Category Archives: Individual Rights

John Oliver Takes on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).

Gawker, the Freedom of Expression, and the Power of Consequences

free-speech-churchill

Is Gawker violating its writers’ rights if its chief executive editor de-publishes a controversial post?

What about if a company’s CEO is forced to step down in the face of a threatened boycott over the CEO’s political positions? Is an artist being “censored” if a comic book publisher cancels his covers and suspends him? Is it an unconstitutional “ban” on speech if Amazon and Walmart remove Confederate flag memorabilia from their offerings?

Across the web confusion abounds about what freedom of expression really means.

Most recently, in the messy wake of its sex-shaming post about a private citizen’s violation of Gawker’s neo-Victorian strictures on monogamy, founder and CEO Nick Denton (who pulled the post) had this to say to his editors:

What I can’t accept is an unlimited and subjective version of editorial freedom. It is not whatever an editor thinks it is; it is not a license to write anything; it is a privilege, protected by the constitution, and carrying with it responsibilities.

Literally, every part of that last bit is wrong.

The editorial autonomy of Gawker writers is not constitutional in nature. It is a license granted by their employer—i.e. Denton. Absent a binding contract, it can be revoked at any time without running afoul of anyone’s rights, and certainly not running afoul of anyone’s constitutional rights.

The constitutionally protected freedom that Gawker writers do have (as do we all) is not to publish at Gawker. The Constitution restricts the power of Congress, not the discretion of Nick Denton.

Nor is that constitutionally protected freedom a “privilege.” It is a right.

And it does not have to be exercised responsibly.

It vexes me when people who should know better get sloppy in their framing. Messy language leads to messy thinking and, in the process, dilutes effective defense of this crucial freedom.

Perhaps a libertarian(ish) review is in order.

“FREE SPEECH” V. FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Although routinely used in Supreme Court decisions, the words “free speech” do not appear in the Constitution. In my opinion, overuse of this terminology induces people to mistakenly believe their speech should always be costless and consequence-free.

That is not how it works.

Speech requires a forum, which must be paid for by someone.

In public forums paid for by taxpayers, “time, place and manner” restrictions may be imposed to keep things orderly. But content-based discrimination is not permitted. Even the Nazis get to express themselves.

In private forums, on the other hand, the property owner gets to decide what speech he is willing to host.

There is no “free speech” right to interrupt a Muslim prayer service at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral’s owner, which is the Episcopal Church, gets to decide what sort of speech occurs there. It doesn’t have to (but may if it wants) host Muslim-haters, atheists, rude people, or morons.

Similarly, bookstores are not required to carry every book printed just because the author claims a “free speech” right. The corner market does not have to sell every conceivable magazine. Art galleries do not have to make room for every painting. Radio stations do not have to play every song.

And Gawker does not have to publish every post. (I would totally make it publish this one.)

If a speaker wants his speech to be “free” in the sense of not having to pay for the forum, he must either utilize a public forum or find a private owner willing to host the content gratis. Luckily, in this day and age, there are lots of options for that.

Gawker is not one of them.

Like other private publishers and forum owners, it exercises its right to decline hosting or publishing content it dislikes. There’s a term for that right.

…Oh yeah. Freedom of speech.

FORCE VERSUS CONSEQUENCE

It is tempting to say that Brendan Eich was “forced” to resign from Mozilla over his position on same-sex marriage. That Richard Albuquerque was “forced” to pull his Batgirl cover variant. That TLC was “forced” to cancel the Duggars.

That Nick Denton was “forced” to pull the now infamous Gawker post.

It sounds more melodramatic and provocative to phrase it that way. But to the extent it’s semantically correct, this is not the kind of “force” that runs afoul of the freedom of expression.

Wrongful force is actual physical force used to prevent or punish speech or other forms of expression.

This includes all governmental interference, because government action by definition involves force. Even civil regulations (like fines) eventually end with puppy-killing SWAT teams. Of course force exercised by private actors, in the form of violent reprisals, also suppresses freedom and therefore should be resisted with the same passion.

Preventing forceful suppression of expression is a higher order principle. When triggered, that principle transcends issues about the content of the speech being defended.

Why?

Because speech is the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist.

It has the power to topple kings, eviscerate falsehoods, destroy paradigms, provoke thought, change minds and hearts, alter the course of history, and transform the world.

And it can do all that without shedding a drop of blood.

A weapon like that cannot be entrusted to the exclusive control of the few. Enlightened rulers using force to curtail speech have too often gotten it wrong. Power once ceded can rarely be retrieved, and battles not fought with words and ideas will be fought instead with violence and bloodshed.

We cannot retain the best of speech without protecting its worst. We cannot extract its power to do harm without diluting its power to do good.

EVERYTHING BUT FORCE IS FAIR GAME

That being said, everything short of physical force is fair game.

A Congressional communications director can be pressured into resigning (or fired) for making snarky comments about the President’s daughters. TLC and A&E can cancel their reality television lineup for any reason consistent with the contracts negotiated. Customers can boycott wedding photographers or bakers in retaliation for expression of disfavored opinions. Landlords can refuse to rent to people with Confederate flags in their rear windows. Employers can bypass applicants over their social media postings.

Firing. Boycotting. Refusing to hire. Pulling advertising. Cancelling subscriptions. Social media flame wars. De-publishing. Disassociating. Shaming.

All of these are fair game. All of these are themselves protected acts of expression.

They may make life unpleasant for the target. They may feel coercive or even deeply wounding.

They’re supposed to.

If speech didn’t have that power, we wouldn’t bother protecting it.

Deciding to refrain from speaking because such consequences are too unpleasant is not a response to force. It is a response to speech.

GAWKER IS GETTING SPOKEN TO, NOT SUPPRESSED

If Gawker were being threatened with forceful suppression of its speech, defending against that violation would be a higher order principle that transcended all others. Personal feelings about the content of the speech would be secondary.

But where no force is imposed or threatened, those secondary principles are the only ones at play. The whole point of the higher principle is to create a circle of freedom in which ideas, without limitation, can be explored and judged on the merits. If we never got around to the judging part, we would destroy the very reason for preserving the freedom.

Nothing happening at or to Gawker (in this specific case) poses any threat to anyone’s fundamental right to free expression. The writers are free to write. The owners of Gawker are free to choose what to publish. The editors are free to “fall on their poisoned pens” in protest. Advertisers are free to abstain. Readers are free to boycott.

None of this constitutes a violation of anyone’s freedom. It’s what freedom looks like.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

In the Wake of Obergefell v. Hodges: Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the Free Markets

Church of the Pilgrims, Washington DC

[Photo: Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian USA Church in Washington DC, via Wikimedia Commons.]

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that under the Fourteenth Amendment, states are required to license marriages between same-sex partners and to also recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. The topic of same-sex marriage is probably one of the most polarizing topics in modern-day America. Over the past several days I have seen dozens of people, both for and against same-sex marriage, acting hateful to one another, unfriending and/or blocking people on social media because they have different views, and just having a very nasty tone. But why? Why can’t we have a dialogue on the topic? Let’s face it. Obergefell is now the law of the land. The purpose of this post is to try to open that dialogue. So now that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, what comes next?

Gay Marriage

Contrary to what many may think, the Supreme Court did not create new law here. They did not legislate from the bench. The Supreme Court has a long history of recognizing marriage as a fundamental right and has held that the states cannot discriminate against consenting adults with regard to this fundamental right. The Supreme Court has held this time and time again. As Justice Kennedy noted in his majority opinion:

[T]he Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution.
In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95 (1987), which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause.

– Obergefell (slip op., at 11)

Furthermore, the right to marry is guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Anytime that a fundamental right is restricted to a group of people, the government bears the burden of proving that the law is necessary to meet a compelling government interest, that it is narrowly tailored to meet that interest, and that the means of implementing the law is the least restrictive means available. The Court found that there is no compelling government interest in denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry solely because of their sexual orientation. This is not creating new law. This is the Supreme Court telling the states that any law which restricts fundamental rights between consenting adults is unconstitutional.

Another argument that I often hear is that people think that this should be left up to the individual states to decide. That would be true under the Tenth Amendment. However, the Tenth Amendment only applies to powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret these laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. So the states’ rights argument doesn’t apply. Bans on same-sex marriage also violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This means that citizens who move to a new state are entitled to the same rights and privileges of citizens in the new state. The state cannot discriminate against them. Therefore, a marriage license that is valid in Massachusetts is also valid in Mississippi. A state cannot discriminate against people who move from other states.

This is not a legislative issue either. As Justice Kennedy stated:

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. Obergefell (slip op., at 24)

So even though the ideal process may be to go through the democratically elected legislature, this does not preclude one from raising the issue before the Court if his or her fundamental rights are abridged.

Therefore, the Supreme Court did not create a new law. They did not legislate from the bench. This is not a case of judicial activism run amok. Even if you do not agree with gay marriage, at least understand that the government cannot deprive others of fundamental rights that are given to the rest of us.

Religious Liberties

Rest assured that just because same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states, it does not mean that the government can discriminate against religious institutions. The government should not force any particular denomination, pastor, priest, or clergy to perform a same-sex wedding against their will. This would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

I don’t foresee this as much of an issue. Most gay people that I know would get married outside of the church anyway. But if a same-sex couple does want to get married in a particular denomination, their right to marry is not infringed by a pastor’s denial to perform the service. The same-sex couple is still free to seek out another pastor. If a Southern Baptist church does not want to perform the ceremony, the couple can go to an Episcopalian church. If a pastor with the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) declines to perform a ceremony based on his religious conviction, the couple can seek a pastor with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) willing to perform the ceremony.

Therefore, I don’t see this decision as an attack on our religious liberties. Every denomination should be able to exercise their faith and religion as they see fit under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. If you do agree with gay marriage, at least understand that the government cannot infringe on a clergy’s right to exercise his or her faith by declining to perform a same-sex marriage.

Free Markets

Okay. So now same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. How does this affect the markets and what does it mean for all of the bakers, florists, photographers, et. al who decline their services to same-sex couples? As a Christian AND a libertarian, I sometimes find myself at odds with…myself. Even if I disagree with something that goes against my convictions, it doesn’t give me the right to deprive another of their rights or hate on them for their choices. So I want to view this topic in two lights. How should this be handled with regard to the free markets and the courts? And how does this appear in the eyes of God?

Over the past several years, Christian wedding service providers, such as bakers, florists, and photographers, have declined to provide their services to same sex weddings. In Colorado, Masterpiece Cakeshop was sued for failing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex reception. Despite the owner’s willingness to serve homosexuals in his establishment, he believes that making the wedding cake means that he is participating in the union and it goes against his convictions. More recently, in Oregon, an administrative judge proposed that Sweet Cakes by Melissa pay a same sex couple $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage. Then of course, there was the New Mexico case where the NM State Supreme Court held that Elane Photography discriminated against a same-sex couple by refusing to record their wedding, despite their policy on welcoming gay couples for other services.

From a free market, libertarian position, I disagree with all of these decisions. In each of these cases, the business owner was willing to serve gay couples, but did not want to participate in the wedding ceremony. Businesses are rewarded or punished in the marketplace for their stances and services. If a customer doesn’t like their stance, s/he does not have to give them business. Let the markets dictate what happens to the business. I also understand the business point of view that their services are forms of expression. They should be protected from being forced to cave on their religious convictions. If they don’t want to express themselves in that manner, I don’t agree that they should be forced to. But does that mean that it’s the right decision?

As Christians, is this the way that we are to show our love to the world? In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that we are to first, love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and second, that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we decline these services to others, are we loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are we reflecting the love of Jesus as we are called to do? I don’t think so. Jesus never really hung out with the religious folks. He was always meeting with, preaching to, and loving on the fishermen, the taxcollectors, the prostitutes, the dregs of society. Jesus said that he didn’t come for the righteous or powerful, but to save those who are lost. When we refuse services to same-sex couples, are we drawing them closer to God, or are we just pushing them further away?

I think that it’s time that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Albert holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son, named Albert, and a black lab puppy, named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.

Donald Trump: Corporatist Bully (Re-post)

I originally wrote the following post in the very early days of the 2012 presidential campaign. At the time, Donald Trump was threatening to enter the race but decided not to do so. A little over four years later, Trump has decided to run in an already very crowded 2016 Republican primary. I have friends and family members who are intrigued (who ought to know better) with the Donald. The reason I decided to re-publish this post is to remind readers why a President Donald Trump would be no friend of limited government or liberty.

I do not like Donald Trump. I don’t dislike him because of his wealth; he probably earned most of his wealth honestly. Some dislike Trump because he is a self promoter. I don’t dislike Trump for this reason either. Many successful individuals are great at self promotion and developing a successful brand (a very good attribute to have to have a successful political campaign).

No, the reason I really dislike Donald Trump – even putting aside his becoming the new face of the Birther movement in recent weeks, his support of the auto bailouts, raising taxes, his anti-free trade proposal that would place a 25% tariff on all Chinese products, and his support for single payer universal healthcare – is quite simply that he is a corporatist bully.

For those who don’t quite understand the difference between a capitalist and a corporatist, I highly encourage you to read Brad’s post “Mercantilism, Fascism, Corporatism — And Capitalism.” This distinction is an important one. Donald Trump is the poster child for what many on the Left as a greedy capitalist; a caricature of everything that is wrong with capitalism as preached by the Ralph Naders and Michael Moores of the world.

But those of us who know better know that Donald Trump isn’t a capitalist at all but a corporatist. Trump doesn’t try to work within a framework of a free market as a true capitalist would, but like far too many businessmen, he uses his wealth and influence to encourage the government to work on his behalf to his advantage (and at the expense of anyone else who would dare get in his way).

In the early 1990’s, an elderly widow by the name of Vera Coking was in the way. Coking’s home that she had lived in for 30 years was on a plot of land that the Donald coveted. The Donald wanted the property so he could add a limousine parking area to one of his Atlantic City casinos. When Coking turned down his $1 million offer to buy the property, the Donald decided to enlist the help of his goons on the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Authority. In 1994, these government thugs filed a lawsuit to take Coking’s property for $251,000 and gave her 90 days to leave her property (if she were to stay beyond the 90 days, men in uniforms with guns would forcibly remove her from her home).

Fortunately, Coking’s case gained enough media publicity to gain the attention and help of The Institute for Justice (think a more libertarian ACLU with a focus on property rights). With the IJ’s help, Coking was able to keep her property. In 1998, a judge made a decision that turned out to be final finding that the Donald’s limousine parking area was not a “public use.”

John Stossel confronted the Donald about his failed attempts to take the widow’s home away; he reprinted this exchange in his book Give Me A Break on pages 152 and 153:

Donald Trump: Do you want to live in a city where you can’t build roads or highways or have access to hospitals? Condemnation is a necessary evil.

John Stossel: But we’re not talking about a hospital. This is a building a rich guy finds ugly.

Donald Trump: You’re talking about at the tip of this city, lies a little group of terrible, terrible tenements – just terrible stuff, tenement housing.

John Stossel: So what!

Donald Trump: So what?…Atlantic City does a lot less business, and senior citizens get a lot less money and a lot less taxes and a lot less this and that.

Earlier in the book (page 25) Stossel gives his impressions of this confrontational interview:

Donald Trump was offended when I called him a bully for trying to force an old lady out of her house to make more room for his Atlantic City casino. After the interview, the producer stayed behind to pack up our equipment. Trump came back into the room, puffed himself up, and started blustering, “Nobody talks to me that way!”

Well, someone should.

Had this case taken place after Kelo, the Donald may well have prevailed. In the wake of the Kelo decision, Neil Cavuto interviewed the Donald on Fox News (7/19/05) to get his reaction.

Trump:

I happen to agree with [the Kelo decision] 100 percent, not that I would want to use it. But the fact is, if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and government, whether it’s local or whatever, government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and make area that’s not good into a good area, and move the person that’s living there into a better place — now, I know it might not be their choice — but move the person to a better place and yet create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.

Donald Trump is not one who respects property rights (other than his own). “Tremendous economic development” and “jobs” are great reasons to employ the full police power of government to take away someone’s property in the Donald’s world view.

I shudder to think of what a Donald Trump presidency would look like. Imagine the Donald with control of our CIA and our military. The Donald doesn’t have any problem using force to get what the Donald wants.

Now consider President Trump with a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. What sort of Justice would he appoint? Most likely one who would view Kelo quite favorably.

This bully, Donald Trump is the guy who is polling second place in some early Republican primary polls? Wake the hell up Republicans!

One of the Original “Liberty Papers” Turns 800

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A mere 572 years before the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, 561 years before the Declaration of Independence, and 465 years before John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was a government-limiting charter which inspired the authors of each of these was the Magna Carta. In June of 1215, a full 800 years ago, a group of land barons had decided that they had enough of the tyrannical rule of King John. Rather than depose the king outright, the barons forced King John to surrender some of his powers, thus creating the concepts British Common Law and the Rule of Law.

The history of the Magna Carta and how it was almost quashed is quite interesting:

There are four copies of the charter still in existence – one each in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals, and two in the British Library.
The curator of the Library’s exhibit, Dr Claire Breay, told Sky News: “The most important thing about Magna Carta is that it established the principle of the rule of law.

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned or stripped of his rights, or outlawed or exiled, except by the judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. And that clause is really at the heart of Magna Carta’s fame today.”

Those who negotiated the treaty would be astonished at how its reputation has survived eight centuries, because it was annulled after only 10 weeks.
The Pope ruled that King John had been forced to sign it under duress. Yet in the years afterwards, the language in the charter was revised and reintroduced and became part of the cornerstone of English law.

Vicor Hugo famously said “No army can stop an idea whose time has come.” Shortly after King John’s signing of the Magna Carta, the idea of the rule of law had come; the divine rights of kings was no longer universally accepted.

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