Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Tampering with George Mason’s Bill of Rights

I have an op-ed in the Washington Examiner on Virginia’s proposed constitutional amendment to restrict marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and various contractual arrangements:

This amendment goes too far. But even its first sentence — the ban on gay marriage — is unworthy of a state that was the birthplace of American freedom. It is a cruel irony that this amendment to restrict contract rights and exclude loving couples from the institution of marriage is to be added to Virginia’s Bill of Rights, a document originally written by the great Founder George Mason.

Mason’s eloquent words inspired Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence and James Madison in writing the Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution. We should not add language to Virginia’s Bill of Rights that would limit rights rather than expand them.

Gay marriage is not legal in Virginia, and there’s no prospect of changing that in the foreseeable future, whether by legislative or judicial action. Ballot Question No. 1 is unnecessary and will create legal uncertainty.

Google (et al.) and Government Surveillance

Ars Technica reports here on the “provocative claim that Google is currently cooperating with secret elements in the US government, including the CIA.”  This is a possibility I blogged about here a couple of weeks ago.

It’s something people should be concerned about, and people’s concern is something Google should be concerned about.  

People averse to the risk of exposing their online activities to government surveillance should take Google’s studious silence as confirmation. 

An Interrogation in the Middle East

I have just been informed by a university student who attended our conference in Cairo this August that he has been told to report tomorrow to the prosecutor’s office for interrogation. If I don’t hear back from him by tomorrow evening, I’ll be alerting people to contact his country’s embassies for information on his status.

The potential crimes about which he is being interrogated (and for which he was arrested and detained earlier) concern informing the public on his Arabic-blog about police misconduct. 

I hope that the authorities don’t further compound their misconduct by jailing this brave young man. But if they do, they should at the very least know that people are watching them. (Thank God for the Internet, which allowed him to alert people to police misconduct and now to alert his friends to the harassment he is facing for it.)

The Deval in Massachusetts

The establishment media are swooning over Deval Patrick, former civil rights chief in the Clinton administration and now on the verge of being the first black governor of Massachusetts. The New York Times says, “Mr. Patrick’s greatest assets include his charismatic personality, inspiring speaking style and biography.” The Washington Post reports long-time non-voters in tears over his ”message of optimism, his personal charisma and his uplifting personal story.” David Broder hails him as “New Star among the Democrats.”

But Deval Patrick’s personal story isn’t quite so uplifting to advocates of equality under the law. When he was named to be assistant attorney general for civil rights by President Clinton, after Lani Guinier’s nomination was withdrawn under fire, he came under the same sort of criticism. Clint Bolick, then with the Institute for Justice, called him “pro-quota” and a “stealth Guinier” who held the same views but lacked the same paper trail.

After Patrick took office, he seemed to confirm Bolick’s warnings. In 1995, Bolick called him “a master at using the threat of expensive litigation to extort concessions from municipalities and organizations.” (Alas, none of these op-eds and news articles from the 1990s seem to be online, but they can be found in Nexis.) He testified in 1995 oversight hearings that Patrick was “shedding any pretense of impartial law enforcement in favor of unbridled ideological activism” at the Justice Department.

Bolick wasn’t alone in his criticisms. “Deval Patrick has committed the Clinton administration to a vision of racial preference that fulfills the most extravagant fantasies of a conservative attack ad,” wrote Jeffrey Rosen in a 1994 New Republic article. “Rather than honestly confronting the costs of affirmative action, Patrick has blithely endorsed the most extreme form of racialism.” Nat Hentoff denounced one of Patrick’s most famous cases, when he sided with the Piscataway, N.J., school board’s decision to fire a white teacher in the name of “diversity.”

These days, Patrick endorses the standard tired litany of big-government liberalism: more tax money for middle-class housing, more tax money for low-income housing, more tax money for schools, more tax money for jobs and education for ex-cons, more tax money for alternative energy. Oh, and property tax relief. But his record suggests a propensity for more authoritarian policies to ensure that his moral vision prevails.

As for the title, a tip of the hat to Marion L. Starkey, author of the acclaimed book, The Devil in Massachusetts, about Massachusetts leaders who would go to extraordinary means to root out the merest allegations of sin.

Crime Map

The Washington, DC Police Department has launched a new crime-mapping tool on its web site.  This tool will allow anyone to create a map of a section of the city and then see what crimes have happened there over the past year.

I ran a check on crimes happening around the Cato Institute and got this result for thefts.

I tried to check on drug offenses in the neighborhood, but the police department does not map drug crimes at all.  I guess the “crime” that overwhelms the cop on the beat would also overwhelm the web staff at the department and just make the folly of drug prohibition even more obvious to web surfers.

We at Cato have a crime-map too.  Our map tracks the government.  In particular, drug raids where the police break into people’s homes without abiding by the Knock and Announce doctrine.  To check it out, go here.

Smoking Ban — without Government

A Washington Post Food column notes that going smoke-free pays off for restaurants. Which raises again the question of why we need a one-size-fits-all government ban, when customers are fully capable of sending signals to entrepreneurs.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE ARE SEATS FREE: Being the businessman that he is, restaurateur Tony Stafford doesn’t like the sight of vacant tables in his sprawling Bonefish Grill (6315 Multiplex Dr., Centreville; 703-815-7427). Yet plenty of booths in the chain seafood restaurant’s 50-seat bar routinely go unused when customers notice cigarette smoke there. “They turn down immediate seating,” sometimes waiting an hour or longer for a table in the dining room, the managing partner reports. As a result, the establishment is going smoke-free Nov. 1. With winter on the horizon, and hoping to retain regulars who smoke, “I’ve promised to buy them a heater for the patio outside.”