Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Signs of Free Speech

George Will has another great column on threats to political speech in modern America. He reports the story of some people in Parker North, Colo., who didn’t want to be annexed to the larger town of Parker. When some residents proposed annexation, others

began trying to persuade the rest to oppose annexation. They printed lawn signs and fliers, started an online discussion group and canvassed neighbors, little knowing that they were provoking Colorado’s speech police.

One proponent of annexation sued them. This tactic – wielding campaign finance regulations to suppress opponents’ speech – is common in the America of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The complaint did not just threaten the Parker Six for any “illegal activities.” It also said that anyone who had contacted them or received a lawn sign might be subjected to “investigation, scrutinization and sanctions for campaign finance violations.”

Quite a chilling effect on the speech of a few local residents. Fortunately, Will notes, the Parker Six (why not the Parker North Six? After all, Parker is what they don’t want to be part of. But who am I to question George Will?) are represented in their defense of their First Amendment rights by the Institute for Justice.

Meanwhile, in another section of the same Washington Post, a similar story is playing out in Virginia. A Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives began placing campaign signs in supporters’ yards a full year before the election. Botetourt County officials reminded people of a longstanding ordinance about how long political signs can be displayed. In this case it’s the ACLU of Virginia threatening to sue. But Botetourt (pronounced BAHT-uh-tott) officials are not deterred in their determination to protect law, order, and the Botetourt way:

“If we don’t have some semblance of order, we’d just have a libertarian society where anything goes,” said Jim Crosby, a longtime resident and former chairman of the Botetourt Republican Party.

Yep. First political signs in someone’s yard, then a bunch of competing churches, school choice, deregulation, women working outside the home, and pretty soon you’d have a libertarian society where anything goes.

Voter ID Case Decided

The Supreme Court has rendered its decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. This is the case challenging Indiana’s voter ID requirement.

Briefly, the plaintiffs in the case did not establish sufficient proof of the burden on voting that the ID requirement would have. This was a facial challenge to the statute, and there was no plaintiff who had actually been dissuaded or prevented from voting. Sayeth the court:

[O]n the basis of the record that has been made in this litigation, we cannot conclude that the statute imposes “excessively burdensome requirements” on any class of voters.

There was also no evidence that Indiana has ever been victimized by impersonation at the polling place, which a voter ID requirement would help thwart, but in a facial challenge to a law like this, courts will defer to the state’s interests in deterring and detecting voter fraud, and in safeguarding voter confidence.

Advocates of voter ID will interpret this as a ringing endorsement, but it’s an unsurprising result. Hopefully, they won’t pursue a national voter identification requirement. In a recent TechKnowledge column inspired by the case, “Voter ID: A Tempest in a Teapot that Could Burn Us All,” I wrote:

A national registration system for voting would quickly be repurposed and used for many other kinds of regulatory control. There is no shortage of proposals for national registration and control of citizens. Should the voter ID tempest in a teapot boil over, the tiny specter of voter fraud could thrust a mandatory national ID into the hands of law-abiding citizens.

The Constitution gives Congress power to regulate the elections that select its members and, to a lesser degree, the president. But Congress does not have to use that power to its fullest extent. States recognize their own interests in fair elections, and they should experiment among themselves with ways to secure elections while making sure the vote is available to all qualified people.

Milton Friedman Prize Selection Committee Member Arrested

The Ugandan government has arrested Andrew Mwenda, a member of the 2008 International Selection Committee for the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, along with his fellow journalists Odobo Bichachi and John Njoroge. Andrew Mwenda is a brave journalist who tells it like he sees it. He is well known for standing up for the rights of others; his involvement in the Milton Friedman Prize is only one element of his long commitment to human rights. It’s time that others stand up for his rights and those of Odobo Bichachi and Jhohn Njoroge. Cordial email letters to the Ugandan Embassy and the Ugandan government urging them to release the journalists and respect press freedom can make a difference:

His Excellency Professor Perezi K. Kamunanwire

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Fax: (202) 726 1727
pkamunanwire [at] ugandaembassyus.org

Mr. Charles Ssentongo
Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM)/ Minister Counselor
Fax: (202) 726 1727
Cssentongo [at] ugandaembassyus.org

Mr. Emmanuel Bwomono Olobo
First Secretary
Fax: (202) 726 1727
ebwomono-olobo [at] ugandaembassyus.org

Mr. Michael Karugaba
Second Secretary
Fax: (202) 726 1727
mkarugaba [at] ugandaembassyus.org

(In addition to being an outspoken advocate and practitioner of a free press, Andrew Mwenda is an outspoken proponent of development through the free market. Here is Andrew explaining the failures of “foreign aid.”)

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.