For the second time in as many weeks, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken steps to remind the public that those who have the power of the purse are free to wield their resultant influence, even when it is the government calling the shots.
On Feb. 21, the high court rejected certiorari in Hosty v. Carter, a case involving a group of shoddy student journalists out of Illinois who threw a temper-tantrum when their school, Governors State University, explained that so long as it is financially backing the student newspaper, it can — and will — invoke its right to prior review. In refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court essentially sided with the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which had ably ruled that non-independent student newspapers on a collegiate level are essentially no more protected than their secondary school counterparts. It was a subtle reminder that though the First Amendment provides for a fundamental freedom of speech, it entitles no one to exercise that speech in an unrestricted manner if Uncle Sam is footing the bill for the pulpit.
Yesterday, in a far more critical decision, the high court unanimously upheld the Solomon Amendment, Congress' insistence that those universities — or, to wit, law schools — receiving federal funds must welcome military recruiters on campus. The controversy specifically centered around schools that would only permit non-discriminatory employers to operate within their confines, as several such institutions sought to make a grossly political statement by declaring the military discriminatory for its "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
At the heart of each of these cases is that fundamental premise that the government — like any other business — has various self-interests to promote from time to time and may use its financial influence to achieve these ends. The old cliché, "there is no such thing as a free lunch," comes immediately to mind.
Too often, college students opt to engage the fiery rhetoric of radicalism and, upon realizing that no one is listening to their faulted speech, reach for the closest sanctioned pulpit as a way of "sticking it to the man." The Associated Students of Madison was guilty of this pathetically immature stunt when its members attempted to bully Chancellor John Wiley into condemning the Patriot Act a couple years back, and law schools looking to operate in a JAG-free world are equally culpable.
The lesson to be learned from these laudable Supreme Court decisions is that while even the most nonsensical of speech may be welcomed into a First Amendment-guided marketplace of ideas, no government ought to be legally coerced into funding the fiery opposition of its naysayers.
Such is not a limitation on speech, despite the mind-numbing sound bytes being advanced by those who take issue with this duo of high court rulings. Governors State University may be fairly criticized for its heavy-handed approach to restraining student journalism, just as law school students are free to decry the military's policy on homosexuals. There is good cause for protest in both scenarios and people would be well advised to engage such through traditional rhetorical realms.
More importantly, though, the students of Governors State University remain free to operate an independent student newspaper wholly critical of their school's administration. If their ideas are worthy, the marketplace to which Oliver W. Holmes famously referenced in a Supreme Court case many years back will surely kick in to high gear and support their fledgling effort.
The same may be said of law schools. The government is not forcing any institution to accept its money and any school so infuriated with "don't ask, don't tell" would be well advised to refuse a federal subsidy. Such would only make the institution more popular to those who share this vision of a sexuality-blind military. If enough schools share this sentiment, the government would soon find itself with plenty of cash on hand and no friendly campuses to further its interests — this is the laissez-fair marketplace in action, at its finest.
Then again, the aforementioned fiery campus radicals likely find this libertarian, Supreme Court-sanctioned line of action troublesome because they realize that their ideas will hold no value in an intellectually competitive environment.
Mac Verstandig (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in rhetoric.