Author: Laura E. Little

Dear Justice Barrett

Dear Justice Barrett, I hear that you will be asked to recuse yourself in the upcoming voting litigation about the presidential election. Here are my thoughts on how to rule on those requests: You have received an appointment for life. Now is the time that you start to prioritize your independence, your role in protecting the Court as an institution held in great respect among our citizens and the rest of the world, and yes, selfishly–your own legacy. *Independence: Your own view of whether you lack personal bias or prejudgment in these voting cases is only part of your consideration. The self-proclaimed independence of Justices does not fully satisfy the importance of judicial independent decision making. The public’s view of your independence is crucial. You were selected from the sea of hopeful qualified candidates by a man who announced that you would likely decide cases assisting him with holding onto the presidency. I understand that you did not have control over what this man was saying. But his announcement is part of the facts that …

The Supreme Court of the United States

The 2016 Election’s Effect on the Supreme Court

Insulation from the winds of political change. Protection of minorities from the majority’s tyranny. Such is the jargon describing the United States Supreme Court’s role in government. Once a judge ascends to our highest court, firmly seated to exercise life-long power, the judge is expected to embrace a duty of impartiality, rendering decisions reflecting “neutral” legal principles, not partisan politics. The reality of judging presents something quite different from this pristine vision. Even in uneventful presidential elections, entanglements emerge between the Supreme Court and politics. But the current election season has produced an alchemy that promises the presidential election extraordinary influence on the Court’s membership and decisions. What makes for special circumstances? Answer: a particularly polarized electorate, the presumptive selection of an outsider candidate for the Republican Party, Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, an aging Court, and the Republican Senate’s unusual success in avoiding confirmation hearings to fill the Scalia vacancy. Assuming, as appears most likely, that the general election will present Donald vs. Hillary, let’s consider how these candidates will approach judicial appointments. We should …

Censored

Laughing at Censorship

Comedians know from experience, and research supports the proposition, that an audience will predictably laugh when observing a censored statement (whether bleeped or otherwise obscured) – at least where the audience has been primed by the context to interpret the statement as comedic. In a society that condemns censorship as the enemy of our cherished right of free expression, one might reasonably ask how this can be: why is censorship funny? This article begins by canvassing the various forms of censorship humor flourishing throughout United States culture in print, film, television, music, and internet entertainment. The article then probes mainstream condemnation of censorship – observing that individuals, law, and society all benefit from line drawing – even in the context of something as special as freedom of communication. Through the lens of interdisciplinary humor studies as well as First Amendment doctrine, the article explores the notion that the laughter emerging from comedy featuring censorship might be a “tell” that exposes this truth. Many censorship jokes simply ridicule the censor. Others, however, are more nuanced, suggesting …