The Balanced Scales of Justice

Supreme CourtFirst, an update, something that I consider a positive thing. Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Pledge of Allegiance case. He provided no reason for doing so, but it likely stems from a comment he made denigrating the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, a no-no for a sitting judge. Michael Newdow, the plaintiff, had requested that Scalia do so, but it appears to have surprised just about everyone that Scalia actually did it. What this means for the case is that in the event of a 4-4 vote, the original ruling would stand: The “under God” phrase would be stricken (though whether that would apply to the nation as a whole is still undetermined). While I view this as a positive thing for the likely outcome of the case, I find it more significant that a justice is taking an ethical stand, despite its being counter to his own professed interests. I may not like the guy, but I can admire what he’s done.

Now for something on the other side of the scale. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson — who admirably stood up to the Goliath that was Microsoft before little George decided to share a congratulatory cigar with Bill Gates — has ruled that reporters in four different news organizations will have to reveal their sources. No, this isn’t about the CIA-agent-disclosure leak, but the decision does have chilling consequences for that case as well. This case, rather, concerns leaks made to reporters about Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was accused of siphoning nuclear secrets to the Chinese back in 1999. The decision, supposedly following existing judicial precedents, states that since Lee’s attorneys have been stonewalled in their interviews with government officials, the reporters remain the only option for obtaining information critical to Lee’s defamation lawsuit. We’ll have to wait and see how this decision is applied in the current case, but given that maintaining the confidentiality of sources is often critical to accurate reporting of government abuses, it’s frightening to think about where this could lead. Yes, this anonymous sourcing has seen rampant abuse of late, but there’s a damn good reason that this protection has to date remained sacrosanct.

Actually, I guess there’s another one in the positive column today: the Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision forbidding the Feds from persecuting... I’m sorry, prosecuting doctors who dare to actually tell their patients about the potential benefits of medical marijuana. So now the government won’t be able to push its draconian drug policy by actually gagging people who dare to speak the truth. So in the end, I guess it’s a good day after all.


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