News | Sharron Angle

From Tyler Clementi's Suicide, A Test For The Tea Party

Teapartypic

Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and other high profile Tea Party politicos often describe themselves as constitutional constructionists. That is, they favor a strict reading of our Founding Fathers' intentions, and our laws, state or otherwise, must reflect those ideals. Tyler Clementi and other cyber-bullying targets' suicides raises serious questions about the Tea Party's static perspective.

Dharum Ravi and Molly Wei, the two students accused of broadcasting Clementi's sexual encounter, thus sparking his suicide, are charged with invasion of privacy. As prosecutors work out the sordid and virtual details, however, the charges may be changed to include a possible bias, thus upping a potential sentence.

Regardless of how prosecutors proceed, the circumstances illustrate how common laws aren't always equipped for our evolving culture.

"What should the punishment be for acts like cyberbullying and online humiliation?" asked the New York Times' Joshua Schwartz over the weekend:


That question is as difficult to answer as how to integrate our values with all the things in our lives made of bits, balancing a right to privacy with the urge to text, tweet, stream and post.

And the outcry over proper punishment is also part of the continuing debate about how to handle personal responsibility and freedom. Just how culpable is an online bully in someone’s decision to end a life?

New Jersey and other states' laws have never dealt with something of this nature, and there will no doubt be challenges in the future, as the Internet and virtual antagonism reach new heights. This creates a problem for those who believe the Constitution, and by extension our nation's laws, should remain rooted in the past.

Our nation has grown tremendously since its revolutionary founding, and it will only continue to grow. Our laws and reading of the Constitution need to grow with it.

But there's no easy answer to how far our laws and reading of the Constitution need to expand, because where do you draw the line? The Supreme Court will help answer that question today, when it hears the free speech-related case against the Westboro Baptist Church.

Our nation, however, will consistently struggle with these questions, and that includes Tea Party candidates, who are going to have to explain how they balance a changing world and age old legal interpretations.

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Comments

  1. The strict constructionist logic is inherently flawed -- they insist on a "strict" interpretation of the US Constitution, yet nowhere in that Constitution is their idea of "strict construction" mandated. (And who can read the minds of men dead for two centuries as far as divining their intent? Answer: only the strict constructionists. How convenient.)

    It's also a curious phenomenon that constitutional strict constructionists often spout the same gibberish about the Bible -- it must be followed literally. Yet you never see them plucking out their own eyes as mandated by the Old Testament.

    Posted by: Will | Oct 4, 2010 10:10:02 AM


  2. I've found that most people, both left and right, have no real understanding of how the constitution works.

    Posted by: joe | Oct 4, 2010 10:10:13 AM


  3. @Will: True. But those with the most inaccurate understanding are usually those most loudly claiming that they're absolutely right about it.

    Posted by: Dxx | Oct 4, 2010 10:22:18 AM


  4. @DXX Just like religion!

    Posted by: Alexander | Oct 4, 2010 10:26:42 AM


  5. This is good journalism. I never would've linked Westboro Baptist, Tea Party supporters and the recent spate of gay teen suicides, but this article does a fine job.

    Keep up the good work!

    Posted by: Timotito | Oct 4, 2010 10:32:44 AM


  6. Im not sure what the Clementi case has to do with the constitution and/or those who favor its strict interpretation. Privacy is in no way a right gauranteed in the constituion. It is only through president long set by the supreme court that any of us have the ability to claim a RIGHT to privacy. Those who wish to adhere strictly to the constitution seem set on protecting individual liberties and rights, including the right for Tyler Clementi to be protected from groups or individuals set on invading his privacy.

    Posted by: AUSTIEK | Oct 4, 2010 10:50:46 AM


  7. You're overreaching a bit here. You write, "Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and other high profile Tea Party politicos often describe themselves as constitutional constructionists. That is, they favor a strict reading of our Founding Fathers' intentions, and our laws, state or otherwise, must reflect those ideals."

    The Tea Party is obsessed with the expansion of the federal government beyond the purported limits of the federal constitution. The New Jersey laws discussed in the article, in theory, should be fine with them.

    Posted by: Brian | Oct 4, 2010 10:55:56 AM


  8. To Brian and Austiek, I suppose I'm concerned less about the Constitution specifically, and more about the idea/concept that laws/edits should remain unchanged. It's clear our laws need to evolve as our culture does, so where does the "strict reading" of laws fit in there?

    Posted by: Andrew Belonsky | Oct 4, 2010 11:00:38 AM


  9. Seeing that many of the Founding Fathers not only supported slavery, they owned slaves. So I don't hold it with any kind of literal regard anymore than I do the Bible, blacks being 2/3 of whites, or the Declaration Of Independence which starts with the great lie 'all men are created equal'. Really?

    Tell that to blacks, gays, jews or any people of color. Then there are women, who don't even get a mention. This world and our country is run by rich powerful white men, who want to keep it that way at any cost. Last week the cost was five young gay kids.

    Posted by: patrick nyc | Oct 4, 2010 11:06:35 AM


  10. I'm not sure I see any connection between the Tea Party agenda and the Tyler Clementi incident. I'm sure this boy's suicide would not even register on most Tea Partier's radars.

    Posted by: John | Oct 4, 2010 12:18:57 PM


  11. Yeah - this is an odd connection. The only issue Tea Parties would have with anything about this case is that it is not a hate crime. If you look at the whole story, the roommmate, although stupid and rude, didn't make any homophobic comments about anything. He actually posed that he was happy that his roommate was hooking up.

    I know a lot of people who read this blog hate Conservatives, but this is a huge stretch. And, I did see both Hannity and O'Reilly do a segment on this suicide, both being very respectful about it. I don't really see this suicide as a gay issue - it is basically a "bullying" issue...bullying on a kid who happened to be gay.

    Posted by: BC | Oct 4, 2010 12:59:34 PM


  12. Count me among those who would love to connect these issues but really cannot.

    Posted by: Paul R | Oct 4, 2010 1:10:46 PM


  13. Not sure I see what this has to do with the Tea Party.

    Posted by: bklynbryan | Oct 4, 2010 1:16:42 PM


  14. This article is a big stretch. I see zero connection between poor Tyler's suicide and the tea party, or so-called cyber-bullying and the tea party. Somebody is seeing teabaggers under their bed and in their soup.

    Sad to see the political exploitation of Tyler's suicide (a personal tragedy more than anything else) is on over-drive. People are shameless. Where the F were all these mourners when the kid was alive? It's become like a social 'in' thing to do, show up at one more candle light vigil and cry. A lot of these people probably wouldn't have given this dude the time of day before his suicide.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Oct 4, 2010 1:35:53 PM


  15. Well it could be argued that the Founding Fathers for this nation never 'intended' women to vote, because in that era women (unless you were royal) didn't have those rights (or almost any rights). If they had intended women to vote why didn't they right that specifically into the Constitution? I don't think the Tea Party means that. I think they mean "We're 'enlightened' so we're right, and everyone else is wrong". Just like the Mormons are right in saying that Jesus (or the Bible) intended them (men) to have as many spouses as they want, but obviously not women, because why would a woman need more than one husband?

    Posted by: SFRowGuy | Oct 4, 2010 1:37:30 PM


  16. I am perplexed by the claim that common law is not applicable to today's culture especially since common law is such that it evolves to take new circumstances into account.
    Common law forbade involuntary voyeurism as a form of tresspass. Using technology to accomplish the same goal would still be forbidden.

    Constitutional law is still applicable as well since it merely defines the powers of government, not the wide range of rights that people have, which the Founders believed, predate the Constitution and all government. Since Constitutional law defines the prime role of government as protecting the life, liberty and property of individuals then laws restricting cyber-spying would be covered.

    So the idea that either common law or constitutional law can't deal with modern circumstances is wrong.

    Posted by: cls | Oct 4, 2010 2:26:26 PM


  17. President Abraham Lincoln, founder of the Republican Party (not todays misrepresentation of the Republican Party) and a hero of the Tea Party stated so elequently....

    "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

    Apparently the Tea Party doesn't really care much about history, only their own bigotry.

    Posted by: CB | Oct 4, 2010 5:42:42 PM


  18. About the only connection is that Ravi and Wei's parents were immigrants, otherwise, I don't see any votes changing for or against the Tea Party candidates (who are all running as Republicans anyway) based on anything we know about this suicide. NJ can change it's laws without the need for federal judge intervention anyway.

    Posted by: anon | Oct 4, 2010 6:16:23 PM


  19. If the founders had been true strict constructionists they'd never have provided for courts or a process for amending the rules. It's just not a plausible interpretive philosophy.

    Posted by: justiceontherocks | Oct 4, 2010 9:09:32 PM


  20. @JUSTICEONTHEROCKS: That's such a good point: if constructionist reading of the Constitution were appropriate, why would it's authors have written an amendment procedure into it?

    This argument demonstrates that teabaggers believe that the Founding Fathers were the same kind of narrow-minded arrogant fools they are. Thank God Jefferson & Co had enough sense to know that times and people change; that political ideas evolve; that societies' attitudes, needs and mores develop over time.

    Amazing the idiocy of these people who evidently do not even realize that they themselves don't think and feel the same way they did 20, 10, even 5 years ago. What colossal stupidity.

    Posted by: Danny | Oct 5, 2010 1:14:28 PM


  21. Just like the Bible the Constitution serves the teabagger's interests. I take no interest in that behavior.

    Posted by: Jeff Dunivant | Oct 10, 2010 5:30:50 AM


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