Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Supreme Court Wasn’t Serious about the Second Amendment

While the media attention will focus on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway – the legislative-prayer case – the more interesting (and consequential) decision issued today was the Court’s denial of review in Drake v. Jerejian, the Second Amendment case I previously discussed here. In Drake, the lower federal courts upheld an outrageous New Jersey law that denies the right to bear arms outside the home for self-defense – just like the D.C. law at issue in District of Columbia v. Heller denied the right to keep arms inside the home – and today the Supreme Court let them get away with it.

Drake is but the latest in a series of cases that challenge the most restrictive state laws regarding the right to armed self-defense. Although the Supreme Court in Heller declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual constitutional right, lower federal courts with jurisdiction over states like Maryland and New York have been “willfully confused” about the scope of that right, declining to protect it outside Heller’s particular facts (a complete ban on functional firearms in the home). It’s as if the Supreme Court announced that the First Amendment protects an individual right to blog about politics from your home computer, but then some lower courts allowed states to ban political blogging from your local Starbucks.

Yet each time, the Supreme Court has denied review.

Colorado Isn’t Having a Cultural Revolution

In news that will surprise exactly no one, music and cannabis can be pretty nice together:

The cultural revolution that is making marijuana part of everyday Colorado life conquers another established front Tuesday as the Colorado Symphony Orchestra announces a series of performances sponsored by the cannabis industry.

The concerts, organized by pro-pot promoter Edible Events, will start May 23 with three bring-your-own marijuana events at the Space Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe arts district and culminate with a large, outdoor performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 13. The events are being billed as fundraisers for the CSO, which will curate a themed program of classical music for each show.

But that’s hardly a cultural revolution: The earliest written mention of marijuana was by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who described its users dancing and singing. The rest, as they say, is history.

What’s revolutionary here is the law, which has finally begun treating Coloradans like responsible adults rather than criminals. At least about cannabis: Our laws ought to do the same for all illegal drugs. Doing so will encourage responsible drug use, better scientific research, and better treatment for addicts.

Yes, legal cannabis means we will have to make a few adjustments. But many of them aren’t so bad: “Are drivers sober?” is not a new question, after all. Only now, it’s a question to be answered a little more honestly, and with better treatment from the law. On the whole, that’s clearly for the best.

The Legalization Juggernaut

Former Drug Czar Bill Bennett has co-authored an article in the Weekly Standard, “The Legalization Juggernaut.”  Bennett is upset about voter approval for the marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington and recent polls showing “for the first time that a clear majority of Americans (58 percent) support marijuana legalization.”  Bennett can hardly believe that we have reached this “dangerous and absurd moment.”   It is absurd because, to Bennett, the policy question boils down to this: “Do we need a dumber country?”   If the debate can be framed that way, Bennett and his co-author, Christopher Beach, are convinced that “this headlong rush into disaster can be stopped.”  If.

Some readers of Cato@Liberty might need reminding that when Bennett was a high-ranking government official, he once said executing drug dealers was morally justifiable. Given that stance, it must bewilder him to see marijuana stores opening in Denver, Seattle, and other cities.  For the moment, all Bennett wants are a few political leaders to “speak out on marijuana.”   Hmm.  That’s another telling indication of the changing political climate with respect to drug policy.

More here, here, and here.

Two Questions, Two Answers

As the fall-out continues from the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision earlier this week—see, in order, Ilya’s, my, and Wally’s Cato@Liberty comments—I was invited late yesterday to expand, very briefly, on my earlier reflections at a site called “2paragraphs”—in particular, to discuss, in two paragraphs, how public higher education transfers wealth from the lower to the upper classes of society, and how affirmative action actually harms those it’s meant to help. You’ll find that brief discussion here.

Police Recruiting Video

The Springdale (Ark.) Police Department put together a recruitment video for new officers. The video is getting some attention—for its militarism. Take a look:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V45XAP7Yhjo

The video shows armored vehicles, flash bang grenades, and (at the 2:30 min. mark) officers dressed in ghillie suits.

The over-the-top nature of militarized policing is getting more attention.  I was interviewed about another police recruiting video here. And see this recent article in Esquire, for example.

More than any organization (at least that I’m aware of), Cato has been sounding the alarm about this disturbing trend.

He Is the Very Model of a Modern Retired Justice

Justice John Paul Stevens, who left the high court in 2010, is on fire. He just released a book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, and is now on a media tour that has thus far featured his views on campaign finance, guns, and the death penalty—the subjects of three of his proposed constitutional amendments—and, just today, marijuana. All this, and last weekend he celebrated his 94th birthday!

It might not be appropriate for Stevens to propose constitutional amendments or otherwise opine on political matters because he’s technically still an Article III federal judge (though he hasn’t been hearing cases in the lower courts as Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter have), but nevertheless the ideas he floats are worth examining. To that end, I recently wrote two op-eds related to the Stevens book tour.

The first looks at the response to the justice’s proposal to abolish the death penalty. Some have criticized him for having taken so long to reach this position, but that misunderstands what he’s saying. It’s not that capital punishment is unconstitutional—as recently as 2008 he concurred in a ruling that upheld Kentucky’s method of lethal injection—but that he feels that it’s wrong and that we need to amend the Constitution to remedy that wrong. That’s the proper response, which can be hard to understand for those who conflate law and policy.

My second piece is a quick-and-dirty critique of all six amendments, three of which are structural—(1) requiring state officials to enforce federal law; (2) doing away with political gerrymandering; and (3) eliminating state sovereign immunity—while the other three relate to individual liberties—(4) excising the Second Amendment’s protection for the right to armed self-defense; (5) allowing Congress and state legislatures to limit the money people can spend on election campaigns; and (6) outlawing the death penalty. I’m firmly against 1, 4, and 5, on balance against 6, am sympathetic to 2 but it needs to be redrafted, and support 3 (but it could go farther).

Happy belated birthday, Justice Stevens! I may not have seen things your way too often when you were on the bench, and don’t much agree with you now, but I hope that I live long enough in good health to be able to read books at your age, let alone write them.

Sentencing Reform and Clemency

Today’s Washington Post has an article about Obama’s new clemency project and talks about the work of former Catoite, Julie Stewart. Julie left Cato to start Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) in 1991. Here’s an excerpt from the Post story:

An Obama administration initiative to encourage nonviolent drug offenders in federal prison to seek clemency is likely to trigger tens of thousands of petitions, and the government could be processing applications for the next three years, according to lawyers and civil rights activists….

“We will get tens of thousands of applications,” said Julie Stewart, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “This is a very complicated, many-layered project. It will go on until the end of the Obama administration.”…

For some of the activists, the issue is deeply personal. Stewart’s brother, Jeff, was sent to federal prison for a mandatory five years for growing marijuana.

He had cultivated 365 six-inch marijuana plants in his garage in Washington state, where the drug is now legal. She thought what he did was “stupid” but assumed he would get off with a relatively light sentence because it was “only marijuana.”

“The judge said, ‘I don’t want to give you this much time but I have no choice because Congress has determined your sentence when they passed the mandatory sentencing laws for drug crimes,’ ” Stewart said. “That was the spark that ignited my mission. I always thought judges judge and determine the punishment that fits the crime. But the judge couldn’t do anything about my brother’s sentence.”…

“When I started my group, sentencing reform was such a fringe issue,” she said. “Nobody knew anything about it and nobody cared. We’ve been working so hard for so many years to build bipartisan support. People are serving decades behind bars for nonviolent mistakes they made in their 20s.”

Over at the FAMM web site, there are profiles of persons serving long sentences in federal prisons. A few weeks ago, before this week’s clemency announcement, Julie and I discussed these issues in a Cato audio roundtable discussion. We both criticized Obama for not exercising his pardon power. Were our criticisms were picked up by the NSA? n any event, you have our permission to listen to that conversation here.

Previous post on the clemency initiative here.