Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Yon Goicoechea Named Recipient of the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty

Yon Goicoechea, leader of the pro-democracy student movement in Venezuela, has been awarded the 2008 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. Under Goicoechea’s leadership, the student movement organized mass opposition to the erosion of human and civil rights in Venezuela and played the key role in defeating Hugo Chávez’s bid for a constitutional reform that would have turned the country into a dictatorship. Goicoechea’s vision of optimism, tolerance, and modernity has breathed new life into efforts to defend basic freedoms in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America where freedom is threatened.

Full Details

Texas Nightmare

Good column on the seizure of 400+ children from the FLDS ranch in Texas. (HT: Volokh).

As I said in this Cato podcast,  I think it is telling that no young adult or child has been found saying “Thank you so much for rescuing me!  It is nice to be in a place where I am not beaten up!”  The absence of proof is now considered evidence of massive “cult” brainwashing.  If a child says “I love my parents and want to go home,” it means he has been brainwashed by the “cult.”  And if a child says “I like my foster parents a lot.  They give me candy and the video games are awesome,” it means the child’s actual parents are unfit.

State authorities talk a lot about rape and forced marriages, but 300 children are ages 4 and below.  They should be sent home because there is no evidence of abuse.  All the boys should go home because there’s no evidence of abuse.  As for the remaining girls, they have been held for 3 weeks already … the judge should give the police one more week to present evidence or they should be going home too.   The investigation can continue, but 3+ weeks in custody is enough already.  

When it comes to separating children from the parents, the burden of proof must be borne by the state. 

Even Argentina’s Good Policies Undermine Its Rule of Law

Much as I hate to rain on my colleague Juan Carlos Hidalgo’s understandable happiness at the decriminalization of personal consumption/possession of small amounts of drugs, this doesn’t exactly represent a ray of hope in Argentina’s otherwise gloomy policy mix.  Not because I believe in the War on Drugs – I can’t imagine anybody at Cato does – but because it was a court that reached this decision instead of a policymaking body.

Imagine the outcry if the U.S. Supreme Court simply decreed a policy it didn’t like to be unconstitutional – I know, with Justices Stevens and Kennedy at the apogee of their powers, it’s not a far stretch.  Better yet, recall the poison the Court injected into our legal and political systems when it short-circuited the political process by inventing a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade (again, I’m not saying anything about the underlying policy arguments).

So it is here: Instead of having the Argentine Congress change the law, the nation’s Supreme Court (by a vote of 4-3) simply decreed that criminalizing drug use is unconstitutional.  Reports are still sketchy, but this sounds like precisely the kind of judicial fiat developing (or any) countries need to avoid if they want to strengthen the rule of law.

NCSL Calls for Repeal of REAL ID

The National Conference of State Legislatures wants the REAL ID Act gone. It supports S. 717, the Identification Security Enhancement Act of 2007, which would repeal the REAL ID Act and reinstitute a negotiated rulemaking process on identity security that was established in the 9/11-Commission-inspired Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that an organization like this would reject a behemoth of a project like building a national ID and surveillance system. The NCSL isn’t a small-government organization, and it could just as well have lobbied for billions of dollars in funding.

Money Meddling

Are you an entrepreneur who deposits a regular amount of your business revenues in the bank? Watch out, the government might come after you for illegal “structuring.”

Are you a high earner who regularly pulls out a substantial amount of cash from your bank account? Watch out, your bank could be sending ”suspicious activity reports” about you to the government, as former senator Bob Dole’s bank did.

Have you ever deposited or withdrawn more than $10,000 from your bank? Watch out, because your activities were recorded on a government database of “currency transaction reports,” which is growing by 16 million new reports each year.

Did you overstate your income on a loan form when you bought your house? Watch out, the government could nail you for both ”bank fraud” and “money laundering.”

Forbes focuses on government encroachments on our civil liberties in a series of articles this month. See here, here and here

As a tax wonk, the IRS angle in these articles caught my eye. But like many people, I find it very disturbing that continual expansions in federal power are shrinking the realm of privacy and individual automony in modern society.  

Campaign Finance Reform Meets Kurt Vonnegut

This morning, as Pennsylvania Democrats went to the polls in the last large primary before their nominating convention, the Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law: Davis v. FEC, in which Cato filed an amicus brief, questions the “Millionaires’ Amendment,” which attempts to discourage candidates for election to Congress from spending more than $350,000 from their own personal funds. It penalizes campaign spending above that threshold by enhacing the political speech of the self-financing candidate’s opponent through increased contribution limits and unlimited coordinated party expenditures. This penalty unconstitutionally chills candidates from engaging in protected political speech beyond that personal funds ceiling, and does so without serving any governmental interest that the Supreme Court has recognized. The penalty doesn’t even prevent the “corruption” that was the rationale for McCain-Feingold, because there is no threat of quid pro quo from a candidates’s expenditure of her own funds. And the Court has expressly rejected “leveling the playing field” of financial resources as an interest sufficient to justofy the infringement of First Amendment rights. Ultimately, the “Millionaires’ Amendment” is nothing more than an incumbency protection mechanism designed by Congress for its own benefit.

Based on this morning’s argument, I think the Court will issue a narrow decision striking down the Millionaires’ Amendment based on the disclosure burden, with separate concurrences on broader First Amendment grounds. The most interesting questioning, not unexpectedly, came from Justice Scalia, who, evoked the reductio ad absurdum of the “leveling” provision (which reminded me of the old Vonnegut story about equality run amock, Harrison Bergeron): “What if one candidate is more eloquent than the other one? You make him talk with pebbles in his mouth?”

Note: John Samples and I visited Capitol Hill yesterday to give a public briefing on the law and policy of self-funded campaigns.