Up in Smoke at the High Court

As students held a free-speech rally outside the Supreme Court, the justices mused inside about a banner that said
As students held a free-speech rally outside the Supreme Court, the justices mused inside about a banner that said "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." "Suppose the banner said 'Vote Republican'?" asked Justice Anthony Kennedy. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

So maybe this is why all those figures in the Supreme Court friezes are wearing togas.

As Ken Starr told the nine justices yesterday why a student's "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner didn't qualify as free speech, the whole bunch of them sounded one toke over the line.

"So if the sign had been 'Bong Stinks for Jesus,' that would be . . . a protected right?" asked Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"Suppose that this particular person had whispered to his next-door neighbor, 'Bong hits for Jesus, heh, heh, heh'?" contributed Stephen Breyer.

"What if the sign said 'Bong Hits Should be Legal'?" queried John Paul Stevens.

Anthony Kennedy got really psychedelic. "Suppose the banner said 'Vote Republican'?"

David Souter inhaled. Imagine, he said, that the student "just holds a little sign in the Shakespeare class that says 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' . . . and they say, 'Well, so-and-so has got his bong sign again.' They then return to 'Macbeth.' "

Far out. Antonin Scalia wanted a turn. "Smoke Pot, It's Fun," he proposed.

" 'Rape Is Fun'?" offered Kennedy.

" 'Extortion Is Profitable'?" Scalia rejoined.

All that was missing in the chamber yesterday was black light and Bob Marley. And to think Douglas Ginsburg withdrew his nomination to the high court because he had used marijuana.

If the justices sounded as if they were doin' the doobies yesterday morning, the case invited a certain amount of reefer madness. The case began when a high school kid unfurled a banner across the street from his Juneau, Alaska, high school in 2002 when the Olympic torch was passing through town. By the student's own admission, the sign had no meaning, but that didn't matter. The principal suspended him; he sued. Ken Starr and the Bush administration sided with the principal. The ACLU and various Christian groups sided with the student. Thus does a high school prank become a federal case -- an important First Amendment case before the high court, no less.


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