Friday, August 27, 2010

Just Because Its Legal, Doesn't Make it Right

"The Supreme Court has held that "the Constitution does not grant to members of the public generally a right to be heard by public bodies making decisions of policy." Minnesota State Bd. for Community Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271, 283, 79 L. Ed. 2d 299, 104 S. Ct. 1058 (1984).

As the Court noted in Minnesota State Board:

Policymaking organs in our system of government have never operated under a constitutional constraint requiring them to afford every interested member of the public an opportunity to present testimony before any policy is adopted. Legislatures throughout the nation, including Congress, frequently enact bills on which no hearings have been held or on which testimony has been received from only a select group. Executive agencies likewise make policy decisions of widespread application without permitting unrestricted public testimony. Public officials at all levels of government daily make policy decisions based only on the advice they decide they need and choose to hear. To recognize a constitutional right to participate directly in government policymaking would work a revolution in existing government practices. . . . Government makes so many policy decisions affecting so many people that it would likely grind to a halt were policymaking constrained by constitutional requirements on whose voices must be heard.

Id. at 284-85. After examining both policy and precedent, the Court found that "nothing in the First Amendment or in this Court's case law interpreting it suggests that the rights to speak, associate, and petition require government policymakers to listen or respond to individuals' communications on public issues." Id. at 285; see also Bi-Metallic Investment Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 239 U.S. 441, 60 L. Ed. 372, 36 S. Ct. 141 (1915) (denying similar claim made under Due Process Clause); cf. North Carolina Right to Life, Inc. v. Bartlett, 168 F.3d 705, 717-18 (4th Cir.) (upholding state law barring lobbyists from making campaign contributions against petition-for-redress claim), cert. denied, 2000 U.S. LEXIS 1013 (U.S. Feb. 22, 2000) (No. 98-1887).

Under these cases, plaintiff has no constitutional right to a hearing before, a meeting with, or even a response from the Board of Selectmen. While some commentators have argued for a broader interpretation of the right to petition, we are immutably bound by applicable Supreme Court precedent. See State Oil Co. v. Khan, 522 U.S. 3, 118 S. Ct. 275, 284, 139 L. Ed. 2d 199 (1997). Should plaintiff wish to reverse these precedents, he must do so in the appropriate forum."

So, it seems that there is no Constitutional violation here...BUT, there is absolutely nothing that forbids, or even recommends that a public body squelch public participation and debate. Allin Frawley is definitely right that just because it is legal, doesn't make it right. Indeed, it is interpretations of law like the one above, from our Federal Circuit Court, that make me question the common sense and wisdom of my profession (objection...fact not in evidence). I truly would not have believed that this was the state of the law, had I not researched it.

Thank you Marsha, for finally being forced to see the light, rather than the law. By the way Lincoln...nice cross examination, and way to control the witness.

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