Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Reefer Madness Again

Cato senior fellow Randy Barnett writes in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about the latest court decision on medical marijuana. After the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the application of the Controlled Substances Act to personal medical use of marijuana did not exceed the federal government’s constitutional authority, Angel Raich went back to court to argue that the ban violated her fundamental right to preserve her life. Alas, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim, too.

But as Barnett notes, the court did seem unhappy with the decision it was forced to reach:

For now, federal law is blind to the wisdom of a future day when the right to use medical marijuana to alleviate excruciating pain may be deemed fundamental. Although that day has not yet dawned, considering that during the last 10 years 11 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana, that day may be upon us sooner than expected. Until that day arrives, federal law does not recognize a fundamental right to use medical marijuana prescribed by a licensed physician to alleviate excruciating pain and human suffering.

Pity a panel of judges forced to tell that to a suffering plaintiff.

Property Rights at the Supreme Court, Again

It’s being overshadowed by the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case, but there’s an important property rights case before the Supreme Court today. Timothy Sandefur, author of Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st-Century America, writes about the case in Legal Times today.

The case involves a dispute that arose when Harvey Frank Robbins bought some land in Wyoming. The Bureau of Land Management claimed to have an easement on the land, but that wasn’t recorded on the deed. The government demanded that Robbins agree to the easement, and he resisted. Government agents promised him “a hardball education,” and they delivered – harassment, citations for minor offenses, belligerent visits, and criminal charges for interfering with government agents, charges of which he was acquitted after 30 minutes of jury deliberation. Sandefur takes the story from there:

After enduring years of such treatment, Robbins sued, arguing, among other things, that the BLM agents had violated his Fifth Amendment right to exclude others from his property. The trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit agreed, but the government asked the Supreme Court to reverse in Wilkie v. Robbins. “No court,” said Solicitor General Paul Clement in his brief, has “ever recognized a constitutional right against retaliation … in the context of property rights.”

This astonishing argument is potentially far more dangerous to the rights of property owners than the notorious Kelo v. New London decision two years ago, which held that government can use eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another whenever politicians think doing so would be in the public interest.

If the Court rules against Robbins, home and business owners would find it much harder to resist when the government demands their property.

Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe argued the case for Robbins, with the Justice Department defending the BLM. Watch for news stories later today.

Confidentiality

Washington University School of Law professor Neil Richards and George Washington University Law School professor Daniel Solove have an important new law review article out.  Privacy’s Other Path: Recovering the Law of Confidentiality is a useful reminder of a dimension of privacy apart from the privacy torts so famously inspired by Warren and Brandeis in their 1890 Harvard Law Review article.

Confidentiality is the idea that you can share information subject to restrictions on further disclosure and use.  There are often implicit understandings about how shared or mutually created information should be treated.  It’s an important point that’s been conveniently forgotten in government arguments for “data retention,” for example.  Confidentiality in the financial services sphere has been eviscerated by the Bank Secrecy Act and the Supreme Court cases that followed it, as well as Smith v. Maryland in the telecommunications context.

Richards and Solove’s work has its awkward turns - they characterize continental Europe’s focus on dignity and America’s focus on liberty as highly individualistic, while suggesting that confidentiality is ”based on the protection of relationships.”  If these characterizations are relevant at all, confidentiality can be seen just as much as a protection of individuals, the difference being that confidentiality is rooted more deeply in contract.  Small matter, though. 

Overall a good work, and an important reminder.

(HT: Schneier)

Cock-fighting and Freedom

It’s not often that you can point to a stirring article about American liberty by a Weekly Standard editor. But Chris Caldwell’s piece in the Financial Times on cock-fighting is a fine read. Yes, cock-fighting. Presidential candidate Bill Richardson doesn’t want the legality of cock-fighting in New Mexico to burden his candidacy as he travels the length and breadth of this great land. So rather than defend New Mexico as the last bastion of American freedom, he chose to sign a law banning it to help his campaign.

Caldwell notes sadly that even the defenders of the practice hardly mentioned liberty. Instead, they mentioned the economic benefits of tourism and the alleged anti-Hispanic bias of the drive to ban a sport popular with Hispanics. The better argument, he thought, would have been liberty: some people want to attend cock-fights, and Americans have been doing so for centuries, so why should “reformers” be able to take a small pleasure away from others? Caldwell deplores the decline of the general presumption of liberty:

It used to be, under the US system, that one could do anything that was not expressly forbidden. Now one is forbidden to do anything one cannot make an explicit case for. The burden of proof has shifted.

It’s especially sad that Bill Richardson, who is not so bad on fiscal issues and is a supporter of medical marijuana, felt that he had to take people’s freedom away for his own political gain.

Missouri Joining the REAL ID Rebellion

The Missouri House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject the REAL ID Act.

Representative Jim Guest (R- King City) is quoted in the Carthage Press saying,  ‘‘We must not lose what this nation was founded upon.  The Real ID Act is a direct frontal assault on our freedoms.’’

The bill now goes to the Senate.