Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

A Reason to be Against Donor Disclosure

Several interest groups (Public Citizen, Common Cause and Democracy 21) have lately been trying to persuade Congress to set up an independent ethics panel to police members. They also want Congress to allow outside groups (like themselves) to file ethics complaints with the panel.

A House task force now proposes to grant them their wish. However, the task force also requires any group filing an ethics complaint to the new panel to disclose its donors.

The interest groups are not amused. Craig Holman of Public Citizen told The Hill:  “you can imagine how upsetting this is to the donor community.”

I do not support an independent ethics panel. However, Holman is correct here. A group that filed a complaint would open its donors to retribution by the named member or by his party or allies in Congress. Disclosure might even discourage donors from supporting these interest groups, thereby burdening the contributors’ rights to association and speech.

In fact, I think we should extend Craig Holman’s point to other donors. People who contribute to the campaigns of challengers to incumbents should also not have to disclose their donations. After all, their contribution (like an ethics complaint) threatens a member of Congress and might well bring about retribution.

Sauces, gooses, ganders. If disclosure threatens the interests of the donors to certain influential interest groups that might irritate people in power, surely it also threatens those who contribute to challengers to incumbents. These donors, like your average Common Cause contributor, should also be free of the burden of revealing their political activities to those who might do them harm.

Antigua and Barbuda Raises the Stakes

$3.4 billion. That’s the price tag Antigua and Barbuda, the island nation which successfully argued that the United States was violating its obligations to open its market to foreign online gambling providers, puts on its lost revenues as a result of the U.S. ban on some internet gambling. (More here and here.)

They are seeking to recover the money by withdrawing the protection they provide for American intellectual property (see here). The idea behind this sort of action is to harness the power of a powerful lobby group (in this case, Hollywood and the software industry) to counteract the influence of anti-internet gambling groups: If intellectual property owners are caught in the cross-fire of the dispute, maybe the United States government would feel more pressure to comply with the series of rulings against current U.S. regulations.

The push to seek compensation through the World Trade Organization comes just one day after the European Union has indicated it wants compensation for the loss of market access, but through further opening of other sectors in lieu of lifting the ban. When the United States announced last month that it was responding to their loss at the WTO by seeking to “clarify” its commitments, they indicated that they would not provide compensation to Members harmed by the ban, as is called for by WTO rules. The USTR had reasoned that since they never intended to allow internet gambling in the first place (suggesting that their commitment to do just that was an “oversight”), then Members could not expect to receive any sort of compensation in return for solidifying the ban.

We’re planning to hold a forum on this topic on 25th July. Stay tuned for details.

Nanny State Crackdown

Steve Kelly pokes fun at nanny state legislation.

Unfortunately, too many people have a “there ought to be a law” mentality.  Sometimes it is silly, but more often it is dangerous.  The Duke University case is a reminder that innocent lives can be adversely affected even if the criminal law were limited to violent offenses.   Expanding the criminal law is dangerous business.  Better to keep it limited–and keep a good eye on it. 

The DEA’s Campaign Against Pain Doctors

Yesterday, the cover story for the New York Times Magazine was about the Drug Enforcement Agency’s inane campaign against pain doctors.  We at Cato have been working on this aspect of the drug war for some time–so it’s great to see more attention to this issue. 

To read the Cato study, go here.  To view a Cato conference, go here.  For a quick article on the subject, read this Washington Post piece by Pat Michaels.

Friday News Roundup

Friday News Roundup: 

  • Prosecutors are still fighting to keep Genarlow Wilson behind bars. His case is now going to the Georgia Supreme Court. Previous coverage here.
  • There are a handful of prisoners that would actually prefer to stay imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. They would rather stay than be deported to a country like Libya where they may face torture and execution. Curiously, U.S. officials can’t seem to accomodate the handful of guys who wish to remain at Gitmo.
  • An appeals court rejects former attorney general John Ashcroft’s bid for legal immunity in a case involving the abuse of detainees in U.S. prisons. Government lawyers continue to fight the lawsuit on other grounds. Previous coverage here.
  • The FBI has discovered more wrongdoing with respect to its use of National Security Letters. This might be another case of “telling the truth slowly,” a technique that the Clintons perfected and that others like to emulate. Previous coverage here.
  • The FBI director, Robert Mueller, likes to use an expensive anti-terrorism plane to give speeches around the country. Congress must share the blame for this sort of thing. As I pointed out in this paper, if Congress throws billions into the federal bureaucracy to “fight terrorism,” don’t be surprised if the definitions of “terrorism” and “homeland security” get stretched and twisted.
  • Last, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces more scrutiny for his shifting explanations regarding his conduct in office. In an attempt to deflect attention away from himself, Gonzales keeps traveling around the country to give away federal largesse on various crime-fighting initiatives. He says he’s not paying attention to the investigations and the no-confidence vote this week in the Senate, but no one really believes him. Gonzales needs to follow Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz into retirement.

Looking forward to next week.

Enemy Combatants

The Al-Marri ruling  (pdf) this week brings the “enemy combatant” controversy back into the news.  I addressed the Al-Marri case in this article (pdf) for the Cato Supreme Court Review (see pp. 37-39).  In the article, I set forth a legal framework for analyzing the competing claims of security and liberty.  I think factors such as citizenship and place of capture matter. 

President Bush advances the sweeping claim that the entire world, including every inch of U.S. territory is a “battlefield.” He then argues that the “battlefield” is no place for police officers, search warrants, trials, and judges.  There are no rights on the battlefield.  Bush is the commander-in-chief and he’ll decide who needs to be killed or locked up.  And his decisions are final.  No “second-guessing” by the Congress or the judiciary.

Despite his sinking poll numbers, Bush’s dangerous legal claims are alive and well.  This evening, Bush could have any American secretly arrested and put on a plane for incommunicado detention and interrogation at Guantanamo.  This is what a federal appellate court ruled in the Padilla case.  And just when it looked as if the Supreme Court was ready to overturn that case and declare Bush’s policy (at least with respect to citizens in the USA) illegal, the Bush administration suddenly moved Padilla from military custody to civilian custody where he is now on trial in Florida.  Bush’s lawyers told the Supreme Court that there was no longer any need to hear the case–since Padilla was no longer in military custody.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court agreed.  By declining to hear Padilla’s appeal, the lower court precedent approving Bush’s sweeping legal claim was left in place.  If an American were to be sent to Guantanamo this evening, it would take several years of litigation before the Supreme Court would be ready to rule on the matter.  It is thus no exaggeration to say that right now the liberty of every American rests upon the grace of the White House.

Al-Marri’s case is about non-citizens imprisoned in military brigs inside the United States.  Al-Marri is a citizen of Qatar.  He entered the U.S. one day before the 9/11 attacks and the government says he is a terrorist and his mission was to engage in follow-on attacks here in the U.S.  He was initially arrested and charged with criminal offenses, but then he was declared an “enemy combatant” and was moved to a military brig.  He has been imprisoned in a South Carolina military prison for four years while his attorneys challenged the legality of his imprisonment.  This week a federal appeals court ruled that Al-Marri must be (1) deported; or (2) charged with a crime; or (3) released from custody.  The U.S. military cannot continue to keep him locked up.

This outcome creates  a weird situation in which an American can be held in military custody, but a legal immigrant cannot be.  I don’t agree with everything in the Al-Marri ruling, but it does reject Bush’s most sweeping claims about his power.  Excerpt: “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution – and the country. … We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.”

Mr. Bush’s lawyers say they plan to appeal the ruling.

For a complete report on the Bush administration’s constitutional record, read this.