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Jewish World Review June 28, 2001 / 7 Tamuz, 5761

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Shouting 'Souter' in a crowded theater

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ANOTHER thing that would be bad about being a liberal is that you'd have to read the gaseous opinions of Justice David Hackett Souter. Even when Souter writes majority opinions -- you know, the "law of the land" -- I race through them at lightning speed. I've found that if you zero in on a couple of topic sentences near the beginning you can usually get the gist of it. (This week's holding: Congress shall make laws abridging the freedom of speech.)

By contrast, the dissenting opinions therefrom a Souter opinion I read lovingly, reverently, and in the case of Scalia, repeatedly. Every member of the Federalist Society is with me here.

I used to think every lawyer was with me: Who would read Souter's pompous, impenetrable ramblings? And why? It takes him 20 pages to make a point Scalia can knock down in a single dependent clause. (There are Web pages devoted to Scalia dissents.)

In a riveting development -- it only seems like this column is going no place; I'm breaking real news here -- I happened to notice that liberals do just the opposite. A New York Times article on the Supreme Court's recent campaign finance decision quoted more lines from Souter's opinion than I got from actually reading it. (Well, "reading" it.) But intriguingly, the article summarized the dissent using only a few sentences from the opening paragraphs.

So in addition to not having to line-dry clothes like Barbra Streisand, conservatives don't have to read Souter opinions.

In Souter's "Congress shall make lots of laws" opinion, the court essentially held that a political party's campaign expenditures are legally indistinguishable from large checks cut by individuals. The Republican Party could be trying to buy influence with Republican candidates! As Justice Souter explained (near the beginning): The law provides "a functional, not formal, definition of contribution ..." blah, blah, blah -- you get the idea.

Consequently, the court upheld limits on money spent by political parties to elect a particular candidate -- if they talk to the candidate first. If the party hated a candidate's guts and refused to speak to him or his campaign, it could spend unlimited amounts of money promoting his candidacy. (This may provide some insight into why Rep. Chris Shays loves the campaign finance laws.)

Justice Clarence Thomas argued in his dissent that it was absurd to treat political parties like individual contributors because: That's what parties do -- get candidates elected. A "party's success or failure depends in large part on whether its candidates get elected. Because of this unity of interest, it is natural for a party and its candidate to work together and consult with one another during the course of the election."

Another excellent Souter sentence (it was in the Times) was this: "Spending for political ends and contributing to political candidates both fall within the First Amendment's protection of speech and political association." Apparently the only catch is that "protection" means "total fascistic control."

Total fascistic control of political speech is important because political speech is like dishonestly shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Liberals think all speech is like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater.

They will tell us on a case-by-case basis what speech is not like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Screw magazine and Nazis marching in Skokie, Ill., for example. That is not like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. (And would it really be so bad to shout "fire" in a crowded theater? Seriously. Couldn't you just look around and see there isn't a fire?)

Thus -- according to The New York Times -- Souter raised the horrifying prospect of parties being able to spend lots of money electing candidates: "If a candidate could arrange for a party committee to foot his bills ... the number of donors necessary to raise $1 million could be reduced from 500 ... to 46." (You're welcome for the ellipses.)

That is the evil campaign finance laws seek to prevent. Instead of whoring for money from tens of thousands of people, politicians could be bought by a select few. In fact, as has been conclusively proved by economist John Lott, politicians may be stupid, but they're not bought. Money follows votes; it does not buy votes.

But suppose you haven't read Lott's devastating study, and you haven't read the Constitution, and you don't think a market in politicians would be GREAT. It would be easier for a politician to vote his conscience if he needed only a few rich backers. If they got uppity, he could trade them for 46 new guys.

The way the system works now, politicians are forced into constant fund-raising from thousands of nickel-and-dime contributors. Politics becomes homogenized, gerrymandering essential, and smarmy glad-handing a crucial political attribute. Even under liberals' own preposterous and counterfactual assumptions, someone is already falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater. Not many people have noticed, though, because it's Souter.


JWR contributor Ann Coulter is the author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton. You may visit the Ann Coulter Fan Club by clicking here.

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