Wednesday, March 30, 2005
On Johnnie Cochran: Famed attorney Johnnie Cochran died yesterday due to a brain tumor. Cochran's most well-known accomplishment was playing the race card to help former pro football star O.J. Simpson to get away with murder. My sympathies go out to his family.
There's one big disappointing thing about Cochran's untimely death -- the Supreme Court may not rule on the Tory v. Cochran case that was argued last week before the Supreme Court.
For details of the case, you can check out this piece by Tony Mauro.
The case is interesting because it involves the confluence of money and speech. Cochran had won a defamation lawsuit against Ulysses Tory. Normally that means that Tory would be paying Cochran some sum of money. Unfortunately (or maybe not) for Cochran, Tory has very little money. So, instead of having a meaningless lien on Tory's nonexistent assets, the court punished him by prohibiting him from criticizing or picketing Cochran.
In short, the court ruled that if you don't have money to pay a civil judgement, you may have your free speech rights curtailed.
This is clearly an affront to the First Amendment. But then, so are rules limiting how money can be sent for political campaigns.
Quite a non sequitur, huh? Not exactly.
At the trial and appellate court levels in the Tory case, the court basically ruled that a lack of money can result in a loss of free speech rights.
The Supreme Court's campaign finance jurisprudence has repeatedly held that how you choose to spend money is not speech. Therefore, the government can set rules that limit how much someone can spend to advertise their political views.
It would've been very interesting to see how the Court ruled in this case. If the questions asked at oral arguments last week were any indication (sometimes they're not), then Cochran might've lost.
So, let's try to set this out simply:
A lack of money is not an excuse for curtailing someone's free speech rights.
An overabundance of money is a perfectly valid reason to limit an individual's free speech when it comes to politics.
It doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- and now it may take another lawsuit before we truly know the answer.