Thu, May 5, 2016


New Supreme Court Term

When was the last time you thought about the Supreme Court?  If you’re like most people, the answer is, “probably never.”  But three cases being heard in this court’s new term could have a direct impact on your daily life.

    One of the cases involves the Federal Communications Commission and Fox Television.  A couple of years ago the high court said the Commission could control what were termed “fleeting expletives”:  unscripted and unplanned outbursts of profane and obscene comments.

    Now, broadcasters have mounted a First Amendment and free speech argument, while the Commission says the airwaves are a scarce natural resource that needs tighter and tougher regulation.

    The rules, by the way, apply to what are still referred to as “over-the-air broadcasters,” not to satellite or cable operations.

    Or, try this one:  if your car is parked in the open, can the police attach a G-P-S tracking device if they don’t have a search warrant?  And can they then use satellite tracking to follow you?

    In this particular case that’s exactly what happened to a suspected drug dealer, but the rules will apply to anyone.  As you might expect, privacy advocates call this “Big Brother.”  The Justice Department says G-P-S is simply another surveillance device.

    Another privacy case deals with strip searches.  A New Jersey man was arrested for having unpaid parking fines, although he had proof he had paid.  When he was taken to jail he was subjected to two strip searches and body-cavity searches.

    The state says such searches are applied to anyone taken into custody and are thus legal.  The petitioner says suspicionless searches for minor offenses are unreasonable, and are a serious invasion of personal privacy.

    For most of us, decisions by the Supreme Court don’t seem relevant to our daily lives.  But what we see on television, how the police can track us, and what police can do to us in custody, are some issues that can have direct, immediate impact on almost all of us.
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