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Monday, April 12, 2004

GOOD NEWS! SCALIA LIKES SOME OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT 

It must have been very uncomfortable for the high school principal at Presbyterian High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. He was so excited to have a real, live, breathing Supreme Court Justice speaking at his school, on the subject of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the school had booked Antonin Scalia, the high court's resident embarrassment, and the prestigious event turned into a unsettling example of the constitutional hypocrisy that not infrequently characterizes Bush Administration actions.

Scalia forbids press coverage and tape recording of his public speaking events. Usually, an announcement is made beforehand, but no one said anything forbidding the press at Presbyterian High School and several reporters were present, taking notes and taping the speech. They were soon confronted by U.S. marshals who confiscated the tapes.

"This is a major embarrassment," said a University of Minnesota law professor. "And it is unsupportable as a matter of law." Another law professor, from New York University, said, "This doesn't live up to the ideals of the First Amendment. He should know he can't use a U.S. marshal as a private police force to enforce his will."

Scalia should know it, but, like so many of his cronies in the Bush Administration, he thinks he can do whatever he damn well pleases. It is pretty easy for him to something inspiring, like, "I am here to persuade you that our Constitution is something extraordinary, something to revere." But it is nearly impossible for him to actually practice the spirit of the Constitution.

A free press is necessary in a democracy, and part of that freedom includes access to public officials. As a member of the highest court in the land and part of a government that speaks forcefully and often of its committment to spreading democracy in the Middle East, Scalia should know what "freedom of the press" means and how vital it is to the preservation of democratic ideals. His policy of depriving the press of access to his public appearances reeks of the blatant hypocrisy that has become typical of the Bush Administration.

Scalia called the Constitution "a brilliant piece of work ... People just don't revere it like they used to."

Who would know better about a lack of reverence for the Constitution than Scalia? Apparently, he only reveres the parts of the Constitution that he likes. And he apparently doesn't like that silly bit about the freedom of the press.

Maybe we should give Scalia a break. After all, the Constitution is really long and it's hard to imagine that anyone has actually read the whole thing. And maybe Scalia has forgotten some of the more obscure sections in the many years since he was in grade school, when most children learn the Bill of Rights.

Here's a little refresher for Scalia, Attorny General John Ashcroft and other Bush Administration officials who seem to have a tenuous grasp of the contents of the Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."

Hopefully, this incident will be a wake-up call to people who make the decisions about who to book for First Amendment junkets and they will start paying a little bit of attention. Hopefully, they will start booking officials who actually "revere" all of the Constitution, not just the parts they like.

(Note: Since this article first appeared, Justice Scalia has apologized for the Hattiesburg incident and even implied that he will now allow recordings of his speeches. It only took 18 years as a Supreme Court justice and several days of bad publicity to get his attention. Mushtown Media Corp. would like to express our sympathy to our fellow Americans for having to put up with some of these Republican Supreme Court appointees for so long.)

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