U.S. Supreme Court Fails Florida on Freedom
Harry E. Vanden and Steven Tauber are both professors in USF’s Department of Government and International Affairs. Vanden was the founding director of USF’s Institute for Caribbean and Latin American Studies, so by the very nature of their work studying Cuba is very important to understanding the region. But not since 2006, has any Florida public university professor or student been able to travel to Cuba under a state ban. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to review the law, letting a lower court ruling stand. So while the U.S. government has eased travel restrictions to Cuba, those trying to study the island nation will not be able to see it for themselves.
In response, Vanden and Tauber write:
Freedom to travel. Freedom to learn, Freedom to experience a very different country and culture and study it. NO, not in Florida.
That is what the U.S. Supreme court left Florida public universities and colleges with when it declined to grant certiorari for a controversial appeals court decision that overthrew a Florida’s judge’s ruling that a very politicized and highly controversial Florida law that prohibits any university or state monies from being used to travel to or from Cuba, do research there or even bring Cuban scholars to the U.S. It was pushed through the Florida legislature in 2006 by a very narrowly focused group of Cuban-American right wingers who wanted to stop all travel and interaction with Cuba. It would continue and intensify the highly unsuccessful U. S. Cuban embargo policy (all the rest of the countries in the hemisphere have long since abandoned it.) Thus professors and students cannot use state monies or even the proceeds from outside grants run through their institutions to travel, research or even take students to Cuba to see what the island is really like. This is most unfortunate and leaves Florida and its citizens behind the rest of the country and our counterparts in Canada, Mexico, the rest of the Latin America and the Caribbean and Europe, China, and India. They can and do travel there, study there, send their students there, learn how the island really is and works, improve their Spanish and give the Cubans ample contacts with those outside their island and very different sources of information from that supplied by the state run media.
Florida may be stuck with the appeals court ruling for some time. The certiorari process is the way in which Supreme Court justices prioritize which cases they will hear in an upcoming term. Of the 8,000 to 10,000 cases appealed to the Supreme Court each year, the Court only has the time and resources to hear about 80 to 100 cases; therefore only one percent of certiorari petitions are granted each year and 99 percent are denied. Generally, cases that the justices believe to be especially salient or cases in which there are conflicting opinions in different U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are most likely to be granted cert. It takes a vote of four justices to grant certiorari, although in most cases, as in this one, the opinion to deny certiorari was unanimous. Moreover, as is often the case, the justices have not offered an opinion explaining their reasoning for this particular denial of certiorari.
It is, however, important to note that a denial of certiorari in one year does not necessary mean the end of the issue. In subsequent years there could be a conflict on this question, or this issue could rise in prominence and the Court may decide to grant cert on the legality of states banning public money from being used for academic research in certain nations. But for now we must abide by this decision.
Previously I (Vanden) took students to Cuba three times and allowed them the opportunity to see how the island, culture and Communist government were. They visited the important sites, interacted with fellow students and professors, and most of all, constantly used their free time to go off on their own and visit family or friends, or just ordinary people they met along the way or in their nocturnal forays into Cuban society. The USF programs even took many students, business people and active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were connected to the university, all of whom learned a great deal from ordinary Cubans and gave a multitude of the residents of the island the opportunity to learn about them, our country and state directly from Floridians—uncensored and unvarnished.