Jonah Goldberg on the bits of the first amendment that the mainstream media tends to forget about:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
That’s the full text of the First Amendment. But (with apologies to the old Far Side comic), this is what many in the press, academia, and government would hear if you read it aloud: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, blah blah blah, or abridging the freedom of the press, blah blah blah blah.”
[. . .]
The press can always be counted upon not just to speak up for itself, but to lavish attention on itself. “We can’t help that we’re so fascinating,” seems to be their unspoken mantra.
And that’s fine. What’s not fine is the way so many in the press talk about the First Amendment as if it’s their trade’s private license.
The problem is twofold. First, we all have a right to commit journalism under the First Amendment, whether it’s a New York Times reporter or some kid with an iPhone shooting video of a cop abusing someone.
I understand that professional journalists are on the front lines of the First Amendment’s free-press clause. But many elite outlets and journalism schools foster a guild mentality that sees journalism as a priestly caste deserving of special privileges. That’s why editorial boards love campaign-finance restrictions: They don’t like editorial competition from outside their ranks. Such elitism never made sense, but it’s particularly idiotic at a moment when technology — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, etc. — is democratizing political speech.
As you probably guessed, he’s against it:
David French, Senior Vice President of the National Retail Federation, the major industry group lobbying for the so-called “Marketplace Fairness Act,” (more aptly named the “National Internet Tax Mandate”) recently commented that “…the law [governing Internet sales] today is a 20th-century interpretation of an 18th-century document…” Mr. French’s comments are typical of those wishing to expand government power beyond the limits established by the United States Constitution.
[. . .]
The National Internet Tax Mandate overturns the Supreme Court’s 1992 Quill v. North Dakota decision that states can only force businesses to collect sales tax if the business has a “physical presence” in the state. Quill represented a rare instance where the Supreme Court properly interpreted the Commerce Clause. Thanks to the Quill decision, the Internet has remained a tax-free zone, though some states require consumers to later pay taxes on products they purchased online. This freedom has helped turn the Internet into a thriving and dynamic sector of the economy, to the benefit of entrepreneurs and consumers.
Now that status is threatened by an alliance of big business and tax-hungry state governments seeking new powers to force out-of-state business to collect state sales taxes. Far from updating the Constitution to fit the needs of the 21st century, the National Internet Tax Mandate is a throwback to 18th century mercantilism.
The National Internet Tax Mandate will raise the costs of doing business over the Internet. Large, established Internet companies, such as Amazon, can absorb these costs, whereas their smaller competitors cannot. More importantly, the Mandate’s increased costs and regulations could prevent the creation and growth of the next Amazon.
In Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why this Obama administration innovation should not be perpetuated:
- Suspending basic rights and due process out of fear is exactly the kind of thing that people attacking the US want to see. Showing that we can’t live up to our most basic rights and principles in the face of a terrorist attack gives those who hate us that much more incentive to keep going. It’s not just a sign of weakness, but an encouragement for those who seek to undermine our society. In fact, it takes a step in that very direction by showing that the government is willing to throw out the rules and principles when it gets a little scared by a teenager.
- The slippery slope here is steep and extremely slick. There are no rules on when the DOJ can suddenly ignore Miranda. It gets to decide by itself. This is an organization with a long history of abusing its power, now allowed to wipe out one of the key protections for those they’re arresting, whenever it sees fit. The whole point of the ruling in Miranda is that it should not be up to law enforcement. A person’s rights are their rights.
- The part that really gets me: if anything, this opens up a really, really stupid line of defense for Dzokhar Tsarnaev if he ever faces a criminal trial. His lawyers will undoubtedly claim that the arrest and interrogation was unconstitutional due to the lack of (or delay in) Miranda rights. Why even open up that possibility of a defense for him?
- The guy has lived in the US for many years — chances are he actually knows the fact that he has the right to refuse to speak. So, we’re violating our principles, basic Constitutional due process, and opening up a massive opening for a defense, to avoid telling him something he likely already knows.
It’s been said before and it’ll be said again, but turning ourselves into a paranoid police state without basic rights means that those who attack us are winning. We should be better than that, and it’s a shame that our leaders have no problem confirming for the rest of the world that we’re not. What a shame.
David Harsanyi discusses the (limited) mechanisms the US constitution put in place to prevent the whims of temporary majorities being imposed on the country:
To begin with, whether Democrats like it or not, this issue concerns the Constitution — where stuff was written down for a reason. That’s not to say that expanding background checks or banning “assault rifles” would be unconstitutional (though you may believe they both should be). It’s to say that when you begin meddling with protections explicitly laid out in the founding document, a 60-vote threshold that slows down stampeding legislators is the least we deserve.
The Founding Fathers worried that “some common impulse of passion” might lead many to subvert the rights of the few. It’s a rational fear, one that is played out endlessly. Obama, who understands how to utilize public passion better than most, flew some of the Newtown families to Washington for a rally, imploring Americans to put “politics” aside and stop engaging in “political stunts.”
[. . .]
I’m not operating under the delusion that any of this is good national politics for Republicans — though the arguments about obstructionism’s dooming the GOP are probably overblown. No doubt, when the next disaster hits — and it will — Democrats will blame the overlords at the National Rifle Association and Republicans for the act of a madman. That’s life.
But generally speaking, it’d be nice if Congress occasionally challenged the vagaries of American majority “instinct.” Though it might seem antithetical to their very existence, politicians should be less susceptible to the temporary whims, ideological currents and fears of the majority. Theoretically, at least, elected officials’ first concern is the Constitution. And if the need for gun control is predicated chiefly on the polls taken immediately after a traumatic national event, they have a perfectly reasonable justification to slow things down. In fact, if Washington internalizes the 60-vote threshold as a matter of routine, voters should be grateful. Considering Washington’s propensity to politicize everything and its increasingly centralized power (what your health care looks like is now up for national referendums, for instance), this might be the only way left to diffuse democracy.
Michael Pinkus updates us on a hopeful sign that we may soon see the end of one of Canada’s surviving Prohibition-era laws:
Almost two years ago I published in these very pages an interview I did with Ian Blue, a lawyer who had turned his focus to liquor laws, constitutional issues and even more importantly, the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA). Now, many think the law was struck down but in fact there was just an amendment made to the federal law that now allows you to carry a certain amount of booze for personal use across provincial borders without fear of being charged by your provincial liquor board. So why am I bringing up this “ancient history” — well it seems the constitutional challenge that Ian was hoping for has finally got a name and a voice in the form of Vin de Garde wine club, and the challenge is going forward — before you blindly blow this off as another soon-to-be failed attempt to challenge the power and might of the LCBO I suggest we revisit the interview, the article and the issues that surround it; there seems to be more relevance here than ever before. This is going to get very interesting.
Have you ever been out to British Columbia and brought back a couple of bottles of wine? Better yet, have you ever driven across the border to Quebec and brought back a case of beer? If you have done either of these things then you my friend are a felon, capital F-E-L-O-N. That’s all according to the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA) of 1928, which is still on the books and very much in use by our liquor board (the LCBO). What it boils down to is, you can travel to Cuba and bring back 2 bottles of rum, go stateside and return with two bottles of wine, go to Mexico and carry back 4 cervesas; but you can’t cross Canadian provincial borders carrying any booze back with you. So, who’s ready to turn themselves in?
Not so fast says lawyer Ian Blue, who has been looking into the matter for us. Ian is an energy lawyer who found himself in a conversation with fellow lawyer, Arnold Schwisberg, about the IILA and like an ear-worm (a song that won’t leave your head) Ian couldn’t stop thinking about the absurdity of the Act. “The constitutional issues around inter-provincial and international sales of energy have equipped me admirably to look at the IILA … it stuck with me until I wrote my paper on the subject ‘On the Rocks’.” Ian subsequently wrote a second article on the same topic (On the Rocks; The Gold Seal Case: A Surprising Second Look); both appear in Advocate Quarterly.
[. . .]
“Liquor boards would continue to exist, their power would just be diminished,” but they would definitely put up a fight, “You’re fighting entrenched interests, so if you’re diminishing their power they’re going to fight to try and keep it.”
How big a fight? “I would be fighting 10 sets of lawyers one each from every attorney general’s department; probably 10 sets of lawyers from the provincial liquor commission; and probably lawyers from the police associations,” estimates Ian, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “What [a win] would mean is that if I wanted to have a private liquor store I could set one up and I could buy directly from the wineries in Niagara or British Columbia or foreign countries. Nova Scotia restaurants could order wines from Ontario. It would just loosen up the system. [It] doesn’t mean licentiousness; the province could still legislate standards for people who work in liquor stores, store hours, security, all safe drinking training, all that stuff; it’s just that you would not need to have liquor and wine sold through publicly funded liquor stores; being sold to you by unionized staff on defined benefit pension plans.”
But what about those who claim a loss of provincial revenue as their argument for keeping the liquor boards as is? According to winelaw.ca, “The Provincial Governments make their money regardless of whether the sale is made in a government store or a private store. In fact, the revenue that government makes from liquor on a per capita basis for 2007/2008 was as follows: $192 for BC [a mix of private and government stores], $190 for Alberta [all private stores], and $139 for Ontario.”
The EFF posted more information about the court decision that National Security Letters violate the constitution:
The controversial NSL provisions EFF challenged on behalf of the unnamed client allow the FBI to issue administrative letters — on its own authority and without court approval — to telecommunications companies demanding information about their customers. The controversial provisions also permit the FBI to permanently gag service providers from revealing anything about the NSLs, including the fact that a demand was made, which prevents providers from notifying either their customers or the public. The limited judicial review provisions essentially write the courts out of the process.
In today’s ruling, the court held that the gag order provisions of the statute violate the First Amendment and that the review procedures violate separation of powers. Because those provisions were not separable from the rest of the statute, the court declared the entire statute unconstitutional. In addressing the concerns of the service provider, the court noted: “Petitioner was adamant about its desire to speak publicly about the fact that it received the NSL at issue to further inform the ongoing public debate.”
“The First Amendment prevents the government from silencing people and stopping them from criticizing its use of executive surveillance power,” said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. “The NSL statute has long been a concern of many Americans, and this small step should help restore balance between liberty and security.”
The “most transparent administration” may be forced to be a bit more transparent after a US federal judge declared National Security Letters to be unconstitutional:
Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ordered the government to stop issuing so-called NSLs across the board, in a stunning defeat for the Obama administration’s surveillance practices. She also ordered the government to cease enforcing the gag provision in any other cases. However, she stayed her order for 90 days to give the government a chance to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We are very pleased that the Court recognized the fatal constitutional shortcomings of the NSL statute,” said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a challenge to NSLs on behalf of an unknown telecom that received an NSL in 2011. “The government’s gags have truncated the public debate on these controversial surveillance tools. Our client looks forward to the day when it can publicly discuss its experience.”
[. . .]
NSLs are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited and more.
NSLs are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have even received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has to merely assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.
Radley Balko interviewed by Vice:
How did 9/11 alter the domestic relationship between the military and police?
It really just accelerated a process that had already been in motion for 20 years. The main effect of 9/11 on domestic policing is the DHS grant program, which writes huge checks to local police departments across the country to purchase machine guns, helicopters, tanks, and armored personnel carriers. The Pentagon had already been giving away the same weapons and equipment for about a decade, but the DHS grants make that program look tiny.
But probably of more concern is the ancillary effect of those grants. DHS grants are lucrative enough that many defense contractors are now turning their attention to police agencies — and some companies have sprung up solely to sell military-grade weaponry to police agencies who get those grants. That means we’re now building a new industry whose sole function is to militarize domestic police departments. Which means it won’t be long before we see pro-militarization lobbying and pressure groups with lots of (taxpayer) money to spend to fight reform. That’s a corner it will be difficult to un-turn. We’re probably there already. Say hello to the police-industrial complex.
Is police reform a battle that will have to be won legally? From the outside looking in, much of this seems to violate The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Are there other ways to change these policies? Can you envision a blueprint?
It won’t be won legally. The Supreme Court has been gutting the Fourth Amendment in the name of the drug war since the early 1980s, and I don’t think there’s any reason to think the current Court will change any of that. The Posse Comitatus Act is often misunderstood. Technically, it only prohibits federal marshals (and, arguably, local sheriffs and police chiefs) from enlisting active-duty soldiers for domestic law enforcement. The president or Congress could still pass a law or executive order tomorrow ordering U.S. troops to, say, begin enforcing the drug laws, and it wouldn’t violate the Constitution or the Posse Comitatus Act. The only barrier would be selling the idea to the public.
The Supreme Court of Canada demonstrated a lack of belief in the value of free speech in yesterday’s Whatcott ruling:
The very first line in the Supreme Court’s calamitous decision in the case of Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott gives a clue to where it is going. “All rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” it declares, “are subject to reasonable limitations.”
This is a legal truism, but as always it is as important what the Court did not say. It did not choose to begin a ruling on an important freedom of speech case with a ringing affirmation of the importance of free speech, or what an extraordinary thing it is to place restrictions upon it.
Indeed, in its haste to get on with the limiting, it did not even pause to properly quote the section of the Charter that grants the state such authority. The Charter “guarantees” the rights set out in it, Section 1 declares, “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The limits don’t just have to be reasonable. They have to be “demonstrably justified.”
Where the Court’s view of such limits is expansive and approving, the Charter is grudging (“only”) and cautious (“demonstrably”). That’s as it should be. If we accept the bedrock premise of a free society, that government is its servant and not its master, then it is up to the state, always, to ask the citizens’ permission before it intrudes on their liberty, and to prove its necessity: it is never the citizen’s obligation to show why he may remain unmolested. That spirit is lamentably absent from the Court’s reasoning.
Senator Anne Cools is displeased by the PBO’s ongoing legal and media campaign against the Federal government:
An independent senator says the parliamentary budget watchdog, Kevin Page, overstepped his mandate by taking the government to court in a battle for spending figures, and the Senate should force Page to withdraw the legal proceedings.
In a speech to the Senate Tuesday, Sen. Anne Cools argued that Page’s regular comments to reporters and more recent comments to his international counterparts about his battles with the government over spending figures were “provocative and inflammatory public statements” that are “intolerable and unacceptable.”
Page’s actions, Cools argued, were tantamount to contempt of Parliament, were a breach of parliamentary privilege and were affecting the Senate’s credibility to carry out its functions.
“Contemptuous and un-parliamentary,” she said of Page’s actions and comments, “they are constitutional vandalism.”
“They are inappropriate conduct from a Library officer under the direction of the Speakers of the Senate and the House of Commons. This Senate cannot accept this and should take some ‘shock-no-more’ actions.”
A glum day for civil liberties:
Today the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “a court can presume” an alert by a drug-sniffing dog provides probable cause for a search “if a bona fide organization has certified a dog after testing his reliability in a controlled setting” or “if the dog has recently and successfully completed a training program that evaluated his proficiency in locating drugs.” The justices overturned a 2011 decision in which the Florida Supreme Court said police must do more than assert that a dog has been properly trained. They deemed that court’s evidentiary requirements too “rigid” for the “totality of the circumstances” test used to determine when a search is constitutional. In particular, the Court said it was not appropriate to demand evidence of a dog’s performance in the field, as opposed to its performance on tests by police. While the Court’s decision in Florida v. Harris leaves open the possibility that defense attorneys can contest the adequacy of a dog’s training or testing and present evidence that the animal is prone to false alerts, this ruling will encourage judges to accept self-interested proclamations about a canine’s capabilities, reinforcing the use of dogs to transform hunches into probable cause.
Writing for the Court, Justice Elena Kagan accepts several myths that allow drug dogs to function as “search warrants on leashes” even though their error rates are far higher than commonly believed
Jacob Sullum on how credulous courts have granted police dogs the power to circumvent Americans’ right to be free from intrusive search and seizure by police officers on fishing expeditions:
The deputy and another officer who arrived during the stop nevertheless went through Burns’ truck for half an hour or so, reaching up into the boat, perusing his cargo, looking under the seats and the hood, examining the gas tank and the undercarriage. They found no trace of drugs, although they did come across the loaded pistol that Burns mentioned to them once it was clear they planned to search the truck.
“They were cool with the gun,” Burns says. “If it had been California, God knows what would have happened.” He was so relieved that he barely minded the delay and inconvenience, which stretched a brief traffic stop into more than an hour. “I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a super-libertarian,” Burns says. “Once I realized that the pistol was not going to be an issue, man, they could have spent all day going over that car and under that car. My only concern was that one of the guys might have slipped something in to cover up for the fact that they didn’t find anything.”
That’s one way of looking at it. But even if you are neither a lawyer nor a super-libertarian, you might wonder 1) how often this sort of thing happens, 2) how it came to be that police can get permission from a dog to rifle an innocent man’s belongings, and 3) whether that state of affairs is consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The answers, in brief, are 1) fruitless searches based on dog alerts happen a lot more often than commonly believed, 2) dogs acquired this authority with the blessing of credulous courts mesmerized by their superhuman olfactory talents, and 3) this dog license is hard to square with the Fourth Amendment, unless it is reasonable to trust every officer’s unsubstantiated claim about how an animal of undetermined reliability reacted to a person, a suitcase, a car, or a house.
All of these issues come together in two cases the U.S. Supreme Court heard a few weeks after Bob Burns was pulled over. Florida v. Harris raises the question of how a judge knows that a dog’s alert is reliable enough to justify a search. Florida v. Jardines asks whether police need a warrant to use a drug-sniffing dog at the doorstep of a home. These cases, which will be decided by this summer, give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider its heretofore unshaken faith in dogs, or at least limit the damage caused by the amazing canine ability to transform hunches into probable cause.
At Reason, Jacob Sullum has a few concerns about the information that came to light in a Department of Justice memo leaked to the media:
The Justice Department white paper on “The Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or an Associated Force,” noted earlier tonight by Mike Riggs, fills in the fine print of the license to kill claimed by President Obama in several ways, none of them reassuring. The main conclusion of the paper, which was obtained by NBC News, is that “it would be lawful for the United States to conduct a lethal operation outside the United States against a U.S. citizen who is a senior, operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida without violating the Constitution or…federal statutes…under the following conditions: (1) an informed, high-level official of the U.S. government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; (2) capture is infeasible, and the United States continues to monitor whether capture becomes feasible; and (3) the operation is conducted in a manner consistent with the four fundamental principles of the laws of war governing the use of force” — i.e., “necessity, distinction, proportionality, and humanity.”
[. . .]
More generally, the white paper fleshes out the Obama administration’s argument that U.S. citizens killed by drones are getting all the process that is appropriate in the circumstances; hence the Fifth Amendment, though implicated, is not violated. And since these targeted killings are lawful acts of self-defense, the Justice Department says, they do not violate the law against killing U.S. nationals in foreign countries or the executive order banning assassination. After all, “A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination.” Duh.
The problem is that to accept this position, you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.
Paul Wells has a few thoughts on secession:
The reason we have spent nearly 40 years debating the effect of referendum results a few points this side or that of 50 per cent is because we have all known for nearly that long that any separatist “victory” in a referendum will be a close thing. If there ever were such a vote, 50 per cent plus a bit on a confusing question, then a sovereignist Quebec government would run into difficulties that don’t have much to do with the text of the Clarity Act and would not be eased by Tom Mulcair’s attempted compromise.
The Supremes sing the hits better than anyone. In their opinion on the Secession Reference, the top court got everyone excited with Paragraph 88, which identifies (Andrew Coyne and many others have said it “invents”) an “obligation on all parties to Confederation to negotiate constitutional changes to respond” to “the clear expression of the desire to pursue secession by the population of a province.” Every six weeks ever since there has been an op-ed in Le Devoir invoking the “obligation to negotiate” as Quebec secessionists’ trump card after a future third-time-lucky majority referendum vote.
It would be so lovely if somebody read more than one paragraph. Having discerned an obligation to negotiate where few had seen one before, the Supremes then ask the obvious question: “What is the content of this obligation to negotiate?” That’s a hell of a question, and since it comes precisely one paragraph after the one that gets everyone so excited, it’d be swell if a few people followed what comes next. The justices promptly “reject two absolutist propositions.” The first is “that there would be a legal obligation on the other provinces and federal government to accede to the secession of a province, subject only to negotiation of the logistical details of secession.” To anyone who says a Yes vote must lead to secession on Quebec’s terms, “we cannot accept this view.” Make the Yes vote as big as you like — Quebec could still not “dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties: that would not be a negotiation at all.”
[. . .]
So a secession attempt would be just about infinitely more complex than the conventional wisdom usually assumes. I haven’t even considered the near-certainty that local secessionist, purely dissolutionist, or U.S.-annexationist movements would pop up across Canada if Quebec began a secession attempt. But surely governments of good will can overcome dissent? Well, maybe, except that the last time Canada’s governments attempted a coast-to-coast set of constitutional amendments — the Charlottetown process of 1992 — the unanimity and best efforts of every head of government in the land wasn’t enough to ensure passage.
There’s a powerful narcotic quality to any conversation that mentions the “Charlatan Accord” for most Canadians over the age of 40: you can see eyes glaze over and lids get heavy the instant that process enters the discussion.
If you’re confused by the current debate over First Nations people and their relationship with the Crown, you’ll probably want to read âpihtawikosisân‘s explanation of “status” and other terms-of-law that are used in these discussions:
It has been my experience that many Canadians do not understand the difference between Status and membership, or why so many different terms are used to refer to native peoples. The confusion is understandable; this is a complex issue and the terms used in any given context can vary greatly. Many people agree that the term ‘Indian’ is a somewhat outdated and inappropriate descriptor and have adopted the presently more common ‘First Nations’. It can seem strange then when the term ‘Indian’ continues to be used, in particular by the government, or in media publications. The fact that ‘Indian’ is a legislative term is not often explained.
As a Métis, I find myself often answering questions about whether or not I have Status, which invariably turns into an explanation about what Status means in the Canadian context. The nice thing is, as time passes, fewer people ask me this because it does seem that the information is slowly getting out there into the Canadian consciousness.
To help that process along, I figured I’d give you the quick and dirty explanation of the different categories out there. Well…quick is subjective, I am after all notoriously long-winded.
H/T to Andrew Coyne, who retweeted the link from @romeoinottawa.