Wednesday July 26, 2006

Conductor has some thoughts on the Vamos decision. “For better or for worse the Miami-Dade School Board voted to remove Vamos a Cuba from school libraries. While I personally disagree with the decision, I believe the board was well within its rights to do so. [ . . . ] So now a judge has arbitrarily ruled that the book be put back into circulation and I have a big problem with that strictly from a separation of powers standpoint. As usual the courts are overstepping their bounds and making public policy.” It’s a point, although I question the aptness of the word “arbitrarily.” I think the courts’ intervention on matters like desegregation and censorship is a good thing. And Conductor never quite explains why he doesn’t consider the school board’s decision censorship. Update: Conductor updated his post, and updated the URL, too, breaking the link above! (thanks Franklin) Here’s the new link, along with a wag of the finger to Conductor and to Blogger: Cool URIs don’t change.

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  1. Rick    Wed Jul 26, 08:01 AM #  

    I’m only surprised he didn’t use the term “activist judges.”

    I’m somewhat amused at how Conductor believes his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution trumps that of a federal judge. But I guess that’s one reason why he’s tapping out posts on a blog and the judge is sitting behind the bench.


  2. conductor    Wed Jul 26, 08:45 AM #  

    Did the Miami Dade School Board prevent the author from writing the book?

    Did it prevent the book from being published?

    Did it prevent anyone from selling the book?

    Did it prevent anyone from buying the book?

    Did it prevent anyone from reading the book?

    It seems that we have different definitions of freedom speech. Freedom to speak does not mean others have to listen.

    The school board decided on behalf its stakeholders (the parents, students, and taxpayers) that it didn’t want to “listen” anymore to material that it considered at best insensitive and at worst outright propaganda for a murderous regime that many of those same stakeholders had fled.

    And perhaps I’m no legal scholar but haven’t federal courts upheld slavery and segregation in the past? Just because you wear a robe and have a fancy degree ddoeesn’t mean the precedent you are setting is correct and it doesn’t mean that it will be adhered to forever.

  3. gansibele    Wed Jul 26, 10:22 AM #  

    “Freedom to speak does not mean others have to listen.”

    What, did the judge make it a required reading material too? I thought the book(s) were just going to be put back on the library shelves where kids could decide if they want to pick them up and read them or not. You know, just like I can decide to watch Fox News or simply change the channel if I don’t want to hear propaganda.

    I’m telling you, those activist judges are out of control. Nevermind the state senate, we need BolaƱos to run for president so he can ammend the Costitution and put a stop once and for all to this silly “checks and balances” system we have.

  4. Franklin    Wed Jul 26, 10:59 AM #  

    I’m also no legal scholar, but it seems that the judge correctly determined that the book got yanked out of the library by ideologues, for ideologues. The replies I’ve received from two of the board members on this issue evinced the predictable torutured logic required by modern politics, designed to make cowardice and complicity in wrongdoing look like principled stances. As I told them, I hope that the ACLU has its way with them. This is a good start.

  5. conductor    Wed Jul 26, 12:04 PM #  

    The difference between the examples Gansibele gives and this case is that adults can decide for themselves what media to consume from among a variety of channels. They are free to change the channel. A school (whether it be a library or for the actual curricula) must decide on behalf of others what to teach or make available from an infinite number of sources.

    The library can’t possibly stock every title ever written. Every book on the shelf has to be judged to be more suitable than some other book that isn’t on the shelf because of finite resources such as money and space. So there has to be some criteria to judge a work.

    What you are all saying is that the fact the content is offensive to a segment of the population is not grounds for exclusion. And my question is why not? That’s the way courts have interpreted obscenity for years, by local standards. I can’t fault a school board in a city with many Jews for not stocking Mein Kampf.

    Again, let’s not make this into a watershed moment because it’s not. School boards pull books all the time, through very similar processes as this, because parents complain about about them not being suitable. A hearing is had and people vote. They should vote their conscience (Mr. Ingram) and if the people don’t like the way the authorized body ruled, then vote them out and bring the issue back on the table. That’s democracy.

  6. Franklin    Wed Jul 26, 12:35 PM #  

    The school board voted to convene a committee to review the book, which is standard procedure in such a case, and the committee decided to keep the book on the shelves. Board president Agustin J. Barrera then countermanded the decision and had the book removed anyway. That is not democracy.

    The book in question didn’t elicit a complaint because it contained offensive material, but because it didn’t take a sufficiently anti-Castro stance. This has been disingenuously characterized by hardliners as “errors of omission.” The comparison to Mein Kampf in the children’s library is odious. These, apparently, are the depths to which the hardliners have to sink in order to justify their views.

  7. Rick    Wed Jul 26, 12:45 PM #  

    So for those of you at home keeping score:

    Everyone else: 4
    Conductor: 0

    Conductor, your parry.

  8. gansibele    Wed Jul 26, 12:48 PM #  

    Fair enough, but my point is still that the book is not forced on anybody, children or not. Look, my 9 year old daughter has seen porn on the web ocassionally. It’s up to me to install NetNanny and to explain to her what were those “ugly pictures”. That’s my parental responsibility. I’m not going to ask that porn is banned, there’s people that enjoy it and we all have to live together.

    And the point of your comment, which was that the judge is “arbitrarily” overriding the School Board. The judge is bound by precedent. The Board knew this was coming. An arbitrary decision would have been to let the ban stand. The Board now has to appeal. We’ll see how far they take it. Maybe they’ll prevail on appeal and change the interpretation of the law so far, as in your examples of segregation and slavery (but something makes me suspect their resolve will end with the electoral cycle). That’s the process, like it or not. The judiciary has a very clear and defined role in our society. That IS democracy. Absolute independence of elected officials is populism.

  9. Franklin    Wed Jul 26, 03:39 PM #  

    Original link to Conductor is 404ing.

  10. alesh    Wed Jul 26, 04:32 PM #  

    I added an updated link. thanks.

  11. Steve    Wed Jul 26, 04:32 PM #  

    Conductor: Damn straight I would fault a school board in a primarily Jewish city for not making Mein Kampf available. That book has an important role in hstory and education. Your comment illustrates where and how you miss the point.

    BTW—perhaps the ACLU’s most famous and definitive moment was its successful defense of the Nazis to march through the Jewish neighborhood of Skokie, IL. The population, many of whom escapees of the Third Reich and relatives of Nazi victims, was incensed, scared, and hurt. But this is America where Freedom of Expression prevails.

  12. Miami Harold    Wed Jul 26, 06:04 PM #  

    “Obscenity,” like commercial speech,
    does not enjoy the same unfettered First Amendment protection
    afforded most other expression.
    Ditto specimens of “Fire in a Crowded Theater” speech.
    So No, Conductor, that example fails.
    Why not own up to your own bias here?
    Despite the liberal predilection
    for considerations of Political Correctness,
    there is no right prohibiting people
    from offending one another,
    nor is there one not to be offended.

  13. Robert    Wed Jul 26, 08:40 PM #  

    Conductor made it perfectly clear that he was against the decision to ban the book, yet he is accused of being a hard-liner.

    I think it’s a perfectly valid argument to question whether the Board’s decision to ban the book was indeed a First Amendment violation. Many cases of local school boards banning books have been documented nationwide, yet this one garners more attention and questioning from a legal perspective.

    Interesting how no one here has been able to come up with a good point to counter Conductor on the First Amendment aspect.

  14. Rick    Wed Jul 26, 08:58 PM #  

    Let’s set the record straight here. Conductor made it perfectly clear that he was against the decision to ban the book not because it was contrary to the 1st Amendment but because he felt…

    ...that this issue is a distraction that takes public focus away from the real Cuba debate: the lack of human rights, the political prisoners, the abuses of fidel castro and company.

    He then goes on to question a federal judge’s interpretation of the Constitution.

    As far as a good point goes, consider this your counter.

  15. gansibele    Wed Jul 26, 09:06 PM #  

    Robert, you are selectively reading and red herring”ing” to death here. First of all, the First Amendment is not an inmobile statute, it’s subject to interpretation, so every judgement as to whether this is a violation or not has to be seen in the light of court interpretations from the past. And as it has been repeated ad limitem by everybody with knowledge of the pertinent case law, it just isn’t on the side of the school board in this case. Period. The rest is his and your interpretations and as Rick said, we all type opinions on the web and not sit on a bench for a reason. Second, the red herring part, his argument was not the First Amendment part, but the “arbitrary” conduct of the judge. If anything, we should be discussing whether this is a separation of powers violation. You just want to focus on the disingenous freedom of speech argument because you think you are on the right there.

  16. Boli-Nica    Thu Jul 27, 10:51 AM #  

    I skimmed the ruling.

    One thing is clear, this decision was greatly influenced by behavior of the School Board – in particular Frank Bolanos on the record:
    The board changed its position – from the available record of its meetings – from trying to remove the book based on its “distortions” of Cuban reality, being “hurtful” to the Cuban-American community to later claim it wanted to remove it based on “errors” “omissions” for pedagocal reasons
    The board refused to even consider the entire process mounted by the administrators to mediate, rejected the specific “less-intrusive” compromises by the administration.
    That all evidenced the board acting in an “ad-hoc” manner, instead of strictly and consistently sticking to educational procedures, which lends weight to the board wanting to remove it because it disagreed with the content of the book.
    In plain English, the board really messed up by doing and saying all sorts of things which pretty much proves that people didn’t like what was said in the book, and did everything it could to try to remove it.
    -Reality is that what may have started as a genuine complaint by a parent who had been in Castro’s dungeons and had all the right in the world to feel offended, was turned into a farce, by Bolanos who seized and ran with the issue to inflame passions, and get as much press time as he could to build up his campaign.