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Monday, June 27, 2005 

Supreme Court Tear

The Supreme Court has been on a tear today, releasing a number of high-profile rulings. Among them are a pair of decisions on the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, a decision on the Grokster case, a decision pertaining to journalistic privilege, a decision about cable ISP access to competitors' infrastructure, and a decision on local governments' obligations to protect those shielded by restraining orders.

I'm not going to go into details, as I'm no lawyer and don't know any of the cases well; SCOTUSblog (probably getting more traffic today than ever before) has good coverage that's not impossible to understand. All I can say is that these decisions generally don't sound too good. The court ruled against Grokster, and ruled that cable ISPs don't have to provide competitors access to their infrastructure. The journalistic privilege case establishes that subpoenaed reporters have no protection from being forced to reveal confidential sources. The Ten Commandments cases were split: one ruled that two Kentucky counties' displays were unconstitutional, while the other upheld a display on Capitol grounds in Texas. The final ruling stated that local governments have no obligation to protect from personal violence those with restraining orders against others.

The Grokster decision doesn't seem to be as terrible as some on the internets might think. The problem seems to be in the product's marketing (Hey kids, come steal movies!) rather than the p2p technology itself. In addition, the ruling only allows the case to go to trial, rather than ruling Grokster is actually in violation. The cable ruling, while bad for consumers, doesn't change anything from the status quo. The journalistic privilege case is bad, of course, for the reporters in question (Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper) and anybody who leaks confidential information, but good for the Plame investigation. The protection case would make me feel pretty unsafe if I had a restraining order against someone, but it will save a lot of money for local governments which would otherwise have had to protect anybody with such an order. And finally, the Ten Commandments cases. The Court seems to have done pretty well here. The Ten Commandments have their place, as they really aren't just religious, but are also historical and part of the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which our entire system of law is based. The Court seems to have ruled that the blatantly religious display isn't okay, but the display that is historical/traditional/secular is. Something that most can live with, one hopes.

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