Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

This Is a Republic (2)

At an appearance in Iowa this month, the Washington Post reports, Sen. John McCain went out of his way to declare his support for President Bush:

“There’s only one commander in chief of the United States, and that’s George W. Bush,” he told the crowd.

No, senator. This is a constitutional republic, and we don’t have a commander in chief. According to Article II of the Constitution, “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

That’s an important distinction, and it’s disturbing that any candidate for the presidency would miss it. If McCain wants to be commander in chief of the whole country, of you and me, and to direct us the way the president directs the officers and soldiers of the armed forces, he needs to propose an amendment to the Constitution–an amendment that would effectively make the rest of the Constitution irrelevant, since it was designed as a Constitution for a limited government of a free people.

Next McCain will want us to bow and curtsy.

Corruption in Atlanta Police Dep’t. ‘Widespread’

A few months ago, Atlanta police officers broke into the home of Kathryn Johnston with a “no-knock” search warrant to look for drugs. Ms. Johnston, who was 88 years old, thought she was being burglarized.  When she heard men breaking down her front door, she retrieved her handgun and shot through the door. The police shot back and killed her.

Her tragic death brought scrutiny to the police department, and what a mess it is. Yesterday, several officers pleaded guilty to criminal charges. They lied to obtain the warrant and then they tried to cover up their lies by planting marijuana and cocaine in Ms. Johnston’s home as she lay dead on the floor. 

The Atlanta chief of police apparently couldn’t clean house himself — he called 911 and asked for the FBI and federal prosecutors for assistance. Yesterday, federal officials said they are investigating a “culture of corruption.” An attorney for one of the cops involved claims that the officer was “trained” to put false information into search warrant applications! The investigation is still underway.

Last year, the Supreme Court heard a no-knock case and the majority opinion was authored by Justice Scalia. Scalia and the conservatives said that concerns about civil liberties violations were overblown in light of “the increasing professionalism of police forces.” Wrong.

The spotlight is on Atlanta because of Ms. Johnston’s death. But it would be a serious mistake for anyone to conclude that the “culture of misconduct” is unique to that city’s police department. It’s hard to say how bad it is because there’s so little interest in tackling the festering problem.  If more journalists  would take an interest, we’d see more corrective action, as happened with the Walter Reed scandal. Why not begin with the Maye case in Mississippi?

I’d Be OK with Hinky, Given Post Hoc Articulation

Bruce Schneier has a typically interesting post about right and wrong ways to generate suspicion. In “Recognizing ‘Hinky’ vs. Citizen Informants,” he makes the case that asking amateurs for tips about suspicious behavior will have lots of wasteful and harmful results, like racial and ethnic discrimination, angry neighbors turning each other in, and so on. But people with expertise — even in very limited domains — can discover suspicious circumstances almost automatically, when they find things “hinky.”

As an example, a Rochester Institute of Technology student was recently discovered possessing assault weapons illegally (though that’s not necessarily good policy):

The discovery of the weapons was made only by chance. A conference center worker who served in the military was walking past Hackenburg’s dorm room. The door was shut, but the worker heard the all-too-familiar racking sound of a weapon … .

Schneier explains this in terms of “hinky”:

Each of us has some expertise in some topic, and will occasionally recognize that something is wrong even though we can’t fully explain what or why. An architect might feel that way about a particular structure; an artist might feel that way about a particular painting. I might look at a cryptographic system and intuitively know something is wrong with it, well before I figure out exactly what. Those are all examples of a subliminal recognition that something is hinky — in our particular domain of expertise.

This straddles an important line. Is it something we “can’t fully explain,” or something that feels wrong “before [one can] figure out exactly what”? My preference is that the thing should be explainable — not necessarily at the moment suspicion arises, but at some point.

I’m reminded of the Supreme Court formulation “reasonable suspicion based on articulable fact” — it was hammered into my brain in law school. It never satisfied me because the inquiry shouldn’t end at “articulable” but at whether, subsequently, the facts were actually articulated. “The hunch of an experienced officer” is an abdication that courts have indulged far too long.

I hear fairly often of “machine learning” that might be able to generate suspicion about terrorists. The cincher is that it’s so complicated we allegedly “can’t know” exactly what caused the machine to find a particular person, place, or thing worthy of suspicion. Given their superior memories, I think machines especially should be held to the standard of articulating the actual facts considered and the inferences drawn, reasonably, to justify whatever investigation follows.

The Inherent Corruption of Antitrust Laws

Holman Jenkins’ Wall Street Journal column explains that government agencies have a natural – and corrupting – incentive to make decisions that rationalize their existence and increase their budgets. In the case of antitrust decisions, it therefore is not surprising that bureaucrats narrowly define product markets so as to give them an excuse to regulate, litigate, and otherwise interfere with market forces. To be fair, this is not just a public-sector problem. Tax lobbyists and tax preparation practitioners routinely oppose tax reform for the same reason. The unifying problem, of course, is government policy:

Federal agencies have two choices when presented with a merger. They can find a “problem” – in which case their budgets are justified and their walls fill up with scalps. Or they can find no problem. Guess which they do? Take the Federal Trade Commission lawsuit to block a proposed merger of Office Depot and Staples, a close parallel to Sirius-XM. The two would have accounted for just 4% of the office-supply market, but 100% of the market for office supplies purchased from … Office Depot or Staples! Take FTC’s failed attempt to block a deal bringing Häagen-Dazs and Dreyer’s under the same roof, which in a better world would forever have deprived its promoters of the respect of their peers. The agency’s case was built on the premise that “superpremium” ice cream doesn’t compete with, er, ice cream. … Antitrust battles may depend on the illusion of fierce debate about economics, but there’s only one antitrust establishment in Washington whose pre-emptive interest is keeping the charade going. … Even the alarm over Sarbanes-Oxley and its effect in driving listed companies offshore or into the hands of private equity is akin to fretting about tennis elbow when the arm may be amputated. Not when you have Congress eagerly promoting bills to put Congress in charge of deciding foreign investment inflows, to punish energy consumption, to prop up a dying private-sector labor movement and regulate CEO pay.

Understanding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Abortion Decision

(This post is scheduled to be published in the summer 2007 volume of the Journal of Clinical Ethics as part of its regular column “Legal Trends in Bioethics.”)

On April 18, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the combined cases of Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. The Court overturned two Circuit court decisions and found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 constitutional. The federal Act in question is now the law of the land. No state can allow partial-birth abortions unless to save the life of the woman having the procedure.

The Federal Act. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is very specific regarding what type of abortion procedure is prohibited. Not all D&Es are prohibited, only “intact D&Es”, also known as “intact dilation and extraction,” “D&X” or “intact D&X.” The Act is also very specific about the criteria for violations to exist.

The alive fetus must have been delivered to the point where its entire head is outside the body of the mother or, in the case of a breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the mother before it is killed by an overt act of the healthcare professional doing the abortion. Any procedure where the fetus has not been delivered to these anatomical landmarks is not prohibited. Note, since the fetus must be alive when it reaches the indicated anatomical landmarks, an intact D&E where the fetus is dead before it reaches these landmarks is not prohibited. Further, since the healthcare provider must have the intention of performing an intact D&E, there is no liability if the procedure accidentally became an intact D&E. The intention issue is a difficult one because some procedures are typically followed right from the beginning of the procedure only if an “intact” D&E is intended. The Act’s language and the Court’s interpretation of the Act seem to define an “intact” D&E as one that has reached the specified landmarks, however, this leaves open the possibility that there is such a thing as what might be technically an “intact” D&E that is not illegal because the required anatomical benchmarks have not been reached. Finally, it is important to note that the Act specifically excludes the abortion recipient of any potential liability under the Act.

The Court’s Majority Opinion. The federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is constitutional. The decision was 5-4. Kennedy wrote the opinion joined by Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito. The majority opinion found that Act is not void for vagueness, not invalid on its face, and does not impose an undue burden due to overbreadth. This is the first time since Roe v. Wade that the Court has upheld a restriction on abortion that does not include a general exception for the health of the mother. In past ruling all restrictions on abortion had to leave the healthcare provider the option of performing the prohibited procedure if there was any health concern at all that justified using that procedure rather than another. This time the Court found it sufficient for the Act to include an exception for the life of the mother, but no general health exception. No less significant health consideration than saving the life of the woman can justify using the intact D&E procedure. The major significance of this ruling is the deference it shows legislative action. The opinion states:

We assume the following principles for the purposes of this opinion. Before viability, a State may not prohibit any women from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy. It also may not impose upon this right an undue burden, which exists if a regulations’ purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability. On the other hand, regulations which do no more than create a structural mechanism by which the State, or the parent or guardian of a minor, may express profound respect for the life of the unborn are permitted, if they are not a substantial obstacle to the woman’s exercise of the right to choose.

The fact that a law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it.

Where it has a rational basis to act, and it does not impose an undue burden, the State may use its regulatory power to bar certain procedures and substitute others, all in furtherance of its legitimate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including life of the unborn.

Considerations of marginal safety, including balance of risks, are within the legislative competence when the regulation is rational and in pursuit of legitimate ends.

(Citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

In addition to a clear deference to legislative action, the majority opinion also shows a lack of deference to individual healthcare providers and their ability to judge what is in the best interest of patients.

The Court’s Dissenting Opinion. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion in which Stevens, Souter, and Breyer joined. Those dissenting would have found the Act unconstitutional. The opinion criticizes the majority for relying on “rational grounds” for upholding State action when in earlier cases the Court has used the standard of “heightened scrutiny.” They also object to the majority’s deviating from the Casey ruling that “state regulation of access to abortion procedures, even after viability, must protect the health of the woman.” (internal quotation marks omitted). The dissenters argue that the majority’s deference to the legislature in overriding constitutional rights deteriorates the gains U.S. society has made in recognizing women as protected by that Constitution and as individuals with the full rights of citizenship. Ginsburg writes:

There was a time, not so long ago, when women were regarded as the center of home and family life, with attendant special responsibilities that precluded full and independent legal status under the Constitution. Those views, this Court made clear in Casey, are no longer consistent with our understanding of the family, the individual, or the Constitution. Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation. Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to their ability to control their reproductive lives. Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.

In keeping with this comprehension of the right to reproductive choice, the Court has consistently required that laws regulating abortion, at any stage of pregnancy and in all cases, safeguard a woman’s health.

(Citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

The As-Applied Challenge. The majority opinion states the Act would be unconstitutional if it exposed women to significant health risks. The Court did not find a prohibition against intact D&Es created such a risk, but it did acknowledge that “preenforcement, as-applied challenges to the Act could be filed as a proper way to protect the health of women should there be “discrete and well defined instances a particular condition has or is likely to occur” where use of intact D&E must be used to protect the health of the mother. While the majority opinion allows for such challenges, it is unclear what such a lawsuit would look like. The dissent asks, “Surely the Court cannot mean that no suit may be brought until a woman’s health is immediately jeopardized by the ban on intact D&E.” I’m sure the answer will be forthcoming soon since lawsuits challenging the Act on as-applied basis are undoubtedly already being planned.

Free For All Blog

Harvey Silverglate and Wendy Kaminer have launched a new blog–Free For All.

Here is how they describe their joint venture:

As the name signifies, The Free for All is a running commentary on the state of the American citizen’s (and sometimes the non-citizen’s) personal freedoms and civil liberties in the hectic, dangerous, confusing, hypocritical, stupid, and oftentimes near-insane modern era. Like my long-running Freedom Watch columns, The Free for All will seek to analyze the impact of various cultural, political, legal, academic and media stories du jour relating to the American promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Wendy and I chose the name The Free for All to underscore the blog’s commitment to unfettered, no-holds-barred discussion. While Wendy and I are both what I call libertarian liberals (she might disagree with this label, since she often disagrees with me even when I’m right!), there are very few issues on which we see exactly eye-to-eye. By taking our once private debates into the public domain, we hope to create a resource for those of you who, like the two of us, are similarly trying to make sense of today’s headlines.

Recent posts express their skepticism about the ability to prevent school shootings by ‘profiling’ potential shooters.