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Friday Roundup

Trick or treat. Given the pagan antecedents of the holiday, one would expect a First Amendment issue regarding Halloween to revolve around freedom of religion. Not so, according to this article. Not content with barring sex offenders from proximity to schools, day care centers, parks, bus stops, shopping malls, and anyplace else children might possibly congregate, the burghers of Simi Valley have passed an edict prohibiting sex offenders from "displaying Halloween decorations, answering the door to trick-or-treaters, or having outside lighting after dark on Oct. 31." Just to make sure everyone gets the point, offenders are also required to post a sign on their front door reading, in one-inch letters, "no candy or treats at this residence." If the legislation was prompted by evidence that urchins attired in their Spiderman and Catwoman costumes were being snatched up as they made their rounds seeking sugary treats (I've always suspected that the dental profession is the chief promoter of Halloween), the article doesn't mention it.

A group has filed suit against the restrictions, arguing that they both restrict speech -- no Halloween decorations? Say it ain't so! -- and "force" speech (the signs). The attorney for the group made the obligatory Nazi analogy, noting that "it's similar to Jews in Nazi Germany who had to wear the yellow star on their clothing." It certainly is, or at least would be if the sex offenders were then forced onto trains and taken to a concentration camp where they'd be methodically gassed and then cremated. I guess the moral of this story is that silly rules can beget silly arguments in response.

In any event, I'm thinking of putting up the sign on my front door, weighing whether saving a few bucks on bags of Twixt and Milky Way bars is worth having the neighbors think I'm a sex offender. It's a close call.

Court watch. With the presidential campaign in full swing (for the second straight year, some wags will claim), the refrain has become commonplace that the 2008 crash was the worst economic event to befall the country since the Great Depression. Thanks to political scientists Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin, we can find something else which harks back to those less-than-glorious years. To be filed under Things I Pretty Much Already Knew comes their latest report by assessing the ideology of the Supreme Court, concluding that the Roberts Court continues to be the most conservative bunch since the 1930's. That got kind of lost in the wash in the wake of the Court's final decision of the last term, where it upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to the surprise of just about everyone. For those who think that Roberts' switch signaled a drift toward moderation, the authors note that it was the only time Roberts had joined the liberals in any 5-4 decisions in the 117 that there have been since he became Chief Justice in 2005.

But the report also includes a trend in the ideology of the current justices, and it brings up something I've mentioned before: I'm old enough to remember when therewasa liberal wing of the Supreme Court. Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas are in strong conservative territory, with Kennedy lagging behind but still fairly solidly there. At the other end of the spectrum, Ginsburg is the only justice who falls within a liberal classification, and that just that barely. And even she has become notably more conservative in her rulings (as has Breyer) over the past decade.

One topic that went completely unmentioned at the presidential debate the other note, and has received almost no attention during the campaign, is the fact that the new president will probably have a chance to appoint several justices to the Court: Ginsburg, Breyer, Scalia, and Kennedy are all in their 70's. Frankly, there's far more upside for conservatives than liberals. Should Obama win, Scalia, the most partisan of the justices, will undoubtedly remain on the bench, leaving the likelihood that Obama would at best replace two moderately liberal justices and one moderately conservative one with justices of a similar ideological bent. If Romney were to prevail, though, he would replace those three with... well, he's previously cited Roberts and Scalia as the type of justices he'd pick. Should that come to pass, in four years Epstein and Martin might have to reach back even farther to come up with an ideological analogue.

For your viewing pleasure. "Russ the Hammer"? I like the ring of that.

Or not. I've done posts before on lawyer advertisements, such as the one featured here, from New York attorney Jim "the Hammer" Shapiro:

http://youtu.be/zToHQ8oQvgA

I should have said former lawyer. You can find more of his advertisements floating around the web, but Shapiro's firm has been out of business for years. To no one's surprise, he ran into ethical problems which led to his suspension from the practice for a year, and he probably wasn't helped by things like the malpractice award of $1.9 million dollars that was handed down against him the same year by a New York jury, which found that a settlement of $65,000 for a crash accident victim who'd been left comatose for a month was woefully insufficient. By the way, Shapiro never appeared at the malpractice trial. He testified by way of deposition from his home in Florida, admitting that he lives there year round, and has never tried a case in his life.

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