A Brief Guide To Civil Disobedience, Sheer Orneriness, and Other Ways To
Undermine The Highest Court In the Land
As the nation finally begins to absorb and internalize the legal significance
of 1999's Supreme Court "Term of the Century," it's become clear that
last term's decisions have engendered more widespread national resistance than
any other in history. Indeed, in this, the Summer of Self-Help, the citizenry
have proven themselves more adept than ever at violating the spirit -- if not
the actual law -- of the Court's most recent jurisprudence. Below, your intrepid
reporter chronicles the tales of this summer's armchair Gandhis -- and lets
you know where to go to get in on the mayhem.
Real World Resistance
In high schools across the South, students are fighting back against the Supreme
Court's controversial ban on school-sponsored, student-led prayer before football
games. Galvanized by Christian ministries and local radio show hosts, these
kids are doing an end-run around the Court's prohibition on prayer before games,
by offering up the Lord's Prayer "spontaneously" and in perfect unison.
Meanwhile, in Illinois and California, corporate and government entities are
pushing back against the Court's ruling that permitted the Boy Scouts of America
to exclude homosexuals. These groups are standing up for their convictions by
withdrawing financial and other support from local scouting organizations, which
may well lead to the demise of whole troops.
unequivocal orders has been a sweeping national shrug accompanied by a surly
"Make me." While large-scale resistance to Supreme Court decisions
is by no means unprecedented in this land -- after all, school desegregation
still hasn't quite happened -- this broad local insurrection bespeaks
a newer, tougher activist: An activist ready and willing to give a defiant finger
to the long arm of the law.
A Few Daring Souls Go Farther
While you may have heard about the praying in Texas, or the Chicago suit against
the Boy Scouts, you may be unaware of some other acts of not-so-passive resistance
that have followed in the wake of the controversial 1999 term:
- After the Miranda rule was upheld in Dickerson v. United States,
in part on the grounds that the warning had become "part of our national
culture" (as evidenced by its frequent invocation on T.V. cop shows),
the L.A.P.D. immediately sought to constitutionalize several other controversial
NYPD Blue and Homicide policies. The Department now mandates
that its female officers wear lycra t-shirts under all suits, and requires
sizzling sexual tension between any opposite-sex officers teamed up for longer
than seven minutes. Mark Fuhrman reportedly secretly edited the policy, without
the knowledge of the rest of the department, so that it appeared to have been
authored by O.J. Simpson.
- Following the Court's decision, in Hill v. Colorado, to uphold a
Colorado ban on leafleting outside any "health care facility," abortion
protesters in Boulder have taken to delivering their pro-life message in less
directly confrontational ways. This summer, women seeking abortions have had
to run a gauntlet of non-leafleting protests -- including local airplanes
bearing the message "Abortion is Murder, Drink Coors," and "Choose
Life, and Have Lunch at Hooters." A woman who declined to be named said
that the planes made her "really stop and think twice" about her
preference for foreign beers. Healthcare workers at clinics report that incidents
of protester violence have decreased sharply, although Hooters management
complains that they have lost record numbers of waitresses who have quit to
- Following the Court's holding in Mitchell v. Helms -- that public
funding of computers and other equipment in religious schools does not violate
the Establishment Clause -- Our Sisters of Sorrow High School in Jacksonville,
Florida spent the summer building a new "computer lab," using Title
2 funds. The "lab" contains a new altar, cherry wood pews and a
life-sized, automated crèche of the Nativity. The sisters urge that
the room is indeed a computer lab because a Palm Pilot ™ is kept in
the chapel for use by students, who have used it only to download the popular
"What Would Jesus Do?" program, which tells users what Jesus would
have done in any situation they might input.
- Forced to retaliate after the Court upheld, in Erie v. Pap's A.M.,
a city ordinance requiring nude dancers to wear "pasties" in spite
of their claim that bare breasts represent "expressive speech,"
Busty La Rue, a New Jersey exotic dancer, began to work "nipple painting"
into her nightly show. So far, La Rue has used only red, white and blue paint.
And, occasionally, an Etch-a-Sketch. La Rue's claim -- that nipples do produce
expressive speech -- will be tested in the New Jersey district court this
fall, where an injunction is being sought by the state to force La Rue to
paint with her fingers, like everyone else.
- Finally, after the Court decided that the FDA may not regulate tobacco as
a drug, in FDA
v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the FDA has retaliated by renouncing
its former jurisdiction over several other foods and drugs, including Cheez
Whiz ("Have the ATF regulate that crap") brussel sprouts ("Never
considered them food in the first place") and the popular club drug ecstasy
("No, wait, we want to keep that one.").
Just Do It
You, personally, may not yet have taken it upon yourself to violate the law
of the land through an act of zealotry or pique. But with a month to go before
the 2000 term opens, it's worth your taking a moment to probe last term's rulings
for some ruling with which you disagree. There has to be at least one.
May I suggest that you consider violating the grandparents' visitation ruling
(Visit the grandkids until they beg for mercy and throw your Werther's Butterscotches
right back at you!); or try withholding your student fees from liberal groups
on campus ("I'll defend to the death your right to say it, but for now
I am buying an extra baba ganoush"). Get out there and show that Court
what you think of their rulings. They can't enforce them anyway! Remember the
words of Abraham Lincoln: "to sin by silence, when they should protest,
makes cowards of men."