Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

Scattered Thoughts On Gun Control

Guns are bad...Like everyone, I’m sad and angry about Friday’s tragedy. But I keep hearing that now is the time to discuss gun control. So, fine, let’s discuss…

 

—It’s unfortunate that so many people now dismiss the idea that there should be a window of mourning, during which political discussions ought to be tabled, after a national tragedy like Friday’s shooting. I understand why that is: Calls to postpone talk of politics are so often themselves politically motivated, a way to put off a conversation one side never intends to have, that they seem cynical. But it should be obvious that the time for policy discussions is not when people are angry, sad, depressed, scared, emotional, and irrational. This is what leads to laws like the Patriot Act. It’s not that policy discussions should never flow from a national tragedy, and obviously knowing how long to wait is tricky, but I suspect the answer is at least a few hours, maybe even a day or two.

 

—Why do so many of the same people who (rightfully) laugh at the idea that drug prohibition decreases drug use, endorse the idea that gun control will solve the problem of gun violence? Gun control does not mean that bad or crazy people won’t get guns; it means the government will get to decide who gets to have guns. This is the same government, of course, that kills foreign Muslims almost indiscriminately, that imprisons blacks at six times the rate it imprisons whites, that systematically harasses young men based on their ethnic background. But for some reason people think new gun laws would be enforced fairly and equitably.

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The Drawing Board: The Death Penalty

There’s a new fad sweeping the nation, and for once I’m ahead of the curve. It’s called the death penalty, and it’s the reason you woke up this morning with your face intact. Where at one time an escaped serial killer would more than likely have murdered you in gruesome fashion while you slept, you’re now probably going to live, so you can finally relax. No more revising your last will and testament every night. No more questioning why you’re setting your alarm when you’ll probably be long dead by the time it goes off. No more putting on your best-looking clothes before bed so you’ll look nice in case you die and an attractive stranger finds your body. And who can we thank for these lifted burdens? Well, there’s some debate as to who created the death penalty, but it’s probably safe to say they got the idea from YouTube.

But what is the death penalty? Well, here’s how the whole thing works: A guy kills somebody, the government kills him, and now the guy can’t kill anybody else, see? Sure, the government keeps killing, but they stop once all the killers are gone, except for themselves. So it’s not a perfect system, but it reduces the number of killers in the world from millions of disparate, elusive individuals to a single, unstoppable nationwide entity with utter legal supremacy. Get it? Continue reading

This Day in Revisionist History

January 5

“Obviously I wouldn’t have done it, but dude, how the f*ck was I supposed to know what drawing and quartering meant?” – a panicked Robert-Francois Damiens replying to his friend Pierre, after being asked why he had tried to kill the king at the risk of so cruel a punishment.

Regicide had always been a very serious crime, and Louis XV a very petty king. And so, in the age in which our unfortunate subject lived, it had been affirmed that the penalty for killing or even attempting to kill the king would be more than a simple hanging. The French parliament had decided that anyone who threatened the king’s life would be killed by “drawing and quartering.” Though parliament did not invent the method, it revived it in a manner of sorts, as no one had committed regicide in nearly 150 years and therefore such a punishment was neither commonly practiced nor widely known throughout France. Several historians attribute the longevity of this punishment to the greater lack of knowledge, positing that the people of France would have almost assuredly opposed the disemboweling and dismemberment of their fellow countrymen. Continue reading

Hindsight 2010: John Paul Stevens, Retiree of the Year

Hindsight 20/10– Over the next few days, we will be reflecting on the past year in a series of posts. Josh begins with the Retiree of the Year:

Since 2005, Supreme Court Justices Rehnquist, O’Connor, Souter, and most recently, Stevens departed from their coveted positions on the bench. As a law student, I read a lot of legal opinions by justices of the Supreme Court and federal circuit courts. The judge’s name is generally listed before the text of the opinion and naturally, some judges excite me more than others. I know I’m going to get a well-written opinion with Justice Scalia, an intellectually stimulating economic analysis of some aspect of the law under the guise of an opinion with Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner, and a witty, brilliant analysis with Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.* Only a handful of other justices’ names alone get me excited for an opinion: Of the Court’s four most recent retirees, Justice Stevens is the only one who fits into this class.

*He also showed his wit on The Dating Game (second contestant).

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This Day in Revisionist History

December 22:

“Wow, talk about déjà vu! Although I still don’t know why you’re not armed, or how you guys talked me into doing this.” – Bernhard “Bernie” Goetz, after rapidly shooting four unarmed black men in a game of paintball several hours after escaping the scene of his subway shootings.

Bernie, Jamal, Deion, Marcus, and Raymond—or the “Jive Five”, as they were known in college—were virtually inseparable. In fact, Bernie’s famous (or perhaps infamous) adventure on the no. 57 subway earlier that day (read it–this whole thing will make a lot more sense if you do) marked the first time in a week that the crew had been separated for more than a few minutes during the day. They all worked together at a bread bakery they had opened just after graduating, a popular local joint by the name of “Baggoetz”, and when a bank statement detailing an unsettled loan repayment was discovered in the back office, they were left with no choice but to send one person out in the middle of the day. Bernie volunteered, telling his best friends only half-jokingly “You know they’ll go easy on a white guy!” He hurriedly finished handing out orders to the long line of customers, apologizing for the delays. He even offered an extra loaf of sourdough to a black man seated in the corner, saying “You look like you could use some bread…here’s another.” Continue reading

The Drawing Board: Abortion

Oh, great. Another MAN weighing in on abortion. Well, ladies, if you don’t like it, exercise your “right to choose” to not read it. But as it turns out, this man has the answer. And no, it’s not one of those stupid joke answers like “dude we shouldn’t make abortion legal, we should make it mandatory hahahaha!” That’s dumb, the population would run out. What I will offer instead are a few points of clarification from the legal and moral perspectives, points that will cause you not to reconsider your stance on abortion, but rather to reconsider whether abortion is even a real issue. Sounds interesting, huh? Remember this whole thing is a joke though.

First, let’s evaluate the claim that a fetus has a right to life. Ridiculous. But let’s grant for a second that the fetus is a human being, which, come on, that’s like saying a baby chicken is the same as a real chicken. Regardless, let’s give them that and consider the right to life from a legal perspective. Now, abortion isn’t a pleasant issue, and this could get ugly, so you might not be well suited to this if you have a weak constitution (looking at you, France!). That was a funny joke, huh? But it also segues into me talking about the actual United States Constitution. In one part it says, no kidding: Continue reading

Un-Mosqued

Should there be a mosque anywhere near here?

In discussions of religious pluralism—like the one going on about the “Ground Zero mosque”—I always find myself in an odd position. I’m generally a fan of diversity and tolerance, but I absolutely hate religion. So even though I risk aligning myself with irrational, hate-mongering bigots like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, I still essentially agree with them: I don’t think that there should be a mosque near Ground Zero.

Now, I should clarify that I also agree that this is a local issue, and that the government should not restrict the rights of Muslims to practice their religion. With that said, most of the plan’s opponents have acknowledged this, and maintained that even though the Cordoba House (or Park 51, or whatever it’s officially called now) can be built, that doesn’t mean it should. After all, the Nazis were allowed to march through Skokie, but that doesn’t mean they ought to have. By the same logic, just because the developer is allowed to build a mosque doesn’t mean that any clear-thinking individual ought to approve of the decision.

Similarly, the fact that the Cordoba House isn’t actually at Ground Zero is germane, but not decisive. It’s foolish to pretend that proximity doesn’t matter. The location, specifically how near it is to Ground Zero, was a key selling point for the group that bought the site—they wanted a site for moderate Muslims to “push back against the extremists.” If the mosque is close enough to make such a point, then it is close enough to draw criticisms of being insensitive.

Nevertheless, the main argument in favor of allowing the mosque is more principled. Put simply, it is that the moderates behind the plan for the mosque (or Islamic community center) should not be conflated with the extremists who perpetrated the attacks of September 11th. The moderates are not to blame for the actions of the terrorists. Continue reading

In Defense of Rand Paul (Kind Of)

It’s not often that a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky becomes a national political figure, but Rand Paul has been in the news a lot lately. First, it was for his surprising and convincing (and surprisingly convincing) win in the Republican primary for a Kentucky Senate seat two weeks ago, and then it was for his controversial statements about the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Basically, what Paul said about the Civil Rights Act, first on NPR and then on The Rachel Maddow Show, was that he did not support the Act’s regulation of private business, even though he stands behind the spirit of the bill and supports all the provisions of it that desegregate public institutions and repeal Jim Crow laws. Basically, there are 10 Titles of the Civil Rights Act, and Paul said he didn’t support Title II.

Now, I don’t agree with Paul’s view at all, but it’s not surprising or offensive to me. In fact, it’s perfectly consistent with Paul’s libertarian beliefs: Libertarians do not want the federal government to interfere with private business, and federally mandated desegregation of private businesses constitutes a regulation. Even though I disagree, I initially admired Paul’s intellectual consistency—unfortunately since the media hubbub about his comments, Paul has backed away from that intellectual fidelity. It’s also important to note that Paul did not say he wanted to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or even that he would have voted against the whole Act had he been in Congress at the time—he only said he had legitimate problems with one aspect of the law. Continue reading

A Solution To America’s Immigration Problem: Let Them All In

Immigration is one of those evergreen American political issues that never totally goes away and occasionally grows to such levels of intensity that it dominates the political landscape. Right now, the issue is in full bloom, with Arizona’s new Draconian immigration law and the new ad from Alabama gubernatorial candidate Tim James in which he declares, “We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”

Arizona’s law has some notable detractors, like President Obama on the left, and Jeb Bush on the right (although John McCain continued his new brand of despicable political cowardice by supporting it). Down in Alabama, Tim James seems like a long-shot to win the Republican nomination (although no new polls have come out since the “Language” ad). But this is by no means a fringe issue, or one that is likely to go away. Indeed, it’s possible that immigration inspires more fervent feelings than any other political issue, at least in border states.

In all the heated discussion of the issue, though, one important question doesn’t get raised nearly enough: Why are there any restrictions on immigration to the United States? Continue reading

The U.S. Census

As a general rule, the Founding Fathers get way too much credit. The Declaration of Independence was basically plagiarized from John Locke; a lot of the Constitution is downright awful, either from a moral standpoint or a procedural one. Let’s not even get started on the Bill of Rights…

One thing the Founders do not get enough credit for, though, is the Census. In Clause 3 of Article I the Constitution mandates: “The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

It’s not flashy or glamorous, but it’s hard to understate its importance. People so often recall the grand philosophical ideas espoused by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, et al., and as a result we tend to think of them more as political philosophers than as actual policy makers. This is understandable, but not really accurate. What the Founders were doing, after all, was establishing a country. So while Josh may be thrilled that the Founders decided to prohibit government regulation of speech, I’m more impressed by whomever stood up and said, “It would probably be really helpful if we counted each other every ten years or so.” Continue reading