Good Supreme Court rulings
Unless you’re a fan of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants; or of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week probably didn’t catch your attention. But there’s a second story to the ruling that’s important.
The high court struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, saying such a ban infringes free speech. The band’s founder, an Asian-American, had tried to trademark the name in 2011, but the patent office rejected the request on the grounds that it disparaged Asians by referring to the shape of their eyelids.
The Redskins were not involved in the case, but had appealed a trademark ruling against the NFL team that said its name offends American Indians. The recent ruling effectively settles that case as well.
Which is all very interesting, but the most noteworthy part of the case is that the ruling was unanimous. In fact, there have been a surprising number of unanimous rulings from the court in recent months:
• The justices struck down an immigration law that treats fathers and mothers differently when conferring citizenship on children born outside the United States.
• They ruled in favor of a generic drug maker in its case with a giant biotechnology firm, eliminating a six-month waiting period in allowing a generic version of the cancer drug Neupogen to be sold immediately after the original drug’s 12-year exclusive market.
• They gave Microsoft another chance to stop a class-action lawsuit involving the Xbox 360 video game system.
• They ruled in favor of a Colorado couple who claimed that a school district had failed to provide their autistic son “a free and appropriate public education.”
There are plenty more of these unanimous verdicts, to the point that it’s almost unbelievable in this era of divided government. For now, at least, the court’s 5-4 rulings seem to be a thing of the past.
Granted, these cases do not involve hot-button issues like abortion, the death penalty or gay marriage. But it’s as if the justices are making a concerted effort to work together as often as possible.
Here’s something to think about: The justices obviously are aware of the nasty divisions in Congress. They also are aware that President Trump has a bad habit of questioning the fairness of the judicial branch. Could it be that the Supreme Court, through this string of unanimous rulings, is sending a signal to the legislative and executive branches that tasks can be completed, and difficult questions can be solved, by listening to each other?
Maybe these are just a bunch of easy cases to decide — though the court tends to accept the tougher ones. Or maybe the Supreme Court really is determined to set a good example, so that the public can see at least one group of smart people willing to sort things out amicably.
Either way, the president and Congress don’t have to look far for an example of good government. The Supreme Court is doing the job.