Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

Ezra Klein, Libertarian?

Since I’ve disagreed with Ezra Klein in the past, I am pleased to report that we agree on what to do about the 7,000 Americans who die every year while waiting for transplantable organs. In a recent post, Klein notes that the shortage of organs is due to a ban on payments to organ providers. Klein advocates lifting that ban.  My favorite line:

We’ve stupidly disallowed payment for organs (if money can’t buy you life, why keep it around?)…

Klein brought to mind an observation made by Prof. Richard Epstein last week in the Wall Street Journal:

Only a bioethicist could prefer a world in which we have 1,000 altruists per annum and over 6,500 excess deaths [to] one in which we have no altruists and no excess deaths.

In Healthy Competition, Mike Tanner and I argue for repeal of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s 1984 National Organ Transplant Act, which prohibits payments to organ providers. 

In a recent issue of Cato’s Regulation magazine, Prof. Lloyd Cohen throws up his hands and issues a challenge to those opposed to such payments. Cohen has re-written his will to ensure that when he dies, his organs cannot be harvested unless his estate is paid $864.27 per organ. Why? Because that requirement will create a real-life situation where paying up will generate more transplantable organs. That will force the bioethicists to explain to four, maybe five families who have their checkbooks in hand, We’re sorry, but your loved one must die for our principles. Cohen urges others to insert similar clauses into their wills, just to get the message through the bioethicists’ heads.

Cohen and other powerful presenters will speak at a June 12 conference on organ markets at the American Enterprise Institute.

Sense and Sensenbrenner

Congressional whining over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson’s office has reached the point of self-parody. Rep. James Sensenbrenner has now called for rare out-of-session hearings on the raid, titled, “Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?”

This would be the same James Sensenbrenner who wants to give federal law enforcement the power to snoop in on your Internet browsing, and who recently introduced a bill that would send parents to prison if they learn of drug activity near their children and fail to report it to authorities within 24 hours.

“Trampling the Constitution,” indeed. Amazing how reverent politicians get for the Constitution and the rights of the accused when one of their own is under the gun.

Little Victories

…in the fight against the Nanny State: in Massachusetts, the state legislature just narrowly rejected ”primary seat belt legislation.”  In English, that’s a law that gives police the power to pull you over simply because someone in your car isn’t wearing their seatbelt (“secondary seat belt laws” allow them to ticket you for not wearing a seatbelt only if they’ve stopped you for some other infraction). 

Last summer, using night-vision equipment on loan from the National Guard, Maryland state troopers scanned passing cars, then swept out and nabbed 111 offenders for the crime of driving without a seatbelt. Scores of people who were driving along, minding their own business, had their evening ruined by an unpleasant encounter with the business end of the law. Law enforcement overreaching caused an outcry in that case, and citizen pressure in Massachusetts seems to have led several lawmakers to back away from the primary seatbelt bill.

It’s good to know that even in Massachusetts there’s still some resistance to the growing crusade to ensure healthy living through coercion. But it’s not coming from the Governor’s office. Mitt Romney, GOP presidential hopeful for 2008, had promised to sign the bill.

Toughman Contest

U.S. News has an interesting profile of David Addington, Vice-President Cheney’s chief of staff and top legal adviser—a key player in administration debates over torture, domestic detention, and NSA surveillance. One thing that stood out for me was this description of the social dynamic at work when administration lawyers crafted War on Terror policies:

Whether or not he became the de facto leader of the group, as some administration officials say, Addington’s involvement made for a formidable team. “You put Addington, Yoo, and Gonzales in a room, and there was a race to see who was tougher than the rest and how expansive they could be with respect to presidential power,” says a former Justice Department official. “If you suggested anything less, you were considered a wimp.”

For background on the legal theories that emerged from that environment, see here.

Congress’ Sudden Concern for Overly Aggressive Policing

While the leaders of Congress were wringing their hands over a corrupt colleague having his office raided by FBI agents in suits, a drug task force in Wisconsin needlessly terrorized two completely innocent people last night. From Dodgeville, Wisconsin:

Members of a drug task force burst into a Dodgeville apartment Monday night and arrested two people before officers realized that they were in the wrong apartment.

Richland-Iowa-Grant Drug Task Force members entered the apartment about 10:15 p.m. and arrested its two occupants in what police considered a “high-risk” drug bust, according to the Dodgeville Police Department. Minutes later, they realized that they were in the wrong place and released the occupants.

[…]

Task Force Director Lt. Scott Marquardt said the task force was reviewing what led to the accidental arrests. He said the task force was sorry for what happened to the innocent neighbors.

“We’re very disappointed,” Marquardt said. “We regret the stress and the inconvenience that we caused. That’s not how we do business.”

From research I’ve done for a forthcoming Cato paper, I’d estimate these types of “wrong door” raids are reported in the media 2-3 times per month in the U.S. (it’s likely that they happen and go unreported much more frequently). Most of the time, victims escape with no worse than a broken door and a fractured psyche. Many times, they end up injured. And once or twice a year, an innocent person ends up dead.

With its tireless support for the drug war, and its policy of making surplus military equipment from the Pentagon available to local police departments, Congress is responsible for an explosion of SWAT teams across the country, and a massive increase in the number of times these teams are deployed on such “no-knock” raids. Drug warrant service now comprises the overwhelming majority of SWAT team “call-outs” in America.

So before congressional leaders fret over the “unduly aggressive,” “intimidating” raid of a sitting member’s office, they ought to look into how their own policies have led to police kicking down the doors of dozens of innocent or nonviolent drug offenders in their homes each day in this country.

They could start by Googling “Alberta Spruill,” “Clayton Helriggle,” or “Alberto Sepulveda.”

Don’t Tread on My Legislative Privilege

Tongue implanted in cheek, David congratulates Congress for finally finding an illegal exercise of executive power to condemn: an FBI raid on Rep. Jefferson’s offices. However, congrats may be premature, because it’s not entirely clear whether the raid is illegal.

(Usual warning: Lengthy lawyer parsing follows. Proceed at own risk. Short version: there are some good arguments that the FBI raid is illegal, but the case law is far from clear on this point.)

The Speech and Debate Clause provides:

Senators and Representatives … shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony, and Breach of Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the session of their respective Houses, an in going to and returning from same; and for any other Speech and Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

Jefferson is under investigation for bribery. Congress itself has expressly made it a crime for members of Congress to accept bribes (18 U.S.C. s. 201). The Supreme Court has held (in United States v. Johnston, 383 U.S. 169 (1966)) that the Speech and Debate Clause does not absolutely immunize members of Congress from prosecution under a valid bribery statute (enacted, remember, by Congress).

To be sure, the Court held that some acts are “immune” from prosecutorial snooping even under a valid bribery statute—that is, they cannot constitute part of the evidence on which the prosecution relies. But, the Supreme Court has held this immunity applies only to the following: (1) “legislative acts”—those generally done in the process of enacting legislation” (United States v. Brewster, 408 U.S. 501, 514 (1971), which includes making speeches on the floor of a House of Congress or in committee, voting on the floor or in committee, contributing to reports entered into the legislative record; (2) other acts that are “integral” to deliberation connected to legislative acts. (Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 625 (1972)).

That means a host of legislative business unrelated to enactment of specific legislation—from petitions to agencies on behalf of constituents, to ordinary constituent meetings, to speeches in the home district, at Washington galas, or what have you—are not privileged “legislative acts” and therefore can serve as a basis for prosecution. That also means preparation that goes into these sorts of activities also isn’t privileged. The upshot: many papers and effects contained in Jefferson’s office might be searchable by federal investigators pursuant to a valid warrant. (Caveat: I haven’t pursed the allegations against Jefferson).

Assuming they are searchable, that doesn’t settle the conditions on executive entry onto the physical grounds of Congress, on which these papers are located. The privilege appears to attach to acts, not places. Hence the grounds of Congress themselves aren’t privileged. And the Constitution doesn’t tell us the conditions attached to executive entry into the Houses of Congress, pursuant to a valid warrant.

I haven’t yet seen any recent cases on this point, although I confess I haven’t done much searching. In ordinary Fourth Amendment law, searches of homes, for example, are subject to different rules than searches of cars or searches of persons on the street. For example, police must knock and announce themselves prior to executing a valid search warrant for a domicile. It seems reasonable that some restrictions on entry should also apply when police are seaking evidence related to non-legislative acts on the grounds of (the “home” of) Congress.

That’s consistent with the cases on legislative privilege: Arguably, for example, Congress’s institutional control over the physical integrity of the grounds of Congress is essential to legislative deliberation. Surely, for example, unannounced raids or, say, the fear of unknown FBI bugs and wiretaps could chill legislative deliberation. These concerns suggest the legislative privilege requires an analogue to the knock-and-announce rule. For example, perhaps executive officers should notify House or Senate leadership and Capitol police of intent to execute a valid search warrant prior to entering Capitol grounds. Since separation of powers concerns come into play, there may be an argument that more should be required than would be required in an ordinary domicile search: perhaps, for example, congressional leadership may require executive officers to be accompanied by Capitol police, at least absent exigent circumstances.

I’m not sure whether it would require even more than this (for example, require Captiol police themselves to execute the search). Arguably, participation of Capitol police may be essential to the institutional integrity of Congress and therefore to legislative deliberation, but exclusive congressional control over all aspects of investigation on Capitol grounds isn’t. And, after all, the Framers—by exempting certain crimes from the privilege of arrest—clearly intended to balance institutional integrity of Congress with the larger principle that no branch is above the law and its offices.

Congress Rouses Itself

At last Republican congressional leaders have found an abuse of executive power that offends them:

An unusual FBI raid of a Democratic congressman’s office over the weekend prompted complaints yesterday from leaders in both parties, who said the tactic was unduly aggressive and may have breached the constitutional separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government….

Republican leaders, who previously sought to focus attention on the Jefferson case as a counterpoint to their party’s own ethical scandals, said they are disturbed by the raid. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that he is “very concerned” about the incident and that Senate and House counsels will review it.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) expressed alarm at the raid. “The actions of the Justice Department in seeking and executing this warrant raise important Constitutional issues that go well beyond the specifics of this case,” he said in a lengthy statement released last night.

“Insofar as I am aware, since the founding of our Republic 219 years ago, the Justice Department has never found it necessary to do what it did Saturday night, crossing this Separation of Powers line, in order to successfully prosecute corruption by Members of Congress,” he said….

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), in an e-mail to colleagues with the subject line “on the edge of a constitutional confrontation,” called the Saturday night raid “the most blatant violation of the Constitutional Separation of Powers in my lifetime.”

If they are finally awake to the executive branch’s indifference to constitutional restrictions, they could find some more opportunities for oversight and correction here and here.