|James "Bud" McCardle, a thrice-divorced, unemployed father of 11, rejoices at the news of the Supreme Court's decision. Boone County Judge Ernest G. Tubbs had previously ruled that McCardle was a non-sentient being.|
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP)--In a victory for advocates of states' rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday that Tennessee citizens are sentient beings with a capacity to make certain decisions for themselves.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing the Court's majority opinion, stated that, "The absence of higher forms of cognitive thinking skills on a statewide level does not preclude the application of the individual liberties guaranteed in the First Amendment to the residents of that state, no matter how strong the evidence is toward their collective lack of intelligence."
The landmark decision, which experts say will forever alter the definition of a living organism south of the Mason-Dixon line, is based on the highly controversial McCardle v. Bratton case. In 1993, Boone, TN resident James "Bud" McCardle, a thrice-divorced, unemployed father of 11, was declared a "non-sentient being" by a Boone County judge after leaving his 2-year-old daughter in a car for eight hours while he attended an all-day NASCAR funny car time trial.
In his decision, Boone County Judge Ernest G. Tubbs defined sentience as "the ability to perform certain basic functions, such as feeding oneself and avoiding falling off bridges," a definition McCardle failed to pass. McCardle was one of several thousand gap-toothed Tennesseeans arrested that year for a "profound and utter lack of brains," sparking a nationwide debate over the collective sentience of the state of Tennessee.
Among the evidence cited to demonstrate the non-sentience of Tennessee: Opryland USA and Dollywood theme parks; its extreme proximity to similar cultural backwaters Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia; and the state's dead-last ranking among U.S. states in citizens-to-books ratio (70,000:1).
Argued Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her statement yesterday: "Mr. McCardle and the other countless Tennesseeans who exhibit no sign of cerebral activity are sentient solely by virtue of the blood flow to the brain, regardless of the frequency and quality of activity with which the said brain happens to be engaged."
O'Connor did qualify her remarks, adding: "Exceptions to this rule are the many Tennesseeans who continue to argue against evolution theory and its place in the state's public schools, despite its firmly established place among the natural sciences for more than 150 years."
Four members of the Court, led by Justice David Souter, dissented from the majority. Referring to the legal tenet of "implicit non-applicability," Souter noted that, "The Founding Fathers clearly never intended the Bill of Rights to be applied to the chromosomal dumpsite that is the Volunteer State."
Dana Hughes of the American Civil Liberties Union lauded today's
as "a recognition that government officials must not be allowed to
encroach on family matters, even families of profoundly stupid Southern
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