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Laws Make Strange Bedfellows

I was on a fast-moving segment on HuffPost Live this afternoon called “Legalese It,” where host Mike Sacks runs through a bunch of overlooked legal items from the past week. Since I was on vacation for half of the week, I learned a lot! For instance, did you know that Michigan had an anti-begging statute on the books from the 1920s that was just struck down so they can put a big “Spare Some Change” sign in Detroit?

Okay, that’s not why it was struck down, but still. Also it seems that North Carolina is trying to restrict voting to five white guys chosen at random by Reince Priebus and Obama is now in favor of legislative prayer, as if nobody told him he can’t run for a third term.

Looks like I missed a lot, but that didn’t stop me from talking about it on the web. Specifically, I got to talk about how Eric Holder and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott are now friends when it comes to stopping USAIR and American Airlines from combining to own all the railroads on the Monopoly board…

First of all, here’s the segment. I was on, at various times, with Thomas Healy, author of The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind — and Changed the History of Free Speech in America (affiliate link); Professor Chris Lund, of Wayne State Law; and Professor Rick Hasen, of UC Irvine Law (and the Election Law Blog).

Healy talked about Holmes’s evolving views on free speech. Holmes is kind of the “marble man” of legal jurisprudence, so it’s a little weird to think of him as “evolving.” Usually people talk about Holmes like he emerged fully formed from his father’s head and immediately started writing opinions until he ascended to his seat at the right hand of Moses.

We also talked about Michigan making beggars pay a fine for begging. Which is really the kind of fiscal policy that makes Michigan’s financial problems so very not surprising.

Professor Lund came on to discuss Oklahoma losing its bid to outlaw “Sharia law.” So that opens the way for the good people of Oklahoma to be forced into growing out their beards and praying to Mecca seven times during the Red River Shootout. (I’m kidding, Oklahomans. And I point out that I’m kidding because apparently some of you are dumb enough to think that I’m not.)

We also talked about the Obama administration weighing in, unsolicited, on the Greece v. Galloway case on the side of the defendants, in support of prayer before the town’s legislative sessions. I’d have more to say about this, but I’m too busy making my “Hillary 2016: Sorry I Got It Wrong In ’08” sign.

Then Professor Hasen talked about the new draconian North Carolina voter suppression laws. I made a joke where I called Chief Justice Roberts “Marse Roberts” the way Confederates used to called Robert E. Lee “Marse Robert.” Then I realized he’d probably take that as a compliment.

At the end, I tried to explain why it made sense for Holder and Texas AG Greg Abbott to be on the same side against the latest mega-merger of U.S. airlines. Nobody has been able to explain how this merger will do anything other than drive up prices, restrict competition, and decrease routes for commercial air travelers. In fact, the best argument in favor of the merger seems to be “you let United merge with Continental and that screwed consumers too.” Even a Texan knows two wrongs don’t make a right — at least when the second wrong affects Texans.

That’s the fun thing about the law: it can often devolve into just another battlefront in a war of political ideologies, but sometimes it turns those ideologies on their heads. “Free market” conservatives and populist liberals should both be concerned about the corrosive effects of monopolies. Free speech needs to be protected whether the person talking is a beggar or a Klansman. And the principle of voting access is so crucial to our democracy that both parties can… oh, wait.

Well, I guess I can see why Republicans are worried about losing their monopoly on the South.

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