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Split Decision in 7-Round Bantamweight Bout

By Diogenes (articles ) | Dec 11, 2003

The Washington Post's Charles Lane reports on the Supreme Court's upholding of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and gives us a fine specimen of hometown umpiring in the process.

Rejecting opponents' claims that McCain-Feingold stifles free speech, a slender but emphatic five-justice majority upheld both the law's ban on "soft money" -- unregulated donations to the parties from wealthy individuals, corporations and unions -- and its new rules limiting campaign-season political advertising.

A slender but emphatic majority? Is it the number of exclamation marks in the opinion that matters?

Through it all, the law has been opposed by lawmakers and interest groups, from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the right to the AFL-CIO labor federation on the left. They argue that its restrictions on the free flow of cash will stifle the free flow of political ideas that money pays for. ... In the end, those concerns were shared by only four members of the court: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

Got that? Out of a nine-justice bench, only four could be found to join in the dissent. Suppose the decision had gone 5-4 the other way. Would the Post have played it straight?

By a bare one-vote majority, a deeply-divided and Republican-packed Supreme Court bowed to the pressures of partisan interest groups yesterday and, drooling into their pay packets, declared unconstitutional a law intended to eliminate corrupt financial manipulation of presidential election campaigns.

It's not hard to track the left-lib tropisms. To his credit, however, Lane did cite Scalia's open-hand smack across the faces of his beaming colleagues:

"This is a sad day for the freedom of speech," Scalia wrote in a dissenting opinion. Ticking off a list of recent free-speech decisions by the court, Scalia added: "Who could have imagined that the same Court which, within the past four years, has sternly disapproved of restrictions upon ... virtual child pornography, tobacco advertising, dissemination of illegally intercepted communications and sexually explicit cable programming would smile with favor upon a law that cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government."

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