3 More Supreme Court Cases Everyone Should Know

By: Andy Crawford

This is the second in what may be an ongoing series here on BBT.

Americans are doing well if they can stay informed on what the President and Congress are doing, much less the vast federal bureaucracy. Oftentimes, the Supreme Court is only an afterthought. Eighty percent of Americans can’t even name the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Still, the Supreme Court continues to make decisions that shape and affect our everyday lives, and we should know what those are.

Here are three more cases you should know, and how they continue to affect us every day.

Buckley v. Valeo (1976)

For most of the 20th century there was an effort to get money out of politics. If donations and campaign spending were better regulated and limited, then there would be less corruption to distort the democratic process. In 1974, Congress took the step of limiting individual donations to campaigns, and regulating how much candidates for federal office could spend on their campaign. Groups from all over the political spectrum challenged the law, including the Libertarian Party and ACLU.

The Court struck down part of the law, finding that there was a connection between money and the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. “A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.” For this reason, the Court struck down the law’s limits on how much money a campaign could spend. However, the Court found that reasonable limits on individual donations were permissible, as there was a compelling interest to quell corruption. In short, campaigns could spend all they want, but donors could not.



How this affects us today: Americans have come to dread election season, as they are inundated with political television ads, robo-calls, and junk mail. Candidates, and groups supporting or opposing them, continue to spend more and more money with no end in sight. Much of this can be traced to this opinion, and the price of free speech.

Plyer v. Doe (1982)

In 1975, Texas passed a law refusing public funding for children who were in the United States illegally. Texas argued that it could not be forced to provide an education to a sector of the population that did not pay taxes. Moreover, illegal immigrants had no standing to challenge the law under the 14th Amendment since they were not American citizens afforded rights under the Constitution.

In a 5-4 opinion, the Court ruled against Texas. First, the Court explained that the 14th Amendment reads that the State shall “not deny any person” equal protection under the law. Of course, immigrants are people so the 14th Amendment should apply. Secondly, the Court determined that Texas did not have a compelling interest to prohibit illegal immigrants from public school, as it would create an uneducated class that would ultimately rely on government assistance to survive in the future.

Immigrant children riding on top of a train on their way to America.

Immigrants riding on top of a train on their way to America.

How this affects us today: As we face a humanitarian crisis with thousands of unaccompanied children pouring over the border, as well as the longstanding issue of illegal immigration from Hispanic countries, this decision is more important than ever. Some argue that a free education, as well as other social programs such as welfare and Medicaid, have only served to motivate immigrants to come into the country illegally without having to follow the legal process. This has led to an increase in entitlement spending without the tax base to support it. Others echo the Supreme Court, and point out that denying education, housing, and medical care to immigrants would be a cruel.

Riley v. California (2014)

David Riley was pulled over and searched by police, who discovered loaded firearms in the automobile. Officers also searched Riley’s phone, and discovered evidence connecting him to a shooting several days before. Riley challenged the search of his phone.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that in order for police to search a cell phone they needed the consent of the owner or a search warrant. During oral argument, Justice Scalia pointed out that previous precedent allows an officer to look through all items in a car as long as he has probable cause to search that car, including flipping through every page in a book. Indeed, it was difficult applying the Fourth Amendment, drafted in 1789 to prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures, to the modern smart phone that contains a wealth of personal information of its owner. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought,” Chief Justice Roberts stated in his opinion.

How this affects us today: Unless you are some kind of Luddite, you probably have a smart phone. For that reason alone, it is important for you to understand what the government must do to access your personal information. Unless you give consent, police officers must first obtain a search warrant to access your phone. In this day and age where it seems privacy is becoming an illusion, some may find comfort in the Court’s decision.

Andy spent three years in law school, so he knows enough Supreme Court cases to write about 100 more articles like this one. (It was a long three years.)

Stop What You Are Doing And Go Watch ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ as a Black-and-White Silent Film

By: Jason Smith

Director Steven Soderbergh has done something amazing.

I’ve said this sentence many times to describe his films (the Ocean’s trilogy, Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight, and many more), but I have never said it about his blog. Mostly because I didn’t know that this thing even existed. However, today was a helluva good day to discover it.

Today Soderbergh put up a FULL version of the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the movie has been rendered into black-and-white and the sound has been replaced with something resembling music. In other words, Steven Soderbergh put up a 1920’s Silent Era version of Indiana Jones.

I haven’t been able to watch the whole thing yet (oh I will), but the opening sequence is magnificent. Do yourself a favor and waste a little time at work with this.

Here is the link:

Hurry up, before Paramount gets wise and forces this video to be taken down!!




The Album That Might Save 2014’s Year In Music

By: Jason Smith

[NOTE: There is some serious #NSFW stuff that follows. It's all in word-form, but I just want you to be warned.]

“Carissa was 35. You don’t just raise two kids, and take out your trash and die…”


So begins what has to be one of the best intimate, singer-songwriter albums since Iron & Wine penned Our Endless Numbered Days.

Sun Kil Moon’s Benji is a tour de force that might just save this year of crummy music. In fact, this album is surely one of the best of the young decade. It would be arguably the best were it not for the era-defining masterworks of Kanye West (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) and Kendrick Lamar (good kid, m.A.A.d. city). In short, this album is damn good and worth your time.

Benji is an album that does not apologize for being an album.

It does not give a shit that it is asking you to think through a series of stories, weaved together like some Abstract tapestry. It does not care that it might take reading the lyrics to pick out all of the little goodies that Mark Kozelek (the songwriter behind the moniker ‘Sun Kil Moon’) has buried away. It also doesn’t give half a damn that it is an album about death — the last thing anyone wants an album to be about, especially in light of how dark Sun Kil Moon can get sometimes.

This album pulls no punches about meaning beyond the veil.

My mother is seventy five
One day she won’t be here to hear me cry
When the day comes for her to let go
I’ll die off like a lemon tree in the snow
When the day comes for her to leave
I won’t have the courage to sort through her things
With my sisters and all our memories
I cannot bear all the pain it will bring

There isn’t much “My mom is going to die, but it will be alright because of heaven or something.” It is only the empty, sheer weight of loss in its purest form.

Now if Kozelek were to just pound us with thoughts about death this album would be a helluva drag without also being, at the same time, a beautiful picture of hope for finding human beauty in the midst of agony. Hence, Benji has to talk about something other than just death. It does this much in the same way we human beings find a way to talk about death: we talk about all the nothing that isn’t the something we’re afraid of. Yet, Benji also captures how when we talk about this “nothing” we are always talking about the “something.” Hence, when Sun Kil Moon writes a song about sex, well…

Oh the complicated mess of sex and love.When you give that first stinger you’re the one who gets stung. And when you lose control and how good it feels to cum. And when you’re panting like a dog getting into someone.

Oh rejection how it hurts so much, when you can’t love the one you’ve been longing to touch. And they’re on to something else and it don’t feel right. And you wonder are they cumming together all night.

The nature of attraction cycles on and on. And nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. Our early life shapes the types to whom we are drawn. It’s a complicated place, this planet we’re on.

Sex is not exempt from thought of the end, but even in this song you’re forced to realize that sex has never been outside of this subject. We’ve always been trying to fight death with fucking. Part of this impulse is that we’re following pleasure to something of a higher order, something that transcends the ‘we’re all gonna die’ aspect of existence. The other part of it is that remnant of very Pagan thought we’ve never quite jettisoned from the modern world — that seemingly religious impulse that drives us to reproduce in order to be immortal. Both are in this album, without comment. Just there, like all of us.

I said above that this album doesn’t give a damn that you have to sift through it. Still, just by doing the minimal amount of sifting (listening to it with half a brain more than one time) you’ll find an obvious connection in the first five tracks — people are always dying from accidents involving Aerosol cans.

Somehow people in the orbit of Benji are more often than not victims of fiery explosions. Carissa dies from an Aerosol can in the trash. Kozelek’s Uncle from “Truck Driver” throws a can of spray paint in the fire and meets an eerily similar end. Funny thing is, you can almost hear Kozelek trying to resist the most human impulse there is: to assume that there is some connection between the two deaths.

Carissa burned to death last night in a freak accident fire
In her yard in Brewster her daughter came home from a party and found her

Same way as my uncle who was her grandfather
An aerosol can blew up in the trash, goddamn what were the odds?

And this is the most fundamental terror of death for human beings. It is not the simple fact that death happens that terrifies us. We all knew these were the rules of the game once we began to play for real. The real terror is that two deaths that seem to be cosmically or supernaturally or transcendentally connected are not actually connected at all. 

They are just deaths. They happen. And that’s it.

Nowhere is this message more apparent than on “Jim Wise,” arguably the most gutwrenching song on the entire album. Jim Wise smothered his dying wife in an apparent mercy killing then went to kill himself. The gun jams and he doesn’t die. Hence, Kozelek and his Dad end up visiting Jim on house arrest and awaiting trail for Murder when he should in fact be dead and with his wife (if that’s even a thing for Kozelek).

One of the final stanzas goes like this…

Jim Wise killed his wife out of love for her at her bedside.
And then he put the gun to his head but he failed at suicide.
His trial’s coming up in the fall and he sighed when we stepped out and we left.
And I pointed out the pretty cardinal perched on the empty birdbath.

The bright red cardinal, the empty birdbath.
Spent today with my dad and his friend Jim Wise

I assume you felt the same way I did the first time I read/heard these lyrics.


Just throwing a random bird image into a song isn’t what makes this track brilliant.

I think Kozelek letting you into his noticing the cardinal is brilliant.

You see, what you don’t hear in this stanza is a plea for meaning. Sun Kil Moon is NOT trying to make the cardinal a god that is watching over us and making everything turn out ok.

But you don’t hear a condemnation of all meaning either.

What you hear is the utter brilliance of this album — it’s ability to name the unstoppable search within the human condition for any meaning whatsoever.

You see, Kozelek may come off as a bit of a humanist or a nihilist or the furthest thing from a ‘religious person’ you can find. But, in reality, Benji is not an album about the nothingness that is human existence.

It’s about the fact that we can’t not keep searching for something to hold on to, even in the face of Carissa raising two kids and taking out her trash and dying, just like that.

Go listen to this album. You’ll be glad you did.