Secrets of the Supreme Court: What You Don’t Know Might Hurt You
By Jeremy Fancher
In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, striving for an appropriate explanation of how he would determine if something were hardcore pornography (seen as obscene material not protected by the First Amendment), wrote “I know it when I see it.”
When it comes to the Supreme Court, the monumental effects of its decisions are easy to see. SCOTUS elected George W. Bush to office after he lost the popular vote, ushered in desegregation in public schools, upheld Obama’s health care law, allowed the capture of runaway slaves in neighboring states, and made abortion legal. But when SCOTUS isn’t in the limelight, the opinions slip under the media radar and the public remains ignorant of their real-world effects.
If this sounds vaguely conspiratorial, might I introduce you to Pillars, a KoldCast TV show about 36 people (the Pillars) whose very lives guarantee the continued existence of the human race. The International Saints Counsel, controlled by a coalition of billionaires, multinational corporations, and politicians, is seeking to kill all 36 Pillars at once. Why has the TSA installed those controversial x-ray body scanners at airports? It’s all part of the ISC’s plan to identify and kill the Pillars, who aren’t even aware of their role in preserving the human race.
You are watching Episode 1 of Pillars
Now that I’ve disarmed your rational mind’s defenses against the improbable and unprovable, let us turn back to survey some significant yet lesser-known implications of SCOTUS decisions in American history. Get out your tinfoil hats now.
Dole v. South Dakota
South Dakotans are immensely proud of their state for battling the federal government to keep the drinking age at 19. Because the drinking age is 21 across the country, many assume that it is the federal government’s responsibility. But, in fact, it is only through cash bribery that the Feds got each state to agree to raise the drinking age. In 1987, South Dakota sued the Secretary of Transportation to challenge the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which bribed states into raising their drinking ages to 21 by threatening to withhold some of a state’s federal highway funding.
Setting the drinking age is a power reserved for each state, but withholding highway funding to force each state’s hand was not interpreted as an act of coercion. This means that a state would be free to lower the drinking age if it was able to forgo 10% of its federal highway funding. Unfortunately, with recent budget pressures, this is a highly unlikely proposition for most states, to the chagrin of 20-year-olds everywhere. But seriously, just get your older brother to buy it for you.
Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders
If you happen to be 20 years old and drunkenly parading around town, you may want to pay attention to this 2012 opinion. Here, SCOTUS held that anyone arrested or accused of a crime (including being picked up on a routine traffic stop for failure to pay parking tickets, for example) may be strip-searched before being admitted to a general jail population. The police do not need a reasonable suspicion of your having contraband; they have the unbridled right to peek under those genitals and make you squat and cough to ensure there isn’t a special balloon hidden up there. Exhibitionists, rejoice!
CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood
Given that you’re an American reading this article, it’s overwhelmingly likely that you have at least one credit card to your name. Did you read the contract? If you did, I’m not sure whether to congratulate you or question your near infinite amounts of free time. In another 2012 opinion, SCOTUS interpreted a credit card agreement in favor of the credit card issuer (the bank).
The agreement, standard in the credit card industry today, required the customer to waive their right to sue in a court of law over any dispute related to the credit card. Instead, the customer was required to duke it out in a private party “court” called an arbitration hearing. Under these standard contracts, you do not have the right to a judge or jury trial. You might remember from high school that this is precisely what is protected by the Sixth Amendment.
This means if you want to sign up for a credit card or a cell phone contract among other things, you will likely be signing away your right to sue in a court of law. Arbitration isn’t completely unfair, but beware, many times the arbitrator (the judge) and the arbitration venue will be funded by the corporation’s repeat business. You can imagine how they may be more interested in getting future cases from VISA than representing an individual consumer fairly.
United States v. Alvarez
In an apparent victory for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this 2012 opinion invalidated a law that made it illegal to lie about having earned a U.S. military medal. That’s right, the law was seen as an abridgement of your First Amendment right to free speech.
For those of you aspiring military impersonators, have no fear; misrepresent your way to your next sale, reenactment gig, or babysitting job. Everyone knows that Purple Heart winners are great with kids. Now you, too, can ride those esteemed U.S. veterans’ street-cred coattails without fear of prosecution.
If you’d like to read more juicy SCOTUS tidbits, check out University of Chicago’s Oyez Project, which does a great job of summarizing the cases. Not all of them will be brimming with suspiciously conspiratorial decisions though. You’ll have to devour a few episodes of Pillars to see the worst-case scenario of great power being held by the devious few.
Jeremy Fancher is a second-year student at the University of Michigan Law School. He is left-handed, and wishes he had a dog, which he would name John Elway. Jeremy would hypothetically enjoy taking long walks with said John Elway.