Cultural Revolutions

Clarifying Constitutional Law

The U.S. Supreme Court, many had hoped, would use this term to clarify constitutional law and move jurisprudence somewhat closer to the original understanding of the Constitution. The Court has yet to issue important opinions regarding school vouchers, partial-birth abortion, the Violence Against Women Act, and prayer at high school football games, but the latest First Amendment decision to be released has sent an alarming signal.

It's my duty as Chronicles' legal affairs editor to interpret the Court's decisions for you, and part of that job is to predict how the Court will rule. In an earlier article, I indicated that the Supremes would probably nix the University of Wisconsin's policy of using mandatory student fees to subsidize ideological speech, but I've been proved wrong—and by a nine to zero vote, no less. I'm not alone, however. The Wisconsin Federal District Court judge who first heard the case got it wrong, too, as did the three judges on the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. All opined that mandatory student fees of this type were "coerced speech" and therefore impermissible under the First Amendment.

Previous Supreme Court decisions had held that non-union teachers could not be compelled to pay "service fees" that teachers' unions use to fund political activities, and that lawyers who are compelled to join state bar associations...

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