A&M to host Texas Supreme Court
Justices to hear oral arguments for two cases Nov. 7
Published: Sunday, October 27, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 27, 2013 22:10
Texas A&M will host the Texas Supreme Court on Nov. 7 in Rudder Theatre as the court hears oral arguments from two cases.
Nancy Sawtelle, director of public relations for the Provost’s Office, said the event will be a good chance for all students, especially those considering law school, to see how the court operates.
“We get an opportunity to see how important things work,” Sawtelle said. “All these things are important things to know about living in a democracy. For those students who are pre-law, they get to have a chance to see lawyers in action. These are real proceedings. It’s not what like you see on television, it’s the real thing.”
The Texas Legislature passed a provision that allows the court to travel to venues outside of Austin to hear cases in the interest of educating the public in the workings of the Texas judicial system. While these trips were formerly funded by the state, budget cuts limit the amount of times the court leaves the capitol.
“They go out about twice a year, no more than twice a year,” said Osler McCarthy, staff attorney and public information officer for the court. “Formerly, they had money from the legislature to hear cases outside of Austin. But in 2003, the legislature cut all that money due to hard times. Now we only go places where they are willing to pay for the expenses.”
One of these cases, “In re John Doe,” deals with potential constitutional limits on freedom of speech.
Rule 202 in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure allows parties to request that the court allow them to start discovery, the process of finding out information necessary for the preparation of a case, before bringing a lawsuit. This process allows for potential litigants to see if a lawsuit is a viable option, but is restricted to prevent abuse of the provision.
In John Doe, the Reynolds and Reynolds Co. sought the identity of an anonymous blogger, “Trooper,” who was posting potentially defamatory comments, and who Robert T. Brockman, chairman and CEO of the Reynolds and Reynolds Company, believed was an employee of the company. The pre-suit discovery was for Brockman to determine if the company could bring a claim against Doe. The issue is whether Reynolds can obtain a 202 discovery to demand that Google reveal the identity of the blogger.
“As an anonymous blogger, there are ostensibly constitutional protections, because the First Amendment protects anonymous speech,” McCarthy said. “Then, more arcane, is whether Harris County Court even has jurisdiction over the case. So some interesting issues here are constitutionally protected free speech, whether the company can use the court to reveal the identity of the anonymous speaker, because the company needs someone to sue. If anonymous speech can be protected, can the speaker’s anonymity be protected? It’s larger than one case.”
Political science professor Harvey Tucker said that at the heart of this case is the constant need for law to catch up with advancement in technology.
“Here’s the reality — we have technology that has outpaced written law,” Tucker said. “So the law has to catch up. The way the law catches up is by people raising these really difficult issues and the court makes a decision.”
While both cases will be heard by the Court, oral arguments are not a traditional trial. In these proceedings, a lawyer from both parties will make the best argument for their client. During their argument, the nine justices will ask questions as to why the Court should rule in their favor over their opponents.
“View it as an oral test,” Tucker said. “What the justices are trying to do is get to the heart of the case, and get information they are going to use for their decision.”
Brenton Cooper, junior economics major, said his interest lies in the potential constitutional repercussions of the blogger case, especially how it relates to changing technology’s impact on the legal world.
“I’m particularly interested in the First Amendment case, because it’s always interesting to answer these kinds of constitutional questions,” Cooper said. “Obviously when the Texas Constitution was written, there was no such thing such as blogging or the Internet. We live in a world that has been so changed by technology. It’s fascinating to see how the court will takes these technology-based questions, and how they will apply constitutional principles to the world that we live in.”
The visit, sponsored by the Provost’s Office, will run from 9 a.m. to noon, and is free to the public, although limited seating requires tickets be obtained from the MSC Box Office beforehand.