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Opening Arguments

One out of two ain't bad

Two Supreme Court decisions of note, one that seems reasonable and one that is worrisome.

The good:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan's ban on using race as a factor in college admissions despite one justice's impassioned dissent that accused the court of wanting to wish away racial inequality.

The justices said in a 6-2 ruling that Michigan voters had the right to change their state constitution in 2006 to prohibit public colleges and universities from taking account of race in admissions decisions. The justices said that a lower federal court was wrong to set aside the change as discriminatory.

This will be the case most commented on, so you will find no shortage of opinions. I will just say: We can argue all day about whether affirmative action is a reasonable way to make up for past discrimination or an equal-protection affront with the dubious moral high ground of "two wrongs make a right." But I think most people would agree that at some point we have to abandon the policy and get to that whole colorblind society thing. Letting states decide when they've reached that point seems a reasonable federalist way of handling the transition.

The bad:

A closely divided Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the search of a California man’s drug-laden car following an anonymous tip.In a case that atypically split justices, the court’s 5-4 majority concluded the Constitution permitted the August 2008 search. Alerted by a call about a reckless driver, California Highway Patrol officers stopped a silver Ford F-150 pickup in Mendocino County. They found a driver, a passenger and four bags stuffed with 30 pounds of marijuana.

I know this falls into the realm of "give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile" slippery slope paranoia. But the right to be left alone unless there is probable cause is one of the foundations of our legal system and one of our most cherished freedoms, and we ought to be very protective of it.An anonymous tip is lousy probabble cause.

I think a lot of civil libertarians might find themselves in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Justice Antonin Scalia, who was one of the four dissenters:

“Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference,” Scalia wrote. “To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted...stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either.”

But then I don't agree with random road blocks looking for drunken drivers, either, but that seems to be perfectly OK with the legal system, too.