Category Archives: The Bill Of Rights

Obama: Judge, Jury, and Executioner in Chief

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” – Amendment V of the U.S. Constitution

I don’t know how I missed this, but apparently the 5th Amendment was repealed a few months back with very little concern on the part of the media. Or maybe this was a big story back in February and I just wasn’t paying attention. I have been quite busy lately but I still don’t see how I missed this most disturbing power grab on the part of the Obama administration to date: the power for the president to order the assassination of American citizens without trial*.

If you missed this like I did and have read about this for the first time here, you may believe this sounds like some kooky black helicopter Soldier of Fortune conspiracy propaganda. When I heard about this the first time from Glenn Beck (of all people) on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch, I thought it was probably another one of Beck’s over the top Obama boogey man theories. I thought surely if a president, even this president, were to do such a thing as order CIA snipers or perhaps Predator drones to take out an American citizen without trial, even the media on Left would be scandalized by such a policy.

As it turns out, Beck was right. When I entered the phrase “Obama can assassinate Americans” into a Google search, I did find at least one Left wing blog, Democracy Now! podcast hosted by Amy Goodman back in February explore this issue. And to Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH) credit, he made an appearance on the podcast to explain why he isn’t giving President Obama a pass.

Kucinich:

Well, I think its incumbent upon the Attorney General to explain the basis in law for such a policy. Our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, our Seventh Amendment, our Fourteenth Amendment all clearly provide legal protections for people who are accused or who would be sentenced after having been judged to be guilty. And what’s happened is that the Constitution is being vitiated here. The idea that people are—have—if their life is in jeopardy, legally have due process of law, is thrown out the window.

And, Amy, when you consider that there are people who are claiming there are many terrorist cells in the United States, it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to imagine that this policy could easily be transferred to citizens in this country. That doesn’t—that only compounds what I think is a slow and steady detachment from core constitutional principles. And once that happens, we have a country then that loses its memory and its soul, with respect to being disconnected from those core constitutional principles which are the basis of freedom in our society.

Not everyone on the Left is as willing to hold the Obama administration accountable though. Salon.com writer Glenn Greenwald (also a guest interviewed in the above podcast), one of the few columnists to give this policy the condemnation it deserves, wrote a very disturbing piece to remind those who were (rightly) critical of the Bush administration’s policies concerning extraordinary rendition, holding “enemy combatants” indefinitely without trial (including American citizens), warrantless wiretapping, and so on, should be at least as critical of Obama’s policy which goes even further.

Greenwald writes:

“Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they’re sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind.

[…]

And what about all the progressives who screamed for years about the Bush administration’s tyrannical treatment of Jose Padilla? Bush merely imprisoned Padilla for years without a trial. If that’s a vicious, tyrannical assault on the Constitution — and it was — what should they be saying about the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s assassination of American citizens without any due process?

[…]

When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges. Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.

Even though I did not vote for Obama in 2008 and was very critical of his policy positions at the time, I thought he would at least be an improvement in the area of civil liberties. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It seems that rather than rolling back these Bush era unconstitutional power grabs, Obama has grown accustomed to them and decided to take these powers to the next level: killing Americans he believes to be enemies of the state.

Perhaps there is room to debate whether or not foreign suspected terrorists deserve all the legal protections of our courts but the idea of killing American citizens without trial most certainly is not debatable. If our government does anything well its identifying individuals and putting them in prison and/or sentencing said individuals to death. This is done successfully every day in our criminal justice system. We need not worry that many actual terrorists will escape going through the criminal justice system provided that the prosecutors have a minimum standard of proof and a jury of average intelligence.

Even as badly broken as our criminal justice system is, this is our system. Ordering the killing of American citizens even in an “emergency” is not among the powers provided to the president under the Constitution (I just double checked) and is not a suitable substitute.
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Wayne Allyn Root: Religious Freedom And Property Rights ? Not For Them Muslims !

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I’ve written before about the questionable libertarian allegiances of Wayne Allyn Root, the LP’s 2008 Vice-President nominee and currently an At-Large member of the Libertarian National Committee. Now, Root is out with a blog post about the so-called “Ground Zero” Mosque that is anything but libertarian in it’s sentiments and it’s conclusions, and it should be of concern to anyone who thinks that Root represents the direction the Libertarian Party should take in the future.

Root starts out with the same sort of milquetoast paeans toward religious liberty and property rights that we saw in his book, but he quickly goes off in a direction that makes it clear that, on this issue, he is more in line with Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich than any Libertarian (or libertarian):

This proposed building of a mosque on hallowed ground is an ATROSITY towards America. To build a celebration of Islam within steps of 9/11 does nothing to increase religious freedom…it inspires hatred, divides our cultures, and increases the odds of violence and hate crimes. Common sense suggests this mosque, being built in this specific location, is NOT being built as a sign of friendship between Muslims and Americans…but rather as a sign of the lack of respect…a belief in our weakness…and an attempt to embarrass and belittle us. The financial district of Manhattan is not a residential area with a large number of Muslim residents for the mosque to serve. Therefore common sense suggests that the only possible reason to build it there (rather than in Brooklyn or Queens where there are large Muslim populations) is to show Muslim contempt for Americans by building a monument to Islam in the shadow of the site of their greatest triumph over America.

It is an offense to build a mosque in that location- an offense to all Americans (including Muslim Americans), all Christians and Jews, all relatives of 3000 dead heroes at the World Trade Center.

First of all, Root is just completely wrong on the facts here. The Cordoba House isn’t at all what he and the project’s critics have represented it to be:

The building’s planners, the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, have said it’s modeled on religious and community centers such as the YMCA, and that the 13-story, $100 million building would also include an arts center, gym and a swimming pool, as well as a mosque. It would be two blocks away from Ground Zero.

Two blocks away and nowhere within line of sight of the area where the attacks actually occurred.

The attempt by Root, Palin, Gingrich, and other opponents of this project to call this a “Ground Zero” mosque are therefore a complete misrepresentation of the location of the project. A misrepresentation obviously intended to lead people to think that a mosque is being built on the location of the World Trade Center rather than being constructed inside an already-existing decades old building as part of a larger project that would be open to the public as a whole. For that reason alone, Root’s appeals to emotionalism and the supposed “atrocity” that this project represents should be rejected as silly and, quite frankly, dishonest.

Root goes on:

Yes, private individuals and organizations have the right to build houses of worship with their own funds. But one has to wonder where the money is coming from to build a 15-story building on some of the most expensive real estate in the country. We Americans believe in the separation of Church and State. If it turns out that this project is sponsored by a foreign government — either directly or through a state-sponsored organization that engages in terrorism — than the idea of this being an issue of religious freedom is a sham and an argument can be made that our Constitution would actually prohibit this mosque from being built.

Except, of course, for the fact that there is no evidence that this is the case. More importantly, there is no connection between the organization that wants to establish the center and anyone associated with the September 11th attacks.

In the end, Root falls into the same anti-Muslim hole that Palin, Gingrich, and others have. All he’s really saying is that we can’t let them scary Muslims build what they want to in a building they own. While he doesn’t go as far as Gingrich and Palin in calling for government action to stop the project, he adopts the same attitude of religious intolerance and, for any libertarian, that’s just unacceptable.

Let’s contrast Root’s paean to fear-of-Muslims with something published this past weekend by Libertarian National Committee Interns Marissa Giannotta and Josh Roll:

The attacks on 9/11 and its victims should not be ignored, however, we cannot lay blame on the entire Islamic community for the terrible acts that occurred on that day. The Islamic cultural center would be a great way for others to learn about Islam and ultimately build bridges between the United States and the Muslim World. Islam by principle is not an extremist religion and not all Muslims should be portrayed in such way.

More importantly, those who have ownership of the site should have the freedom and the right to build what they wish. Property rights should be respected as a right for all citizens, not just a few. Our platform clearly states, “The owners of property have the full right to control, use, dispose of, or in any manner enjoy, their property without interference, until and unless the exercise of their control infringes the valid rights of others.” The Islamic cultural center does not infringe on the rights of others.

As Steven Chapman describes in his article at Reason, “Palin is not a slave to intellectual consistency. Change the church to a mosque, and put it a couple of blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, and she suddenly loses all patience with the rights of religious believers.”

Libertarian Party candidate for New York State Governor, Warren Redlich, also weighed in on the issue stating, “…I have asked some people if they would object if it was a synagogue, church, Jewish community center, or YMCA. All of them say that wouldn’t bother them. So the reason for opposing this facility is because it’s associated with the Muslim religion. That violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.”

As Thomas Knapp notes, this is a litmus test for all libertarians (Big-L, or small-l):

If you don’t support private property rights and freedom of religion, you aren’t a libertarian.

Period.

Cordoba House, the project being fraudulently referred to as a “mosque” by those attempting to prevent its construction, is planned for construction on private property and with private funds.

The opponents of Cordoba House are attempting to stop its construction by persuading a government board to declare the building currenly standing at the project’s prospective location “historic” so that the owners can be forced to “preserve” it and forbidden to demolish it and build a structure more to their liking there.

The opponents of Cordoba House oppose private property rights. Their opposition to private property rights stems from their opposition to freedom of religion. They are, therefore, not libertarians.

That, Mr. Root, is libertarianism. Perhaps you’re in the wrong party.

Update: Jason Pye has weighed in with his own take:

Property rights and religious freedom are among the principles of a free society, basic liberties are supposed to be protected from the mob. To hear of anyone casting them aside is concerning. For a libertarian to do it is a betrayal of these core values that we are supposed to believe in.

Indeed.

On Islam, A Fine Line Between Criticism and Xenophobia

There are serious concerns about radical Islam and political Islam as a movement. It’s something we should be seriously conscious of. I’ve written about this extensively here at TLP.

Given that, there is a very, very fine line between critiquing the retrograde nature of radical Islam and outright xenophobia. I honestly find it hard to discern this line myself, since I am fully ready to call out efforts by Christians, Muslims or any other group to insert religious dogma into politics. Wherever that line is, it is more than readily apparent that many who are protesting the building of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York have crossed it.

There’s a part of the constitution that I’m especially fond of. It’s called the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The “free exercise thereof” doesn’t just mean free exercise of Roman Catholicism, the faith of mosque critic Newt Gingrich, or Lutheranism, the denomination of Michelle Bachmann, another critic. It counts for Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or Hindus.

Yes, the Second Amendment really means what it says… and that means you too Chicago

This past Monday, Samuel Alito, writing for the majority (with separate concurring opinions from Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia) in the case McDonald vs. City of Chicago and Village of Morton Grove; handed down what in 30 years will I believe, be held as one of (or perhaps half of a pair of, or the second in a series of) the most significant rulings in the courts history, not just for the right to keep and bear arms, but for the rights of all people in this nation.

I had meant to get this post out yesterday, but I had to take the time to read the entire opinion… all 214 pages of it… and think about it for a bit.

This judgment is notable, both for what it does, and for what it does not do; and I want to go into that in some depth… and I want to go into some of the background and issues surrounding the decision that aren’t necessarily about the right to keep and bear arms

However, that is going to get long…. and if you aren’t interested in constitutional law and the nature and exercise of the rights and powers of the states, it’s going to be boring. There’s only so much you can do to make enumeration and separation of powers issues over more than two hundred years, all that interesting.


Note: Also, for those of you who DO closely follow con law, this is going to be a gross simplification in some ways. I don’t have time to write a book here, and a book is what it would take to cover this comprehensively (actually several… there are a few out there already, and Heller and its progeny are sure to generate more).

At any rate, I’m going to break it out into another posts, and I’ll update this post with a link when I finish the other one.

… I should warn you, I’m already 5,000 words in, and I’m probably less than half done…

McDonald vs. Chicago is the first major gun rights case brought before the supreme court under the clarified Heller doctrine, to wit:

The right to keep and bear arms for all lawful purposes is an individual right, possessed by all citizens and lawful residents of this country (provided this right has not been statutorily stripped from them, with due process of law); and the core of that right, is the fundamental right to defense of self, and others.

Actually, McDonald is a bit more than just “first”… In fact, the case was prepared in advance, and filed immediately on the handing down of the Heller ruling; by the lead counsel on the Heller case, Alan Gura.

The issue at hand in Heller was to affirm and clarify the basic right; something which those on the left in general, and in the gun control lobby in particular, had been trying to deny for something like the last 40 years

Note: The modern gun control movement as currently constituted really began in the late 60s; roughly coinciding with accelerating decay of civil order and rise in civil unrest, the rise of the drug and counterculture, and dramatically rising crime rates.

More than anything else, it was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King that kick-started the gun control movement as it exists today.

The gun control movement in the U.S. as a whole has its roots in racial discrimination against immigrants in the pre-civil war northern cites, and blacks in the post civil war south.

Up until the late 1950s, the left as a whole actually advocated gun ownership, as a bulwark against the state… a position generally ascribed these days to the “far right”; but as the left post 1932 increasingly BECAME the state, their position on civilian non-police gun ownership changed.

The issue at hand in McDonald is substantially identical to Heller, with a crucial difference we’ll discuss in a moment; that of incorporation of the second amendment against state and local governments, as other rights enumerated in the bill of rights have been.

In Heller, the substance and nature of the right were affirmed. However, though the assertion of the right is very clear; it’s application is potentially limited.

Because the Heller case pertained to a federal enclave (Washington D.C. is not a part of any state. It is a federal enclave. Precedent in DC cases applies federally, but not necessarily to issues in the several states), the ruling only explicitly applied to the federal government.

In principle the right could be asserted against the states, or it could not be… depending on judicial interpretation. Either way a judge decided, it would almost be certain to be appealed… as indeed it was (in at least four cases so far, all of which were delayed pending the McDonald ruling).

Also, Heller left various questions open to interpretation, such as the standard of review for laws pertaining to the right to keep and bear arms, and whether interest balancing tests could be made.. or for that matter just what types of laws would be acceptable short of outright bans on firearms in the home (which were explicitly forbidden).

In Mondays decision on McDonald, it was affirmed (quite strongly), that the rights protected by the second amendment are equal in stature to the rights protected by the first amendment, and all the others.

In both the majority opinion, and the concurrences, the court made it explicit that the protections afforded by the second amendment applied against the state. Further, they made it clear that a strict standard of review was to be applied to any law regarding the right to keep and bear arms (though they do not by any means disallow all regulation. In both Heller and McDonald, it is acknowledged that some regulation of any right can be acceptable, but must be strictly scrutinized).

There is still one set of questions to be resolved, what exact restrictions against keeping and bearing arms will be acceptable under this standard of review. Just as there are many limitations against speech permitted by current jurisprudence, including many which probably should not be allowed under the constitution (such as most of what is called “campaign finance reform”); there will likely still be substantial restrictions allowed by the court. In any case, it will be years… likely decades… before the whole issue is settled law, and in the mean time, there will be a lot of contradiction and chaos.

The fight is certainly not over… in fact it’s really just getting started.

This is where we get into the theoretical discussion about the constitution, so I think I’m going to end here and pick it up in the next, much longer, post.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

CounterPoint: Yes, Virginia, States Really Do Have Rights

This is a segment in The Liberty Papers’ continuing “Point/Counterpoint” series. This post is the rebuttal to my co-contributor Michael Powell’s post here, making the point that “states’ rights” are an antiquated and poisoned concept.

When I saw Michael’s post this morning, I was a little bit surprised. I was expecting him to make the argument that States’ Rights don’t exist. In fact, I was waiting for one specific statement that I’ve heard from those who attack the notion of states’ rights many times over. Thankfully, two comments in, commenter John222 made the point:

States don’t have rights, individuals do. Better would be to say, “The interest of the State in protecting the rights of it’s citizens”.

This is a common statement among libertarians, and although I’ve probably used it in the past, there have been points where I’ve become troubled by it.

Michael made some very important points in his post, and these are points that must be answered. However, to begin, we must have an understanding of the origin, the nature, and the limitations of states’ rights. Only by setting this groundwork may I refute Michael. But first, a caveat. In order to make the points I must make, I must work with two critical assumptions:

  1. Natural rights of individuals exist.
  2. Constitutional democratic government is legitimate.

For those that have read my previous work, it should be understood that I believe neither of these assumptions. I am a philosophical anarchist, and while I can construct a non-theistic basis for natural rights theory, I view them as artificial constructs, not incontrovertible truths. However, we must work within the framework we have, and thus I will concede these points for the purposes of this post. For the purposes of discussion and comments, please try to take these two premises at true, and if you have a problem with the argument flowing from those premises, attack the argument.

Let’s start at the beginning:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Here’s the base. Natural rights are the area where we say to government: “Over this line you may not tread.”

Individuals have certain natural rights, and they empower governments to help them protect these rights. The statement that “States don’t have rights, only individuals do” does not account for what we consider the social contract. Individuals enter into an implicit contract with their government, offering to entrust some of the rights they hold in the “state of nature” to their government in order for cooperation and protection of those rights. Those governments do not gain *new* rights as governments, but they inherit the rights of those they are designed to protect.

Natural rights theory does not hold that individuals give up their rights to the government, the rights are retained. It is best to be understood as a legal contract — individuals freely, by exercise of their rights, create their government. They voluntarily empower their society — their government — to protect their rights. A government that reaches beyond the legitimate power of protection of those rights, as Jefferson himself states, deserves no longer our assent or our support. If said government treads beyond the lines defined above, that government has violated the social contract.

“Government”, of course, is not a singular entity. Governments are hierarchical, competitive, and numerous. In many cases, we are under the jurisdiction of several governments — entities within entities. In many cases, the governments we live under must make compacts with other governments outside our territory — treaties — in order to help complete the tasks which we have empowered them. Each of these agreements are contracts or compacts. Rights of the citizens of the government are not abridged, they are retained — at least if the government empowered to act on behalf of its inhabitants are legitimate.

How, then, do we describe the relationships between these levels of government or between competing governments? How do we define the lines over which they may not tread? Let’s take one example: borders. What are borders, other than the territorial lines defining the government which protects the rights of its inhabitants? What do we call a government’s relation to its borders? Territorial rights! Now, of course, these rights are not that of “the government”, but they are the territorial rights of which the individuals supporting that government have ceded to their government to protect.

Likewise, how do we define our US Government’s relationship to the United Nations and the nations of the world? We use the term sovereignty: the inviolability of our government to the others of the world — the statement that our government has “rights”, i.e. lines over which those other governments may not tread.

The nature of the United States Government and its relationship to its constituent States is a tricky one, historically. The United States Constitution — our governing document — is a compact between states, not a contract directly between the federal government and the people. Historically, the people of the several States entrusted their governments — the entities to which they had entrusted their rights for protection — to form a federal republic. One may support the claim — at least until 1865 — that the States retained sovereignty, and that they had contractual RIGHTS as constituent members of that federation.

These rights are not inherent to them, as States. These rights are the rights entrusted to them by their inhabitants, and the rights they are protecting are not the rights of the State as State, but a collective bargaining arrangement to protect the rights of their inhabitants. Regardless of how you define this, though, the rights exercised are contractual rights exercised by the States on behalf of their inhabitants. The States drew a line, and told the United States Government “over this line you may not cross.” For the United States Government to cross that line would allow the State, if it so chose, to exercise its sovereignty and break the contract — secede.

These rights are not without limit, though. We previously stated that government is created by individuals in order to secure their natural rights. But those rights are retained. A government which does not secure those rights — a government in fact which violates them, is not a legitimate government at all and may be disbanded. Likewise, federal governments or supra-national bodies do not have super-natural powers — they are still only as legitimate as the rights of their constituent states (and thus the rights of their constituent inhabitants). If the United States Government attempts to violate the sovereignty of the states in order to violate the natural rights of its constituent inhabitants, it is just as illegitimate as if the individual state takes that action…

…which finally brings me back to Michael’s post!

Specifically, this country is, and always has been, a work in progress. I said it was illegitimate for a federal government to violate the sovereignty of its constituent States and if a federal government were to do so, it would justify secession. However, while Michael says he wouldn’t cry crocodile tears if the South had been allowed to secede, the South’s secession would not have been justified under States’ Rights theory. Why? Because slavery — a State deliberately violating the natural rights of its inhabitants — is not a legitimate government, and thus the Southern States did not have true sovereignty. A government which violates the natural rights of its inhabitants as a matter of design cannot be granted the authority to act on behalf of its citizens.

The Fourteenth Amendment, in the wake of the Civil War, finally codified this statement. Prior to this, the United States Constitution did not have a method for the Federal government to impede the States from abridging the natural rights of its citizens. (Of course, one can infer from this that the Civil War was illegal, but the destruction of slavery in the South can hardly be described as immoral). It should be stated that Michael’s quote from George Wallace was not truly a defense of States Rights. Those rights of States to discriminate by law against their citizens had long been removed via the Fourteenth Amendment. If he truly believed that the right of the State was inviolable (I doubt this to be the case — I personally think it likely that “States’ Rights”, like patriotism, just happened to be the last refuge of a scoundrel), he was simply wrong.

Michael is correct, of course, that in the intervening century, the term “States’ Rights” was used by all manner of racists, supporters of Jim Crow, and people who are “defiant of settled law”. In American politics, terminology tends to have this problem — terms become appropriated by unsavory characters, and the terms themselves pick up unsavory connotations. We “libertarians” constantly bemoan the fact that our previous label, “liberal”, as appropriated by big-government Democrats. We had to abandon the term completely and build a new one. States’ Rights has some of that connotation, but by definition that doesn’t not negate the concept of those rights.

The term “States’ Rights” may, in fact, be coming into a renaissance. As Michael points out, individual states are fighting the Feds on medical marijuana, and California — the state where we both live — has a ballot measure in November to legalize marijuana entirely. This is in direct contravention of the Controlled Substances Act, but more importantly, this is a state protecting its citizens from the overreaches of Washington!

But again, look at the nature of government. A State government that violates the natural rights of its inhabitants is acting illegitimately. At the same time, a Federal government that violates the natural rights of its inhabitants is acting legitimately. In this case, it is right for the inhabitants of a State to pool to their rights collectively — using their States’ rights — to protect themselves from the Federal government on their behalf. Individuals often have little recourse against the Federal leviathan. They need all the help they can get.

Either way, I think that Michael did not prove, as I thought he would attempt, that states don’t have rights. He did make some valid points that the terminology of states rights had been hijacked for the last century by those State governments who wished to protect their racist fiefdoms. But he belied his own point by bringing up the fact that the very same terms are also being used by States to protect the liberty of their inhabitants from Federal overreach.

There Is No Such Thing As “State’s Rights”

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Stephen Green has an excellent column this week at Pajamas Media where he cautions his fellow libertarians to stay away from the siren call of the “state’s rights” movement:

We need to give up this notion of “states’ rights.” First of all, it’s in bad taste. The phrase used to be code for “Jim Crow.” And while I’m certain that’s not true for 99% of us, we can — and should — do better than to emulate vile racists. Secondly, however, “states’ rights” is a misnomer. It’s an impossible thing. It doesn’t exist, and shouldn’t.

Let me explain.

I remember reading once somewhere that:

All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In other words, individuals have rights, and governments are instituted with powers to protect those rights, and are (or ought to be) restricted from abusing them.

With me so far? Individuals have rights; governments have powers.

As Green goes on to point out, the ongoing tension between the state and Federal governments was instituted to protect individual liberty not to give some amorphous entity called a “state” rights over it’s citizens. In fact, the Constitution specifically provides the Federal Government with the power to step in when the states step over the line:

One of the tensions that exists between Washington and the states is that Washington has the duty — the power — to “guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” And when a particular state government discriminates against 20, 30, 40% of its citizens, then it’s no stretch to argue that that state no longer enjoys a republican form of government. At least not how republicanism is properly understood in this country.

More importantly, we fought a war that pretty much resolved the issue of state’s rights, and afterwords passed an amendment that significantly altered the relationship between the states and the federal government. Whatever the “rights” of the states may have been before the ratification of the 14th Amendment, they were significantly cut back by it’s adoption. So it is pointless to talk about the 10th Amendment in a vacuum as if the 14th Amendment doesn’t exist.

Green closes out with the most important point:

States don’t have rights. Individuals do. It’s time we went about the business of restoring those rights, without alienating a huge constituency which suffered too long without them.

Indeed.

Modern Jurisprudence is PROFOUNDLY Broken

Two contrasting stories out of the Supreme Court today, that bring home the fact that jurisprudence in this country is profoundly… hopefully not irreparably… broken.

First, from the New York Times:

NO MORE LIFE SENTENCES FOR MINORS WHO HAVEN’T MURDERED…. In yet another 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said this morning that incarcerated minors can’t receive life sentences if they haven’t killed anyone.

By a 5-4 vote Monday, the court says the Constitution requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release.

The court ruled in the case of Terrance Graham, who was implicated in armed robberies when he was 16 and 17. Graham, now 22, is in prison in Florida, which holds more than 70 percent of juvenile defendants locked up for life for crimes other than homicide.

“The state has denied him any chance to later demonstrate that he is fit to rejoin society based solely on a nonhomicide crime that he committed while he was a child in the eyes of the law,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. “This the Eighth Amendment does not permit.”

The Eighth Amendment, of course, prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissented. Chief Justice John Roberts also sided with the minority, though he agreed with the majority on the specific case of Terrance Graham’s fate.

In Justice Kennedy’s majority ruling, he made note of the “global consensus” against life-sentences for youths who haven’t committed murder. The sentence will likely enrage the far-right, which tends to throw a fit when justices take note of international developments.

In a concurrence, Stevens, joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor, threw an elbow at one of their colleagues: “While Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old … Court wisely rejects his static approach to the law. Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.”

and in a complete reversal of logic, this judgement:

AP: High Court: ‘Sexually Dangerous’ Can Be Kept in Prison

WASHINGTON (May 17) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal officials can indefinitely hold inmates considered “sexually dangerous” after their prison terms are complete.

The high court reversed a lower court decision that said Congress overstepped its authority in allowing indefinite detentions of considered “sexually dangerous.”

“The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned by who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” said Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion.

President George W. Bush in 2006 signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which authorized the civil commitment of sexually dangerous federal inmates.

The act, named after the son of “America’s Most Wanted” television host John Walsh, was challenged by four men who served prison terms ranging from three to eight years for possession of child pornography or sexual abuse of a minor. Their confinement was supposed to end more than two years ago, but prison officials said there would be a risk of sexually violent conduct or child molestation if they were released.

A fifth man who also was part of the legal challenge was charged with child sex abuse, but declared incompetent to stand trial.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled last year that Congress overstepped its authority when it enacted a law allowing the government to hold indefinitely people who are considered “sexually dangerous.”

But “we conclude that the Constitution grants Congress legislative power sufficient to enact” this law, Breyer said.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying Congress can only pass laws that deal with the federal powers listed in the Constitution.

Nothing in the Constitution “expressly delegates to Congress the power to enact a civil commitment regime for sexually dangerous persons, nor does any other provision in the Constitution vest Congress or the other branches of the federal government with such a power,” Thomas said.

Thomas was joined in part on his dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia.

It seems clear to me, that both of these decisions are examples where justices are deciding a case based on what they want to do and finding a way to justify it, rather than a considered opinion of the law and the constitution.

In the first case, the majority came to what I believe is the right decision on constitutional ground, but for what appear to be the wrong reasons. The minority on the other hand are supporting an unconstitutional practice, based on pragmatic considerations.

In the second case, the majority supported a CLEARLY unconstitutional practice for pragmatic reasons; and the minority dissented based on the constitution.

Both cases however, highlight a major problem with our “justice system” today: We can’t deal effectively with our criminals, our prisoners, or our prisons.

There are many reasons for this of course, but what it comes down to, is that there are too many crimes, too many criminals, and too little honesty in how we deal with either.

Both of these cases are about recidivism. The plain fact is, more than 40% of people who go to prison, go back. More than 60% who go to prison for violent crimes go back. More than 80% who go to prison for sex crimes go back.

There have been a number of attempts at dealing with these difficult facts; none of them effective, and most of them unconstitutional.

In the case of the criminals under 18 being imprisoned for life because of sentence enhancements… The problem here isn’t that it’s a 17 year old in prison for life for something other than rape or murder… Its that “sentence enhancements” even exist at all.

Firstly, I think the whole “global consensus” thing is not only irrelevant, but dangerous and unconstitutional (interpretation of American law should ONLY be based on the Constitution, and the constitutions of the several states)

Yes, the law evolves, and yes it is influenced by changing moral standards, which is influenced by world culture.

When we wrote our constitution, it was in large part based on principles inherent in English common law; as was the early constitutional scholarship and interpretation until we built up our own body of case law. The goes further back to the greeks, romans, even the Assyrians. Certain basic principles of law and justice are universal; or have filtered up through from the earliest formalized conceptions of both rights, and laws.

However, it is important that case law be consistent with the written constitution; and that any case law which is not be ignored in interpretation of future cases, and hopefully be reversed.

If the American people want to change their constitutions, they can. There is a mechanism for that. Until they do, there should be no other arbiter for American law than the constitution.

One of the fundamental principles of jurisprudence is that the law should be knowable, and predictable; not arbitrary and capricious. One should not need to follow “evolving moral standards” and case law in other countries, to know whether one is violating the law.

In a system where ignorance of the law is no defense, the law must be written and knowable. The fact that in todays world it is not; is not an indication that we have evolved morally, it is an indication that modern jurisprudence is profoundly broken.

All that said however I agree that the law in question should have been struck down, just for a different reason.

I believe that “sentence enhancement” conditions are themselves a bad thing. They are invalid and unconstitutional as far as I am concerned. A crime is a crime, and one should be punished the same way for the same crime, as everyone else.

Certainly, there can be special circumstances, but they shouldn’t increase punishment; a maximum punishment should be set, and that’s it. There should be discretion for judges to reduce sentences, but not to increase them. Three strikes laws, hate crime enhancements, all of them need to go.

The problem that three strikes laws are intended to solve (high recidivism rates), is more properly addressed by longer or more harsh initial sentences, combined with better rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, and a better running of our penal system.

In the second case, we again have an issue of inappropriate sentencing.

Genuine sexual predators (rapists, molestors etc..) need to be put away for life without parole, or they need to die (though I have grave reservations about the death penalty). Either way, they need to be permanently removed from society.

For some reason, we treat sex crimes as far less serious than major property crimes, or other violent crimes; as if rape were not every bit as serious as attempted murder (believe me, it is).

Some things require ultimate sanction, and serious sex crimes are among those things.

On the other hand though, we now classify the most piddling things as sex crimes. Right now, we have hundreds of 18 and 19 year old young men in prison around this country, for having consensual sex with their 17 year old girlfriends (somehow, we almost never imprison older young women for sex with teenage boys). We make people register as sex offenders for having consensual sex in the back of their cars in a parking lot…

Which just reinforces the point: We’re broken both ways. We are far too harsh on one side, and far too lenient on the other; and just plain broken all the way around, because a sentence doesn’t mean what it says it means.

The very idea that a state official can simply decide you are too dangerous to be let out of prison, EVEN THOUGH YOUR JUDICIAL SENTENCE IS OVER… It’s disgusting. It’s abhorrent to the very nature of our country, and our constitution.

Three strikes laws, sentence enhancements, sex crime laws… All are seriously broke; because they are attempting to deal with practical problems, in an impossible way. You can’t achieve the goals they’re trying to achieve, with the techniques and tools they are using.

We’re broken. We need to fix it. We need to protect society from real criminals, real dangerous people, real evil people; and we need to provide a strong incentive for the “casual criminal” (and we are all “Casual Criminals” now). But we need to do it, without destroying what it means to be American.

In order to do this, we must first reduce our prison population, not by releasing the truly dangerous; but by DRAMATICALLY slashing the amount of people we imprison (both today, and in the future).

The first thing we need to acknowledge, is that the so called “war on drugs” has not only failed, but was wrongly conceived in the first place.

Imprisoning people for drug use simply does not achieve the goals it is intended to achieve. It doesn’t reduce drug use at all. It doesn’t reduce crime at all, in fact it increases it. It turns people who might otherwise be productive… or at least LESS of a drag on our society; into total dependents. It frequently makes them into “harder” criminals.

It just doesn’t work.

Frankly, I think we should entirely decriminalize drug use and possession; even if we choose to maintain prohibition on importation, sales, and distribution.

Then there is the question of the proliferation of felonies… Damn near everything is a felony these days. Two students in Virgina were charged with felonies last year for THROWING SNOW BALLS. Schoolchildren have been charge with felonies for drawing pictures with guns in them…

Felonies are supposed to be reserved for “high crimes”. Those things which must be punished by long term removal from society.

Does anyone really believe it is necessary to send someone to prison for two years, for serving hotdogs wrapped with bacon out of a cart (yes, that is a felony in several jurisdictions in this country).

The fact is, we classify far too many things as felonies, which simply should not be. We need to eliminate most of those felonies.

What it comes down to, is that we should reclassify most non-violent felonies as misdemeanors, and eliminate custodial sentences for them; substituting EXTREMELY HIGH fines, and supervised restricted release (ankle bracelets etc…).

Combined, that would reduce our prison population by more than three quarters immediately (the drug changes alone would cover 60%). This would allow us to deal with the remainder of that population more appropriately. More harshly for those who need it, and with a higher focus on rehabilitation for those who are willing to make the effort.

Importantly, it would allow us to eliminate early release for those who have not made serious and genuine rehabilitation efforts; allowing prison officials and judges to exercise discretion appropriately.

Perhaps when we no longer have to be so concerned about overcrowding, and inappropriate early releases, and imprisoning those who should not be; we can restore some sanity to the system as a whole.

But that’s all related to the practical issue.. The pragamatic justice as it were..

The bigger issue here, is that under todays conception of jurisprudence, it is impossible to know or understand whether you are breaking the law or not. Whether your crime is a felony or not. Exactly what that crime might be, or what the punishment for it might be.

That isn’t law, or justice; and it isn’t what our country is supposed to be.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Ohio Police Officer Found Guilty In Shooting Of Unarmed Cyclist

Yesterday, an Ohio jury found a local police officer guilty in the shooting of an unarmed motorcyclist:

TOLEDO, OHIO — A Lucas County jury has found an Ottawa Hills police officer guilty of felonious assault in the May 2009 shooting of a motorcyclist.

After over five hours of deliberations, a jury found that part-time Ottawa Hills officer Thomas Caine White, 27, used excessive force in shooting motorcyclist Michael McCloskey, 25, during a traffic stop on May 23, 2009. White was found guilty of count of felonious assault with a gun specification, charges that could lead to 11 years in prison when he is sentenced.

McCloskey suffered serious injuries as a result of the shooting. He is now paralyzed from the waist down.

Attorneys for each side made closing arguments Friday afternoon.

The prosecution emphasized that this trial was not about all police officers or a specific police department but about the actions of Officer White that night.

Assistant Lucas County Prosecutor Jeff Lingo told the court that slides of the police dash cam video show McCloskey made no movement as if he had a weapon and the he gave no indication of being a threat to White. “He says, ‘Will you please lift the bike off me?’ This is after he’s been shot. He’s still being police to the officer who just shot him in the back. That’s the Mike McCloskey that he faced that night,” said Lingo

Here’s a video from White’s dashboard camera (no sound) which clearly shows the pursuit and shooting of McCloskey, and the fact that McCloskey made no threatening moves at all:

As noted above, Officer White faces up to eleven years in prison for this conviction.

Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty, And The Case Of One 8 Year-Old Boy

The latest battleground in the ongoing debate over gay marriage and religious liberty is taking place in Massachusetts:

BOSTON (AP) — A Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was “in discord” with church teachings, according to one of the boys’ mothers.

It’s at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents’ sexual orientation, with the other instance occurring in Colorado.

The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she said she learned her son’s acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.

“I’m accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman,” the mother said. “But I didn’t expect it against my child.”

Rafferty said her relationship “was in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church,” which holds marriage is only between a man and woman, the woman said.

She said Duggan told her teachers wouldn’t be prepared to answer questions her son might have because the school’s teachings about marriage conflict with what he sees in his family.

Rafferty and Duggan did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s unfortunately that the Church is choosing to deprive this young boy of the benefits of a Catholic education because of the lifestyle of his parents, but this strikes me as one area where the rights of the Church should trump the rights of the parents, or the child.

In an ideal libertarian world, of course, there would be no laws barring discrimination in private institutions at all. If a business owner wished to refuse service to anyone for any reason. We don’t live in that world, of course, thanks largely to the a history where the power of the state was used to enforce strict racial segregation that was designed to prevent any entire group of people from succeeding economically. That’s no reason, however, to involve the government even more in private decisions like this.

If the Church feels that it would be in appropriate to admit a student with Lesbian parents, it should be free to make that decision.

Flex Your Rights Presents: 10 Rules for Dealing with Police

The Bill of Rights provides citizens basic protections against unlawful searches and seizures via the Fourth Amendment, protections against self incrimination via the Fifth Amendment, and the right to an attorney via the Sixth Amendment. On a theoretical level, most people probably know this but what does this mean on a practical level?

If the police pull you over, are you required to answer the officer’s questions if he hasn’t informed you of your right to remain silent? What does “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” mean when a police officer wants to search your vehicle and do you have a right to refuse the search? Should you consent to the search if you know you have nothing to hide? If the police knock on your front door, are you legally required to let them in if they don’t have a warrant? Are the police legally required to tell the truth or can they make false promises or otherwise trick you into waiving your constitutionally protected civil rights?

If you are unsure about the answers to these questions, don’t feel bad; I wasn’t too sure myself. The 4 part video series 10 Rules for Dealing with Police from the group that calls itself Flex Your Rights answers these questions and more in terms a lay person like myself can easily understand. Some of the advice is common sense (see rules 1, 7, & 8 below) while others are more legal in nature.

Whether you are a “law abiding citizen” who almost never has an encounter with the police or a “cop magnet,” this advice not only could keep you from being in serious legal trouble but also keep you from being beaten, tazered, or shot (if you follow these rules and these things still happen, you have more legal recourse against offending officers).

If you don’t have time to watch these videos right away, here are the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police in brief:

1. Always be calm and cool. [Don’t give the police any reason to act aggressively; they do have a very dangerous job and if they feel threatened they are more likely to act aggressively].

2. You [always] have the right to remain silent. [The best way to assert this right, especially if the police insist on questioning you is by asserting your Sixth Amendment right to legal council and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT until your lawyer advises you otherwise].

3. You have the right to refuse searches. [Assert this right by calmly and politely telling the police officer “I don’t consent to searches”].

4. Don’t get tricked. [Yes, the police can legally lie to you and trick you into waiving your civil rights].

5. Determine if you are free to go. [Ask the officer: “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”].

6. Don’t expose yourself. [Don’t do anything that might appear suspicious in public].

7. Don’t run. [Running from the police is never a good idea].

8. Never touch a cop. [The simplest touch of a police officer can be considered assault; don’t do it].

9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.

10. You don’t have to let them in. [You do not have to let the police in your home unless they have a search warrant or there is an emergency which requires immediate action on their part. If you allow them to enter, anything they might find that could incriminate you can be used against you because you unwittingly waived your Fourth Amendment rights].

Here’s the series in its entirety (parts 2-4 are below the fold).

» Read more

Federal Court Gives Freedom Of Speech Another Victory Over McCain-Feingold

A Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C. put another nail into the coffin of the monstrosity that is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law:

A federal appeals court on Friday handed another victory to conservative opponents of campaign-finance restrictions, striking down limits on individual contributions to independent groups who want to use the money for or against candidates in federal elections.

But in its unanimous decision, the nine-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also said that a conservative group called SpeechNow.org must disclose its donors and other details of its finances to the Federal Election Commission, a requirement that the group had sought to overturn.

Steve Simpson, an attorney who argued the case on behalf of SpeechNow.org, called the decision voiding contribution limits “a tremendous victory for free speech” and said it “ensures that all Americans can band together to make their voices heard during elections.” At the same time, the group decried the decision on disclosure and signaled that it would appeal the issue to the Supreme Court.

The ruling also amounts to a mixed bag for beleagured advocates of campaign-finance restrictions, who are relieved by the disclosure requirements but angered by the court’s decision to strike down limits on contributions to independent political groups. The decision follows from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which found that corporations are akin to individuals when it comes to political speech and are free to spend as much as they like for or against candidates.

The libertarian Institute for Justice represented the Plaintiffs in this case and had this to say in a press release issued today:

Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Bert Gall said, “Critics of the Citizens United ruling should applaud the decision in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, which guarantees individuals and unincorporated groups the same First Amendment right to fund effective speech that Citizens United guaranteed for corporations and unions.”

Unfortunately, although the court’s ruling frees SpeechNow.org to raise money and speak, the court upheld other burdensome requirements identical to those struck down in Citizens United. Gall said, “Laws that are unconstitutionally burdensome for General Motors and the AFL-CIO have to be unconstitutional when applied to a volunteer group like SpeechNow.org. The court’s ruling that SpeechNow.org must comply with political committee regulations is just flat wrong.”

Bradley A. Smith, CCP’s chairman and a former FEC chairman, added, “It’s unfortunate that the court did not recognize how political committee status regulation by the FEC places restrictive burdens on grassroots political groups. The court’s decision means that the FEC regulatory regime will continue to favor large, established special interests over ad hoc groups of like-minded citizens who gather together to enhance their voices in politics.”

Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, said, “With this ruling, the D.C. Circuit has moved us one step closer to ending this nation’s failed 35-year-old experiment with campaign finance ‘reform’ and restoring the First Amendment to its proper place. The era when incumbent politicians could tinker with freedom of speech to insulate themselves from public criticism is coming to an end.”

And, when that day comes, it will be good for all of us.

SCOTUS, Not Gov. Perry, Grants Hank Skinner a Reprieve

Hank Skinner will not be executed today. With about an hour left before Skinner was to be taken to the death chamber, SCOTUS put an immediate halt to the process.

Michael Graczyk of the Associated Press reports:

The brief order grants him the delay but does not ensure he will get such [DNA] testing. Perry had not decided on the delay.

[…]

In the order, the justices said they would put off the execution until they decide whether to review his case. If the court refuses the review, the reprieve is lifted, according to the order, and Skinner would become eligible for another execution date.

So it looks like the process is back at square one. If the court refuses the review and the reprieve is lifted, a new date will be set and Skinner’s life will be back in Gov. Rick Perry’s hands. Hopefully this case will generate even more attention than it already has and even more pressure will be placed on Perry and others to make sure the DNA testing takes place if SCOTUS doesn’t force the issue first.

There certainly are no guarantees other than the fact that Texas will not risk killing an innocent man on this day.

Related:
Hank Skinner Execution Update: Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Deny DNA Test Request

ACTION ALERT: Tell Gov. Perry to Give Hank Skinner 30 More Days

Former Texas Prosecutor and Judge Both Believe the State Has Executed More Than One Innocent Man

Opening the floodgates…

From tonight’s State of the Union address:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. “Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

In the video, Justice Samuel Alito can be seen visibly disagreeing with this sentiment. First, I’m glad someone can stand up against a President who respects the independence of the judiciary so little that he calls them out in the State of the Union. Such moves reek of political hackery that should be far beneath the President. Second, Obama’s assertion is flatly wrong.

Obama contends that the floodgates have been suddenly opened for corporations to have undue influence over candidates and politicians simply because campaign spending limits have been lifted. How, in a country where a single mother can be ordered to pay $1.92 million for sharing music because of a law bought and paid for by the recording industry, can it be claimed that the influence of corporate interests is at all inhibited?

In the recent health care debates, WalMart was on the front lines of the cheering, hoping that they could dupe Democrats into using the law to skewer their smaller competitors. In the same debate, the SEIU managed to secure a sweetheart deal for unions where the “Cadillac” tax would not be borne if the gold-plated health care plan was a result of collective bargaining (read: union strong-arming).

The history of the last half-century in Washington is one where incumbents and party-anointed successors enter into perpetual quid pro quo relationships with special interests. Legislators get things from special interests in return for political and legislative favors. We all know that this is the way things work. We all hope that when we send “our guy” to Washington that he’ll be the one to change it.

In real life, there is no Mr. Smith. Even when someone like Jeff Flake comes to Washington and tries to fight for the people he is rebuffed. The self-styled ruling class in Washington depends on having a monopoly on the influence of big business and special interests.

It is not the thought of special interests influencing politics that scares the ruling class. It is the thought of special interests influencing politics without them that does.

Influence peddling and vote buying are expected in the halls of power. Interests are allowed nearly unlimited access as long as they come in as supplicants to the ruling class. Once the same interests attempt to take their message from K Street to Main Street, the law is brought down upon them as they are accused of trying to corrupt the political process.

With that in mind, let’s look at what the President really meant behind the doublespeak:

“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to speak directly to the people,” Obama said. “Well I don’t think that the course of American politics should be interfered with by the American people. It should be decided by the ruling class in cooperation with America’s most powerful interests, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

The Supreme Court had the temerity to undercut the system of influence carefully constructed by the Republicratic ruling class over the last century. Obama is leading the charge to restore the power that the Supreme Court, and the Constitution, has denied them.

May more Americans have the courage to challenge Obama and the ruling class on this.

Supreme Court Strikes A Blow For Free Speech

By driving a stake through the heart of McCain-Feingold:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that corporations may spend as freely as they like to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on business efforts to influence federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said companies can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to produce and run their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

(…)

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

As I’ve said many times before, the only campaign finance regulation that we need is full and complete disclosure.

Every candidate for Federal office should be required to disclose all contributions and disbursements and a regular basis (possibly even more frequently than the quarterly reports that are now the law), and that information should be easily available to the public so that people can know where a candidate’s money comes from and where it goes. After all, isn’t that what the First Amendment is really all about — let the information out and let the public decide what to think about it ?

Here’s the full opinion and dissent:

Citizens Opinion

Gay Marriage — Far LESS Harmful Than Democracy

I’d like to claim that I’m not one to pick nits — but I’d be lying. So here is exhibit 10,483 in the “Brad takes part of a post he agrees with and spins it way out of context.”

The base post is about marriage and in support of gay marriage. But I found this analogy somewhat off:

What opponents of same-sex marriage cannot explain is how exactly same-sex marriage undermines the institution of marriage. It broadens the definition, to be sure; but that definition still includes opposite-sex marriage. We broadened the definition of voting when we allowed non-landowners, women, minorities, and 18-year-olds to vote. Democracy is a process of broadening; it’s an evolutionary thing.

You see, there’s a difference. Allowing gays to marry does not make my marriage to my wife any less meaningful. Allowing gays to marry does not infringe upon any of my natural rights. In fact, while I have no problem with gays (and have several gay friends), it doesn’t change the way anyone might think about gays. Gay marriage doesn’t stop homophobes from being homophobes just like Loving v. Virginia didn’t stop racists from hating blacks.

Democracy, though, is far less tolerant. The masses of the nation can democratically infringe upon my rights. They can forcibly seize more of my earnings as “taxes”. They can impose regulations on every aspect of my life, including how much water my toilet can flush. And worst of all, they hold in their power the ability to determine who I may or may not choose to marry. I’m lucky enough to be in the “politically favored” rather than the “minority” status on that one, but that doesn’t in any way change the nature of democracy. While I don’t oppose the expansion of voting on fairness grounds (it should be clear that I’m against democracy on its own merits), every expansion of voting only widens the pool of people who think they can tell me what I can and cannot do.

I don’t like the idea of comparing gay marriage to democracy. After all, one of the two should be opposed. Just not the one most people think.

President Obama establishes Council of Governors by Executive Order

Brad just asked what people are reading today.  President Obama just provided some interesting reading material indeed. Here’s the opening text from an Executive Order dated January 11, 2010:

EXECUTIVE ORDER
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE COUNCIL OF GOVERNORS

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 1822 of the National Defense AuthorizationAct of 2008 (Public Law 110-181), and in order to strengthenfurther the partnership between the Federal Government and State governments to protect our Nation and its people and property, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Council of Governors.
(a)
There is established a Council of Governors (Council).The Council shall consist of 10 State Governors appointed bythe President (Members), of whom no more than five shall be ofthe same political party. The term of service for each Member appointed to serve on the Council shall be 2 years, but a Membermay be reappointed for additional terms.
(b)
The President shall designate two Members, whoshall not be members of the same political party, to serve asCo-Chairs of the Council.
Sec. 2. Functions. The Council shall meet at the call of the Secretary of Defense or the Co-Chairs of the Council toexchange views, information, or advice with the Secretary ofDefense; the Secretary of Homeland Security; the Assistant tothe President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; theAssistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs andPublic Engagement; the Assistant Secretary of Defense forHomeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs; the Commander,United States Northern Command; the Chief, National GuardBureau; the Commandant of the Coast Guard; and other appropriateofficials of the Department of Homeland Security and theDepartment of Defense, and appropriate officials of otherexecutive departments or agencies as may be designated by theSecretary of Defense or the Secretary of Homeland Security.Such views, information, or advice shall concern:
(a)
matters involving the National Guard of the variousStates;
(b)
homeland defense;
(c)
civil support;
more
(OVER)
2
(d)
synchronization and integration of State and Federalmilitary activities in the United States; and
(e)
other matters of mutual interest pertaining toNational Guard, homeland defense, and civil support activities.

Read the rest here.

We are not a Democracy, we are a Republic

This is as succinct, and as masterful a description of the relationship between the rights of man, and the government of a free state, as I have yet seen.

“I cannot, and will not, consent that the majority of any republican State may, in any way, rightfully restrict the humblest citizen of the United States in the free exercise of any one of his natural rights,” which are “those rights common to all men, and to protect which, not to confer, all good governments are instituted.

John A. Bingham (Judge, Congressman, and the principal author of the 14th amendment)

As quoted in the Appellants brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago(my emphasis added).

All too often one hears men say ‘the constitution gives us the right” or even “the government gives us the right”.

This is simply false. Governments cannot confer rights on someone. Rights are those things that are common to all men. Those things that we have, and which cannot be taken away from us but by force, fraud, or willing consent.

Governments exist, for the sole purpose of protecting and furthering those rights; and no other.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Quote Of The Day

From Ian Millhiser, who derides “tenthers”, the folks who actually believe the 10th Amendment was designed as a meaningful check on the federal government.

More important, there is something fundamentally authoritarian about the tenther constitution. Social Security, Medicare, and health-care reform are all wildly popular, yet the tenther constitution would shackle our democracy and forbid Congress from enacting the same policies that the American people elected them to advance. After years of raging against mythical judges who “legislate from the bench,” tenther conservatives now demand a constitution that will not let anyone legislate at all.

Huh… So by not wanting a hugely powerful federal government regulating and monitoring every aspect of my life, I’m an authoritarian?

I guess if Ian Millhiser would call himself anti-authoritarian — which I would guess he does — he’ll support letting us “tenthers” opt out of these government programs for which we disagree? After all, we don’t want to impede his ability to have the government he wants, as long as we don’t have to have the government he wants too.

Hat Tip: Popehat

Happy Constitution Day

Constitutionalconvention

Two Hundred Twenty Two years ago in Philadelphia, the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia completed it’s work.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on September 18, 1787, a Mrs. Powel anxiously awaited the results, and as Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long task now finished, asked him directly: “Well Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic if you can keep it” responded Franklin.

222 years later, Mrs. Powell’s question, and Franklin’s response, remain undecided.

Do yourself a favor — read The Constitution, and then ask whether we’re still following it the way the Founders intended, and whether we’re going to be able to keep the Republic that Franklin was talking about.

Disturbing Quote of the Day

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.” – From the dissenting opinion by Justices Scalia and Thomas on the question of whether death row inmate Troy Davis should receive a new trial after 7 eye witnesses against him recanted their testimonies against Davis.

So as long as the defendant has received a ‘fair trial’ and found guilty, actual innocence does not matter and the state can kill an innocent person according to Scalia and Thomas?

And these are who conservatives and some libertarians consider the ‘good guys’ on the Supreme Court? They certainly aren’t on this issue.

Hat Tip: The Daily Beast

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