Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Supreme Court of SJP

By Anhar Farag (North Bergen, NJ)

We entered the court room as nine simple students participating in SJP’s annual law and journalism seminar, when all of a sudden we turned into the nine Supreme Court justices. And as justices, we had to make the same difficult decisions that they make on a daily basis. There was a twist, however, between our nine members and the real nine, in that we seemed to show our audience quite publicly that we did not agree with each other during oral argument.

This week the Supreme Court of SJP entertained argument in two cases. The first was a rehearing of New York Times v. Sullivan. Just as the Court had in the 1954, the majority this week concluded the “actual malice” standard must be met if a claim of defamation or libel is to succeed. There would be no money for Sullivan from our Court. Although some of the justices made it very clear by hugging the losing side that they did not agree with the majority’s decision, you could tell that everyone’s mind was stimulated.

The next case, Branzburg v. Hayes, was more difficult and left our bench of justices quite confused. When we were faced with the difficult question of when a journalist can be compelled to reveal her secret source, and whether that journalist could be arrested for refusing to do so, the new justices were completely lost. No one seemed to know what side to take.

Much like the real Supreme Court in 1972, we broke down 4-4, with one vote left undecided. Our Anthony Kennedy (a.k.a. Anhar Farag) had to break the tie. My heart said one thing, but my journalistic instincts were too strong to ignore. It would be nice to have the drug dealers prosecuted and convicted for their crimes, but was it worth sacrificing the ethics of journalism? Justice Kennedy didn’t think so!

In the end, the Court ruled in favour of journalism—and in the process nine students (along with our student-lawyers and student gallery members) gained a better understanding of the role of the courts under the First Amendment.

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