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Skidmore College

'Bong hits' and judicial truth focus of Oregon scholar

October 22, 2013
James Foster

Oregon State University political scientist James C. Foster will analyze a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding students’ right to free speech when he lectures Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Skidmore.

“Up in Smoke: Revisiting Kafka, Kurosawa, and Frank on the Elusive, Exclusive Character of Judicial Truth via Joe Frederick’s Story,” begins at 8 p.m. in Davis Auditorium, Palamountain Hall. Foster’s lecture will explore aspects of Morse v. Frederick, the 2007 Supreme Court case more commonly known as the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, and what he calls the “elusive” nature of judicial truth.

Foster summarized the case. “David Crosby was Juneau-Douglas High School Principal Deborah Morse’s attorney.  While deposing Joe Frederick, Crosby asked him, ‘Did you make it up on the spur of the moment?’  ‘Yes,’ Joe replied.  The ‘it’ to which lawyer Crosby was referring, of course, is the notoriously ambiguous phrase at the core of the ‘perfect constitutional storm in Alaska’s capital,’ namely: BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.  The ambiguity of Joe’s provocation evokes the elusive nature of judicial truth.  One might say that, from beginning to end, Joe’s story is fraught with obscurity.  Joe’s story also is laden with missed opportunities.” 

bong hits poster

Continued Foster, “In my talk I want to discuss aspects of the judicial process that unfolded subsequent to Joe Frederick’s suspension and banishment on Jan. 24, 2002.  I’ll be employing the BONG HiTS court saga as a case study—a window of sorts—into the ways that litigating defeats truth, while also limiting pursuit of alternative paths to resolving disputes.  Along the way, I’ll be drawing on the insights of a Bohemian novelist, a Japanese filmmaker, and an American jurist.  The through line linking these three with Joe’s story is their shared understanding of the inherent, two-fold constraints of courts.  Judicial truth is elusive.  Judicial process precludes dialogue.  The upshot is that all parties are left feeling, as David Crosby described his wounded client, “snake bit.”

Foster is professor of political science at OSU-Cascades Campus. Before coming to Bend, he chaired the Department of Political Science for 12 years on the Corvallis campus. He regularly teaches courses on constitutional law, administrative law, gender and law, and American political thought. He has published articles on legal education, book chapters on affirmative action and equality debates, as well as on the Oregon Judicial Branch. He is co-editor of the book Governing Through Courts and co-author of the two-volume Constitutional Law: Cases in Context. He was book review editor of Legal Studies Forum for 10 years, and has served as president of the Pacific Coast Association of Pre-law Studies and the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association.

The talk is part of a three-day visit by Foster, who was invited by Helen Knowles, visiting assistant professor of government at Skidmore.

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