Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

What the DEA and Drug Traffickers Have in Common

In today’s WaPo, the DEA’s Chief of Operations James L. Capra claims that: 

the movement to decriminalize the sale of pot in the United States will have severe consequences. … Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.

Capra’s assertion is so ignorant of the facts that it merits little comment; instead, read Glenn Greenwald’s Cato study on decriminalization in Portugal, which shows just the opposite of Capra’s claim.

Capra’s statement about “severe consequences” is not entirely wrong, however; legalization will put thousands of DEA and other law enforcement officials out of work! Perhaps, therefore, the government should outlaw food, clothing, and shelter; then we could emply billions in the attempt to enforce those laws.

An interesting side note is that, like law enforcement officials, drug traffickers also fear legalization. See minute 4:00 of this video.

 

Unanimous SCOTUS Decides Two Civil Procedure Cases

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two unanimous cases correcting appeals courts on issues of civil procedure. In Mississippi ex rel. Hood v. AU Optronics, it reversed a Fifth Circuit ruling that a consumer lawsuit by the state of Mississippi was enough like a class action that it should be heard in federal rather than state court under the procedures specified by the Class Action Fairness Act. In Daimler AG v. Bauman et al, it reversed a Ninth Circuit ruling that because worldwide auto giant Daimler has operations in California, it can properly be sued in that state over alleged misconduct in Argentina that has nothing in particular to do with its California operations. 

Neither result is even remotely surprising (and Cato did not file amicus briefs in either case). In the AU Optronics case, CAFA’s plain language supported the state of Mississippi’s position, and arguments that removal was more consistent with the law’s spirit added up to a plea for the business community (which identifies with the defendant side here) to get a better deal than it managed to get during the negotiations that led to the law’s passage. In the Daimler case, the Court again confirmed, as in the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case discussed at length by Kenneth Anderson in the latest Cato Supreme Court Review, that it is deeply out of sympathy with “universal jurisdiction” notions beloved in some parts of legal academia and the world of activist NGOs (non-governmental organizations), under which labeling something a “human rights” matter should open the way for suit to be brought over it in more or less any court anyplace.

The cases remind us that despite the various attacks on the Court as result-oriented and ideology-driven, much of its work consists simply of trying to keep the law on a logically coherent and predictable course. Anti-business activists couldn’t win a single vote for their supposed human rights claims in Daimler, just as their more radical claims had unanimously flopped in Kiobel.  By the same token the organized business community couldn’t win a single Justice in AU Optronics, though it put a real effort into defending its Fifth Circuit victory. It’s long past time for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to apologize for her demagogic portrayal of the Court as headed toward a condition as “wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business”.

 

 

Would Anti-Marijuana Activists Also Try to Keep Alcohol Illegal?

After I read the latest of Mitchell S. Rosenthal’s tirades against drug legalization in the Wall Street Journal, I must have fallen asleep and dreamed of a world in which marijuana is legal and alcohol is illegal. Not one of Coleridge’s opium-induced dreams, alas, so I didn’t wake up to write a classic poem. But I did wonder what op-ed the Journal might publish in such a world if people began to agitate for the freedom to drink alcohol. With the help of Matthew LaCorte, I discovered you wouldn’t have to change many words. I imagine it might go something like this: 

Let’s Not Kid Ourselves About Alcohol

By Rose Ethel Mitchell

Booze is always good for a giggle, and that makes it hard to take alcohol seriously. The news and entertainment media couldn’t resist puns on “LAX new rules” when California started the year with legal sales of alcohol for recreational purposes. TV stations across the country featured chuckling coverage of long lines outside the state’s new state-licensed liquor shops.

Legalizing alcohol isn’t just amusing. It’s increasingly popular with legislators and the public. And why not? No matter how drunk drinkers get, they’re nowhere near as useless in society as lazy pot-heads, right?  Drinkers don’t clear all the munchies off the grocery shelves or grow their hair out like hippies. But studies show that, unlike pot, alcohol leads to violence and aggression, especially with friends or partners.

A recent study found that alcohol is more dangerous than such legal drugs as cannabis and Ecstasy. We should not be raising a glass to the coming acceptance of alcohol use and dependency. Alcohol is far from safe, despite the widespread effort to make it seem benign. Drinking damages the heart, increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, and can trigger acute psychotic episodes. Many adults appear to be able to use alcohol with relatively little harm, but the same cannot be said of adolescents, who are about twice as likely as adults to become addicted to drinking. The new California law limits alcohol sales to people 21 or older, but making it available for recreational use normalizes it in society. The drug will be made more easily available to those under 21, and how long until the age limit is dropped to 18? Having some bubbly may enhance social interactions, but at what cost?

Adolescents are vulnerable—and not just to booze. That’s how they are programmed. They make rash and risky choices because their brains aren’t fully developed. The part of the brain that censors dumb or dangerous behavior is last to come on line (generally not before the mid-20s). Meanwhile, the brain’s pleasure-seeking structures are up and running strong by puberty. When you link adolescent pleasure-seeking and risk-taking to liquor’s impairment of perception and judgment, it isn’t surprising that a 2004 study of seriously injured drivers in Maryland found half the teens tested positive for booze.

Drinking impairs judgment—no small matter during the adolescent years—and it can do lasting harm to the brain. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has found that alcohol disrupts the brain’s communication pathways and can change mood and behavior, making it harder to think clearly and move with coordination. Long-term drinking can damage the heart, inflame the liver, increase risk of cancer, and weaken the immune system.

Most disturbing is a recent discovery about alcohol from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health which found alcohol is the third leading cause of disease around the world. The lead author wrote, “Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries.” While New Yorkers are sipping their “Long Island iced tea” or vacationers are singing about tequila, the facts show that their bodies don’t think these drinks are going down smooth.

Many experts are troubled by changing teen attitudes about drinking.   Half of adolescents have already tried illegal alcohol. Teen marijuana use and cigarette smoking have declined, and their abuse of prescription painkillers has fallen off sharply, but teen imbibing  continues to increase.  And a shocking 15% exhibit signs of alcoholism even in their teen years. This binge of facts will only worsen with legal alcohol.

No one can say how liquor legalization will play out. A perception of legal alcohol as safe, combined with sophisticated marketing, may well double or triple drinking. Warning of aggressive promotion, alcohol-policy expert Luke Farmer, who studied potential issues of a legal alcohol market for the New York City Council, pointed out last year: “The only way to sell a lot of alcohol is to create a lot of alcoholics.”

As we learn more about the realities of legalizing recreational booze, I suspect it won’t seem so funny anymore. Remember, potheads used to be good for a laugh too. A spaced-out pothead was a staple of Hollywood comedies in the 1960s and ’70s. Smoking cigarettes was considered cool. The reality of wrecked lives and ruined health eventually changed public perceptions of these addictions. Now liquor is becoming more widely regarded as a harmless amusement. That’s not funny, it’s tragic. Drinkers may enjoy a Scotch on the rocks, but the social effects will be rocky for us all.

It’s always hard to imagine a counterfactual. I wrote once about a world in which education was provided on the free market but shoes were produced and distributed by the government, and how people would have trouble imagining how a free market in shoes would work. In this case, however, we did go through an episode of substance prohibition, followed by legalization. And despite all the real problems created by alcohol use, we decided that a liberal system created fewer social problems than Prohibition. Surely we can imagine the same with regard to marijuana.

 

 

Our Broken Judicial Nominations Process

This month at Cato Unbound, we’re discussing the federal judicial nominations process: Is it broken? (Spoiler: Yes!) How did it get that way? And what can be done to fix it? 

Our lead essayist is John R. Lott, Jr., author of the new book Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench. His lead essay charges that the growth of the federal government’s regulatory reach has raised the stakes in the judicial nominaitons process: Now it’s a much graver matter when the other party’s judges end up on the bench – particularly if the nominees in question are especially smart and persuasive. Lott writes:

Think that attending a top university and graduating at the top of the class is the key to your success? Not if you’re headed for a federal judgeship. In fact, today the most accomplished candidates are the most likely to be rejected. And this phenomenon has only gotten worse, with the quality of judges declining over the last four decades…

A smart, persuasive judge might convince other judges to change their votes on a case. Judges who can write powerfully worded decisions also are more likely to be cited more frequently in other judges’ decisions and to influence their decisions.

The president wants to nominate influential judges to successfully push the positions he values. His political opponents, however, naturally fear such judges—and, therefore, vehemently oppose their appointments.

Agree? Disagree? We’ll see some of each this month at Cato Unbound, and we invite you to follow the conversation as it develops. Coming up we’ll have essays by Professor Michael Teter of the University of Utah, on January 15; Clint Bolick of the Goldwater Institute, on January 17; and John O. McGinnis of Northwestern University, on January 20. A conversation among all four participants will then be held through the end of the month.

Lastly, if you like Cato Unbound, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

A Governor’s Warped Priorities

The governor of New Hampshire just submitted an amicus brief in the lawsuit against the “Live Free or Die” state’s scholarship tax credit program. Last year, Governor Maggie Hassan unsuccessfully sought its repeal. The brief offers nothing new in the way of legal arguments. As with the ACLU and, unfortunately, the trial court judge, the governor’s brief tries to imagine a constitutional difference between tax credits and tax deductions and absurdly assumes that money that a private corporation donated to a private nonprofit that financially assists private citizens sending their children to private schools is somehow “public” money because the state could have collected it in taxes had the legislature so decided. This claim contradicts both logic and the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in ACSTO v. Winn:

Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding [scholarship] tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. Respondents’ contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the … State Treasury.

The Cato Institute submitted an amicus brief defending the constitutionality of the program back in November.

What’s noteworthy here is not the legal reasoning, but the governor’s chutzpah. First, as the Union Leader noted, “Hassan is pushing state-funded, need-based scholarships for college students while trying to eliminate need-based scholarships for students in grades K-12.” The governor’s amicus brief does not explain why direct public expenditures that students can use at a Catholic college are perfectly constitutional but a low-income student using a tax-credit scholarships at a religious elementary or secondary school would, as her amicus brief melodramatically puts it, “jeopardize both the hallowed underpinnings of religious tolerance and freedom, and the prohibition against entanglement made sacred by [the] New Hampshire Constitution.” 

Second, Hassan is a strong proponent of “research and development” tax credits that pick winners and losers among certain types of businesses and business activities, thereby distorting the market. Moreover, by the governor’s faulty logic, these tax credits constitute direct subsidies of public funds to profit-seeking entities. R&D tax credits clearly reduce state revenue to fund activities that businesses are generally doing anyway for their own financial self-interest.  

By contrast, scholarship tax credits expand the market for private education without distorting it. Parents pick winners and losers among schools rather than the government. The corporations who receive the 85 percent tax credits do not benefit financially – indeed, they’d be better off financially had they not donated at all. Moreover, the Josiah Bartlett Center projected that, if fully utilized, the scholarship tax credits would save New Hampshire taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run by reducing state expenditures by more than they would reduce state tax revenue.

In short, Governor Hassan supports corporate welfare but opposes tax credits that assist low-income families seeking the best education for their children.

Government Will Lose Recess Appointments Case

This morning’s oral argument couldn’t have gone any better for those challenging President Obama’s recess appointments (see previous commentary and Cato’s brief for background on NLRB v. Noel Canning). Not only were Justices Scalia and Alito sticklers for constitutional text and structure, but the more liberal justices joined in to express extreme skepticism about the government’s theories. Justice Kagan pointed out that modern presidents don’t face congressional absences—the reason for the president’s power to appoint federal officials without the Senate’s “advice and consent”—but merely congressional “intransigence.” And the Recess Appointments Clause doesn’t exist to solve those kinds of political problems, noted Justice Breyer. Justice Breyer also pointed out that, if you follow the government’s argument that so-called “pro forma” Senate sessions don’t count, then the Senate repeatedly violates the Constitution by not having a “actual” sessions on January 3 (as the 20th Amendment requires) and by recessing for more than three days without the House’s consent (as Article I, Section 5 requires).

Solicitor General Verrilli’s suggestion that the Senate has to be engaging in business to deny the president the recess-appointments power didn’t seem to satisfy anyone. As Justice Kagan put it, any such test can be easily evaded by a clever Senate (that could name post offices by unanimous consent, for example, or, in Chief Justice Roberts’s example, note in the Senate Journal for “pro forma” sessions that “no business is anticipated to be [rather than will be] conducted”). Justice Kennedy said that he was “in search of a limiting principle” to the government’s position—so as not to simply give the president sole discretion to determine when the Senate is or isn’t in recess. Justice Kagan was left asking both sides how the Court should rule given that the presidential practice—whose history prior to the Truman administration the parties dispute—seemed to so clearly contradict the constitutional text and structure.

And indeed that is the question: If it’s true, as an overwhelming majority of the justices seemed to think, that the president was only supposed to have the power to make recess appointments during intersession recesses, and only for vacancies that arose during such recesses, what does it mean that this correct interpretation has never been followed? The challengers had several ready answers: (1) The Court hasn’t hesitated to make significant rulings upsetting existing practice based on separation-of-powers concerns (for example regarding the authority of criminal sentencing guidelines); (2) Past nominations won’t be unduly disturbed because of various finality rules, statutes of limitation, and agencies’ ability to ratify past decisions; (3) Given the changed modern context, with Congress in session for much longer periods and senators able to fly back to Washington on a moment’s notice, recess appointments are less important; and (4) Regardless of the correct interpretation of the recess-appointments power, it is the Senate that gets to determine when it’s in session or in recess, not the president.

While it’s unclear how exactly the Supreme Court will write its opinion in this case and where its focus will lie, it’ll be a real shock if the government wins this case. The justices recognized that the battle over executive and judicial nominations is a political one and that in cases of impasse, the Framers designed a system encouraging either political compromise or a final decision by the voters—not endless constitutional brinksmanship.

The Administration’s School-Discipline Push, Cont’d.

As Andrew Coulson explained, the federal Justice Department and Department of Education have sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter discouraging schools from pursuing strict discipline policies against student misbehavior, especially against “routine” or “minor” infractions; Education Secretary Arne Duncan cited tardiness and disrespect as examples of the latter. 

Assuming that the federal government has somehow acquired the legitimate constitutional authority to begin dictating the fine points of disciplinary policy to local schools in the first place—a big if—it might seem at first that much of this is innocuous. Some early press coverage, for example, makes it sound as if the letter is mostly aimed at obtaining a reconsideration of zero-tolerance policies (long criticized by libertarians) as well as the sorts of suspensions and expulsions that are based on far-fetched dangers like finger guns or forbidden hugs.

Unfortunately, there’s much more. The letter represents the culmination of a years-long drive toward imposing tighter Washington oversight on school discipline policies that result in “disparate impact” among racial or other groups. Policies that result in the suspension of differentially more minority kids, or special-ed kids, will now be suspect—even if the rate of underlying behavior is not in fact uniform among every group. (Special-ed kids, for example, include many placed in that category because of emotional and behavioral problems that correlate with a higher likelihood of acting out in misbehavior. Boys misbehave more than girls.)

In 2012 Senate testimony, Andrew Coulson noted:

  1. Compared with the alternatives, the use of out-of-school suspensions appears to improve the learning environment for other (non-disciplined) students by protecting them from disruption.
  2. Zero-tolerance policies were adopted in the first place in part as a way for administrators to try to defend themselves against disparate-impact charges. In other words, the new supposed remedy (disparate-impact scrutiny) helped cause the disease to which it is being promoted as the cure.

If the policy helps speed the correction of some overly harsh, mechanical school policies (both under the zero-tolerance rubric and otherwise), it may have some positive side effects. But the disparate-impact premise is a pernicious one that’s sure to create many new problems of its own.

C/P and adapted from Overlawyered.