com­mand­ments,” Stevens wrote.

“The mon­u­ment is not a work of art and does not refer to any event in the his­to­ry of the state,” Stevens wrote. “The mes­sage trans­mit­ted by Texas’ cho­sen dis­play is quite plain: This state endors­es the divine code of the Judeo-Chris­t­ian God.”

Jus­tices O’Con­nor, David H. Souter and Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg also dissented.

The Supreme Court end­ed its term Mon­day with no retire­ment announce­ments from any jus­tices. A retire­ment could come lat­er, how­ev­er, in a let­ter to the pres­i­dent or press release.

There has been spec­u­la­tion about whether Rehn­quist, 80, will step down. The chief jus­tice has thy­roid can­cer and uses tra­chea tube to help him breathe.

Oth­er cases
Also Mon­day, the Supreme Court reject­ed appeals from two jour­nal­ists who have refused to tes­ti­fy before a grand jury about the leak of an under­cov­er CIA offi­cer’s identity.

The cas­es asked the court to revis­it an issue that it last dealt with more than 30 years ago — whether reporters can be jailed or fined for refus­ing to iden­ti­fy their sources. (Full story)

The jus­tices’ inter­ven­tion had been sought by 34 states and many news groups, all argu­ing that con­fi­den­tial­i­ty is impor­tant in news gathering.

Time mag­a­zine’s Matthew Coop­er and The New York Times’ Judith Miller, who filed the appeals, face up to 18 months in jail for refus­ing to reveal sources as part of an inves­ti­ga­tion into who divulged the name of CIA offi­cer Valerie Plame.

In anoth­er rul­ing from the court, jus­tices ruled that Inter­net file-shar­ing ser­vices will be held respon­si­ble if they intend for their cus­tomers to use soft­ware pri­mar­i­ly to swap songs and movies illegally.

The court reject­ed warn­ings that law­suits will stunt growth of cool tech gad­gets such as the next iPod.

The unan­i­mous deci­sion sends the case back to low­er court, which had ruled in favor of file-shar­ing ser­vices Grokster Ltd. and Stream­Cast Net­works Inc. on the grounds that the com­pa­nies could­n’t be sued. The jus­tices said there was enough evi­dence of unlaw­ful intent for the case to go to trial.

File-shar­ing ser­vices should­n’t get a free pass on bad behav­ior, jus­tices said. (Full story)

The Supreme Court also Mon­day over­turned a rul­ing that required cable oper­a­tors to open up their high-speed Inter­net lines to rivals. (Full story)

The deci­sion is a big vic­to­ry for the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion and major telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies, includ­ing Char­ter Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Time Warn­er Cable and SBC Communications.

On the los­ing side are small Inter­net ser­vice providers, includ­ing Earth­link, con­sumer rights groups, and a host of local governments.

At issue in the case, FCC v. Brand X, was whether cable oper­a­tors should be required under fed­er­al law to lease their cable lines to com­peti­tors, much the way local phone com­pa­nies were forced years ago to open up their lines to long-dis­tance phone companies.

Copy­right 2005 The Asso­ci­at­ed Press. All rights reserved.This mate­r­i­al may not be pub­lished, broad­cast, rewrit­ten, or redistributed.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
Posts created 4259

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top