Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A victory for the first amendment and an upcoming battle for the 4th amendment

I haven't got too terribly much to write about today, but I just wanted to take an opportunity to share with you a few pretty significant Supreme Court rulings in regards to the 1st Amendment (Freedom of expression, free speech, and freedom of religion), and an upcoming battle for the 4th amendment (Protection against unreasonable search and seizure).

The First Amendment: Some Recent Rulings
The 1st amendment to the US constitution reads,
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."[1]

The First Amendment is generally taken to protect the right of any individual to practice any religion they so please, to exercise free speech, even if it's critical of the government, and to protect the free press, with some fairly reasonable limitations imposed.

There have been a number of rulings by the Supreme Court recently in regards to Free Speech. One of the more famous ones this year was a ruling involving the Westboro Baptist Church [2], the group that protests the funerals of military personnel, among other things. Now, like most people, I don't agree with this church's message, but that doesn't mean they should have their freedom of expression removed. For better or worse, the Supreme Court mostly upheld the rights Westboro Baptist Church, with a few restrictions designed to protect the grieving families.

More recently, this week, the First Amendment has again been upheld, in regards to the sale of obscene and violent video games. Again, no one really thinks that children should have access to these sorts of materials, but the issue at hand is that it is not the government's job to regulate such matters. On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down an outrageous law from, where else, California.[3] Again, no one recommends distributing certain materials to minors. The point of the first amendment is this: if books, websites, video games, etc can be banned because they are obscene or in poor taste, then this leaves too much room open for government censorship. The Nazi book burnings come to mind.

A Battle Ahead for the Fourth Amendment
The last thing I want to mention is a very interesting upcoming battle over the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

In full, the Fourth Amendment reads:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."[4]

The case at hands tests the legality of police putting GPS tracking devices on cars of suspects without obtaining a search warrant. The police argument is that the car is in a public place, the person is suspicious, and the usual drivel about "if you're not doing anything wrong then why do you care if we track you?"

The counterpoint is that, all roads and most sidewalks are public places, and there is too much room for abuse of this type of tracking data, if the government is permitted to track anyone and everyone without probable cause.

I feel fairly confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the constitution and assert that this prolonged tracking cannot be conducted without a warrant, but it's something to keep an eye on, anyway. Read more here.[5]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snyder_v._Phelps
[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/first-amendment-protection/2011/06/27/AG0gyEoH_graphic.html
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
[5] http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9217985/Supreme_Court_to_weigh_in_on_warrantless_GPS_tracking

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