Alexander Solzhenitsyn has described "legalism" as that horrible moment in a decadent culture when the law becomes the means of promoting injustice instead of justice.
And in case you haven't noticed, we've arrived.
The San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has strangely shifting views on freedom of expression. It seems to depend on who expresses what.
In 1999, for example, the court declared "virtual" child pornography a "right." "The First Amendment," it said, "prohibits Congress from enacting a statute that makes criminal the generation of fictitious children engaged in imaginary but explicit sexual conduct."
Last October, however, the court took a far more cramped view of free speech. The murder conviction of Mathew Musladin must be thrown out, it ruled, because the victim's family sat in the front row of the trial, wearing buttons depicting nothing more than the victim's photograph.
This mute expression, the judges ruled, may have prejudiced the jury and thus violated Musladin's right to a fair trial. In October, the Supreme Court will hear an appeal.
Read the rest of Terence Jeffrey's column here.