Monday, October 8, 2012

Supreme Court outlaws capital campaigns as “cruel and unusual punishment”

Cruel and usual?

The highest court in the land has struck down capital campaigns across the US for being “cruel and unusual punishment”.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the capital fundraising campaigns violated the US Constitution’s Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said capital campaigns promote “needless suffering and pain that are out of proportion to the need” and “unlawfully deprived persons, namely alumni members, of life, liberty and property without due process”.

In its ruling, the court rejected arguments from the nation’s universities and hospitals that capital campaigns were necessary to ensure public order. “The law must balance the needs of the social organs of society, such as universities, with the rights of individuals to not suffer punishment that is degrading to human dignity,” the judgement said.

The case, Jones vs. The Bad Fundraisers, involved a disgruntled alumni member from an Ivey League university who objected to being asked for a donation 20 years in a row. Jones’ university and others who intervened in the case argued that the university had an unqualified right to send Jones solicitations for donations until the day he died and perhaps even after that if it could be made to work. It also argued that Jones was in fact an asshole. However, the Supreme Court ruled that Jones should not receive any further donation appeals from the university and outlawed the institution any additional capital campaigns.

Writing for the minority, Justice Scalia said that while capital campaigns were “major pains in the neck” and he gets “calls and letters from my alma maters all the damn time” that they were “mostly harmless and seldom cause any physical or emotional harm.”

Supreme Court watchers say the case hinged on whether receiving 250 donation solicitation  pieces a year from a university you attended 40 years ago was appropriate.

“The Court has concluded that charities who ask people for money actually have to have a shred of an excuse to do so, otherwise it is excessive,” said Dr. Dibble Brewer, a professor of fundraising law at the University of Southern North Dakota.

The reaction from the university and hospital fundraising sector was mixed. Many universities say that the decision will create a major hardship for them.

“The main reason we have graduates from our universities is so we can ask them for donations,” said Spooley Snidely, spokesman for the League of Big Honking Universities. “We’ll have to make changes in light of this decision, perhaps not allowing people to graduate until ten or twenty years after they finish their exams.”

For his part, lawyers for Jones say the litigant grew to miss the continual communications from his alma mater during the lengthy court case and wound up giving them a major donation. He will be featured on the cover of next month’s alumni magazine