The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, March 20, 2003  

Our Camera-Shy Supreme Court Justice

I see from this morning's paper that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is still having difficulty accepting the basic premise underlying our notions of free speech and a free press.

The Associated Press reports ("Scalia Bars Taping of Free-Speech Award," by Paul Singer):

Scalia banned broadcast media from taping a speech he made [in Cleveland] yesterday upon receiving an award for supporting free speech.

Scalia did not mention the ban, which he had insisted upon, and television reporters were allowed to see him accept the City Club's Citadel of Free Speech Award before his remarks. The justice did not take any questions from reporters.

The ban on broadcast media "begs disbelief and seems to be in conflict with the award itself," Terry Murphy, C-SPAN vice president and executive producer, wrote last week to the City Club. "How free is speech if there are limits to its distribution?"…

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in Washington, criticized the ban…."The irony of excluding journalists from an event designed to celebrate the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech is obvious to all," she wrote yesterday.

Award committee chairman Richard Pogue said Scalia earned the award because he is a staunch defender of First Amendment rights, citing Texas v. Johnson in which the court overturned the Texas conviction of a man who burned a flag during a 1984 demonstration.

During his speech in Cleveland yesterday, Scalia expressed his purportedly enthusiastic support for free speech with these words:

"Trust me, I did not like to not put Mr. Johnson in jail -- bearded, scruffy, sandal-wearing guy burning the American flag, you know, it made me furious. But I was handcuffed, I couldn't help it; that's my understanding of the First Amendment. I can't do the nasty things I'd like to do."

Damn Bill of Rights, gets in the way of all the really big right-wing fun, doesn't it?

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