Albany Project summarizes Congress debate

Kudos to the Albany Project for an excellent summary of the congressional debate.

And more kudos, of course, to Steve Vasquez. He’s running a great race for the GOP primary. Find out more on the Steven Vasquez for Congress website. Go Steven!!

Guilderland and the First Amendment

The Guilderland School Board has been providing plenty of lessons to students and parents alike in the last few days – lessons in what not to do.

There was a school board meeting while I was out of town, but I did get to see a video of it. The Board would not allow speakers in “public comment period” to speak about the pending personnel issue. They have a rule that speakers in public comment period cannot talk about personnel matters in open session. They do have a procedure for allowing such comments to be made in an executive session (behind closed doors). Confronted with speakers who insisted on addressing the personnel matter, they stopped them and eventually the board left the room.

Lesson One is from this incident. Appropriately Lesson One, because it involves the First Amendment. Free speech. You’ve all heard of it. The problem is that the rule itself is unconstitutional, infringing the right to free speech. More specifically, the rule is based on the content of the speech – if your speech is about topic X, you can’t talk about that. But you can talk about topics Y, Z, and Q.

The big Supreme Court case on this is Tinker v. Des Moines School District. Why is it that so many free speech cases involve school districts?

In Tinker (393 US 503 (1969)), students wanted to come to school wearing black armbands as a sign of protesting the Vietnam War. The school prohibited the armbands. The Court ruled this was unconstitutional.

I’ve got to share some great quotes from the case:

It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.

The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There is here no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case does not concern speech or action that intrudes upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.

In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are “persons” under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. In the absence of a specific showing of constitutionally valid reasons to regulate their speech, students are entitled to freedom of expression of their views.

There’s another good case that’s relevant — Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Yes, another school district First Amendment case.

In Hazelwood, 484 US 260 (1987), the Supreme Court ruled for the school. In doing so it showed what was special about Tinker, and why Tinker still applied. For those who aspire to be lawyers someday, this means they distinguished this case from Tinker.

The Hazelwood case involved the school newspaper, and the school did not allow a couple of articles to be published. There were two big reasons why this was different than Tinker. First, it was a school publication. Second, and I think more important, the school paper was considered part of the curriculum. And the school has the power to control its printing press and its curriculum.

In Tinker, there was no school facility being used for the “speech”, and the speech did not relate to nor interfere with the curriculum.

Back to 2008 in Guilderland, a public comment period is not a school publication, and it is not part of the curriculum. The board can regulate the “time, place, and manner” of speech, but not its content. They could limit speakers to 3 minutes, for example. But they can’t say “You can’t talk about personnel.”

I’d say that’s just my opinion, but I think the Supreme Court is on the same page.

Now for Lesson Two. It’s not a constitutional thing, but …

In tonight’s meeting the board sat down, did the pledge of allegiance, and then voted to go into executive session. There was no public comment period.

Here’s the problem. The board has a practice (and I believe a policy) of having a public comment period at school board meetings. To my knowledge the board never voted to eliminate the public comment period. They violated their own rules by not having one. There should have been a public vote of the board to end or suspend the practice of having a public comment period.

I spoke briefly to the audience tonight, mainly about the First Amendment. I encouraged them to fight for their rights.

I thought about it later. It’s more than that. If we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we won’t have rights any more. With all the attacks you see on lawyers, remember one thing – we’re the ones who fight for your rights.

Campaign Finance and So-Called Conservatives

The Boston Globe broke an awesome story on some dubious campaign fundraising. There is also a follow-up article on The Globe’s website.

Short version: Some “Republican” operatives started raising money for candidates through direct mail marketing. They raised millions. But little of the money actually went to the candidates’ campaigns. Most went to the operatives.

It’s hard enough for challengers to raise money. Now these guys are going to ruin it for the genuine candidates.

If the story is true, then Kimberly Mellissimo of BMW Direct, and another group – Response America – are on the same level as criminals, and they are traitors to what’s left of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

Guilderland Joins the Culture Wars

Apparently the Guilderland school system decided to wade into the culture wars with a decision about some local teachers.

Read more in the Times Union.

I’ve met Nelligan, and know a few of his students. The students I know are all ultra-liberal. And they all respect Nelligan even though he has different views.