Chief Justice John Roberts: “Campaigning for Office Is Not a Game”

End game, throw the game, ground game, all new game:  These are a few of the metaphors being used to describe this election.

In Jeffry Toobin’s new book, The Oath, about the U.S. Supreme Court and its recent decisions, Chief Justice John Roberts is quoted in  the chapter entitled, Democracy Is Not A Game as follows:

“Leveling the playing field’ can sound like a good thing,”  the chief justice wrote for the majority decision. “But in a democracy, campaigning for office is not a game.  It is a critically important form of speech.  The First Amendment embodies our choice as a Nation that, when it comes to such speech, the guiding principle is freedom–the ‘unfettered interchange of ideas’–not whatever the State may view as fair.”  The court stated that an Arizona law was a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Toobin: “This case concerned the constitutionality of The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, which had been passed by the voters in 1998, to address the state’s appalling history of political corruption. This fairly modest reform established a system of optional public funding of campaigns for certain state offices.  A candidate who chose to accept public funding would receive extra money from the state if his or her privately funded opponent exceeded a certain set spending limit.  The basic idea was simple: to keep elections competitive if a privately funded candidate was vastly out spending a publicly funded one.  The question in the case was whether the First Amemdment permitted the government subsidies.”

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court used two sports idioms in this comment:  level playing field, which other justices had used, and “campaigning for office is not a game.”  Idiomatic terms such as level playing field and a game are pervasive in American English.


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