Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Illegal Manicure in the ‘Live Free or Die’ State

In response to to my post about a (possibly) illegal hairdresser in Massachusetts, Michael Hampton of Homeland Stupidity forwards a link to a priceless local New Hampshire news report. (It’s two years old, but it’s new to me and to this blog.)

Free State Project member Mike Fisher performed an illegal manicure right in front of the “Live Free or Die” state’s Board of Barbering, Cosmetology and Esthetics. (Motto: Yew Best Drop That Thar Em’ry Board, Son.)

When the police asked Fisher if he had a license to perform that thar manicure, Fisher said no. When the police issued him a summons and asked that he stop performing that thar manicure, Fisher refused. So the cops slapped handcuffs on this dangerous outlaw and put him in a squad car. Fisher reportedly received a 30-day suspended sentence, with a vow from the judge that if Fisher receives so much as a traffic ticket, it’s off to the pokey he goes.

I wonder what the Granite State wasn’t doing with the time and resources used to arrest and prosecute Fisher.

Hash Brownies and Harlots in the Halls of Power

Eight British Cabinet ministers have admitted that they smoked marijuana in their youth, most of them “only once or twice” in college, which would be an atypical pattern. The revelations began with Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary, the equivalent of the attorney general. They also include the police minister and the Home Office minister in charge of drugs. The eight have been dubbed the “Hash Brownies,” in acknowledgment of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

On Wednesday Brown announced that Smith would lead a government review of the laws on marijuana, specifically with reference to whether simple possession should be again grounds for arrest. (The law was eased in 2002.) Several leading Conservatives in the Shadow Cabinet have also acknowledged using drugs, and party leader David Cameron has emulated President Bush in saying that he’s not obligated to discuss every detail of his private life before he entered politics.

In the United States many leading politicians including Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, Bill Bradley, and Barack Obama have admitted using drugs, while Bush and Bill Clinton tried to avoid answering the question.

In both Britain and the United States, all these politicians support drug prohibition. They support the laws that allow for the arrest and incarceration of people who use drugs. Yet they laugh off their own use as “a youthful indiscretion.”

These people should be asked: Do you think people should be arrested for using drugs? Do you think people should go to jail for using drugs? And if so, do you think you should turn yourself in? Do you think people who by the luck of the draw avoided the legal penalty for using drugs should now be serving in high office and sending off to jail other people who did what you did?

And the same question applies to Sen. David Vitter, who has acknowledged employing the services provided by the “D.C. Madam.” Many people have compared Vitter to other politicians who engaged in adultery, or have mocked his commitment to “family values”–he has said that no issue is more important than protecting the institution of marriage from the threat of gay couples getting married. But the other politicians usually cited were not breaking the law when they had affairs, and Vitter’s hostility to gay marriage while cheating on his own is a matter of simple political hypocrisy. The more specific issue, as with the pot-smoking drug warriors, is that Vitter (presumably) supports the laws against prostitution. Yet he himself, while a member of the United States Congress, has broken those laws and solicited other people to break them.

Vitter should be asked: Do you think prostitution should be illegal? If so, will you turn yourself in? Or will you testify for the defense in the D.C. Madam case, asking the court not to punish Deborah Jeane Palfrey if it’s not punishing you?

I hope that Jacqui Smith, Barack Obama, and David Vitter will engage in some introspection and conclude that if they didn’t deserve to go to jail, then neither do other pot smokers, prostitutes, and their customers. They might decide that not every sin or mistake should be a crime. But they should not sit in the halls of power, imposing on others the penalties they don’t think should apply to them.

Save Wal-Mart, Save Class Action Law?

I’ve got a short Regulation Magazine piece on the notorious (or glorious, depending on your perspective) Dukes v. Wal-Mart case–a gender discrimination class action composed of as many as 2 million women, according to some estimates. You can read more about the case here and download my Regulation piece here.

Many believe the case is headed to the Supreme Court–if not this upcoming term, then the next. If it does, and if the Court takes up Wal-Mart’s constitutional arguments against certification, then, I argue, it might just set the stage for some far-reaching, and overdue, conceptual changes in the way we think about the constitutional rights of class action defendants. My piece uses Dukes as a springboard for sketching some of these defenses–admittedly quite adventurous–which just might become a bit less exotic if Wal-Mart succeeds.

Major Ruling in KPMG Case

In a closely-watched white collar crime case in NY, Judge Kaplan has dismissed criminal charges against 13 defendants because of the federal government’s interference with the constitutional right to counsel.

Excerpt from today’s Washington Post:

Kaplan said the Department of Justice “deliberately or callously” prevented many of the defendants from getting funds for their defense, blocking them from hiring the lawyers of their choice.

“This is intolerable in a society that holds itself out to the world as a paragon of justice,” Kaplan said, adding that he reached his conclusion “only after pursuing every alternative short of dismissal and only with the greatest reluctance.”

Previous coverage here.

Last year Cato published Trapped, which examines the problems in this area of the law.  The author, John Hasnas, spoke about his thesis here.

DC Government to Petition Supreme Court

The Mayor of Washington DC just announced that the city will ask the Supreme Court to reverse a landmark Second Amendment ruling from the DC Court of Appeals.

This is great news–as the whole idea of this lawsuit has been to get a good case up to the Supreme Court.  Had DC officials not filed an appeal, they would have had to amend DC’s 30 year ban on guns, but they could have kept the case out of the Supreme Court.  By filing an appeal, DC officials are hoping that the lower court will be reversed, but the risk is that the High Court will rule otherwise.  For opponents of the DC firearm ban, it is nice to have a favorable precedent from the DC Court of Appeals–but it is even better to have a favorable precedent from the Supreme Court.

The ball is now with the Supreme Court.  DC has decided to appeal but review by the High Court is hardly automatic.  The Supreme Court declines to hear hundreds of cases every year.   To hear a case, four justices must agree that a particular case ought to be heard.  We will likely learn whether this case, Parker v. District of Columbia, will be reviewed when the Court reconvenes in early October, after its summer recess.

Background on the lawsuit here.  Cato’s Second Amendment work is here.

Should We Execute Bad Regulators?

I just sent this letter to the editor of the Washington Post:

The lack of outrage about China’s horrific execution of a corrupt food and drug regulator in a recent editorial [“Rough Justice,” July 14] was itself outrageous.
 
Zheng Xiaoyu was put to death for (allegedly) taking bribes that enabled unsafe products to reach the market. The death toll thus far is hundreds of lives lost in China and Panama.
 
Dr. David A. Kessler was commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1991 through 1996. In 1988, researchers at Harvard University had demonstrated that widespread use of aspirin at the onset of a heart attack and daily for 30 days afterward could save 5,000 lives per year in the United States. Yet Dr. Kessler’s FDA refused to let aspirin manufacturers advertise that extremely important information until 1996. That policy resulted in as many as 30,000 unnecessary deaths during Dr. Kessler’s tenure. No one has ever accused Dr. Kessler of taking bribes. But he surely benefited personally from his position and from his aggressive regulatory policies, going on to be named dean of Yale University’s medical school.
 
If Dr. Kessler’s political opponents in the U.S. government had put Dr. Kessler to death for his actions as a regulator, I think the Post would denounce his execution as barbaric. But then why be so blithe about an equally barbaric execution in China?

I’m used to people valuing the lives of the FDA’s Type I victims more than the lives of its Type II victims. But valuing the lives of Type I victims more than the lives of the regulators themselves is a new one by me.

Hearing on the Drug Enforcement Agency

This morning there is a congressional hearing about the DEA’s campaign against pain doctors.  The drug war is a disaster in so many ways–but this aspect of the war is particularly cruel.  Siobhan Reynolds of the Pain Relief Network will give members of Congress an earful as to what the government is actually doing.

For Cato work on this DEA campaign, read this and this.