I have a big post coming up tonight or tomorrow on empathy, partisanship and politics. In the meantime, I wanted to cheer the SCOTUS today, who delivered a series of good decisions today. In Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, the Court decided that, no, trial lawyers can not randomly shop around for the friendliest court to sue in. It was an 8-1 decision. In McWilliams v. Dunn, they narrowly held that defendants in trials are, in fact, entitled to metal health experts who are available to the defense and independent. This was 5-4, with Gorsuch dissenting, so a lot of the trial protections we have still hang by a thread.
But there were two big First Amendment wins today:
In Packingham v. North Carolina, they ruled 8-0 that North Carolina could not make it a felony for sex offenders to access social media. This is a bit more controversial, but the Court argued that a blanket restriction was too broad and the states could easily enact more narrow laws that protect children on the internet without burning First Amendment rights. What’s more important though was the thought process behind the decision: the Court showed a deference to internet communication as free speech. This could be critical in the coming decades as politicians of both parties would love to restrict internet speech.
More importantly, in Matal v. Tam, the Court ruled that copyright protections can not be rescinded because the name of something (in the case, an Asian-American rock band called the Slants) offends people, with clear implications for lawsuits involving the Washington Redskins. What was encouraging was that the court decided — unanimously — against the idea that there is a hate speech exception to the First Amendment.
These two decisions are encouraging. Not only did they defend the right to Free Speech — our most critical right. But they did so unanimously and in circumstances — one involving a sex offender and one involving an offensive band name — where pundits and wags will blither endlessly about the supposed limits of free speech.