Breaking: SCOTUS rocks McCain-Feingold, protects faith-based initiatives, says schools can censor "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"; Update: Dry cleaner wins $54 million "pants" suit

The “Bong Hits” decision is just across on Fox. Stand by for details. Bush just won on faith-based initiatives, too.

Update: Who cares about the Supreme Court? The “pants” case is decided!

A judge on Monday ruled in favor of a dry cleaner that was sued for $54 million over a missing pair of pants in a case that garnered international attention and renewed calls for litigation reform.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Judith Bartnoff ruled that the Korean immigrant owners of Custom Cleaners did not violate the city’s Consumer Protection Act by failing to live up to Roy L. Pearson’s expectations of the “Satisfaction Guaranteed” sign that was once placed in the store window.

“Plaintiff Roy L. Pearson, Jr. takes nothing from the defendants, and defendants Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung are awarded the costs of this action against the plaintiff Roy L. Pearson, Jr.,” the ruling read.

As most of you probably know but some may not, judges typically only order one party to pay the other’s costs if they consider the suit especially frivolous. Not a tough call here, particularly given that Pearson’s a judge himself.

Update: It’s the end of the term so SCOTUS rulings will be flying fast and furious this week. The latest has earned the coveted Drudge siren: “Justices strike down key campaign finance reform provision.”

A majority of the Supreme Court’s conservative bench Monday swept aside part of a campaign finance reform law dealing with “issue ads,” an important free speech dispute gaining attention as the presidential election campaign gains unusually early traction.

The ruling could mean a greater role in Campaign 2008 for advocacy groups, corporations and labor unions, which air the commercials in the frenetic weeks before voters go the polls.

Update: Between the election case, the “Bong Hits” ruling and the faith-based initiatives decision, you’ve got three distinctly conservative holdings coming down today and all of them written by Bush appointees. Roberts wrote the opinions in the McCain-Feingold and “Bong Hits” cases and Alito, it turns out, did the honors in the initiatives case. The media storyline, obviously, is going to be that the “Bush Court” has finally emerged. There’s truth to that, but please note: all three decisions went 5-4, with Anthony Kennedy presumably having cast the deciding vote in each. (I’ll check on that.) Is AK coming back into the fold?

Update: Kennedy was indeed in the majority in each case but that majority was fractured, with various concurrences, in all but the “Bong Hits” case. Breyer concurred in the judgment but dissented in part in “Bong Hits” as well. Otherwise the liberals were united.

Update: Lyle Denniston at SCOTUS Blog has short summaries of the decisions here as well as PDF versions of the “Bong Hits,” McCain-Feingold, and faith-based decisions. The upshot of the “Bong Hits” case is that of course kids have the right to joke around in school, so long as they’re not joking about drugs. Off to skim; back in a few.

Update: Not done skimming yet but it’s probably not going to get more surreal than John Roberts dissecting the term “bong hits”:

At least two interpretations of the words on the banner demonstrate that the sign advocated the use of illegal drugs. First, the phrase could be interpreted as an imperative: “[Take] bong hits . . .”— — a message equivalent, as Morse explained in her declaration, to “smoke marijuana” or “use an illegal drug.” Alternatively, the phrase could be viewed as celebrating drug use — —“bong hits [are a good thing],” or “[we take] bong hits”— — and we discern no meaningful distinction between celebrating illegal drug use in the midst of fellow students and outright advocacy or promotion…

The pro-drug interpretation of the banner gains further plausibility given the paucity of alternative meanings the banner might bear. The best Frederick can come up with is that the banner is “meaningless and funny… The dissent similarly refers to the sign’s message as “”curious,””… “”nonsense,””… “”ridiculous,””… “”obscure,”… “silly,””… “”quixotic,”… and “”stupid,”… Gibberish is surely a possible interpretation of the words on the banner, but it is not the only one, and dismissing the banner as meaningless ignores its undeniable reference to illegal drugs.

So essentially, this very important case hinges on how seriously the message can be taken as an incitement to smoke bowls. The test is whether the speech ““materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school”,” which it apparently does because, per Roberts, dissuading kids from using drugs is an important state interest. It’s the drug reference that’s the key; he goes on to say that the offensiveness of the reference to Jesus isn’t enough to make the speech bannable. Presumably, “Hard Liquor 4 Jesus (If You’re Over 21)” would be okay.

Update: Actually, no, as far as Stevens’s dissent’s concerned, it doesn’t turn on drug use.

It is also perfectly clear that “promoting illegal drug use … comes nowhere close to proscribable incitement to imminent lawless action.”.. Encouraging drug use might well increase the likelihood that a listener will try an illegal drug, but that hardly justifies censorship…

No one seriously maintains that drug advocacy (much less Frederick’’s ridiculous sign) comes within the vanishingly small category of speech that can be prohibited because of its feared consequences. Such advocacy, to borrow from Justice Holmes, “ha[s] no chance of starting a present conflagration.”

Basically they want schools bound by the same rules government is bound by vis-a-vis adults. He goes on to say, for the sake of argument, that perhaps schools should be allowed a bit more leeway than that when it comes to speech that advocates drug use, but the sign wasn’t clearly advocating drug use here. But for the word “Do” before the word “Bong,” alas, we might have had a 9-0 decision. (Hint: we wouldn’t have.)

Update: I’m not going to comment on the campaign-finance case since that sort of law’s too specialized, but note well this passage from the AP story about it:

The majority itself was divided in how far justices were willing to go in allowing issue ads.

Three justices, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, would have overruled the court’s 2003 decision upholding the constitutionality of the provision.

Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said only that the Wisconsin group’s ads are not the equivalent of explicit campaign ads and are not covered by the court’s 2003 decision.

In other words, the provision of McCain-Feingold that bans campaign ads close to the election has not been deemed unconstitutional. Not yet, anyway, but no doubt this decision is going to encourage some plaintiff to try to force Roberts and Alito to address that issue squarely and strike the provision down.

Ben Smith wonders if the decision will end up helping Democrats and hurting Republicans.

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