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Saturday, January 18, 2014

What courts do

Years ago I served on a criminal jury in federal court. Evidence at trial strongly indicated that the defendant was a big-time drug dealer. He had attempted to board an international flight at RDU while carrying $67,000 in cash without filing the required declaration. Unfortunately the police had seriously erred in how they arrested him. As a result there was no conviction, an outcome in which I concurred despite my lack of sympathy for him.

This week's news that a federal appellate court struck down "net neutrality" reminds me of my jury duty. Courts are not in the business of deciding what is good policy and what is bad. That's the role of our elected legislators, governors, and presidents. Rather, the role of the courts is to figure out -- as best they can -- what the law says, how to resolve conflicting or ambiguous law, and how the law is to be applied consistently. The court did not rule that net neutrality is inherently bad (or good); it merely determined that the process used by the FCC to adopt a policy on net neutrality did not conform to relevant law. This comes as no surprise to people in the telecom sector. From the outset there were doubts about the process used by the FCC in this instance.

The appellate court did exactly what a court is supposed to. If one supports net neutrality, and I do, the outcome is disappointing but there is no ground to accuse the court of error. You can read the lengthy opinion, which was written by a politically liberal Carter appointee.