Well, like it or not, checks and balances are here to stay, for now.

A rash of close decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court is driving home the significance of the judiciary as President Bush continues to flounder in his last two years in office and Congress fails to gain any traction (or public support), despite its overhaul after the 2006 elections.

Much of our society — a woman’s ability to exercise the same rights as a man, the balance between free enterprise and opportunity for labor, freedom of speech, to name just a small slice — hangs on the precipice between this court’s conservative majority and its more liberal minority. But those who bemoan the court’s new makeup as just another cog in the machine of a vast right-wing conspiracy miss the point.

The strength of the judiciary as an independent body has never been more clear. As concerning as some recent decisions have been, the Supreme Court continues to prove that the constitution is a living document, even if some of those conservative justices might argue otherwise.

This is the ebb and flow of our democracy. Perhaps one day soon enough we will elect a congress, a president, and state governments capable enough to govern effectively. Perhaps one day we will be able to turn on C-SPAN and watch rousing debates free of political machinations, debates that inspire, debates that the populace actually wants to switch off “American Idol” to watch. Perhaps one day voting for our leaders will electrify the public more than voting for our favorite pop star, and the decisions those leaders make will not be second-guessed in the courtroom. Until that day, however, we must take the good with the bad and welcome the fact that we can still second-guess in this country.

Still, even some Supreme Court cases are worth second-guessing. As Independence Day approaches, we should be particularly concerned about the “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” Case. On June 25, the court ruled in a 6-3 margin that a principal in Alaska did not violate Joseph Frederick’s rights when she suspended him for 10 days for displaying the banner at a school event welcoming the Olympic Torch as it passed through Juneau in 2002. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the principal was not liable for violating Frederick’s free speech rights because it was reasonable to act to decide the banner promoted illegal drug use and that schools had the right to limit expression that contribute to “the dangers of illegal drug use.”

It is troubling to assume that at their most formative years students shouldn’t be granted the same rights they will be afforded as adults, particularly when they are expected to learn about and cherish those rights in school.

Yes, illegal drug use carries serious dangers, but speaking about dangerous actions cannot be considered a punishable offense, even among children.

On July 4, 231 years ago, what more dangerous expression was there than to declare independence from an empire and launch a war to establish a new country?