Friday, October 5, 2012

Banned Books Week: Attacks on Independent Judges Threaten Free Expression

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As Banned Books week winds down, every writer (and reader) must be alert to threats to freedom of speech.  The latest danger is indirect.  But indirect attacks are often the most dangerous

The abrasive political movement is taking its toll as conservative groups are now targeting the judiciary, vowing retribution for court decisions with which they disagree.

So, why should writers be concerned?  It's just politics as usual, isn't it?   No. 

Writers often find themselves on the side of the unpopular, the controversial, the ideas and images which many do not want to see.  And there are large groups - perhaps growing - that want to suppress the ideas and views with which they do not agree.

Books are targeted for too much profanity, too violent, teens having sex, adults having too much sex, showing gay life styles in a positive light, being subversive, being anti-Christian, ridiculing Mohammed.  

What protects writers is the First Amendment and its counterpart in virtually every state constitution.

Who enforces those constitutional rights?  The courts.  More specifically, constitutional rights are enforced by  judges who are independent.  Judges who do not fear that a decision supporting the right to unpopular expression will cost them their job or even their career.

In Florida, the Republican Party has taken the unprecedented action of actively opposing the retention of two Florida Supreme Court justices in that state's non-partisan selection / retention process.  The proffered justification is a nearly decade-old decision on the issue of effective assistance of counsel in a capital murder case.  The real reason is the desire of the Republican Party to grab control of the state supreme court by ousting two court members appointed by a Democratic governor and replacing them with Republican appointees.  Click here for Miami Herald article.

In Pennsylvania, the Tea Party has vowed retribution over last week's decision refusing to uphold Pennsylvania's restrictive voter identification law. Click here for article, "Tea Party Threatens Revenge Against Pennsylvania Justices for Not Upholding Voter ID Law."

In Iowa, conservative groups were successful last year in removing three members of the Iowa Supreme Court who decided in favor of same-sex marriage in that state. And they have taken aim in this November's election on another member of the Iowa Supreme Court who voted for the right to same-sex marriage. For PBS article and audio report, click here. 

Federal judges are protected by lifetime appointments and a prohibition on lowering the compensation of federal judges.  These recent events show the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in doing so. 

But state appellate judges are not so protected.  That makes them susceptible to the type of tactics being used in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

Judges need to be independent.  Writers of all people should recognize this.

The right to publish, whether it be The Pentagon Papers or No Easy Day;  the protection against banning books whether Fanny Hill or 50 Shades of Gray; the removal of books from libraries whether Slaughterhouse Five or The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- the resolution of these issues depend upon decisions of an independent judiciary.

Writers and all artists who depend on the First Amendment need to stand up and oppose these attacks on an independent judiciary.  Your rights - and writes - may depend upon it.

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