Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Stewart Baker: Light on Security and History

One would be right to worry about Stewart Baker, Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for policy. He’s as smart and cagey as they come, but for all his years at DHS, his security thinking seems not yet to have matured. At the same time, his recollection of the REAL ID Act is showing signs of somewhat advanced age. Let’s walk through some things with our friend Stewart:

Writing on the DHS blog in support of our national ID law, the REAL ID Act, he intones about the importance of driver’s licenses to national security. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we learned this the hard way. Twice.”:

First, in 1995, when Timothy McVeigh was able to create a fake South Dakota license with ease; all it took was a manual typewriter and a kitchen iron. He used the license to rent a Ryder truck in Oklahoma and destroy the Murrah Federal Building. Then, on September 11, 2001, eighteen of the nineteen hijackers carried government-issued IDs – mostly state driver’s licenses, many obtained fraudulently.

What, actually, did we learn from these stories?

I researched McVeigh’s attack on the Murrah building for my book Identity Crisis, concluding that he and Terry Nichols used false names inconsistently and with little purpose or effect. McVeigh used his true name to register at a motel for the nights directly preceding the bombing. This certainly clouds the theory that insufficient identification security had a relationship to the success of the bombing.

No, McVeigh and Nichols used surprise, not anonymity, to carry out their attack. They were playing cat and mouse with a cat that wasn’t looking for them. Once they struck, they were easily found.

The 9/11 story similarly fails to create a foundation for REAL ID or more secure identification. The 9/11 Commission noted that the 9/11 terrorists acquired U.S. identity documents — “some by fraud” — but it made no effort to establish how possession of identity documents, whether fraudulently or lawfully gotten, was proximate to the success of the 9/11 attacks.

A monograph on terrorist travel issued by 9/11 Commission staff without the endorsement of the Commission documented many issues related to travel documents and identity cards, but it too failed to establish how weakness in our identity systems were proximate to the 9/11 attacks, or — more importantly — how more secure identification systems would foreclose future acts of terrorism. Stewart Baker hasn’t establish this either. Nobody ever has. Identity security was a minor recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, and not a well-supported one.

But Baker characterizes it thusly:

The 9/11 Commission recognized that it’s too easy to get false identification in the U.S. That’s why the Commission determined that “(s)ecure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” Congress responded with the REAL ID Act of 2005, which requires the federal government to set standards for the identifications it accepts.

Now poor Stewart has fallen down a different way. Actually, Congress responded to the 9/11 Commission report with Section 7212 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-458). It created a committee of interested parties to assess how to strengthen the security of state ID cards and licenses. The REAL ID Act repealed section 7212 and disbanded that committee. Legislation to restore it is pending in both the Senate and the House.

Baker plans to write more on the REAL ID Act in the coming days. His purpose, of course, is to menace the states whose leaders may refuse to accept an extension of the compliance deadline under the Act. These states may force a showdown with DHS and Congress over this sprawling albatross of an unfunded surveillance mandate.

Not a single state in the entire country will comply with REAL ID by the statutory deadline of May 11, but DHS hopes that getting all states to agree to take deadline extensions can be counted as a REAL ID win. I suppose logic like that makes Stu Baker’s security chops and memory look pretty good! It’s a close call, but at this point I think it’s premature to take his driver’s license away.

Victim Shot While Calling 911

A California woman was shot to death as she pleaded with emergency dispatchers to come and help her. Her death will not make the network news programs this evening, but this is the latest reminder that we must take responsibility for our own safety and not rely on the police. 

Bill Masters, a libertarian and sheriff of a Colorado county tells the residents of his county, “It is your responsibility to protect yourself and your family from criminals. If you rely on the government for protection, you are going to be at least disappointed and at worst injured or killed.” 

Gun control puts honest citizens in the position of having to choose between protecting their lives or respecting the law. What kind of government would do such a thing

More on gun control here and here.

California Attempts to Silence State Contractors

Imagine that you do business in California.  Maybe you’re in construction, or health care, or auto repair.  Now imagine some or all of your income comes from state contracts; using the above examples, perhaps you build schools, or take care of patients on Medi-Cal, or fix broken-down LAPD squad cars.  Now imagine that the state comes in and says, aha, because we pay your bills – again, on contracts relating to construction, health care, auto repair, etc. – and we love unions, you can’t talk to your employees about any negative aspects of unionization.  Ridiculous, right?  Who is a customer to tell you what to do with money that’s already in your pocket?

Well, that’s precisely what the great state of California is trying to do with a new statute that small businesses are challenging in the case of Chamber of Commerce v. Brown.  It’s a little bit more complicated than I outline above because the case implicates highly technical provisions of the National Labor Relations Act (and previous Supreme Court interpretations thereof), but the gist is that California is attempting to silence employers by tying speech restrictions to unrelated state spending.  For reasons that the petitioners ably present in their briefs and that I summarize in a podcast and in Cato’s own amicus brief, the Supreme Court should strike down this statute.

In any event, that’s the background to my trip to the Court to hear argument in Chamber v. Brown today.  (The plaza in front of the courthouse steps was remarkably free of demonstrators after yesterday’s hoopla surrounding the DC Gun Ban case.)  I’ll save you the detailed summary of the argument, but suffice it to say that the outcome will almost certainly go against California.  It’s always dicey predicting the scorecard, but based on oral argument it will probably be 7-2, 6-3, or maybe 6-1-2.  On one side, Justices Scalia and Alito and Chief Justice Roberts were safely on the side of free speech; Justices Justice Souter surprisingly led the charge against California’s interpretation of labor law; Justice Breyer, though skeptical, will likely write his own opinion agreeing in the Court’s opinion for separate reasons or possibly calling for remand rather than strict reversal; and Justice Thomas was silent but is expected to join the majority.  On the other side, Justices Stevens and Ginsberg seem to have no problem with California’s regulation.  On his own side as usual, Justice Kennedy’s vote seems to be up for grabs, but – based on his decisions in previous labor and regulatory preemption cases – I would bet on him siding with the majority.

In short, California employers will live to speak another day.

What Militia Theory?

Here is an excerpt from today’s Washington Post regarding the arguments at the Supreme Court yesterday:

A majority of the Supreme Court indicated a readiness yesterday to settle decades of constitutional debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment by declaring that it provides an individual right to own a gun for self-defense.

Such a finding could doom the District of Columbia’s ban on private handgun possession, the country’s toughest gun-control law, and significantly change the tone and direction of the nation’s political battles over gun control.

During oral arguments that drew spectators who had waited for days to be in the courtroom, there was far more skepticism among the justices about the constitutionality of the District’s ban on private handgun possession than defense of it.

Read the whole thing. Cato Senior Fellow Bob Levy, Alan Gura, and Clark Neily did a superb job of advocacy–with their legal brief, the oral argument, and in media interviews.

Only one problem. They have so thoroughly demolished the notion that the right to keep and bear arms only pertains to persons serving in the militia or National Guard that most people will not truly appreciate their achievement. In two years (less?) people will say “wasn’t it always so?”

I expect a favorable ruling in the Heller case but I also expect DC Mayor Adrian Fenty to obstruct the ruling as much as he possibly can. So, if I’m right, the way in which to view this case is as an important victory in an on-going struggle.

Supreme Court Hears Second Amendment Case Today

This morning the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in the landmark Second Amendment case, DC v. Heller. People started getting in line last night. (HT: Volokh Conspiracy). Here’s the story from today’s Washington Post. An audio of the argument will be released around 11:30 am EST for those of us who could not attend the live event. The attorneys who present the arguments must be prepared for three scenarios. Scenario I is a “cold bench” – which means few questions. In that scenario, the attorney must be ready to speak persuasively for about 30 minutes. Scenario II is the “hot bench” – which means lots of questions. In that scenario, the attorney must be ready for a barrage of questions and just hope that he/she can make a strong opening and closing without interruption. Scenario III is somewhere in between the two extremes. Everyone expects a hot bench today. Should be very interesting.

For additional background, go here and here.

Boiling the Voter-ID Teapot

Last week, former Federal Election Commissioner Hans A. von Spakovsky published a Heritage Foundation Legal Memorandum entitled Stolen Identities, Stolen Votes: A Case Study in Voter Impersonation. Contrary to claims made by prominent newspapers and attorneys, he argues, in-person voting fraud is a real problem.

The evidence he provides is a vote fraud ring that began operating in 1968 and that was broken up more than 25 years ago in 1982. Impersonation fraud can be committed at polling places, and a voter-ID requirement would make it a little harder, but a quarter-century-old case is hardly evidence of a significant problem.

How states secure their voting processes should turn on how they structure their voting processes. States might choose a voter ID requirement if they can do so in a way that balances security against access, convenience, and privacy. Absentee balloting is generally a far greater threat to the security of elections than weak or non-existent ID requirements at polling places.

The thing that matters most is avoiding a uniform national voter ID requirement. I wrote about this in my TechKnowledge piece Voter ID: A Tempest in a Teapot That Could Burn Us All: “To ensure that American voters enjoy their franchise in a free country, clumsy voter ID rules should be avoided. A national voter ID system should be taken off the table entirely.”

Rep. Bachman Misleads Her Constituents

Over the last few weeks, I’ve pointed out a few of the misleading arguments being deployed on behalf of expanding executive power in the wiretapping debate. But I think this op-ed in my home state’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune, may take the cake. It’s written by Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), and it’s a brazen effort to mislead my fellow Minnesotans about the wiretapping debate without saying anything that’s technically false. Rep. Bachman writes:

One of the critical tools that has allowed us to keep the homeland safe after 9/11 has been the Protect America Act. It updated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to deal with new, deadly challenges in this age of terror – enabling intelligence services to immediately listen to phone calls made between foreign terrorists.

Now, it’s true that the Protect America Act was passed “after 9/11.” It’s also true that the Protect America Act was passed after Pearl Harbor. And the Battle of Hastings, for that matter. The key point is that the Protect America Act was passed in August 2007, six years after 9/11.

This matters because, as Kurt Opsahl at EFF points out, Bachman goes on to imply that “attack after attack,” including the liquid explosives plot in the summer of 2006, was stopped by the Protect America Act. Indeed, she writes, “last year, the Heritage Foundation compiled a list of 19 confirmed terror plots against American targets that had been thwarted.”

Here is the report Bachman is presumably referring to. The 19 attacks range from the Richard Reid shoe bomb attack in December 2001 to the JFK Airport plot in June 2007. In other words, all 19 thwarted attacks occurred before the Protect America Act was enacted in August 2007. Bachman never explicitly says otherwise, but she’s obviously doing her best to give her constituents the impression that the PAA was enacted sometime in 2001 or 2002. Reasonable people could disagree about whether this qualifies as a lie. But I think it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Rep. Bachman has a low opinion of her constituents’ intelligence.