Category Archives: General

Mandatory Ebola Quarantines: Constitutional or Fear-Mongering?

Last Friday, a federal judge ruled that the state of Maine could not force a mandatory ebola quarantine on nurse, Kaci Hickox, who recently returned to the U.S. from Sierra Leone. According to CNN:

District Court Chief Judge Charles LaVerdiere ordered nurse Kaci Hickox, who recently returned to the United States after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, to submit to “direct active monitoring,” coordinate travel with public health officials and immediately notify health authorities should symptoms appear. Another hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Hickox was held under quarantine in New Jersey after she returned to the U.S. because she had broken a fever. Since then, Maine, New York, Florida, Illinois, California, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, and Virginia have enacted some form of mandatory quarantine of some level or another. I’ve heard a lot of people, even within libertarian circles, arguing in favor of the mandatory quarantines. I think that these views are largely based on fear and misinformation. First, are these mandatory quarantines even constitutional? Let’s do a brief constitutional analysis.

By forcing a mandatory quarantine on someone, the state is taking away their liberty. Under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the state may not deprive one of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Therefore, quarantines are a matter of substantive due process. (For a brief tutorial on substantive due process, click here). The courts will have to apply a strict scrutiny test because one’s liberty is a fundamental right. There are three prongs to a strict scrutiny analysis:

  • (1)  The government must have a compelling interest in the law which would restrict one’s liberty;
  • (2)  The government must narrowly tailor the law to meet that interest; and
  • (3)  The government must use the least restrictive means possible to meet that interest.

Does the government have a compelling interest in enforcing mandatory quarantine laws for people who exhibit symptoms of ebola? Absolutely! The government certainly has an interest in protecting its citizens from a deadly disease. There really isn’t much of a question here. The government can easily prove this prong of the strict scrutiny test. No problems yet.

Are mandatory quarantine laws narrowly tailored to meet the government’s interest of protecting citizens from deadly diseases? Maybe. This is where it becomes a bit tricky. Some states enacted laws which would require anyone who has had any contact with an ebola patient or anyone who recently visited areas of Africa known to have the ebola virus to be quarantined for at least 21 days, despite not showing any symptoms of the virus. This is clearly not narrowly tailored to protect the public from this deadly disease. Other states require the quarantine only if there has been a known exposure to ebola such as splashing bodily fluids or a needle stick. This is much more narrowly tailored to meet the government’s compelling interest. In the case of Ms. Hickox, her quarantine was not narrowly tailored to meet the government’s compelling interest because she was showing no actual symptoms of ebola. Therefore, I do not believe that her quarantine was constitutional. However, I could see cases where a quarantine would be constitutional, such as the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die from this disease, and the staff who treated him. In those cases, where the patients showed symptoms of ebola, a 21-day quarantine would be justified.

Are the mandatory quarantine laws the least restrictive means possible to meet the government’s compelling interest? No! Not in these cases. In the case of Ms. Hickox, she was originally quarantined in a New Jersey hospital for 21 days. This is certainly too restrictive because she showed no real signs of the ebola virus other than having a fever. When she returned to Maine, officials wanted her to stay in her home for 21 days. While this is less restrictive than the hospital, it is still unconstitutional because of the restrictive nature of the order:

Late Thursday, the judge had ordered stricter limits on Hickox, requiring that she “not to be present in public places,” such as shopping centers or movie theaters, except to receive necessary health care. The temporary order permitted her to engage in “non-congregate public activities,” such as walking or jogging, but said she had to maintain a 3-foot distance from people. And it forbade her from leaving the municipality of Fort Kent without consulting local health authorities.

I think that Judge LaVerdiere got it right when he lifted the restrictions that she not be present in public. I do agree that she should submit to regular checkups and screenings, but only because I think that it is the responsible thing to do and Ms. Hickox seems to agree:

Standing with her boyfriend Ted Wilbur, outside their home in Maine, Hickox told reporters the decision was a “good compromise” and that she would continue to comply with direct active monitoring.

“I know that Ebola is a scary disease,” she said. “I have seen it face-to-face. I know we are nowhere near winning this battle. We’ll only win this battle as we continue this discussion, as we gain a better collective understanding about Ebola and public health, as we overcome the fear and, most importantly, as we end the outbreak that is still ongoing in West Africa today.”

Therefore, mandatory quarantines are likely to be unconstitutional if the patient tests negative for the virus or shows no symptoms of having the virus. However, mandatory quarantines are more likely to be constitutional for patients who have shown symptoms of the virus or tested positive.

This is where we need to separate a legitimate concern from fear-mongering. I’m no doctor, so I’ll let the experts from the Mayo clinic explain what ebola is, its symptoms, causes, and risk factors. According to the experts, ebola is spread through blood, bodily fluids, mostly in Africa, and not through the air. Should we be concerned? Absolutely. Should we be fearful of every person who comes in from Africa and institute travel bans for anyone seeking to come into the country from those areas? Absolutely not! in fact, the chances of you getting ebola are about 1 in 13.3 million, which is less than being killed in a plane crash (1 in 11 million), being killed by a lightning strike (1 in 9 million), or being killed in a car accident (1 in 9100). So if you decide to be fearful of ebola, I would recommend that you don’t fly anywhere, stop driving, and don’t go outside while it’s raining. You’re more likely to die from those than from ebola. For the rest of us, we will just continue to live our lives.

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.

Should Adrian Wyllie (L-FL) be Included in Debates?

Last week, Florida became the laughing stock of the nation once again when the televised gubernatorial debate was postponed because of a fan. The bigger story may be that the event organizers, Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida, excluded Libertarian Party candidate, Adrian Wyllie, because he did not meet the minimum polling threshold of 15%. Despite an 0ptimus poll, which showed Wyllie trending 13%, which would have put him within the margin of error of the polling threshold, Wyllie was still excluded because the poll was not released prior to September 30. Wyllie filed suit in the Southern District of Florida to be included, but a federal judge  sided with event organizers:

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn said Wyllie did not meet the requirements for gaining access to the debate hosted by the Florida Press Association and Leadership Florida. Cohn said the private nonprofit debate sponsors did not change the access rules by increasing the polling threshold required for a qualified candidate, 15 percent.

Also, Cohn ruled, Wyllie’s exclusion was not a violation of his First or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Wyllie argued that, because the event is to be held at the publicly funded BrowardCollege, he had a free-speech right to be onstage with Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist.

But Cohn said BrowardCollege was merely the location and that the event is a “nonpublic forum,” according to case law.

Cohn said the defendants “offer legitimate reasons” for excluding candidates like Wyllie and six others because the goal of the debate is “to provide a forum to inform Florida voters through the meaningful exchange of ideas among those gubernatorial candidates with a reasonable chance of winning the election.”

 

In an election where both the Republican and Democrat candidates are largely unpopular, who is to say that Wyllie does not stand a “reasonable chance of winning the election?” A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that neither major candidate has more than a 50% favorable rating. The same poll has Wyllie trending 9%, with Rick Scott and Charlie Crist in a statistical tie at 44% a piece among likely voters. Scott and Crist’s low favorability ratings suggest that many likely voters will be voting for “the lesser of two evils” because they don’t realize that there are other options.
If a potential candidate has qualified for the ballot, should they not have the opportunity to be heard by the voters? While I agree that the event organizers, who are private entities, should be allowed to invite or exclude whomever they choose, I think that it is bad policy. To exclude a candidate who is polling in or close to double digits, with a fraction of the funding of the major party candidates, denies the voters the right to hear all sides of the issues. (To see all of the candidates’ fundraising figures, click here.)
Florida is not alone. Robert Sarvis, a Libertarian candidate in Virginia, was excluded from the gubernatorial debates last year despite polling 9% at the time. In Minnesota, Independence Party candidate, Hannah Nicollet, was excluded from two of the four televised debates despite a tradition of including third party candidates in Minnesota. Some states have been more willing to allow third party and independent candidates to participate . Earlier this month, Idaho included Libertarian and Independent candidates in their gubernatorial debate. There is no reason to exclude Wyllie, or other third party candidates, from the debate other than to protect the interests of the two major parties. Voters deserve better. We deserve to hear from all eligible candidates and to hear all sides of the issues.
The third and final Florida gubernatorial debate will be held tonight at 7:00 pm e.s.t. and will be hosted by CNN. This post is not an endorsement of Adrian Wyllie nor his campaign, but an attempt to start a dialogue on the issue of open debate.
(Editor’s Note: The post was changed after publication to reflect that the debate is tonight, not tomorrow night –Kevin)

 

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.

Fair Competition Illegal in Auburn, AL

When surveyed, 100% of Americans think fair competition is good for the economy (give or take a few communists). So when is it a crime for a competitive business to even attempt to operate in the land of opportunity? When government has chosen the winner before the fight.

Witness: Uber in Alabama

CULLMAN, Ala. — If Auburn residents are driving for Uber, as company officials claim, they risk arrest like their counterparts in Tuscaloosa.

“Yes, we’re operating in Auburn,” spokesman Taylor Bennett wrote in an email to Watchdog.org on Thursday.

However, no Auburn residents have applied recently for a vehicle-for-hire business license, meaning if anyone is driving for Uber there they’re doing so illegally, City Manager Charlie Duggan told Watchdog.

This notion that you must be licensed and bonded by the city in order to do something as simple as drive a car and pick up passengers ALMOST sounds reasonable from a legal perspective (towns covering their butts to avoid liability, right?), but it’s a ploy in most towns that have this rule, because the process of getting licenses involves insane compliance to standards frequently only accessible to the government-favored cartel, such as:

requiring background checks on drivers, adequate liability insurance and a business license

The last feature is key since the state provides businesses licenses at its discretion. If you read on you find that noncompliance poses the risk of a $500 fine and up to six months in jail (!) – a bit harsh for participating in an enterprise which chooses to have different standards than those foisted on the industry by local and state authorities.

I’ll be talking about this issue in more depth another time, complete with a brief history of the taxi business in most American cities. For now, it suffices to say that Uber is a private sector competitor to the traditional public-private partnership that is the cab cartel. The company features innovations centered around the customers and their needs. Those innovations include an app for your mobile device that lets you reserve a ride, see where your car is currently located, and gives an ETA for its arrival, a way to pay for the ride in advance, and roomier, nicer vehicles, all at competitive prices. Urban cab services are stuck in the bygone era of street-side and phone arranged reservations, payment upon arrival, and aging cabs, complete with no ability to plan your trip on your terms. But the cities love this older model because they are able to obtain revenue from it, and their model is designed to protect both that revenue and the drivers (who are often unionized).

I’ll build on this in later posts, but I’ll leave with this parting thought: Uber and the cab cartels perfectly summarize the capacity of the private sector to service the customer and the capacity of big government to service itself and the worker at the expense of the customer and all of our rights to pursue happiness by building a better business.

James Comey vs. your privacy

Today’s smartphones contain more data about your life than any other device in human history. It could be argued that they even contain more usable information about your whereabouts and activities than your own brain. Naturally, post-Edward Snowden, protecting that information is a priority for a lot of people.

James Comey wants access to all of that information and he’s willing to let bad guys get at it too:

“Encryption threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place.”

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

[…]

“With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us … kids call this FOMO,” he said.

Comey kept referring to the “debate” and “national conversation” that needs to be had regarding widespread encryption. That conversation, in Comey’s mind, should stop and start with the idea that there must be a “front door” means for the FBI, NSA, and other law enforcement agencies to blast through encryption. In other words, companies should be “developing [law enforcement] intercept solutions during the design phase,” a proposition that, beyond making encryption useless, is potentially not even technically feasible.

“Congress might have to force this on companies,” he said. “Maybe they’ll take the hint and do it themselves.”

Read the whole thing.

Operation Inherent Resolve Inherently Hard to Nail Down

Operation Inherent Resolve is the new name for the 2014 U.S.-led intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. From military aid, advisors and humanitarian efforts, the operation has evolved into airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has troops on the ground, to serve as “military advisers,” to protect key infrastructure and U.S. installations, and to coordinate humanitarian interventions.

Though the “resolve” is allegedly “inherent,” President Obama maintains these troops will not engage in combat. What is not inherently apparent is whether the operation is constitutional, how its goals will be achieved, or how things are going thus far.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Congress has not declared war. Air strikes commenced on August 8, 2014. The Commander-in-Chief’s sixty-day grace period under the War Powers Resolution—itself of questionable constitutionality—thus expired in early October.

Or maybe Congress has authorized the operation.

The White House claims that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and/or the 2002 AUMF provide sufficient Congressional approval. The former authorized the use of force against anyone who aided in the September 11, 2001, attacks (whoever or wherever they might be). The latter authorized force against “Iraq” (whatever that is).

One can have some fun—and score some purely political points—arguing that, if the same authorization applies, then those “wars” were not successfully completed. Or if they were successfully completed, and this is a new and different conflict, then POTUS needs to go back to Congress.

THE STRATEGY

In late August, Obama stated “we don’t have a strategy yet” and that his administration was working to “cobble together” a coalition to come up with one. That same month, the Pentagon suggested that airstrikes alone “are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities,” have “a very temporary effect” and have neither “effectively contained” nor “br[oken] the momentum of the threat.”

It is now mid-October. Has the strategy been any more clearly defined?

While the U.S.’s involvement “is going to be a long term project,” the President nevertheless concedes that “[t]here is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. encourages the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government, which would in turn make Iraqi forces stronger and more cohesive in their efforts to defend themselves.

Wait.

We already did that once, didn’t we?

This effort will be complicated by the fact that, as the Times reported back in July, classified assessments of the Iraqi military find it to be “compromised” by extremists, making it too dangerous for US troops to work with them against ISIL.

That complication illustrates one of the overarching problems with the “war” on “terror” from the outset: We cannot tell who the enemy is and we cannot know when it has surrendered. How do we tell which people in Iraq and Syria are ISIL and which are ISIL’s victims? What would the “defeat” of ISIS look like? How do we know when it has happened? Does everyone who supports ISIL have to be dead? Do its leaders sign surrender documents?

Until we define the answers to these questions, our actions against ISIL will either be ineffective or never-ending—or both.

HOW IT’S GOING SO FAR

If it remains unclear exactly how the US will know when it has defeated ISIL or how long that might take, it is even murkier how it is going so far.

With $2 billion in assets and substantial support from Sunni Muslims around the world, ISIL’s ranks are swelling and it is drawing recruits from foreign countries everywhere. As ISIL continues to behead captives in retaliation for western interference in its endeavors, the fault lines of shifting alliances are as treacherous as ever.

In Syria, ISIL is fighting President Bashar al-Asad, who the U.S. agrees “must go.” The U.S. is trying to help Syrian “moderates” fight against both Present Bashar al-Assad and ISIL and other “non-moderate” rebels.

After Susan Rice claimed Turkey had agreed to let coalition forces use Turkish bases to assist the moderate Syrians rebels, Turkey repudiated any such agreement. Instead of helping in the fight against ISIL, Turkey has bombed a faction of Kurds called the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. But the PKK—along with other Kurds—is currently trying to defeat ISIL militants near Kobani, which the U.S. (and presumably Turkey) also wants to do.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia officially condemns and opposes ISIL. It is one of the coalition members. But Saudi Arabia supports Sunni Salafism, which is the philosophy also followed by ISIL.

The U.S. and Iran do not get along, because the U.S. considers Iran a terrorist state and opposes its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is helping support the Iraqi government against ISIL. In exchange, it wants concessions on its nuclear aspirations and a reprieve of sanctions. Fighting ISIL would help the U.S. and moderate Iraqis. It would also help Iran’s friend, Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. says “must go.” At the same time in Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthis, who are moderate Shiites and thus enemies of ISIL. This will anger U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who is helping in the fight against ISIL in Iraq but who also supports Sunni Salifism, which is the philosophy of ISIL.

Clear as mud?

If not, you may have some sympathy for Rear Admiral James Kirby as he tries to answer a question about how things are going in Operation Inherent Resolve. “Military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself,” Rear Admiral Kirby explains. There are “areas where we are having success,” but it is a “mixed picture.” It is “gonna take a long time” and the U.S. will be “in this … for a matter of years.”

Whatever else may be said about the author of this meme that has been making the rounds on social media, the situation can aptly be summed up as follows:

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

[And i]f the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

 

Miss me yet?

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