Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

If You’re in New York and Can Spare a Little Time, You Could Spare a Life

Former Cato Institute interns and New York residents Constantino Diaz-Duran and Chris Kilmer are organizing an effort on behalf of an Egyptian student they’ve never met who faces a terrible penalty for writing his opinions on his personal blog. The event will take place Wednesday, January 31 starting at 3:30 pm at the Egyptian Consulate in New York at 1110 2nd Avenue, between E. 58th and E. 59th.

Kareem is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.  A respectful message to the Egyptian government – whether in front of the Consulate or by email, fax, or phone – encouraging them to do the right thing and let him go could save a young man’s life.

Please Help This Young Man

This case is extremely important.  The fates of a young man and of freedom of speech are at stake.  Abdelkareem Nabil Soliman will be sentenced on Thursday for alleged crimes in Egypt, including insulting the president.  Please read about his case at http://www.freekareem.org/.

Please send a respectful letter by fax or email to the Egyptian Embassy requesting that the Egyptian government correct the error of arresting him and allow him his freedom.

Criminal Justice in Georgia

Here’s the problem with consensual crimes, plea bargaining, and mandatory minimum sentencing …

This guy shouldn’t be in jail at all, but he’s in a Georgia prison serving a ten year sentence.  The case of Genarlow Wilson is also a dramatic illustration of the bizarre mentality of too many prosecutors.  Which is not to say that the legislators are very far behind them.

More here and here.  

Boston Tea Party? REAL ID Party!

Our nation has many gentle rivalries. As a northern California native, I have always known that I’m slightly superior to our friends in So Cal. (LA-LA land’s ignorance of our disdain validates it wonderfully, by the way.)

Maine people have a similar feeling toward their neighbors in Massachusetts (even while they root for Boston’s professional sports teams). This is among the things I enjoyed discovering this week as I traveled to the far northeast for some lively discussion of the REAL ID Act.

On a panel I was privileged to join at a community center in Augusta Wednesday night, George Smith, executive director of the Maine Sportsmen’s Alliance, stood to share his opinion of our national ID law and what Maine should do about it. A Norman Rockwell painting come to life, he spoke with all the directness (and accent) of a lifelong Mainer. Summarizing, his message was this: They had their Boston Tea Party. Let’s have a REAL ID Party!

All the spirit and independence that makes me so proud of Americans — without sparing that family rivalry for even a minute!

The result of George’s work — along with the Maine Civil Liberties Union and a bipartisan consensus of the state’s political leaders — was near unanimous passage of a state resolution refusing to implement REAL ID. Maine is now the first state to reject the REAL ID Act, and the tide against the bill is beginning to run. 

(For some equally stirring rhetoric in defense of liberty and against a national ID, here’s New Hampshire Representative Neal Kurk (R-Weare) on the REAL ID Act last year. New Hampshire is one of many states likely to join Maine in rejecting a national ID.)

I have tried to supply the intellectual arguments for rejecting a national ID in my book, Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood. I was pleased to offer Smith and a number of Maine’s political leaders copies of the book. 

Bloomberg Wins the Nanny State Olympics

As he counts his money and ponders an independent bid for the presidency, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has won one competition. He’s the biggest nanny-statist around. Sure, Bangor is banning smoking in cars if children are passengers, and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee wants to get rid of cigarettes, and Texas wants to require parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, and Kansas wants to require all seventh-grade girls to get vaccinated against a sexually transmitted infection. But for sheer nannyism, can you beat this?

Available soon: an official New York City condom.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration wants to reduce rates of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, and part of the strategy is the aggressive promotion of free condoms. Officials say more people will use them if they have jazzy packaging.

One idea is a subway theme, with maps on the wrappers.

“Brands work, and people use branded items more than they use nonbranded items, whether it’s a cola or a medicine even,” Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said.

The United States Owes Hillary Clinton a Debt

Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her presidential bid has evoked several news stories predicting the demise of the presidential public financing system.

In Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that spending limits violated the First Amendment. The same decision, however, said that the government could impose spending limits in exchange for public financing of a campaign. The presidential system enacted just after Watergate provided public funding for primary campaigns (on a matching basis) and for the general election. The law established equal spending limits and prohibited private fundraising for the general presidential election for the major party candidates.

McCain-Feingold is also part of this story. That 2002 law liberalized contribution limits a bit which made it easier for strong candidates like Hillary Clinton to raise more money privately than she would receive from the public funding scheme. Of course, she could accept public funding and forego the larger sums she might raise privately. However, her competitors for the nomination – say, Barack Obama or John Edwards – might also be able to raise more money privately, and they would do so to gain an edge in the primaries over Sen.Clinton. The same might well be true of the Republican candidate in the general election. If Sen. Clinton took the public funding and its spending limits, she would be outspent by the GOP nominee. Given all these considerations, Sen. Clinton has decided to forego public funding. Any serious candidate for the presidency in 2008 is likely to make the same decision.

Too much political analysis, you might say. After all, didn’t Congress create the public financing system to prevent corruption of candidates or “level the playing field” for outsiders?  The members of Congress who created public funding ascribed such noble and moral ends to their effort. But the actual purposes of the system were rather less noble and more partisan.

From 1960 to 1974 – the year public funding was created – the Democratic presidential candidates fell increasingly behind their Republican opponents in fundraising. Remember, the public funding scheme required equal spending by both major party candidates in the general election. The law was, in short, a good solution to the emerging Democratic presidential fundraising gap. In The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform, I looked at how this equalization affected the two parties after 1974, assuming the trend in fundraising from 1960 continued to 1992. The public funding law cut projected Republican fundraising (and campaign spending) by 60 percent while imposing no limit on expected Democratic donations or expenditures.

From the start, the presidential public funding system was a raw partisan ploy obscured by a moralistic rhetoric. It worked in the sense that some analysts believe the equalization of funding gave the presidency to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But the system has failed otherwise. It has not increased entry into the party primaries compared to the system it replaced. Public funding has forced taxpayers to support candidates they would not support if they had a choice. For that reason, the system has lost 75 percent of its supporters over the years. Now only about 7 percent of taxpayers check off support for the presidential fund. In 1978, 28 percent did so.

That lack of public support means Congress is unlikely to save the system. In any case, Democratic presidential candidates have drawn even with their GOP counterparts in fundraising. The real, partisan reason for the system no longer exists. Soon the system itself will be the first choice of those who finish last. Surely Congress could find a better use for a few hundred million dollars.

Supreme Court Sentencing Ruling

As usual, NYT Supreme Court reporter, Linda Greenhouse, has a good report about yesterday’s sentencing decision from the Supreme Court. 

Excerpt:

The Supreme Court invalidated California’s criminal sentencing law on Monday, ruling that the 30-year-old statute gave judges authority that the Constitution places with juries.

The 6-to-3 decision will require the California courts to reconsider thousands of sentences as the Legislature contemplates its options for amending the statute to meet the justices’ objections.

While no other state is directly affected, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s forcefully worded majority opinion demonstrated that the Roberts court is committed to carrying out the full implications of the revolution in criminal sentencing that the court began seven years ago in Apprendi v. New Jersey.

In fact, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the majority, the court planted its stake more firmly than ever in what criminal law scholars and practitioners have taken to referring to as Apprendi-land.

Round-up of coverage here.

Ruling here.

I have argued that this legal trend is a positive development [.pdf] and the ruling will indeed impact the sentences of thousands of prisoners in California.  Still, some of the “revolutionary” rhetoric is overblown.  For more Cato work on sentencing, go here.