Monday, June 27, 2005

More Supreme Court Decisions
The Supreme Court has been busy lately. There's a couple of rulings that I wanted to write about.

Kelo v. New London
This was a pretty outrageous decision. It's amazing that the liberals of the Court would rule in favor of allowing large companies to claim property from low income residents all in the name of commerce. This case definitely has really pushed me away from the Democratic Party. I usually think that Democrats can make some stupid decisions because they try too hard to do the right thing. Minimum wage is a good example. They want to help more low-income people, so they go with a law that would seem to do that (though it actually does not.) However, the liberal Justices on the Court are definitely not like this. They are willing to increase government power just for its own sake, even if it hurts average people, like the residents in New London, and helps big business.
Personally I am generally opposed to imminent domain. It is never necessary in my opinion, so that even when it might be justifiable (building a road, canal, whatever) it is still not the best option. I could still live with it for public usage, like roads, etc. even though it is still very prone to corruption. I grew up in northwest Florida, and there is an old story there about why Interstate 10 does not go through the cities on the coast, Panama City, Destin, Ft. Walton Beach, etc. Instead it goes through very rural areas some 30+ miles north of the cities where all the population lives. This would seem like a poor design. Supposedly this was caused by Earl Hutto. He was northwest Florida's Representative in the House when Interstate 10 was built. Supposedly the original design was for I-10 to go southwest from Tallahassee and then along the coast where all the cities were. Hutto got it changed so it went through thousands of acres of rural land to the north instead. His reason? He owned the land in question and got double its market value courtesy of imminent domain.
All that being said, I can still understand imminent domain being used for things like an interstate. I cannot understand it being used to transfer land into private hands, such as in New London. I do not think The Constitution gives the government the right to transfer private property from an unwilling owner to another private interest. That totally seems like a Nazi Germany type of policy.

MGM Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.
This one just came in today. It was also somewhat surprising, as much for the decision as for the unanimity of the decision. It seemed the court really stressed on Grokster's advertising model as much as its business model. MGM was suing because of what people did with Grokster's software. The Court was concerned over how Grokster advertised their software. They did not seem to address the capabilities of the software. It was these capabilities that caused MGM to sue. Basically The Court stressed intent over action. To me, this really violates the Rule of Law. It would seem to suggest that somebody could produce identical software to what Grokster made, advertise it differently, and not be held to the same standard as Grokster. What makes it even more dumbfounding is that this was a unanimous decision. It's amazing that everyone on The Court would agree to this kind of duplicity and implicit violate of the Rule of Law. One can understand grade school children being anxious for summer, but The Supreme Court?
Seriously, this decision while somewhat shallow on the surface, is still likely to embolden a lot more legal action against software makers. As a software maker myself, the idea that I could be held legally responsible for anything done using my software is pretty scary. This decision does not state that -- The Justices were not willing to tackle that broader question, but chose to patronize the public by concentrating on Grokster's advertising. Still, the decision would only seem to encourage such a tactic, whether its by an industry trying to protect itself from a disruptive technology (such as MGM) or by parents of juvenile delinquents who happen to be fans of violent video games. We all know that in this country, just the threat of lawsuit is often enough to discourage people. There's going to be a whole lot more discouragement and in turn, a whole let less innovation because of this ruling, even it is eventually weakened when the broader issues are (finally) addressed by The Court.

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