Friday, August 29, 2014
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated yesterday that her "heart just broke" for the "unimaginable loss" suffered by Michael Brown's parents as a result of their son's death at the hands of a local police officer nearly three weeks ago. According to The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan, she also lamented the scene that followed on the streets of Ferguson: "Nobody wants to see our streets look like a war zone. Not in America. We are better than that."
I'm glad Clinton said something, but it's troubling that it took her so long to do so. The killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent unrest in Ferguson has raised substantial domestic policy questions, and the media and other prominent political figures have weighed in. Moreover, her comments were extremely blah - no deep personal introspection should have been necessary to arrive at her position. Her comments easily could have been made much earlier without offending any relevant constituencies. So, what gives?
Monday, July 14, 2014
My wife and I moved to Los Angeles a little more than a month ago. We drove from Cleveland, carrying what little we could in the rear of our car. The rest, including most of our books, we left at my father-in-law's home.
I'm going to reclaim our stuff in two weeks time. I'm particularly excited to dig into our box of books for our favorite - 'My Sons's Story' by Nadine Gordimer. It's truly a treasure. In his book review for the NYTimes, Robert Coles writes of this spectacular novel set in South Africa during Apartheid:
A novelist's brilliant decision works wonders, ever so slowly yet decisively. A boy stumbles into his august father's secret life, is stunned by the casual, relaxed manner in which the father is living that life, is confused at the seeming expectation that he, too, an adolescent belonging to a once tight-knit family, will take in stride such circumstances. His perplexity and frustration give way to a sustained, withering scorn - a sardonic voice that keeps at the reader, reminds us that this is a novel meant to look closely and with nuanced force at moral complexity, moral ambiguity, but most pointedly at moral hypocrisy, which is in no short supply among many of us, no matter our nation, our race, our class and, not least, our educational attainment. One more leader, a larger-than-life figure, is found to have clay feet - by his son, who has occasions aplenty to witness the human consequences of such a disparity between a public and a private person.
The idol must not fall - consequently, a public deception persists, and with it a kind of public blindness. It is left to playwrights and novelists, our Shakespeares and Tolstoys and their descendants today (they who have no claim upon factuality or realpolitik) to render the many and often disparate truths of human experience, the inconsistencies and contradictions, the troubling paradoxes. The heart and soul of this brilliantly suggestive and knowing novel is its courageous exploration of such matters, of the conceits and deceits that inform the lives not only of ordinary people but those whom the rest of us invest with such majesty and awe.
Nadine Gordimer died yesterday. She was 90 years old. She will be missed.
The New Republic has collected this series of interviews for your viewing pleasure.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Today in Forbes, columnist Doug Bandow enters the Free Speech/'Duck Dynasty' kerfuffle by way of his request from Santa to "stop people from confusing the First Amendment with free expression." He starts off well, too. He correctly notes:
The A&E network suspended Robertson, but that has nothing to do with the First Amendment, which protects against government suppression of speech. Instead, if I don’t like something you say and don’t want to work or even associate with you, that is just life. In a free society that should be my right—both of expression and association—as basic as your right to voice your opinion.
Of course, your family then can threaten to stop working with me, as Robertson’s family has warned A&E. And viewers and potential viewers can decide whether they want to watch or not, which seems to be what most of the country is talking about at the moment. But this battle has nothing to do with the Constitution and the essential framework for a free society.
All's good and well. I'm in total agreement. Great.
But then Bandow goes further by asking people to refrain from speaking out against speech they find offensive. He writes:
A separate wish, but highlighted by the Duck Dynasty imbroglio, is that people would stop turning every little controversy into a matter of high moral outrage. Why should anyone get excited about what someone on a silly television show says off the set? In a large, complex society like our own, lots of people will believe things and behave in ways which irritate and even outrage us. Life will be better if we generally tolerate the opinions and actions of others.
But there’s no reason to turn the world upside down in response to those who believe ObamaCare will make medicine affordable, consider homosexuality to be a sin, think Republicans are terrible people, don’t like atheists or Catholics (or both), make stupid gender-, race-, or ethnic-based remarks, or are generally obnoxious and clueless. You don’t like what they said/did? Minimize your contact at work. Avoid them at the Christmas party. Don’t visit their barbershop. Refuse to respond to their provocations.
But don’t try to drive everyone you disagree with from the public square. We all benefit from a diverse, vibrant, and provocative public environment despite the irritations and offenses caused by some. A world turned ever more intolerant, nasty, and threatening by zealous PC police of all sorts will be a truly depressing place. Not to mention that we might end up as victims of the new public Star Chamber as well.
First, A&E is not "public square." Robertson's opponents want his microphone taken away, not the suppression of his ideas. That is, Robertson may continue to say exactly what he believes, but his opponents prefer that he do so from a street corner. The right to free speech is not the right to amplified speech.
Second, the First Amendment envisions precisely the type of confrontation from which Bandow wishes people to shirk. It contemplates the need for individuals to speak out against ideas and opinions with which they disagree, and to offer the solutions they believe will best serve society.
The First Amendment's protection of free and open discussion of ideas is further premised on the understanding that such freedom promotes the social good. That is, only in a free and open marketplace of ideas can citizens make the best judgments about the direction of society and its government. As First Amendment scholar Thomas Emerson wrote:
[Human judgment] can seldom rest at the point any single person carries it, but must always remain incomplete and subject to further extension, refinement, rejection or modification. Hence an individual who seeks knowledge and truth must hear all sides of a question, especially as presented by those who feel strongly and argue militantly for a different view. He must consider all alternatives, test his judgement by exposing it to opposition, make full use of different minds to sift the true from the false...
More importantly, the same reasons which make open discussion essential for an intelligent individual judgment make it imperative for rational social judgments. Through the acquisition of new knowledge, the toleration of new ideas, the testing of opinion in open competition, the discipline of rethinking its assumptions, a society will be better able to reach common decision that will meet the needs and aspirations of its members.
How is the marketplace served if people refrain from entering it?
It's not. And calls for people to refrain from entering that space are no less confused than those from people claiming Robertson's suspension oppresses his freedom to speak.
The Founders imagined a couragous people, not a cowardly one.
Friday, November 1, 2013
CRL&P is happy to share this fascinating story about a local defense attorney whose passionate advocacy on behalf of his client gave us this:
When prosecutors in Williamson County tried to ban a defense attorney from referring to them as "the government" in court, defense attorney Drew Justice had a demand of his own:
From now on, call me "Captain Justice."
The prosecution apparently thought that reference to it as "the government" was pejorative and was an attempt to prejudice its case, so naturally it filed a motion to quell the term's use. But, Captain Justice was about to loosen his tie.
Justice fired off his own motion in response. It included conventional references to case law, the First Amendment — technical stuff that one would expect in a court filing.
And then he got creative.
If the court sided with Rettig, he demanded his client no longer be referred to as "the Defendant," but instead be called "Mister," "the Citizen Accused" or "that innocent man" — since all defendants are presumed innocent until a judge or jury finds them guilty. As for himself, clearly "lawyer" or "defense attorney" wouldn't do him, well, justice.
"Rather, counsel for the Citizen Accused should be referred to primarily as the 'Defender of the Innocent.' … Alternatively, counsel would also accept the designation 'Guardian of the Realm,' " Justice wrote.
And since prosecutors are often referred to formally as "General" in court, Justice, in an effort to be flexible, offered up a military title of his own.
"Whenever addressed by name, the name 'Captain Justice' will be appropriate."
Gathering steam, he went on to say that even "the defense" wasn't adequate and that "the Resistance" would be far more appropriate.
He then concluded his motion, returning to the formal language of court documents — sort of.
"WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State's motion, as lacking legal basis."
The prosecution reportedly was "disappointed" by Captain Justice's response, and wanted to keep its mind on the specifics of the case.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Opposition stymies gun legislation that would establish mandatory minimums for illegal gun possession
The Illinois House Judiciary Committee has axed a controversial measure from H.B. 2265 that would have established mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession. According to The Chicago Tribune, "Supporters say the measure is aimed at felons, gang members and people in possession of weapons without a valid firearm owner permit." Opponents, however, worry that the measure will send people to jail for up to three years for a simple mistake. The NRA claims, "This specific provision incorrectly targets otherwise law-abiding citizens, rather than deterring violent criminals with harsher penalties[.]" The measure will be subject to further negotiation.
Both sides argee that Chicago has a gang problem. Gang activity in Chicago is increasing, and gang membership has reached 100,000. Gang-related violence is high and guns play a prominent role in much of that violence. One evening last September, for example, gang-related shootings killed 3 people and put 23 more in the hospital.
But the question of how to deal with that violence remains a difficult one. Mandatory minimums for illegal gun possession reportedly would have prevented as many as 19 deaths just this year, and one study estimates that the law would prevent nearly 4,000 crimes annually. According to DNAinfo Chicago:
The cost-benefit analysis found that more than 63 percent of those on probation for unlawful use of a weapon are arrested again for the same crime within a year, with 7 percent rearrested for a violent crime.
But, mandatory minimums may not be the answer. As the Chicago Sun Times editorial observed:
In the real world, this is what happens: Mandatory minimums, dictated by law, make it impossible for judges to use common-sense discretion when imposing sentences, so judges must nail some poor sap who simply made a foolish mistake with the same harsh sentence they would impose on a hardened criminal. But those mandatory minimums do nothing to reduce the ability of prosecutors to use discretion when deciding what charges — light or heavy — to file against a defendant. The indirect result is that prosecutors, not judges, set the sentence.
Whether establishing mandatory minimums would achieve desired outcomes is debatable, but one thing is certain: curbing gang-related gun violence requires social programs and community investment. As several Chicago officials have observed, social conditions such as high unemployement and underemployement exacerbate the problem. One group has protested South Chicago's "trauma care desert," noting that gunshot victims must be taken as far as 10 miles to receive care--sometimes with deadly consequences.
Some effots have been taken to ameliorate the situation facing youths in areas of high gang activity. In Chicago, city officials reportedly plan to provide social services such as GED programs and help securing jobs for former gang members. Others have tried to create dialogue between rival gangs. Father Michael Pfleger, for instance, has brought rival gang members together through a weekly basketball league. Reportedly, violence in his community has dropped.
Gun regulation likely would be valuable to curbing Chicago's gang violence, especially in conjuction with other efforts aimed at broader systemic problems. But mandatory minimums may be a short-term fix to long-term problems. Maybe not.
CRL&P related posts:
For more on manditory minimums see Sentencing Law and Policy.