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Profanities on Bumper Stickers:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a motorist was ticketed for having a bumper sticker that said "I'm Tired Of All The BUSHit"; according to the police officer, the county "had an ordinance about lewd decals." (Thanks to Orin for the pointer.)

The police officer unfortunately didn't know that the state had a Supreme Court decision about lewd decals, too (though "profane decals" is probably the more sensible term here): Cunningham v. State, 400 S.E.2d 916 (1991), which struck down on First Amendment grounds an ordinance that banned affixing to a car "any sticker, decal, emblem, or other device containing profane or lewd words describing sexual acts, excretory functions, or parts of the human body." The Georgia Supreme Court in Cunningham quite sensibly held that Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971), which upheld Cohen's right to wear a jacket that said "Fuck the Draft," applied equally to bumper stickers; because of this, the court set aside a conviction for displaying a sticker that said "Shit Happens."

Seems to me that the DeKalb County Police Department owes someone an apology, at least.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More About Profanities on Bumper Stickers:
  2. Profanities on Bumper Stickers:
Never Made Whole:
What's so unfair about our "justice" system, is that when one is exonerated after being wrongly ticketed, falsely accused, etc., one is never made whole. There is no compensation for court costs, attorney fees, lost income, etc. I've known people whose lives were pretty much ruined after being wrongfully arrested, and months later after they've been exonerated, they've lost jobs, money, etc. These people should be "made whole", even though that unfortunately sticks the bill to the hapless taxpayers.

Which is why Voltaire once said something to the effect:

"Twice in my life I've been financially ruined; once when I lost a lawsuit, and once when I won one."
3.28.2006 12:52pm
WB:
It's called the "American rule."

It royally sucks, but it hasn't exactly flown under the radar.
3.28.2006 1:04pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Seems to me that the DeKalb County Police Department owes someone an apology, at least.
And might want to give spelling lessons to its officers...
3.28.2006 1:05pm
Adam (mail):
In this case, however, I could see a successful Section 1983 suit. No way qualified immunuity attaches here.
3.28.2006 1:05pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Adam: That's right -- hence the "at least" -- but I doubt the woman would get much by way of damages.
3.28.2006 1:13pm
Joshua (www):
NMW: That's not the half of it. Ever read Radley Balko's blog? One of his recurring themes is innocent people who were injured or killed by police during raids that were botched, at the wrong house, or never should have occurred in the first place, yet the police department and/or city government in question shows no sense of responsibility to make their victims whole, nor are the courts inclined to make them do so.

He also has been blogging extensively on the case of Cory Maye, the most egregious example of this sort of thing.
3.28.2006 1:42pm
AK (mail):
Oh, boo-hoo, you slapped a profane bumper sticker on your car and then got ticketed. Cry me a friggin' river. Waa waa waa! You want a bottle, you big baby? I'm real sorry that your brilliant political protest was repressed. "Bushit"? You should be ticketed just for lack of wit alone.

What a bunch of whining crybabies first amendment voluptuaries are! Note to Volohk et al: just because something is constitutionally protected doesn't mean it should be celebrated. "Owed an apology" my eye.
3.28.2006 1:52pm
Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick:
AK: Ridiculous. If the police cite someone for something that isn't even a crime because the local gov't is too ignorant to know better, that person deserves at least an apology.

If we were talking about someone who was arrested, etc, etc, I doubt you'd feel the same way - and if that's the case, then I submit that all we have here is a difference of degree, not of kind.
3.28.2006 2:01pm
Bob Rogers (mail):
I'm willing to accept that it would be a horrible threat to the first amendment if this woman were not allowed to subject everyone within eyesight to a coarse, vulgar, banal bumpersticker. But please don't expect me to weep for her to be "made whole" over the trauma of having wrongly been given a ticket. The officer owes his supervisors an apology for not knowing the law. The woman should be informed that her right to act like pottymouthed trash will be respected from now on.
3.28.2006 2:05pm
HeScreams (mail):
Prof. Volokh --

I'm a little confused... what about the prevailing government interest in protecting children's impressionable minds? I mean, you can't display pornography in public, nor can a woman walk around topless.

I'm not being sarcastic; I'm honestly curious about the difference between these examples, since the government interest seems to be the same in all three. (Isn't the interest "enforcing prevailing community standards for decency"?)

Would it be any different if the sticker wasn't political? (Answer to my own question: It seems like the Cunningham v State sticker was apolitical...)
3.28.2006 2:12pm
AK (mail):
Nick:

I've got your apology right here:

"The Supreme Court and a bunch of other people without real jobs think that displaying a profanity on your car is the height of reasoned political discourse. Consequently, I must apologize to you for this intolerable infringement of your liberty to show the world what a horse's ass you are. I am truly sorry that by ticketing you, the world now knows that you are incapable of engaging in political debate at a level above that of a retarded child."

"It might also interest you to know that flag-burning, lap dancing, and songs glorifying raping women are also excercises of first amendment rights according to the Supreme Court. I truly apologize for not recognizing that you were not contributing speech that was just as valuable. From this day forward, I promise to count you as you demand and deserve to be counted: with misogynist rappers, flag-burners, and skanks."
3.28.2006 2:18pm
George Gregg (mail):
Ok, so you're a troll, AK.

Thanks for clearing that up for us.
3.28.2006 2:24pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
AK: Police officers are supposed to follow the law, which in America includes court decisions. The law may be foolish in various ways, but police officers ought not violate even foolish laws. The apology would be for breaking the law, not because the driver is somehow a pleasant or polite person (which is no business of the police officer's).
3.28.2006 2:26pm
Kinney (www):
AK, commenting on a blog is also constitues an expression of free speech. You are also a part of that group. Have a nice day.
3.28.2006 2:28pm
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
AK is just the most adorable little troll.

I'm a bit confused by HeScreams' confusion. Isn't it unconstitutional to prevent women from walking around topless when men are allowed to? What about public breastfeeding laws (as in, requiring it to be allowed)?

If AK were serious, a subject which I would doubt except it clearly took so long to compose those screeds of impoliteness, I would suggest that he go exercise his first amendment rights somewhere that does not require that guests of this forum

avoid rants, invective, and substantial and repeated exaggeration.
But surely it's just a parody of a vicious, nasty, insult-spewing troll, right?
3.28.2006 2:31pm
Bob Loblaw (www):

I am truly sorry that by ticketing you, the world now knows that you are incapable of engaging in political debate at a level above that of a retarded child.

The irony of that statement coming from the same person who said the following is remarkable:

Oh, boo-hoo, you slapped a profane bumper sticker on your car and then got ticketed. Cry me a friggin' river. Waa waa waa! You want a bottle, you big baby?
3.28.2006 2:32pm
CEB:
Nick: don't feed the troll.
If this ticketing were an isolated incident, I wouldn't be too upset about it. However, it is very common for police to issue baseless citations. Everybody knows somebody who has been ticketed for some false infraction. A friend of mine found a ticket on his car for expired tabs when the updated tabs were right there. Of course, he realized that he could not miss an entire day of work to contest it, so he just paid it. This is what usually happens, and the police know it. They have a financial incentive to issue baseless citations and no fear of any real deterrent. That is a problem.
3.28.2006 2:34pm
CDebateAdmin (www):
Is it just me or is the comment function not working on the latest Puzzle Blogger post?
3.28.2006 2:39pm
Huh:
I wonder if people who might say the word "shit" in everyday language believe its more offensive (or at least less accepatable) to put it on your car?

Maybe the permanence of the message makes it more "coarse and vulgar". Or perhaps the inability to limit the speech to a specific audience. Because I know lots of otherwise graceful and polite people who will occasionally say the word "shit." I would hardly classify someone who casually, but rarely says "shit" as "pottymouthed trash".

Also, to me, the point of this sticker seems to be the pun more than the "profanity." (Really, classifying "shit" as horrifying profanity is a bit off the puritan deep-end).

Finally, if you're anything like me, you think putting any bumper sticker on your car is a little stupid. For me the addition of a relatively mild curse word does not greatly increase the offense.
3.28.2006 2:40pm
AK (mail):
Sometimes justice exists outside of the law. Law is a means to justice, not a synonym for it.

This woman got what she deserved, and she's no worse for wear, except we all now know what a tool she is.

Flame on.
3.28.2006 2:45pm
HeScreams (mail):
Eh Nonymous:
You're right; nudity is not an example of 'obscenity', which is the concept I'm interested in here. Public displays of pornography is a better example.

However, having just read Cohen, I see the difference now.
3.28.2006 2:47pm
BobH (mail):
Since comments are non-functional on the puzzle post just above, here's the answer: The first letters of the five geographical names (G,F,A,B,C) are, as anyone who grew up in the 60s knows, the chords for "House of the Rising Sun."
3.28.2006 2:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
(1) Quite honestly, I can't imagine that Cohen would be decided the same way by today's Court.

And I've noticed that parenting has made me more prudish. I'm not happy about cars with nasty expressions on them. No one wants to explain to their kid about "put your lipstick on my dipstick" and other wisdom one finds on the tailgates of our local F150's.

(2) That said, the law's the law, and I'm especially puzzled how "Bushit" supposedly "contained" an obscenity. I propose getting a bumper sticker with "Bereshith" on it &seeing whether that gets a ticket.
3.28.2006 2:56pm
SouthernLawyer (mail):
BobH, you may be right, but I grew up in the 90s, :-), so I figured he put them in the order of their representation on the periodic table:

Germanium, Francium, Americanium, Berkelium, Californium.
3.28.2006 2:59pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
That's right -- hence the "at least" -- but I doubt the woman would get much by way of damages.

Aren't attorney fees available for a successful 1983 case? The lawyer would get much more than the plaintiff, I suspect.
3.28.2006 2:59pm
SouthernLawyer:
Americanium Americium.
3.28.2006 3:01pm
JosephSlater (mail):
BobH:

I know you were joking, but the record should reflect that the first chord of "The House of the Rising Sun" is most definitely A-minor.
3.28.2006 3:07pm
breakdown:
AK:

Thanks for the vivid lesson in why we need the First Amendment, and why we must fight so vigilently to protect it. As much as you (and the DeKalb County police officer) would like to control both the content and means of expression, your totalitarian desires are simply antithetical to our American civil libertarian values enshrined in the First Amendment.

I'm curious to hear about which other features of our foundational document you think are dumb? Should we have kings and queens instead of a president? Please tell us. As you know, us VC readers don't have real jobs, aren't related to or friendly with anyone who does, and for that matter are unlikely to ever meet anyone who does, so we'd really like to know which other constitutional provisions people with real jobs think are dumb so that we can more productively focus our real-jobless efforts in the future.
3.28.2006 3:14pm
bek:
...and in light of this post, there is a new AP-Ipsos poll just out on the amount profanity Americans are seeing, hearing and speaking. Here is the link:

AP-Ipsos profanity poll
3.28.2006 3:39pm
Mobius (mail):
Dang, I never knew Volokh didn't like cops.
3.28.2006 4:13pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
I guess I have a couple thoughts about this that I will condense into one post.

1. Generally I am as much a free-speech absolutist as Eugene. But frankly I doubt that a law against obscenities on bumper stickers would prove much of a threat to our freedoms, (or, as breakdown suggested, evidence much of a "totalitarian desire"). I find myself in the same boat as Anderson -- when you become a parent, you begin looking at things in a new light that, frankly, is nearly impossible to fully explain to a non-parent. (Believe me, I know how condescending this sounds to all you non-parents; all I can say is that I, at least, am a different person than I was.) Part of that is having a problem with the fact that a bumper sticker owner can shove an obscenity-filled message into the face of other people's kids with impunity.

(I must confess I've had the fantasy to sneak around at night, finding cars with obscene bumper stickers and spraypainting over them in bright red paint. Isn't that totalitarian of me?!!)

2. I'm not up on obscenity law (or any law, for that matter!) -- what IS the law with respect public nudity? And how exactly is it different from this case?

4. Breakdown -- do you think the people who wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights would have taken your attitude if I drove my carriage down Bristol Pike with "George Washington be-eth a shithead" or somesuch painted on the side? And yet, somehow, the Republic survived. It's not that I don't partially agree with you -- I just don't find hyperventilating about a marginal case helpful.

- Alaska Jack (not AK)
3.28.2006 4:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Back to damages: what about punitives?
The general rule in the Fifth Circuit regarding punitive damages in § 1983 cases is that a punitive award may stand in the absence of actual damages where there has been a constitutional violation. Louisiana ACORN Fair Housing v. LeBlanc, 211 F.3d 298, 302-03 (5th Cir.2000); see also Williams v. Kaufman County, 352 F.3d 994, 1015 (5th Cir.2003). Punitive damages, however, may be awarded only when the defendant's conduct “is ‘motivated by evil intent’ or demonstrates ‘reckless or callous indifference’ to a person's constitutional rights.” Williams, 352 F.3d at 1015. “The latter standard requires ‘recklessness in its subjective form,’ i.e. a ‘subjective consciousness' of a risk of injury or illegality and a ‘criminal indifference to civil obligations.” ’ Id.
Is the 11th Circuit different?

(1) She was ticketed under a law that was overturned 16 years ago.

(2) If she can prove it was the "Bush" part that really got her in trouble, she's home.
3.28.2006 5:24pm
CDebateAdmin (www):
I think calling "AK" a troll is a gross misuse of the term. I think Breakdown's response is every bit as "trollish" as AK's original post.

If an issue similar to that discussed in Cohen came up today, it's hard to tell how it would come out. Cohen was handed down in 1971, at a time when only two of the Nixon four had been put on the Court. Despite the liberal nature of the Court at that time, the vote was a close 5-4. Justice Black, the famous 1st Amendment absolutist, was in the minority in that case.

If one were to resort to stereotypes, then it would seem clear that the same issue would lose before today's Court. However, as we know, the justices can be very anti-stereotypical when it comes to the 1st Amendment. I think the pro-profanity position would garner the votes of Kennedy, Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens. Breyer is the weakest supporter of a broad right to free speech of any of the seven Rehnquist Court justices, so I think we could count him out. Of the remaining four, I think Thomas would be the most likely to take the pro-profanity position in such a case. Scalia is definitely a wild-card. He has taken a broad view of the 1A in the past, but has made room for some very famous exceptions. We don't have a real clear idea of how Roberts would vote, but my gut tells me he is closer to Rehnquist than Thomas on the issue. Alito's views probably fall somewhere between the Scalia and Thomas approaches to the 1A. Based on the simple math of counting heads, I think the pro-profanity side would have a reasonably good chance of winning such a case.
3.28.2006 5:39pm
breakdown:
Alaska Jack:

First, I'm sympathetic (mildly) with parents who don't want their children exposed to material that they find offensive. It's a totally understandable impulse, even for someone with no children like myself.

That said, it's inevitable.

More importantly, I doubt that children's pscyhes are so fragile that the occasional, obscene bumber sticker on random cars will manage to overcome a parent's instructions to his or her kids that they shouldn't say [insert tasteless, disapproved of word or words here]. I think in general we're a far sturdier species than we get credit for, even in our youth. Don't get me wrong, I know that traumatic experiences such as divorce, death in the family, etc. are especially difficult for children, but I'd be shocked if anyone recalls when they first saw a "cuss word" on a bumber sticker as a child. In other words, I simply disagree that bumber stickers are the kinds of inputs that meaningfully (much less negatively) impact children. We're talking about a nonexistant harm.

I also don't think that bumper sticker speech is "marginal" -- I'm comfortable calling strippers marginal under the First Amendment, but an overtly political sticker voicing dissent and disagreement with the present administration? Not so marginal, in my view. I've never put a bumper sticker on my car, but I'd guess that (at least some) people who do paste political messages on their vehicles take the things they say in those stickers pretty damn seriously. Maybe you think it's marginal only in the sense that there are alternative methods for conveying your views, but is that really true? How else could your average, impecunious, bush-bashing slob communicate his disapproval to so many of his fellow citizens in an equally effective manner?
3.28.2006 5:42pm
Willard:
I'm really unsure why allowing this sort of coarseness in public discourse (or the policy of permitting public places generally to be trashed) is wise public policy. (I am also, with Judge Posner, to whom I would refer the reader for a lengthier discussion of these issues, unable to separate the question of what the constitution requires from the question of what constitutes wise public policy.)

I also suspect that there is a strong element of hypocrisy here. First, in that the wealthy and powerful, including not just me, but most judges and law professors, are generally protected by our doormen, gatehouse guards, secretaries etc. from exposure to unwanted obscenity. Second, in that most judges and law professors recognize that the police frequently prevent public obscenity or other offensive conduct. For petty offenses like this, being arrested or ticketed, and having to defend yourself, IS the punishment. Judges and lawyers later pontificate about such conduct is constitutionally protected. But we don't do anything effectual to prohibit the police from quashing such conduct in the first place. So everyone is happy. In all sincerity I say, what a country!
3.28.2006 5:45pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I'm really unsure why allowing this sort of coarseness in public discourse (or the policy of permitting public places generally to be trashed) is wise public policy.

Cohen addresses the worse public policy of letting the police decide what's decent &what's not.

More to the point, "public policy" might support an established church or the quartering of soldiers in our homes, but the Bill of Rights trumps public policy.
3.28.2006 5:51pm
frankcross (mail):

I'm really unsure why allowing this sort of coarseness in public discourse (or the policy of permitting public places generally to be trashed) is wise public policy.


It may not be wise public policy to allow coarseness. It is wise public policy not to let the government define coarseness and punish those who don't subscribe to the official government definition. At any rate, it's called freedom. The right to do things that may offend others. Did you weigh in on the Danish cartoons?


First, in that the wealthy and powerful, including not just me, but most judges and law professors, are generally protected by our doormen, gatehouse guards, secretaries etc. from exposure to unwanted obscenity.


You have got to be kidding. This was on a car. The wealthy and powerful like you don't take public streets? Your secretary or gatehouse guard won't admit anyone who swears? How would she or he know?
3.28.2006 6:45pm
Ofc. Krupke (mail) (www):
My department issues us a sheet that has information on common traffic charges ("common" here includes, among other things, not having floor mats in certain vehicles). These kinds of guides are common among police officers, and they are not always updated and modified well. Wouldn't surprise me if this officer was working off one of these.

Everybody knows somebody who has been ticketed for some false infraction.

I once pulled over a woman who had rocketed past a number of stopped cars by driving on the shoulder, in order to bypass a traffic knot. She thought that was a false infraction, too. The traffic courts, like the jails, are full of Innocent Men.

Anyway, note the conclusion of the article:

She has not removed the bumper sticker in question, or six other mostly politically oriented decals on her car. "I used to think that one person could not make a difference," said Grier. "Now I'm beginning to think one person can, and should. We shouldn't be afraid to stand up for what we believe in."

I wouldn't worry about "making her whole" for her $100 ticket, improper though it was. She seems to be relishing her role as the martyr for free speech. Don't lose too much sleep over her.
3.28.2006 6:52pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
These kinds of guides are common among police officers, and they are not always updated and modified well.

That is not exactly a winning defense for the police dep't; "failure to train" is a popular way of imputing liability to *them* rather than the officer.
3.28.2006 7:08pm
Bob Loblaw (www):

I wouldn't worry about "making her whole" for her $100 ticket, improper though it was. She seems to be relishing her role as the martyr for free speech. Don't lose too much sleep over her.

Great. I'm happy to know our police officers think it's of little concern when improper tickets are given to those with the nerve to think they can relish their free speech rights.
3.28.2006 7:15pm
Bobbie:
Aren't one of the resident originalist going to note that the founders surely would not have had any problem with the arrest in this case?
3.28.2006 7:41pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
Breakthrough -

No need to be reasonable about it.

- Alaska Jack
3.28.2006 7:52pm
Ofc. Krupke (mail) (www):
That is not exactly a winning defense for the police dep't; "failure to train" is a popular way of imputing liability to *them* rather than the officer.

Precisely.

Great. I'm happy to know our police officers think it's of little concern when improper tickets are given to those with the nerve to think they can relish their free speech rights.

Oh, please. What does that even mean?

This woman got a traffic ticket. She believed it was issued improperly, and she was right. She prevailed in court, as well she should have. And since she's evidently the type who feels the need to post her opinions on her bumper ("six other mostly politically oriented decals"), she is probably enjoying the attention/vindication more than a bit.

This is of little concern. If the case had come out the other way, it might be worrisome. But it is possible to believe both that the officer shouldn't have issued the ticket, and that this isn't the sort of thing to inspire great concern about making her "whole".
3.28.2006 8:09pm
Bob Loblaw (www):

Oh, please. What does that even mean?

This woman got a traffic ticket. She believed it was issued improperly, and she was right. She prevailed in court, as well she should have. And since she's evidently the type who feels the need to post her opinions on her bumper ("six other mostly politically oriented decals"), she is probably enjoying the attention/vindication more than a bit.

This is of little concern. If the case had come out the other way, it might be worrisome. But it is possible to believe both that the officer shouldn't have issued the ticket, and that this isn't the sort of thing to inspire great concern about making her "whole".

Uh - it means what it says, and it appears your reading skills could use some work. She hasn't even been to court yet (so no, she did not "prevail in court"), so she still needs to be "made whole". And for some reason you seem to think it is relevant whether she has one, or seven, or a thousand bumper stickers, or whether she is "the type" (whatever that means) to post her opinions (which you bizzarely presume is making her enjoy this); sorry, Johnny Law, it is not of your concern.
3.28.2006 8:38pm
Lakhim (mail):
Ofc. Krupke -

Frivolous harassment of those who have political (or profane, if you wish) bumper stickers can dissuade people from using those bumper stickers, suppressing speech. At the very least this sort of action should be dissuaded with some form of apology or remuneration for lost time.
3.28.2006 8:39pm
Willard:
anderson, write a book explaining that Judge Posner is wrong, and that the law exists independently of sound policy. But I probably won't be persuaded.

frankcross, I have a car and driver. It would be unusual for me to see a bumper sticker, since I don't look at the road. I also note that a bumper sticker of this nature would not be permitted by the typical homeowners' association, and that our receptionist most definitely will not permit people to enter the premises with t-shirts reading "F--- the draft."
3.28.2006 9:17pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Willard, you will win a lot of arguments if your opponents have to write books!

But seriously, I have to suppose that you're aware of the problem with your citation to Judge Posner. He's a card-carrying judicial pragmatist. In other words, he literally does not recognize a difference between "constitutional" and "promotes public policy."

He is smart enough to mouth the difference, I'm sure, but I submit to other readers of this thread the question of how his practice matches up.
3.28.2006 9:53pm
Ofc. Krupke (mail) (www):
Bob -

Fair point; I misread the article, and had the impression from the initial post that this was a settled case. I stand corrected. I therefore amend my statement: given the precedent in place, I expect her to prevail in court, as well she should. As for the bumper stickers, seven is an unusually high number, isn't it? No matter what their political slant, the underlying message is "Look at me!" People with that mindset frequently derive satisfaction from playing the martyr.

Lakhim -

True, but on the other hand, enforcing a minor county ordinance against obscene signs that is apparently still on the books doesn't necessarily constitute "frivolous harassment". In a system like ours, where local laws, state statutes, and court decisions overlap and sometimes contradict one another, such mistakes are unfortunate, but inevitable.
3.28.2006 9:58pm
Broncos:
Ofc. Krupke,

I agree, even well-intentioned, good cops make mistakes. Everyone does. If she had been pulled over for doing 80 in a 55, for example, and had also been given this citation, it would be easy to believe that a good cop had simply made a mistake. But here, the motorist alleges that she was pulled over simply because the cop didn't like what her bumper sticker said. It doesn't look like she pulled over for any other infraction, lending credence to her story.

I'm not really one for suing cops for damages for reasonable mistakes, (can they, under federal law?) but there seems to be a substantial factual dispute here, a precedent that is relatively old and pretty well-known (and if it isn't among officers, it should be); maybe this is something that a jury of peers should take a look at. Granted, her damages here are negligible, and I don't like good cops getting nickle and dimed; but I don't really like the state trying to nickel and dime my rights either.
3.28.2006 10:15pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
My principal in high school was a real Dick Head. I mean his name was Richard Head, but all the students called him Dick. I guess that cop would have ticketed him if he wore a nametag. Dekalb county has a fair amount of crime this cop could be fighting, although I'm sure its safer to ticket some middle aged woman whos politics you don't like.
3.28.2006 11:05pm
Elliot123 (mail):

I wonder how many cars will suddenly start displaying that sticker in Atlanta?
3.28.2006 11:15pm
Splunge (mail):
Everybody knows somebody who has been ticketed for some false infraction.

That's nothing. I recall an officer telling me once he'd stopped me because the lightbulb in my license plate holder had burned out. He was a bit nonplussed when I pointed out that my car did not have lights in a license plate holder, nor for that matter a license plate holder at all. (The plates are merely bolted to the bumper).

It didn't bug me, however. The real reason he stopped me was because I was driving around slowly in a residential neighborhood late at night, peering at the houses. I was looking for a "FOR RENT" sign I'd seen earlier, but of course he didn't know that. He was just scoping me out, 'cause his instincts said something didn't add up.

Well, fair enough. That's the kind of thing that keeps neighborhoods safe. We had a little talk, I explained what I was doing, who I was, and then he was cool. But no doubt he kept one eye on me until I'd driven off, and that, too, is OK by me.

God help us if we ever try to replace the judgment of a man on the scene with some rigid written algorithm of when you can and cannot inquire whether a stranger is up to no good. Might as well be governed by computers at that point.
3.29.2006 2:15am
Aebie:
My partner is a cop. He would characterize this lady's infraction is "contempt of cop" (or the cop's political beliefs). Find bumper sticker you don't like; do mental flip through possible citations (or look it up really quickly), then pull her over and issue ticket.

I suspect that if the bumper sticker said something along the lines of "Osama S*cks" she wouldn't have been pulled over.
3.29.2006 8:31am
Bob Rogers (mail):
I understand that the speech is protected, and I even agree that it should be protected. I understand that her actions will not cause the republic to crumble any more than littering, spitting in the street, or failing to pick up the leavings of ones dog. I am not inherently opposed to profanity. In fact, I pride myself on using it rather well. She has used it in a crude, intrusive, persistent way that has no regard for context. Eugene may be correct that she is "owed" an apology, but as I tried to indicate above, I hope it is as insincere as possible. I can understand wanting the officer to be rebuked or the council voted out for not knowing the law. I can not understand any genuine sympathy of her.
3.29.2006 9:43am
Alf:
That's nothing. I recall an officer telling me once he'd stopped me because the lightbulb in my license plate holder had burned out. He was a bit nonplussed when I pointed out that my car did not have lights in a license plate holder, nor for that matter a license plate holder at all. (The plates are merely bolted to the bumper).

It didn't bug me, however. The real reason he stopped me was because I was driving around slowly in a residential neighborhood late at night, peering at the houses. I was looking for a "FOR RENT" sign I'd seen earlier, but of course he didn't know that. He was just scoping me out, 'cause his instincts said something didn't add up.

Well, fair enough. That's the kind of thing that keeps neighborhoods safe. We had a little talk, I explained what I was doing, who I was, and then he was cool. But no doubt he kept one eye on me until I'd driven off, and that, too, is OK by me.

God help us if we ever try to replace the judgment of a man on the scene with some rigid written algorithm of when you can and cannot inquire whether a stranger is up to no good. Might as well be governed by computers at that point.


So you want the police to be allowed to make up lies to pull over who ever they want? Here's a thought. Don't detain people who aren't breaking the law!!!
3.29.2006 10:58am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
First of all on the Judge Posner thing. Of course there is one sense in which the constitution doesn't trump considerations of public policy. So long as you are a consequentialist (and it seems absurd to me not to be one) if you are a SC justice and guaranteed (god tells you) that you can make a deciscion with better overall consequences (no harms through precedent/respsect for law) of course you are obligated to make that deciscion. However, this simply isn't the interesting question. The interesting question is whether seeming to treat the law in a policy influenced fashion leads to better consequences..

In particular people are psychologically very bad at seeing the benefits of far off, abstract and remote consequences but very good at seeing immediate harms/benefits. Since it is really easy to see who is being hurt when people are allowed to critisize the soldiers, make racist comments etc.. but very hard to see the long term harm in allowing the government to outlaw racist comments, especially since those comments are factually wrong and don't make any usefull points. The reason I am an absolutist about the first ammendment is because the long term benefit to happiness and better deciscion making that we gain by allowing relatively free speech can only be protected by convincing people especially judges that there is an absolute legal requirement that should be followed regardless of policy consequences.

Also the right to free speech is most important when it is the most rude/offensive/disliked speech. The democratic process can guarantee the speech rights of majority groups, the first ammendment is needed to guarantee the speech rights of people saying very unpopular things. Since it is so important that we don't suppress the unpopular position those times it happens to be right and not make people feel repressed we let nazis march through jewish towns and let racists speak on national TV (or at least we did).

Surely if making minority parents explain to their kids about the people who hate them because of their skin color is a worthwhile price to pay to let people advocate a totally worthless and bancrupt view just so we establish a good precedent there shouldn't be any doubt about the worth of explaining to your kid some sexually suggestive bumper sticker.
3.29.2006 4:13pm
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Also I really don't see why we should pay any more attention to parents who complain about having to explain stuff to their kids than we would to someone who said they didn't want to read any puns on a bumper sticker because puns annoyed them. Unless there is any particular reason to believe that some random combination of sounds (or even sexual knowledge explained by a parent) this seems just like anyone else complaining something annoys them, but worse as they are trying to hold up their kids rather than fessing up they are the ones bothered.

It's just some words people. Your kid won't get through 2nd grade without knowing the swear words. Don't try and make your irrational discomfort with some words my problem, either by giving them less legal protection or expressing disapproval of people saying/displaying perfectly common words where your kid might see.
3.29.2006 4:28pm
Tocqueville:
Anderson,

I'm a law clerk in the Eleventh Circuit and you are right. This plaintiff has a solid claim for punatives. The more I look at it, this potential 1983 case appears to be a very lucrative one. I wonder whether she has already hired an attorney?
4.1.2006 9:30am